Dartmouth College revives standardized testing requirement for applicants


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Dive Brief: 

  • Dartmouth College announced Monday that it will restore the requirement for applicants to submit either SAT or ACT scores, starting with the class of 2029. 
  • The Ivy League institution suspended the requirement in June 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Dartmouth said that new research analyzing the test-optional policy supports reactivating the standardized testing requirement. 
  • “Our bottom line is simple,” Dartmouth said in the announcement. “We believe a standardized testing requirement will improve — not detract from — our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus.” 

Dive Insight: 

Dartmouth’s decision could reverberate throughout the higher education world. Hundreds of colleges suspended or altogether abandoned their standardized testing requirements during the pandemic, and many of them retain those loosened policies today. 

However, some institutions have restored these requirements. That includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which said in 2022 that its own research found that considering standardized test scores significantly improved its ability to predict students’ academic performance. Later the same year, Indiana’s Purdue University likewise revived its standardized testing requirements

In its announcement, Dartmouth pointed to research conducted by three of its economics professors — Elizabeth Cascio, Bruce Sacerdote and Doug Staiger — along with sociology professor Michele Tine. In a January report, they found that when a student’s standardized test scores are considered along with how well peers from their high school performed on the SAT or ACT, they can aid their application.

That helps Dartmouth identify less-advantaged students who may be able to do well at the institution, researchers said. 

Applicants with SAT scores of 1,400 have higher chances of admission to Dartmouth if they come from high schools where SAT scores are relatively low. However, many high-achieving but less-advantaged applicants don’t submit test scores even when they would benefit from their inclusion. 

Dartmouth’s findings align with a recent working paper that found prospective students who applied to test-optional colleges were more likely to disclose high SAT scores and withhold low ones.

An SAT score of 1,400 is well below the 25th percentile for Dartmouth, the researchers wrote. But less-advantaged students with this score have twice the chance of gaining admission to the institution than their more-advantaged peers, they said. 

Dartmouth’s application data implies that hundreds of less-advantaged applicants have scores in this range but aren’t submitting them, the researchers wrote. 

“Contrary to what some have perceived, standardized testing allows us to admit a broader and more diverse range of students,” Dartmouth said in the announcement. 

Researchers also noted that SAT scores are a stronger predictor of academic performance at Dartmouth than other measures, such as high school GPA. 

Dartmouth’s decision stands in contrast to the choices other institutions have made. 

In 2021, the University of California permanently ended standardized testing in undergraduate admissions. The decision came after the four-year system admitted its most diverse undergraduate class in history in 2021 after going test-optional during the pandemic. 

But not all institutions have seen those results. The demographics of Harvard University’s admitted students have largely stayed the same — even after the institution went test-optional in 2020, according to a recent analysis from The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper.



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