The University of Chicago is dropping the SAT and ACT standardized test requirement for applicants — the first top-ranked research university in the nation to make the tests optional.
It’s one of a few changes the university in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood is making to its application process. The changes are meant to level the playing field for applicants, particularly first-generation and low-income students.
“We don’t want a test to be something that scares students off or that makes students feel like that’s who they are,” said Jim Nondorf, the University’s dean of admissions. “There’s a lot of ways to tell your story. There’s a lot of ways for students to demonstrate intellectual and academic promise to U Chicago. And we want to free them up to do that.”
Nondorf also said the university is ending its optional alumni interviews because it found the students who took advantage of that part of the application process were predominantly higher income students. Now, students can submit a two-minute video with their application. Students can also submit their own transcripts, another attempt to eliminate fees that might be a barrier for some students.
The SAT and ACT are required for admission at most colleges and universities across the country, though there is a growing number of schools that are eliminating the requirement for admissions. Locally, DePaul University became a test-optional school in 2012. But as the highest-ranked research institution by U.S. News to eliminate this admission requirement, the University of Chicago is possibly opening the door for other extremely selective schools to follow.
“The knock on so many institutions that have decided to go test optional is, ‘Oh, you’re trying to become more popular, you’re trying to increase applications, move up in rankings,” said Eric Hoover, a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
He said many higher education experts believed it would take an Ivy League or highly selective school to become test-optional for the movement to really gather steam.
“Well, here you go,” Hoover said.
The changes at the University of Chicago are part of a larger initiative called “UChicago Empower,” which also will provide all first-generation college students with a four-year $20,000 scholarship and a guaranteed paid summer internship. It also expands full tuition aid for students whose families earn less than $125,000. The school is also bolstering its partnerships and mentoring for these students to support them through college. The program also expands its current funding for veterans and children of state and local police officers and firefighters to include those children nationwide.
These changes build upon the university’s No Barriers program, which works to expand access to the university for underserved students. It’s also working with the other colleges and universities who are part of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success to better communicate with first-generation, and low-income students about the college application process.
“I hope that many of my peers will continue to look at programs and policies that will inspire these students,” Nondorf said, “that will make these students feel comfortable about applying.”