Harvard announces return to required testing

Students applying to Harvard College for fall 2025 admission will be required to submit standardized test scores, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced on Thursday. This new policy will be applied to the Class of 2029 admissions cycle and will be formally assessed at regular intervals.

For the Class of 2029 admissions cycle, Harvard will require submission of scores for the SAT or ACT. In exceptional cases in which applicants are unable to access SAT or ACT testing, other eligible tests will be accepted.

In a message to the FAS community on Thursday, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi Hoekstra foregrounded “a number of factors” that underscored the decision.

“Standardized tests are a means for all students, regardless of their background and life experience, to provide information that is predictive of success in college and beyond,” she said. “Indeed, when students have the option of not submitting their test scores, they may choose to withhold information that, when interpreted by the admissions committee in the context of the local norms of their school, could have potentially helped their application. In short, more information, especially such strongly predictive information, is valuable for identifying talent from across the socioeconomic range.”

In research published last year, Harvard Professors Raj Chetty and David J. Deming and co-author John N. Friedman used data from more than 400 institutions and about 3.5 million undergrads per year to better understand socioeconomic diversity and admissions. Standardized tests emerged as an important tool to identify promising students at less-well-resourced high schools, particularly when paired with other academic credentials.

“Critics correctly note that standardized tests are not an unbiased measure of students’ qualifications, as students from higher-income families often have greater access to test prep and other resources,” said Chetty, the William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics and director of Opportunity Insights. “But the data reveal that other measures — recommendation letters, extracurriculars, essays — are even more prone to such biases. Considering standardized test scores is likely to make the admissions process at Harvard more meritocratic while increasing socioeconomic diversity.”

Deming, the Kennedy School’s Isabelle and Scott Black Professor of Political Economy and a professor of education and economics at the Ed School, pointed to access as a key issue.

“The virtue of standardized tests is their universality,” he said. “Not everyone can hire an expensive college coach to help them craft a personal essay. But everyone has the chance to ace the SAT or the ACT. While some barriers do exist, the widespread availability of the test provides, in my view, the fairest admissions policy for disadvantaged applicants.”

In June 2020, as the pandemic severely limited access to standardized testing, Harvard began a test-optional policy under which students could apply to the College without submitting scores. The admissions cycle for the Class of 2028 was the fourth for which students were able to apply without submitting test scores. However, admissions has welcomed applicants to submit test scores, and the majority of those who matriculated during the past four years did so.

“Test scores can provide important information about a student’s application,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “However, they representonly one factor among many as our admissions committee considers the whole person in making its decisions. Admissions officers understand that not all students attend well-resourced schools, and those who come from modest economic backgrounds or first-generation college families may have had fewer opportunities to prepare for standardized tests.”

In recent years, nonprofits such as Khan Academy have offered robust test-prep tools at no charge. In her message, Hoekstra said that access to testing should never prevent a student from applying to Harvard, and included information for those who may not be able to access the SAT or ACT, as well as tools such as Schoolhouse.world and other sources for no-cost tutoring and no-cost test preparation.

“We recognize that in parts of the United States there may be fewer students than in the past taking SAT or ACT for their state universities — and international applicants can also face barriers to testing,” said Joy St. John, director of admissions. “We hope that promising students faced with such challenges will still apply, using alternative forms of testing.”

Said Hoekstra: “Fundamentally, we know that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. With this change, we hope to strengthen our ability to identify these promising students, and to give Harvard the opportunity to support their development as thinkers and leaders who will contribute to shaping our world.”

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