Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth End Test-Optional — Will Other Schools Follow?



In February 2024, Dartmouth and Yale — two Ivy League universities — announced that they were returning to their previous policies of requiring SAT or ACT test scores as part of their admissions processes.

Brown followed suit in March 2024, announcing their decision to return to requiring standardized tests as well.  

For the past few years these schools have been “test optional,” meaning students could choose to send test scores, but they weren’t required for admission. This signals a major shift in the college admissions landscape as other U.S. universities weigh if they should follow suit. 

So how does this change impact students applying to Brown, Yale, or Dartmouth? And does this signal a larger trend in the admissions landscape? 

Let’s find out. 


Dartmouth is one of the schools that has decided to return to standardized testing.


What Are These Schools' New Policies? 

Before we analyze the implications of the return to standardized testing, let’s take a closer look at the new testing policies from Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown. This will help us understand how these policy shifts impact high school students now and in the future. 


Dartmouth Now Requires SAT or ACT Scores

On February 5th, 2024 Dartmouth issued a press release announcing their new testing policy. In the release, they explained that although the school had gone temporarily test optional in 2020, university leaders had decided to reinstate testing requirements for the Class of 2029. This made Dartmouth the first Ivy League school to officially return to a “test required” admissions policy. 

After research and careful consideration, administrators found that test scores added value to the admissions process and helped the school admit more students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. They state: 

In our high-volume, globally heterogeneous applicant pool in which most candidates are "high achievers," environmental and historical data, high school performance, and testing—when taken together—offer the most robust framework for predicting success at Dartmouth.


The new policy boils down to this: starting in Fall 2025, U.S. students applying to Dartmouth will have to submit either their SAT or ACT scores as part of the Dartmouth application. International students will have to submit SAT/ACT scores or three scores from AP, IB, or British A-Level exams instead. 


Yale Now Requires SAT, ACT, or AP Scores  

Like Dartmouth, Yale also adjusted its testing policies. The school announced on February 22nd, 2024 that it was returning to a test-required policy for students seeking Fall 2025 admission and beyond.  

According to the university’s admissions department, test scores give the university a more in-depth understanding about students’ preparedness to succeed at Yale. Here’s their statement from the press release: 

A student’s transcript tells our committee much about a candidate’s preparation. But testing can fill in additional parts of the picture. Tests can highlight an applicant’s areas of academic strength, reinforce high school grades, fill in gaps in a transcript stemming from extenuating circumstances, and—most importantly—identify students whose performance stands out in their high school context.

However, Yale understands that the SAT and ACT aren’t without problems (more on that later). As a result, they’ve instituted what they’re calling a “flexible testing policy.” It means Yale is also accepting Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) scores in lieu of traditional standardized scores. 

So for students applying for admission in Fall 2025 or later, you’ll have to submit SAT, ACT, AP, or IB scores in order for your application to be considered.


Brown Now Requires SAT and ACT Scores

On March 5th, Brown followed in the footsteps of Dartmouth and Yale and announced they would also require SAT and ACT scores beginning in the 2024-2025 application cycle. 

Like other Ivy League schools, Brown had gone temporarily test optional as a result of COVID-19. Over the past year, an internal panel evaluated the ways that Brown's testing policies affected student outcomes and found that test scores were a key indicator of student success in college. The report states:  

Data from the Class of 2025 and Class of 2026 indicate that academic outcomes — whether measured by the fraction of grades that are high or by the fraction of students who struggle academically — are strongly correlated with test scores …” the summary stated. “This relationship holds across all subgroups, including within groups from less-advantaged vs. more-advantaged high schools, and for HUG vs. non-HUG students,” referring to students from historically underrepresented groups.

Brown is also adopting a "testing in context" approach to evaluating test scores. Brown's admissions counselors will look at test scores in the context of a student's high school, background, and academic opportunities. Administrators hope this approach will help balance the ways standardized tests negatively impact marginalized and underserved student populations. 




Why Did Colleges Go Test Optional Initially? 

Like we mentioned earlier, when universities are test optional, it means that they do not require standardized tests for admission. Students can choose to submit test scores for consideration, but if a student opts not to, they aren’t punished in the admissions process.

While it might seem like test-optional universities are a brand new trend, colleges have been shifting away from requiring tests for the past decade for multiple reasons. 


