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Community members, admissions experts react to updated admissions policies

Students express mixed views on test score requirement, legacy admissions

A survey of incoming first-year students conducted by The Herald found that 76% of the class of 2027 submitted a test score.
Courtesy of Alex Schupak
A survey of incoming first-year students conducted by The Herald found that 76% of the class of 2027 submitted a test score. Courtesy of Alex Schupak

Last week, the University announced that it will once again require students to submit test scores in the upcoming admission cycle. Based on recommendations by the Ad Hoc Committee on Admissions Policies, the University will continue to offer early decision and seek community input on legacy admissions. 

The Herald spoke with community members and admissions experts about their reactions to these decisions. 

Nick Lee ’26, co-president of Students for Educational Equity, was “livid” when he heard that Brown would be reinstating the test score requirement. “It felt like the decision that was made was directly the opposite of everything we’ve been calling for,” Lee said. 

But he said he was ultimately unsurprised by the decision, considering that Dartmouth, Yale and MIT had all announced they would do so prior to Brown’s decision. 


Alex Shieh ’27 said he believes that “reinstating Brown’s testing requirement is a win for all applicants, as it allows admissions officers to better understand their academic skills.” Shieh added that, in his view, test scores will allow admissions officers to have a more standardized view of applicants, noting that GPAs can be unrepresentative because grading practices can vary by school.

“Reinstating SAT scores strengthens this meritocracy by ensuring that students are assessed on what they can bring to a school, rather than by subjective factors (with) greater susceptibility to racial bias or class bias, like recommendation letters or extracurriculars,” Shieh added.

A study released October 2023 by Opportunity Insights found that “nonacademic ratings” used to evaluate applicants varied greatly by socioeconomic status, attributing the discrepancy to expanded access to extracurriculars and guidance counselors among affluent students.

Sara Harberson, founder of Application Nation and former associate dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the reinstatement of the testing requirement will not change how she advises students. 

“Despite most colleges adopting a test-optional policy during the pandemic, it has been abundantly clear that especially among the Ivies and other elite colleges, students submitting scores are significantly more likely to be admitted than those who do not report scores,” Harberson wrote in an email to The Herald.

A survey of incoming first-year students conducted by The Herald found that 76% of the class of 2027 submitted a test score. Since the beginning of the test-optional policy, approximately 60% of applicants submitted a score, according to the executive summary of the committee’s recommendations. 

As a result of the committee’s recommendations, the University also announced that it would be continuing to offer a binding early decision policy instead of adopting the non-binding early action policy practiced by peer institutions including Harvard, Princeton and Yale. 

“The committee considered whether a non-binding Early Action program would be preferable for any reason and concluded that there was some risk that this could place Brown at a slight disadvantage in enrolling very highly qualified students who are subsequently admitted to other institutions through Regular Decision,” the executive summary reads.

According to the summary, a common criticism of the early application option is that students are unable to compare financial aid offers from other universities. President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 wrote to the Brown community that the “committee’s conclusion (is) that this broader concern does not apply to Brown.”

Paxson wrote that students have the option of comparing financial aid estimates before they apply. “Our financial aid offers are very generous, and online calculators give students and families good estimates of their cost of attendance at Brown,” she wrote. “The fact that 60% of ED applicants express an intent to apply for financial aid indicates that applicants are confident that, if admitted, they will receive the financial support they need.”


But for Harberson, “To rest on Brown's dedication to meeting a student's demonstrated need ignores the fact that lower- and middle-income students cannot compare financial aid and merit scholarships from other colleges when they commit to early decision,” she wrote.

“The issue with early decision, and an issue that I think has been repeated time and time again, is that students are able to apply for early decision if they are assured they will get the aid they need,” Lee said. These students, he said, are those who know their parents will be able to afford tuition and students who are positive the University will meet their total demonstrated financial need.

Richard Kahlenberg, who served as an expert witness in Students for Fair Admission vs. Harvard and University of North Carolina, wrote that “in the face of a Supreme Court decision eliminating the use of racial preferences, a place like Brown should be doing everything it can to find new paths to diversity.” 

“This decision to retain early decision and legacy preferences raises big questions about Brown's commitment to diversity in a new legal environment,” Kahlenberg added. 

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According to The Herald’s first-year poll, enrolled students who applied early were more likely to have attended a private high school, have parents who attended college, have legacy status and/or not have financial need. 

Paxson has announced that the University will continue to seek input from community members concerning legacy admissions. Brown’s legacy policy provides preference to applicants who have one or more parents who completed an undergraduate degree at Brown. 

Shieh, a legacy student himself, does not support Brown’s practice of legacy admissions.

“Brown should seek to build a community based on students’ passion, intellect and potential, not what they look like or who their parents are,” Shieh wrote in an email to The Herald. “Pure merit-based admissions also allows all students, including legacies like me, to have the feeling of certainty that they earned their spot.”

For Kahlenberg, “Legacy preferences constitute affirmative action for the rich. This practice was never defensible, but even less so now that Brown cannot use race in admissions,” he said. “Lots of other superb universities — Oxford, Cambridge, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley — don't use legacy preferences. Brown should join them.”

Robert Guterl ’26, a SEE admissions and access team member, said that Brown’s lagging socioeconomic diversity and the disproportionate number of wealthy students cannot be separated from the school’s use of legacy admissions. 

“When I think about legacy … I think of the phrase ‘wealth builds wealth,’” Guterl said. “Once you get to a place like Brown, you graduate (and become) very successful and create wealth for yourself and for your family.” 

In a recent interview with The Herald, Paxson explained legacy students “become increasingly” diverse over the years. She said that if the University “were concerned primarily with socioeconomic diversity, it would make sense to eliminate” legacy admissions.

Lee referenced this quote, saying, “that to me is the most direct quote and the most evident example that we should get rid of legacy admissions because we should care about socioeconomic diversity.”

Talia LeVine

Talia LeVine is a photographer for The Herald and a University News Senior Staff Writer focusing on Admissions & Financial aid. She is a first-year from Seattle, WA studying Political Science with an emphasis on human rights.

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