Harvard: A Stunning Reversal

Just announced, Harvard will require test scores for this upcoming 2024-2025 admissions cycle. Other schools (Dartmouth, Yale, etc) returning to test-required admissions was, in some sense, overhyped news. This is likely different.

UPDATE: As of about 10 minutes ago, Caltech (which was test-blind) has just returned, effective immediately, to requiring test scores.

Anyone “in the know,” already knew that test-optional admissions only meant that “test scores are optional to apply to” a highly selective college, not that “test scores are optional to get into” a highly selective college. (See my Chicago Tribune piece and appearance on the Fox News podcast for more information breaking down the data behind why, for the majority of applicants, elite colleges were already functionally test-required to actually get admitted).

A few elite colleges publicly announcing the admissions policy (test-required admissions) that they were already more-or-less using in practice changed nothing for how much students needed to prepare for the SAT® and ACT® (because they needed to prepare just as much as before).

What makes Harvard’s announcement so fundamentally different, however, is that it’s a reversal.

Harvard had already committed to remaining test-optional until the 2025-2026 admissions cycle and had said it would re-evaluate its policy at that time (and potentially remain test-optional).

It is hard to convey just how stunning this reversal is. Here’s why:


Colleges seemingly gain little and lose much by returning to test-required admissions. Sure, colleges can better predict student success with the addition of test scores. But, they lose the ultimate flexibility to admit athletes and other high institutional priority students without test scores. And, when a college is test-optional, more students tend to apply; a college can then reject more applicants, drive its admit rate down, and artificially make itself look more selective.

So, to return to requiring test scores, schools need to be exceedingly convinced that the risk of admitting underprepared students outweighs all the obvious benefits that accrue from test-optional admissions.

But, to reverse course and end test-optional admissions earlier than promised…? Wow. It’s hard for me to imagine how great the risk Harvard sees from continuing test-optional admissions that it would flip-flop to become a follower of its institutional peers (when it has often been publicly perceived as the bellwether of elite colleges).


If Harvard can flip-flop and end test-optional admissions earlier than promised, then this gives every other college in the country the cover and license to do so.

Granted, I still don’t see a cascade of reversals for the 2024-2025 application season as likely. But, for current 10th graders who will be applying in the 2025-2026 cycle? It’s now possible that a majority of the top colleges will require test scores from them. Less selective colleges will probably stay test-optional simply because the demographic/enrollment cliff that most colleges are facing poses a financial risk for them, which is partly alleviated with test-optional admissions that allow them to admit full-pay students without requiring test scores. But, who knows? Maybe they too will see the risk of test-optional admissions to their institutional reputation, to the academic preparedness of their students, etc as too great.

For this upcoming admissions cycle, it’s more likely now than before that the few colleges that have yet to announce their testing policy will similarly return to requiring test scores.


While stunning, Harvard’s reversal still does not change the advice to current or future high school students: good scores help students get into good colleges. This is true when test scores are optional and when they are required.

SAT® and ACT® are registered trademarks belonging, respectively, to Collegeboard and ACT, Inc. Neither Collegeboard nor ACT, Inc. is involved with or affiliated with Summit Prep, nor does the SAT or ACT, Inc. endorse or sponsor any of the products or services offered by Summit Prep.


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