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Brown announces test-optional policy for class of 2025 applicants

Requirement will likely return next year, Dean of Admission says

For the first time in generations, applicants to Brown can skip a ritual of the application process: the often-dreaded standardized test. Citing the impact of the coronavirus on students’ ability to take the SAT or ACT, the University announced that applicants to the class of 2025 will not need to submit a standardized test score.

The suspension will not impact admission cycles beyond the 2020-21 academic year, according to a June 12 press release. The University plans to reinstate the standardized testing requirement for applicants to the class of 2026.

The College Board recently abandoned plans to offer the SAT virtually to students at home, citing the challenges of ensuring three hours of “video-quality” internet connection for every high schooler. The College Board plans to offer in-person testing dates in the fall in socially distant settings — leading to high demand for limited seats.

With testing capacity significantly reduced, the University joined the rest of the Ivy League in adopting a test-optional policy due to extenuating circumstances prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If prospective students are “just not able to get into a test site before they apply,” Dean of Admission Logan Powell told The Herald, they “will not be at a disadvantage in the process.”

Still, Powell hopes students will be able to test in the fall — and said if students have a standardized test score, they should submit it.

Powell also emphasized that holistic review will ensure that students who don’t submit a test score will not be punished, adding that test scores have never solely determined an applicant’s “admissibility.”

“We always look at the entirety of one’s academic portfolio. We look at everything in the file before we make a determination about whether a case is going to move forward in our process or not,” Powell said. “The score itself was never going to make the difference between admission or not.”

“For those cases who don’t submit test scores,” Powell added, “we’re certainly going to have to take a very close look at the high school and the academic offerings.”

Sara Harberson, a private college counselor and the former dean of admissions at Franklin and Marshall College, said she is still advising her clients to register for a standardized test near them, but is reassuring them not to worry if they feel underprepared or cannot take it. 

Harberson noted that the shift to a test-optional policy could prove challenging for admission officers, as it leaves them little time to prepare for a new process.

“That’s one of my biggest concerns: Are their staff members fully trained to understand applications in this new environment?” she said. 

The fact that the University will go test-optional for only one year, Harberson explained, means that other “checks and balances” to ensure fair and balanced review throughout the admission process — such as added oversight involving departments outside admissions or the implementation of additional requirements for applicants — may not follow.

Students who tend to be the strongest test-takers, who were likely able to get their desired score in one attempt in their junior fall last year, will benefit most from the decision, Harberson anticipates — as they would already have a strong score to submit which could strengthen their application despite the absence of a test requirement. 

But students who also struggled to get their test scores to match their transcripts could also see a benefit this year, Harberson noted. 

“For the first time, they will be competitive if they don’t submit test scores, if their transcript is flawless and everything else is flawless,” she said.

Powell noted that the University has previously admitted students with a “pretty wide” range of test scores, especially international students who may not necessarily prepare for the SAT or ACT, and who may instead receive predicted scores or take a national standardized test such as A-levels in the United Kingdom.

For athletes, test scores will remain a requirement in keeping with Ivy League athletic regulations, even under this announcement, unless the conference develops a “new metric for general academic eligibility” to replace standardized tests, he said — though the University will still review applications of recruited athletes who do not submit scores.

“The Ivy League is currently keeping in place its expectation that recruited athletes submit test scores,” Powell said. “It is also by league understanding the case that we acknowledge there will be some recruited student athletes who at the time they apply may not have a standardized test score — we’re still going to review their applications.”

The requirements for transfer students will also remain the same.

For now, the University plans to reinstate a standardized testing requirement for future applicants the year after the upcoming admission cycle. Unlike other schools, including Middlebury College, Tufts University and the College of William and Mary, Powell said the University won’t intentionally use this cycle as a pilot period for test-optional admission as the admission office  still considers it a helpful metric for evaluating applicants. Rising high school juniors — potential applicants to the class of 2026 — should anticipate preparing for and taking a test, Powell said.

“This is what we think will be a temporary disruption,” he said. “It’s not meant to be a larger, philosophical statement about the value of standardized testing.”

Still, Powell did not rule out a “revelation about the importance or lack of importance of standardized testing,” noting that Brown thinks about and revises its testing policy each year.

“We’re reasonable individuals,” he added. “We want to attract the very best students in the world to Brown — we’re going to make the decisions with the very best information we have on hand.”


Will Kubzansky

Will Kubzansky is the 133rd editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald. Previously, he served as a University News editor overseeing the admission & financial aid and staff & student labor beats. In his free time, he plays the guitar and soccer — both poorly.

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