U. of Texas at Austin returns to standardized testing requirement

The University of Texas at Austin said Monday it will resume requiring standardized testing for admission, becoming the latest selective college to reinstate SAT or ACT score requirements that were waived during the pandemic.

A few years ago there were about 2,000 colleges in the country began to move away from requiring test scores, at least temporarily, amid concerns they fueled inequality. But a growing number of those schools have reversed that policy, including Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, MIT, Georgetown and Purdue, with several announcing the changes in recent months.

UT Austin, which admits a cross-section of high-achieving Texas students under a plan designed to expand opportunity in the state, cited a slightly different reason than the other schools for returning to testing requirements. Without requiring test scores, officials said, they were hampered in placing admitted students in programs they would be best suited for and in determining which ones needed extra help. After making test scores optional in recent years, the university will now require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores starting Aug. 1, with applications for admission due in fall 2025.

Jay Hartzell, president of UT, said in an interview that the decision followed an analysis of students who did not submit scores. “We looked at our students and found that in many ways they were not doing so well,” Dr. Hartzell said.

Opponents of test requirements have long said that standardized tests are unfair because many students from affluent families use tutors and coaches to improve their scores. But recent data has raised questions about this claim. In reinstating testing requirements, some universities have said that making scores optional had the unintended effect of hurting prospective students from low-income families.

For example, Brown said some students from disadvantaged backgrounds had chosen not to submit scores under the test-optional policy, even though submitting their scores could have increased their chances of admission.

But UT Austin operates under a race-neutral admissions rule adopted more than two decades ago to admit a broader group of students, automatically admitting those in Texas who graduated in the top 6 percent of their high school classes.

Of the students from Texas who are admitted to the university, 75 percent are considered “automatically admitted.” Other students from Texas, as well as out-of-state students, are evaluated through a “holistic” admissions process that includes standardized test scores. In the admissions process for last year’s incoming class, 42 percent of students chose to submit their test scores.

Miguel Wasielewski, the university’s vice provost of admissions, said many of those students have a 4.0 grade point average. “There’s just not a lot of variety there,” he said, adding that test scores provide more detailed information that helps determine placement.

At UT Austin, students are asked to rank their choices among three programs of study. Test scores help the university place those students in the major where they believe they can succeed and identify students who need more support, as part of an effort to increase graduation rates. The university’s four-year graduation rate rose to 74.5 percent in 2023, up from 52 percent in 2013.

The scores are especially important in determining which students will do well in the university’s tougher courses, such as engineering and business, Dr. Hartzell said.

According to university figures for the current freshman class, a group of 9,217 students admitted last fall, students who submitted test scores were 55 percent less likely to have a first-semester GPA below 2.0, the university said.

According to the university, students who submitted their test scores had a higher GPA (0.86 points higher on average) in the fall semester. The university indicated that the data controlled for factors such as high school grades and class rank.

Dr. Hartzell said the university consulted with the College Board, which administers the SAT, and found that nearly 90 percent of students who apply to UT Austin have taken either the SAT or the ACT.

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