Penn Extends Test-Optional Policy for 2024-25

Following decisions from Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown to reinstate standardized tests, Penn goes in a different direction.
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Published on March 12, 2024
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  • The University of Pennsylvania will extend its test-optional policy for another year.
  • Students applying in fall 2024 will not have to submit SAT or ACT scores.
  • Penn's announcement follows news that Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown will reinstate standardized test requirements beginning next fall.
  • Test-optional colleges could realize a competitive admissions advantage over rivals that require scores.

Bucking a recent trend among its Ivy League brethren, the University of Pennsylvania will remain test-optional for 2024-25, meaning students applying next fall don't have to submit SAT or ACT scores.

Penn's announcement doesn't offer any explanation for this decision, nor does it speculate about the future beyond the upcoming admissions cycle.

The university does note that students who are "unable or choose not to submit test scores will not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process."

This news follows recent announcements from Dartmouth College, Yale University, and Brown University, all of which will reinstate testing requirements beginning with the next admissions cycle.

In February, Dartmouth became the first Ivy to reinstate standardized testing. Like many other schools, Dartmouth suspended its SAT/ACT requirement at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.

The college believes students from under-resourced communities can benefit from submitting test scores, even if those scores fall below the college's median. Outstanding scores, in context, can help identify potential high achievers whose high school transcript may not provide enough evidence.

Yale offered a similar rationale in its announcement, which followed shortly thereafter. The university has adopted a "test-flexible" policy allowing students to submit either SAT or ACT results or scores from the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.

And in early March, Brown announced that it, too, will require the SAT or ACT starting next fall, citing data and arguments echoing the rationale posited by Dartmouth and Yale. The university's announcement also included news on its early decision and legacy admissions policies, both of which they'll maintain, at least for the time being.

Adding fuel to the reinstatement movement is a recent study from Opportunity Insights, a research group based at Harvard University, which found that standardized test scores have more "predictive power" for academic success in college than high school grade point averages do, particularly at highly selective institutions.

Using admissions records and first-year grades from several "Ivy-Plus" colleges between 2017 and 2022, the group determined that keeping all other variables equal, students who scored highest on the SAT and ACT earned college GPAs 0.43 points higher than those with more modest scores.

Yet elsewhere around the Ivy League, test-optional policies persist. Cornell University will maintain its policy for another year and remain test-blind for some of its schools. Princeton University won't require scores through at least the 2025-26 admissions cycle, and Harvard University has extended its policy until the class of 2031 applies, at least.

Last year, Columbia University announced it will remain test-optional permanently.

Will the institutions not requiring test scores realize a competitive advantage over those that do?

When selective colleges dropped their test requirements, applications surged. For the class applying to Penn in fall 2019, when scores were still required, 42,205 students applied. The following year, under a test-optional policy, that figure grew to 56,332.

Last fall, the university received an all-time high 65,230 applications, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper, a 10% increase over the year before.

That's not to suggest universities are extending test-optional policies to lure applicants from rivals that have reinstated them, but some students might be more persuaded to take a chance with test-optional universities than with those requiring scores.

Relative selectivity could, therefore, become a byproduct of these test-optional decisions.