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In Sudden Reversal, Harvard To Require Standardized Testing for Next Admissions Cycle

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Updated April 11, 2024, at 3:25 p.m.

Harvard College will reinstate its standardized testing requirement in admissions beginning with the Class of 2029, a surprise reversal that could leave some students scrambling to take SAT or ACT tests ahead of application deadlines in the fall.

The decision comes in the face of Harvard’s previous commitments to remain test-optional through the admitted Class of 2030, a policy that was first instituted during the pandemic.

Harvard had faced mounting criticism from both academics and admissions experts for continuing its test-optional policies, even as its peer institutions returned to requiring standardized tests. In recent weeks, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown have announced returns to required testing.

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All applicants to the Class of 2029 — due to apply in the fall and winter of 2024 — will be required to submit SAT or ACT scores, barring specific cases in which they may be unable to access such exams, according to the College’s announcement. In such cases, scores from exams such as Advanced Placement or the International Baccalaureate will be accepted as substitutes.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi E. Hoekstra wrote in a statement that “standardized tests are a means for all students, regardless of their background and life experience, to provide information that is predictive of success in college and beyond.”

“More information, especially such strongly predictive information, is valuable for identifying talent from across the socioeconomic range,” she added. “With this change, we hope to strengthen our ability to identify these promising students.”

The majority of undergraduates entering Harvard in the past four years have submitted standardized test scores, according to the release, which did not specify an exact percentage.

Harvard officials have recently hedged on whether the College would reinstate its testing requirement. In early March, Hoekstra told The Crimson that Harvard was “in the midst of analyzing” its policy.

Harvard College Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said in an interview in late March that the College had “nothing new to report” on whether its testing policy through the admitted Class of 2030 would be changing.

In its press release, Harvard referenced a study from Harvard-affiliated initiative Opportunity Insights, led by Brown University economist John N. Friedman ’02 and Harvard economists Raj Chetty ’00 and David J. Deming, which found that SAT scores are a particularly strong predictor of college success – much more so than a student’s high school grade point average.

Some experts also said that a return to requiring standardized test scores could help universities like Harvard increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of its student body.

Deming, a finalist to serve as dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in a statement that the requirement of standardized test scores provides the “fairest admissions policy for disadvantaged applicants.”

“Not everyone can hire an expensive college coach to help them craft a personal essay. But everyone has the chance to ace the SAT or the ACT,” Deming wrote.

When Yale and Dartmouth reinstated their testing policies, both institutions referenced the predictive power of standardized testing as a key incentive for its return as a mandatory component of the admissions process.

Still, the College’s announcement — made exactly two weeks after it released admissions decisions for the incoming Class of 2028 — has exposed it to criticism.

The Generational African American Students Association, a student organization at Harvard, posted a statement on Instagram Thursday afternoon blasting the College’s return to required testing.

The policy change “strikes at the very heart of the progress made toward achieving true equal opportunity within higher education institutions such as Harvard,” the group wrote.

“This decision also compounds the challenges already faced by low-income and minority students in the wake of affirmative action being overruled,” they added.

A College spokesperson declined to comment on the criticism of the policy reversal.

Harvard’s reversal of its commitment to stay test-optional through the next two admissions cycles came with little warning to applicants for the Class of 2029, who have six sittings of the ACT and the SAT left before Harvard’s regular decision application deadline on Jan. 1 — and even fewer before its early action deadline of Nov. 1.

—Staff writer Elyse C. Goncalves can be reached at elyse.goncalves@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @e1ysegoncalves or on Threads @elyse.goncalves.

—Staff writer Matan H. Josephy can be reached matan.josephy@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @matanjosephy.

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