The University of Chicago has joined the “test-optional” movement that is slowly becoming more popular with American universities. So, if you were thinking of applying to U Chicago, but couldn’t muster the quintuple digit scores or whatever to match their expectations, you might still have a shot. But, if you do happen to knock the tests out of the park and want to flex hard on the admissions committee, they’re not stopping you.
For a long time, 118 years to be precise, the College Board (SAT) has pretty much had a monopoly on standardized testing, with the exception of the ACT, which was introduced as an alternative only 60 years ago. As a byproduct of their longevity, the standardized tests also have a monopoly on thought, and the test-optional movement is trying to change that, for worse or better.
Advocates of the SAT test stand firm in their beliefs that the SAT score (or ACT score if you’re cool) is a necessary measurement for Universities to consider for several reasons. Namely, the SAT provides an objective assessment of a student’s college readiness in the face of inconsistent grading criteria and varying difficulty of High Schools around the country. Keep in mind, there is A LOT of discrepancies between High Schools across America. Oklahoma public schools, for example, force students to share outdated textbooks that look like they were run through the wash. Also, not every High School offers honors, AP, or IB classes that allow students to challenge and spotlight themselves. And, how would any university get a good handle on the abilities of a homeschooled kid who has no GPA at all?
“ACT scores provide a common, standardized metric that allows colleges to evaluate students who attend different high schools, live in different states, complete difference courses with different teachers, and receive different grades on a level playing field…No other factor used in admission decisions can do that. Comparing students based on widely different sources of information with no common metric increases the subjectivity of admissions decisions,” said Ed Colby, a spokesman for the ACT.
On the flipside of the argument, proponents of the test-optional policy point to the hefty fees associated with registering and taking the tests and their capacity to hinder students with less money to spend. They argue that the SAT and ACT do nothing but tell universities how much money a student has. Students that score well on the tests are also more likely to come from top-tier high schools and/or have access to tutors. And, it is true that you are allowed to take the tests as many times as you like, so naturally, kids with more money will score better if they know they can learn from their mistakes and improve upon their scores. Plus, the College Board and the ACT are businesses that profit off students – they’re enormously biased. However, scholarships do exist, and the fees aren’t as crippling as perhaps the University’s actual cost of attendance.
Vice president of U Chicago and dean of admissions Jim Nodorf told the Chicago Tribune, “Despite the fact that we would say testing is only one piece of the application, that’s the first thing a college asks you. We wanted to really take a look at all our requirements and make sure they were fair to every group, that everybody, anybody could aspire to a place like UChicago.”
University of Chicago’s decision marks the first time a top-ranked school has done away with the standardized testing requirements, and its heart is in the right place. For a while now, the University has been making it easier for first-generation, low income, and minorities to gain admission to the school. The University of Chicago promises 4-year scholarships to first-generation students and free tuition to families making under 125,000 dollars. Possible caveats aside, U Chicago is acknowledging the role of money in its admissions processes.