Fears About Admissions Bias

Most universities are committed to serving a diverse population. Gaining exposure to people from many different backgrounds helps students become well-rounded thinkers and community members. 

However, in the past decade research began to emerge that shed light on how systemic inequalities negatively impact students’ test scores. For example, a study published in The New York Times found that students whose families were in the top 20% of earners were seven times more likely than those in from families in the bottom 20% to earn an SAT score of 1300 or more. (For context, the average SAT score in 2023 was a 1028.) And students from families in the top 1% of earners were 13 times more likely than students from the lowest income brackets to make a 1300. 

So the more money a student’s family has, the more likely it is they’ll score well above average on the SAT. That’s because higher family incomes increase the odds that students attend a well-funded school and get better quality test prep. 

Another study found race also impacted students’ test scores. The Brookings Institute analyzed SAT scores from 2.1 million students in 2020 and found about 60% of white and 80% of Asian test takers met college readiness standards on the SAT Math section. In comparison, only about 25% of Black and 33% of Latinx students met those same standards. 

Critics of the exams, as well as universities admissions departments, worried that using standardized test scores as a primary measure of a students’ capability didn’t take into account the additional factors that impact students’ performances. Consequently, critics were concerned that students from underrepresented backgrounds would be shut out of the college admissions process because of the emphasis on test scores. 

So for some schools, adopting test-optional or test-blind policies was a way to adjust for the fact that many test takers face racial, financial, and other social barriers that negatively impact their test scores. Universities thought that moving away from requiring test scores on applications could make the admissions process fairer. 


Adjustment to the COVID-19 Pandemic 

An increasing number of schools were adopting test-optional policies before COVID-19. But the pandemic sped up the adoption of both temporary and permanent test-optional policies. 

As schools and businesses shut down, universities realized that students likely wouldn’t have the opportunity to take the SAT or ACT as part of the admissions process. In order to keep students safe and minimize the anxiety around college admissions, almost every school opted to forgo test scores for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle

As the pandemic continued, schools saw an opportunity to evaluate how test scores actually impacted admissions rates. Consequently, many universities extended their test-optional policies indefinitely. Our experts maintain an up-to-date list of test-optional colleges in the U.S., which you can find on our blog. 


Boosts In Application Rates 

When schools go test optional, it removes a perceived barrier to admission. This can be very effective for smaller schools that compete with large, state universities and other prestigious private colleges for enrollees. By making it easier to apply, these smaller schools increase their applicant base and raise their chances of enrolling full classes of students. 

But competitive schools also saw an increase in admissions rates after going test optional. For example, in 2015 when Harvard required ACT/SAT test scores, about 34,300 students applied for admission. Around 2,000 were accepted, giving Harvard a 5.9% acceptance rate. 

However, in 2022 more than 60,000 students applied to Harvard for admission under the school’s test-optional policies. That’s nearly double the number of applications the school saw during its test-required period! But since the school didn’t increase its incoming class size, its acceptance rate took a nosedive, plunging to 3.2% in 2022. 

When students feel like they have a shot at admission at top schools because their test scores won’t hold them back, it increases the number of applicants…and subsequently lowers acceptance rates in a way that benefits a university’s reputation. For competitive and elite U.S. universities, a lower admissions rate has the benefit of making a school more prestigious.




Here's what Dartmouth and Yale have to say about going back to requiring test scores.


Why Did Dartmouth and Yale Go Back to Requiring Tests? 

Schools like Dartmouth and Yale have said that their decision to go back to requiring standardized tests was made with a lot of thought and research. Let’s take a look at the factors that influenced their decision. 


Test Scores Help Forecast Student Success 

Dartmouth asked faculty researchers to analyze admissions data collected from admitted students under their test-optional policy. They found that comparing students’ test scores to the average scores from their high school was the most reliable indicator of whether a student would be successful at Dartmouth. 

For example, let's say Mike scores a 29 on his ACT. Dartmouth's average ACT score for admitted students is 33, so Mike's score looks below average. However, the average ACT score at Mike's high school is a 23, so he's actually out-performing his peers. Because Mike's score significantly above the average score for his school, he would still have a higher likelihood of being successful at Dartmouth! 


Test Scores Help Students From Under-Resourced Schools 

In an interview with YaleNews, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions, Jeremiah Quinlan, explained that Yale doesn’t use test scores as the primary metric for evaluating students.

