The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 1.

The University of Chicago on Thursday morning announced that it was dropping the requirement that all undergraduate applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.

Hundreds of colleges — including elite liberal arts colleges — have stopped requiring the SAT or ACT. But Chicago’s move is the first by one of the very top research universities in the country. And the move is striking coming from an institution, known for its academic rigor, that has had no difficulty attracting top applicants.

For the class that enrolled in September 2017, the university received 27,694 applicants and admitted 2,419. The middle 50 percent of the range of SAT scores of admitted applicants was 1460 to 1550.

1) Surprising news! Elite schools almost always require the SAT/ACT because standardized test scores are a useful — albeit not perfect — tool for forecasting performance in college. This is all the more true when considering applicants from below-average high schools. An applicant being valedictorian in his 50 student senior class in Nowhere, Iowa tells you little. Such an applicant with a 1,600 SAT (math + verbal) tells you a lot.

2) The news is all the more surprising coming from Chicago. If you told me that a top college/university had dropped the SAT/ACT and asked me to predict which one, Chicago would have been about my last guess.

First, it is famously “conservative,” at least in the context of elite education, and (in)famous for mocking the politically correct pieties of its peers: safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc. Although the use of standardized testing is not exactly a political issue, I definitely associate it with more liberal/progressive schools. If forced to guess, I would have gone with Brown or Swarthmore.

Second, Chicago makes many fewer concessions to non-academic criteria than other elite schools, especially when it comes to athletic recruitment. Schools like Williams already concede that the SAT/ACT are not that important, which is why the bottom 1/4 of the class is allowed to have such low scores. The middle 50% range of SAT scores at Williams is (pdf) 1400 to 1570 (approximately). The top of the Williams distribution is higher but we are willing to go much lower in order to get students we want.

3) This decision is similar to how Williams, and many other elite schools, dropped the SAT subject test requirements a few years ago. I was indifferent to that change because, if you already know a student’s high school transcript and SAT/ACT scores and AP scores, it is plausible that the marginal information you gain from knowing the SAT II scores is close to zero.

This case is trickier because, without any standardized test scores, it is very hard to determine the quality of applicants from non-feeder high schools.

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