Harvard’s decision to suspend the standardized testing requirement for at least the next four application cycles comes with many implications. Since as far as many of us remember, submitting SAT and/or ACT scores has been a requisite for applying to college. We were told that these scores helped admissions boards decide on who could be accepted into their school. When Harvard initially went test-optional, their decision came alongside a slew of other colleges during the unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic. This suspension was later extended through the Class of 2026’s application year and, most recently, to the Class of 2030.
Removing the standardized test score requirement had to happen in 2020 due to the devastation the Covid-19 pandemic caused to society. In many cases, students quite literally couldn’t take the SAT or ACT due to public health restrictions in place. However, this suspension must end now. Nearly two years into the pandemic, we now know more about the virus and how to reduce the risk of contracting it. Vaccines are now widely available as well, helping reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. Covid-19 is a dangerous disease and its variants pose a threat to public health, but we are learning how to live with the virus as we establish the standards of a “new normal” society.
Thus, just as in pre-pandemic times, we should resume the standardized testing requirement.
Students across the world apply to Harvard. These students come from various education systems and school programs, each with their own unique experiences. Grade point averages alone, while indicative of one’s success in a particular place, may not be able to predict academic performance in another school. Standardized tests, namely the SAT and ACT, are assessments that are provided nearly everywhere. They can determine how prepared a student is for college, regardless of their background. Suspending the test requirement prevents Harvard’s admissions board from gaining a full understanding of many students’ potential ability to perform well at Harvard.
There are various concerns with using standardized tests to help determine college admissions, namely how they disadvantage people in lower socioeconomic classes and favor richer students. Although the pandemic exacerbated dire economic conditions of underprivileged individuals, using the SAT and/or ACT as universal tools to determine potential success in college can help low-income students. Richer students have greater access to counselors, extracurricular activities, and advanced courses compared to the less well-off, making it difficult for those in lower socioeconomic backgrounds to stand out as a worthy candidate for competitive schools like Harvard. Scoring high on standardized tests allows low-income students to catch the eye of admissions officers. The concern regarding the disparity in scores between different economic classes should be addressed by finding equitable ways for students to succeed in the SAT or ACT, not by suspending the requirement to submit scores to colleges altogether.
Going test optional makes it difficult to determine who should be accepted into a college. William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, stated that students who don’t submit scores will not be disadvantaged due to Harvard’s holistic analysis of applications, but there may be hidden consequences to declining to submit test scores that can affect the future of college applications to Harvard. For example, students with lower test scores could decline to provide their results, inflating test averages for Harvard. The resulting higher SAT and ACT averages can discourage potential applicants from submitting test scores that are not at all low, but appear so in comparison to the inflated average. This would remove one factor in these students’ applications that could have made them look better and boosted their chances in the admissions process.
Harvard is a social and intellectual hub where people go to change society and make a positive impact on the world. As such, we should have a universal system to measure college readiness and to help determine who might excel at embodying Harvard’s mission of creating change. Standardized tests are not the only part of college applications, but they can even out the necessarily irregular system of college readiness measurement that comes with a diverse pool of candidates from many different backgrounds.
Ishraq A. Haque ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Apley Court.