However, scores do give admissions counselors a better understanding of a student’s performance in the context of their high school. That's especially true for students who may not have as many opportunities to highlight their skills through other portions of their applications. Quinlan explains:

We’ve found that standardized tests are especially valuable for students attending high schools with fewer academic resources and fewer college-preparatory courses.

When admissions counselors look at a school’s testing average, test scores can show students’ aptitude even if they didn’t have the ability to take advanced classes or participate in extracurricular activities because of funding issues. 


Test Scores Improve Diversity 

Perhaps most importantly, Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale found that test-optional policies didn’t improve diversity in student cohorts. In fact, diversity numbers went down during test optional years!

That’s because when test scores get taken out of the admissions process, counselors have to weigh other elements of an application more heavily. That includes grades from advanced courses, letters of recommendation, and extracurriculars — which students from underrepresented backgrounds may not have access to. Including test scores gives counselors another data point that gives them a more comprehensive picture of a students’ ability and situation. 

Test scores may be even more important for maintaining diversity given the recent Supreme Court ruling that limits schools’ ability to use affirmative action in admissions. Now schools can no longer collect diversity data as part of the application process. 

The Supreme Court ruling takes away a tool admissions departments could use to ensure they were admitting a diverse class of students. And while standardized testing is an imperfect solution, it does give admissions counselors additional data they can use to address these nationwide policy changes.



Are Other Top Schools Returning to Standardized Testing? 

While Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth are the most recent schools to announce their return to a test required policy, they aren't alone. Both Georgetown and MIT went temporarily test optional but have now reinstated their testing policies

At this point, it’s not clear how many other schools will reverse course on their testing policies. But as top universities in the U.S. hop on this trend, we suspect that other schools will follow in their footsteps. 




Understanding what these testing changes mean for you will better prepare you for the college application process. 


What Do These Ivy League Return to Testing Announcements Mean For You? 

Change is already hard, and not knowing whether more schools will go back to requiring standardized tests or not can make it hard to plan for the future. And while we don’t have a crystal ball, we can give you insight into how to prepare for college admissions whether they’re test optional or not. 


Tip #1: Take the Test No Matter What 

It might be tempting to just skip testing and bank on schools staying test optional. But your chances of going to a college you love improve when you keep your options open.

Taking the ACT and SAT — and prepping so that you make a good score — can make a big difference in your ability to get into many colleges … even test-optional ones. 

Also, getting amazing test prep help doesn’t have to break the bank. PrepScholar’s online SAT and ACT prep programs not only customize to your needs, they’re also affordable. Even better: you can try them for free before you commit! 


Tip #2: Write An Amazing Essay 

One thing we know for sure: college essays are more important than ever before in the college admissions process. It’s tempting to leave essay writing for last because it’s so time consuming, but that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do. Writing a great essay takes thought and time, so start early. 

First, be sure to check out the Common App prompts and Coalition App prompts for your application year. Then, take a look at any supplemental essays colleges you’re interested in might require. Building this list months before your college deadlines gives you time to craft excellent essays that catch admissions counselors’ attention. 

Then, use our expert guide to writing a great college admissions essay to help you through the process. Our free resource walks you through every step, from choosing prompts to proofreading your finished writing. 


Tip #3: Focus on a Spike

You don’t have to have 500 extracurricular activities listed on your application to get into college. In fact, admissions counselors would rather see you dedicate yourself to one or two activities than fill your schedule with dozens. 

At PrepScholar, we call this the application spike, and we’ve seen it work time and again for students from all sorts of backgrounds. That’s because it shows your dedication and perseverance — two skills you’ll need if you want to succeed in college! 





What's Next? 

One way to maximize your test scores is by making sure you're taking a standardized test that fits your strengths. We'll walk you through the differences between the ACT and SAT, and we'll help you choose the right test for you. 

Remember, what constitutes a good SAT or ACT score depends on your goals as well as the context of your educational experience. Here's how to figure out what a "good" SAT score is for you. (If you're taking the ACT, we'll show you how to calculate a "good" ACT score too!) 

If you're ready to start studying for the SAT or ACT, a great place to start is with our free, ultimate study guides. These will walk you through everything you need to know about each test, then help you build a study plan that can boost your scores. Here's our ultimate guide to the SAT, and here's our ultimate guide to the ACT.



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About the Author
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Ashley Robinson

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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