College applicants still aren’t submitting SAT, ACT scores at pre-pandemic levels

Dive Brief:

  • College applicants still aren’t providing SAT or ACT scores at the same rate they were before the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data from the Common Application. 
  • Just 43% of applicants submitted entrance exam scores to Common App member institutions for the 2022-23 academic year. This is nearly the exact same share as the previous year, but far lower than prior to the pandemic. In 2019-20, nearly three-quarters of applicants sent colleges assessment results.
  • These trends follow a significant number of colleges switching to test-optional policies, which is reflected in the Common App data. Just 4% of their member colleges in 2022-23 mandated admission test scores, down from 55% in 2019-20.

Dive Insight:

The test-optional campaign has exploded in higher education. Once a burgeoning movement, test-optional was pushed into overdrive by the pandemic as common exam sites, like K-12 schools, closed.

Some institutions have taken up test-optional admissions temporarily, while others are adopting test-free policies, refusing to consider exam scores whatsoever.

Overall, more than 1,800 colleges are not requiring test scores for the fall 2023 admissions cycle, according to FairTest, an advocacy organization pushing for limited application of standardized assessments. That count includes colleges that have historically never asked for scores.

The data from the Common App — an online portal enabling students to apply to more than 1,000 participating colleges — shows the tests’ continued diminished role in admissions, despite pandemic restrictions waning.

The share of applicants sending in scores plummeted to 40% in the 2020-21 academic year, when stronger COVID-19 precautionary measures were in effect. To properly analyze year-over-year comparisons, the Common App only included in its new analysis the 841 institutions that participated in the 2019-20 academic year. 

Only 35% of students from the lowest income bracket sent in scores in 2022-23, roughly the same share as in the prior two years. In 2019-20, about 67% of lowest-income applicants provided scores. 

Experts say the SAT and ACT disadvantage low-income and other historically marginalized applicants the most, as they can’t afford the same extensive tutoring as their more affluent peers. Indeed, high exam scores correlate with wealth.

Nearly half of applicants in the highest income bracket delivered scores to colleges in 2022-23, according to the Common App. More than three-quarters of those applicants were providing scores in 2019-20.

Test submissions also varied by gender — 48% of men sent scores in 2022-23 versus only 40% of women. Almost equal shares of men and women — 75% and 73% respectively — furnished scores in 2019-20.

This article originally appeared in

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