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End of Optional ACTs & SATs

With Harvard and Caltech joining the ranks of selective colleges and universities requiring a standardized test once again as part of the 2024-25 application cycle, MyGuru is more than comfortable asserting that all high schoolers planning to attend college should once again plan to take either the ACT or SAT. While many applicants will see this as a negative (who wants to take a test on a weekend, right!?), this return to standardized testing requirements has been supported by each of the institutions reinstating the exams with data illustrating that test optional policies have actually harmed the at-risk and lower income students that they purportedly were intended to help.

what this means for the class of 2029

Reestablishing mandatory testing policies will be a welcome end to the uncertainty caused by the proliferation of so many differing application requirements and guidelines for many high school seniors, since students aiming for the top schools simply know that they need to perform well on at least one of the two tests. More importantly, it means that other schools will reinstate their own testing requirements between now and the first early decision application deadlines in fall 2024, so juniors heading into the summer will want to be ready for that possibility. Generally, 2-4 months of regular, daily study is needed for any student to maximize their ACT or SAT score, so rather than waiting to find out if a dream school will join the ranks of colleges reinstating their standardized testing requirement, every applicant should plan on prepping with one (or more) of the following 2024 test dates in mind:

  • June 8 (ACT)
  • July 13 (ACT)
  • August 24 (SAT)
  • September 14 (ACT)
  • October 5 (SAT)
  • October 26 (ACT)
  • November 2 (SAT)
  • December 7 (SAT)
  • December 14 (ACT)

Of course, always visit College Board or ACT online directly to confirm the most up to date test dates and registration deadlines.

More Schools will reinstate the ACT & SAT

Momentum matters. It took a few other dominos to fall first, but with Caltech and Harvard now following the lead of MIT (first of all), Dartmouth, and the University of Texas at Austin among others, it is a safe assumption that most reasonably selective universities in the United States will soon once again require either an ACT or SAT score as part of an application packet.

As in so many other aspects of life, this change back to mandating a standardized test could be expected to happen slowly and then all at once. While some university systems, particularly the University of California, which remains test blind as opposed to test optional, may choose to uphold their anti-standardized test policies longer than others, any schools that want to appear comparable in quality to Ivy League or state flagships that require an ACT or SAT will need to set similarly high standards for incoming students. At some point schools that do not require exams could actually see the perception of their degrees decline in comparison to degrees from institutions with the seemingly higher standard of excellence imparted by a standardized testing requirement. 

Mandating tests helps first-gen students

Unfortunately, many conscientious applicants without access to advice from family or private counseling proactively chose to opt out of reporting test scores erroneously believing that their scores were too low to be competitive. By taking the decision out of the hands of these applicants, schools are allowing students to embrace the challenge posed by the ACT and SAT to turn this returning obligation into a true application opportunity.

Students from lower-performing high schools or less affluent backgrounds will never have comparable access to the litany of AP or IB courses (and the weighted grade inflation that goes along with them) offered by prestigious private or boarding schools. However, free resources for the Digital SAT from Khan Academy and from the ACT online are available to ambitious students of all backgrounds.

While the ACT and SAT became easy scapegoats in recent years for the inherent inequities in the college application process, they are in fact the most equitable aspect of the entire application process. After all, several wealthy parents went to jail as part of the Varsity Blues scandal a few years back, because it was easier to pay to cheat on the SAT than it was for their children, with all the resources in the world at their disposal, to actually study to perform well on it!

control your own destiny

Targeting only test optional or test blind colleges will be impossible moving forward, since admissions offices can change their policies at any time. Furthermore, even at "test optional" schools, the ACT and SAT are often used as a way to distribute need and merit scholarships or grants, so students opting to not take these tests may be denying themselves opportunities to fund their education. Instead, high schoolers who have completed at least Algebra II should plan ahead to find time in their schedule to dedicate themselves to improving the only aspect of their college application that can be markedly improved in a matter of weeks and months.

The first step is always to take a free diagnostic ACT and Digital SAT to determine which exam is preferable for each individual student, and from there regular practice can truly change your academic destiny. Of course, you can also request an expert MyGuru tutor to be guided by a true test prep expert!