Breaking: Dartmouth Becomes First Ivy League University to Reinstate Standardized-Testing Requirement

Dartmouth College will restore its SAT requirement for admissions beginning with the Class of 2029, making it the first Ivy League university to reinstate the testing requirement after doing away with it after Covid.

In an email to the university community, Dartmouth president Sian Beilock wrote that the decision to reimplement the standardized test was made in response to a faculty study which found that "standardized test scores are an important predictor of a student's success in Dartmouth's curriculum" regardless of a "student's background or family income."

Professors involved in the review included Elizabeth Cascio, Bruce Sacerdote, and Douglas Staiger of the economics department and Michele Tine of the sociology department, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lee Coffin told the Dartmouth.

Performance on such tests is an important barometer of student academic caliber, the faculty said. With Dartmouth recruiting more international students, as well as students from lesser-known high schools, test scores provide more data on academic prowess.

"We're getting more and more applications from all around the world, and so in order to find high achieving students, test scores turn out to be a really helpful tool," Sacerdote said. "Our analysis shows that we potentially miss out on some great applicants when we don't have [test scores]."

Test scores are always assessed in the context of the student’s high-school profile regarding demographics, college attendance rate, and test performance, Sacerdote said, which socioeconomic considerations are somewhat built into.

The professors noticed there were certain cases in which applicants opted not to send their scores when the scores could have "helped that student tremendously, maybe tripling their chance of admissions," Sacerdote said.

"For a long time, Dartmouth has always practiced holistic admissions," Sacerdote said. "That means that even when test scores are examined and used in the process, they're examined very much in the framing of the environment that the applicant is coming from. [Coffin's] team is keenly aware of the level of advantage or lack of advantage, both at the neighborhood level and at the high school level."

Rather than handicap underprivileged students, the test requirement can help shine a spotlight on achievers from poor areas and give them a chance to succeed.

"That's why testing is so helpful to less advantaged students because when admissions sees, 'Wow, this student is really excelling in a less than perfect environment,' that can be a very strong signal for that candidate," Sacerdote said.

Coffin clarified that grades and extracurriculars are still important on an application, but they proved insufficient for selecting the most promising students as the vast majority of applicants have very high grades and are very involved in extracurriculars.

"Social science has a concept called the ceiling effect," Coffin told the Dartmouth. "When you plot people in a curve, there's a cluster at the top of the curve. That's our applicant pool. Most of the people who apply to Dartmouth are straight A students."

Even for the last few years of “test-optional,” most of the students who ended up at the college sent in testing results as part of their file, Coffin added. The college suspects that the applicant pool will shrink as a result of the move. But rather than viewing that fact as something that is disenfranchising students, the college sees it also as a mechanism to weed out unserious candidates.

“I would be sad as the Dean of Admissions if people were applying to Dartmouth only because we're test-optional,” Coffin said.

Amid the pandemic in June 2020, Harvard University temporarily waived its requirement that applicants submit their SAT or ACT standardized test scores. The school then extended the waiver in 2021 and again for the 2022-2026 application cycles. In March 2023, Columbia University ditched its standardized test requirement for incoming undergraduate students. Two years prior, the University of California system eliminated both the SAT and ACT tests from admissions decisions across its ten schools, including Berkeley.

However, other members of the Ivy League are now considering reinstating the test requirement, Coffin suggested. “All of our peer schools are studying it, as we just did.”

Although not in the Ivy League, another prestigious American college, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in March 2022 reinstated the standardized testing requirement for admission using similar logic to Dartmouth’s. MIT admissions found that not having access to SAT or ACT scores "tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education.”

MIT’s dean of admissions said the school believes a testing requirement is "more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy," departing from other elite schools who dropped it amid criticism that it advantages wealthier students who can afford expensive test preparation classes.



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Dartmouth Becomes First Ivy League University to Reinstate Standardized-Testing Requirement

A study by Dartmouth faculty found that the testing requirement helped level the playing field for disadvantaged ... READ MORE


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