Why Did the University of Chicago Become Test-Optional?

You might have read or heard about University of Chicago’s announcement that the school is dropping the ACT/SAT requirement of its application. Previously, it was required that all applicants sit for the SAT or ACT and include the scores on their application to the university. Now, University of Chicago has gone “test-optional” along with numerous other top-tier institutions.

So, what does this change for you? To be honest, not much. If University of Chicago was a far reach for you considering your test scores, it’s still a far reach for you. This doesn’t equalize the playing field, it just complicates it. Here’s why, from both a business and an applicant perspective…

This application requirement drop doesn’t change anything for you, as an applicant who desires a degree from a top institution. While it might seem like the school dropping this requirement means that they are trying to level the playing field for those who aren’t strong test-takers, in reality, this changes nothing about your application or your ability to get into University of Chicago. It simply increases their numbers. 

This was a great business move for U Chicago. Yes—a business move. It’s time to re-frame your perception of colleges and universities. Yes, they are educational institutions, but they are first and foremost a business. With this barrier to entry for many “gone”—or so it seems—guess what’s going to get a boost? The number of applicants. Let’s look at this from a mathematics perspective: when applications increase (total number) but the number of students (class size) accepted per year stays the same, the rate of acceptance (percentage) goes down. As a result, University of Chicago climbs in the rankings, which not only looks great for them but boosts alumni donations and contributions. This happened with Bates as well—they dropped their SAT requirement in 1984 and then dropped their testing requirement altogether in 1990. As a result, their applicant pool nearly doubled, they climbed in the rankings, and have maintained their status as a top school.

This is a strategic move. One employed by many colleges throughout the years: Bowdoin, since 1969, Wesleyan in 2014, Middlebury (a school that also got rid of its supplement altogether), and Duke when it admitted a record low number of applicants out of a record high pool. Yale and Harvard are well on their way, having just dropped the SAT/ACT writing section requirement.

To be clear, it’s not just us who think this. We don’t come in here to bum you out; we’re here to prevent you from falling into the “unrealistic hope” trap that these schools want you to fall into. A 2014 study released by University of Georgia laid it all out and proved the following quite clearly: schools that drop their testing requirement are doing so in order to 1) increase applications, so they can 2) reject more applicants, which not only 3) lowers their acceptance rate, but 4) boosts the school’s average test score, which is a critical factor for the school’s US News & World Report ranking. If you’re skeptical, you can read the entire article here. It's long, but we recommend it.

Because testing is now a seeming non-factor, tens of thousands of students are going to think that they have a shot at University of Chicago, and they’re going to apply. As a result, University of Chicago gets to climb the rankings without adjusting their application review components in the least. 

We spoke to the Director of Admissions as Wesleyan just after they announced that they’d be dropping their testing requirement, and they articulated something that is important to keep in mind: the size of the pie stays the same, but each section increases in value. This means that the essay matters now more than ever. We've said it before and we'll say it again: the essay is the most important part of your application because it’s the only area where you can show your personality to the application readers. But it’s even more important than it normally is if you’re applying to a test-optional school without submitting test scores.

Let us know if you have any questions. Particularly, please let us know if you need help with your essay considering just how big of an impact it can have (both positive and negative) on the outcome of your application. Trust us—you should take us up on our offer. It’s our specialty.