The University of Minnesota will drop the SAT/ACT requirement for admissions at its Twin Cities campus in fall 2021, citing the challenge of scheduling tests during the pandemic.
Fall 2021 undergraduate applicants will get to decide whether to include test scores in their application, and those who choose not to will not be at a disadvantage. With the move to test-optional, which was announced Tuesday, the U joins a growing list of colleges across the country that are phasing out standardized testing requirements.
"This is a national trend," University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said. "There is the combination of the questions about … the role of those tests and the fact that students can't really take them right now."
For now, the change will only apply to fall 2021 applicants. But the decision sets the stage for a potentially permanent move to a test-optional admissions process. University officials say they will consider a long-term change over the next six months.
The move at the U's flagship campus comes just a week after its Duluth campus signaled it would drop test score requirements for prospective students starting with spring and fall 2021 applicants. Crookston was the first University of Minnesota campus to make the jump to test-optional in 2019.
Several private colleges in Minnesota — such as the University of St. Thomas, Hamline University and Macalester College — have also switched to test-optional.
U officials chose to temporarily ditch the requirement because high school students have struggled to access the tests during the pandemic.
"Many students are going to have trouble accessing this test over the next half a year," said Robert McMaster, the U's vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. "In particular, we felt this might disadvantage under-resourced students."
Admissions staff still will have plenty of information to review in students' applications, McMaster said, such as grades, class rank, course rigor and extracurricular activities and leadership. And with the university's holistic review process, McMaster said the school "never used the test score as a single variable anyway."
Students are welcome to take the tests and submit their scores if they prefer, McMaster said, but doing so will not give them a special edge over those who choose not to submit scores. All student applicants will receive the same consideration for admission, scholarships and the university's honors program.
The value of ACT and SAT tests has come under scrutiny in recent years, fueled by a growing awareness that test-takers from higher-income households have advantages such as prep classes and tutors.
"You almost can't find a better predictor of family income than these standardized tests," said Geoff Wilson, executive director of College Possible Minnesota, a program to make college accessible for low-income students. "If you look at who can be successful in college, they're not a great predictor of that."
Standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT have "built-in biases" that make them more challenging for students of color and English-language learners, Wilson said. The questions, readings and essay prompts are often created with a narrow cultural context in mind, he added.
At colleges that have gone test-optional, the pool of applicants has generally swelled and become more diverse, Wilson said. Even so, many schools have not admitted a more diverse class.
"We're looking to see some of those admissions behaviors change before we're celebrating too much," he said.