Dartmouth reinstates standardized testing for college applicants

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Bing Guan

By Janet Lorin


Published: 02-05-2024 10:45 AM

Dartmouth College said it would require standardized testing again for applicants to the Ivy League college, the second elite US university to reverse a trend about assessments that was halted during the pandemic.

The school said the reactivation is backed by evidence that it can help attract more diverse candidates at time when colleges are trying to assess admissions after the Supreme Court last June said it can’t consider race as a factor. While most peer schools haven’t yet decided about a permanent return to testing, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also announced it would reinstate the testing mandate two years ago, also citing the negative impact the pause was having on admissions and student success.

The reinstatement reignites a debate over whether testing helps or hurts low-income students. Testing had been criticized for favoring wealthy students who can pay for test prep and tutors. Applications soared when colleges dropped the test during the pandemic, a decision also taken because test centers were closed.

Dartmouth suspended its standardized testing requirement for undergraduate applicants in June 2020, but President Sian Beilock, who started last July, commissioned research that confirmed testing is valuable when assessed using local norms at a student’s high school.

They found that test scores “represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds,” the school said Monday in a decision first reported by the New York Times.

“It is also an important tool as we meet applicants from under-resourced or less familiar high schools across the increasingly wide geography of our applicant pool.”

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The Dartmouth requirement begins with the class that graduates in 2029, or for current high school juniors. The researchers said the experience with test optional has been “enlightening.”

“Some low-income students appear to withhold test scores even in cases where providing the test score would be a significant positive signal to admissions,’ ‘they wrote.

MIT’s dean of admissions Stuart Schmill said at the time of its reinstatement that the school’s research said standardized tests help better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants and “help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.”

Harvard, which lost the race in admissions case in June, announced in 2021 it would be optional for the next four years.