Test Score Requirement Returns to Several Colleges in Decision Led by Former Barnard President

Barnard has yet to change its test-optional policy.

Photography by Samantha Candelo-Ortegon

In a statement last month, former Barnard President and current Dartmouth College President Sian Leah Beilock announced that Dartmouth admissions will start requiring standardized test scores for undergraduate admissions in next year’s application cycle. 

“We will continue to examine our admissions practices over time and base our decisions on social science research and data to ensure that we are finding the most promising students who, with a Dartmouth education, will have an outsized impact on the world,” Beilock said in a letter to the Dartmouth community on February 5th.

After testing cancellations due to COVID-19 health regulations, many colleges and universities made ACT and SAT scores optional for applicants to submit. Brown University, Harvard University, and Yale University followed suit, while Princeton University, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, and other top colleges will remain test-optional. Barnard College and Columbia University have not yet made a public comment, continuing their test-optional admissions until further notice. 

“It makes sense to me that it’s harder for [colleges] to distinguish between applicants without the scores, and so the fact that they reintroduce [tests] in that respect is not surprising,”   Bari Norman (BC ‘04), a college counselor at Expert Admissions, said. “The colleges need to be able to have measures that they can use to consider students.”

By analyzing admissions data in years where testing was required versus not required, Dartmouth researchers found that test scores were a better predictor of success than high school grades. They also found that the test-optional policy specifically harms lower-income students, who may have mistakenly decided whether to submit or not submit.

“I know that my friends who haven’t submitted aren’t struggling more than my friends who did submit,” said Fay El-Jeean (BC’27), who did not submit her SAT score. “And I don’t think the test is indicative of a student’s ability to persevere Barnard.”

Last year, the College of William & Mary tracked the success of students who submitted test scores versus those who did not. They discovered that both groups succeeded academically in their first year with similar GPAs, so they are not reinstating the test score requirement.

“We really need to look more long term, five or 10 years, to see whether moving to test-optional policies are really making a difference,” Leslie Williams, Lecturer in the Higher and Postsecondary Education program at Teachers College said. “I don’t think we should allow the news on [Dartmouth] to present some kind of impression that there’s a seismic shift going back to standardized test requirements. There are a lot of selective places that are not requiring standardized tests.” 

Low-income neighborhoods may not provide the best quality educational resources, such as lower ratios of guidance counselors, high-quality curriculums, college preparatory courses, and AP courses. According to a 2023 study by Opportunity Insights, a Harvard team of researchers, children of the wealthiest one percent of Americans were 13 times more likely than children of low-income families to score 1300 or higher on the SAT.

“From early parts of K-12, they’re not getting the academic development that they would need to do well on standardized tests,” Williams said. “The evidence is pretty clear that higher-income folks score a lot better on standardized tests scores than lower-income folks” Williams stated, “Overall, the way it’s structured right now is certainly biased against lower income, racially and ethnically minoritized students.”

Taking the ACT costs $68 and the SAT costs $60; many students take the test two or three times. More expenses include an about $100 TI-84 calculator, tutoring which is about $70 per hour on average, and a about $30 preparation book.

“I definitely would not have been able to take the tests based on what I learned in school alone,” El-Jeean said. “I needed additional tutoring and every book. It’s never going to be better for low-income students because those who have tutoring at their disposal and those who have the resources to get the study book and all of that can do better on the test.”

When asked to make a statement via email on Barnard’s test-optional policy in March of this year, a Barnard College Spokesperson said that more information regarding Barnard’s test score requirements will likely be made by May.

The fluctuating rules and requirements may seem discouraging or confusing for college applicants. Nevertheless, admissions officers consider applicants holistically, looking at the context of the student and their fit at the school rather than only test scores. The Barnard Admissions website states that the College holistically considers “each applicant in the context of her school, community, and individual story”. 

“It can really be a wonderful process of self-discovery and you can land in a place that can change your life the way Barnard changed mine,” Norman said. “That’s what motivates me to do the work I do year after year within this very complicated process.”

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