UC Schools Eliminate SAT/ACT Requirement: What This Means for Students
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- Timeline of the Decision
- Reasoning Behind the Decision
- What This Means for Students
- Should You Submit Your Score to Other Schools?
The University of California made waves when it went test-blind this fall.
Although the system may still use SAT or ACT scores for course placement after acceptance, scores will not play a role in admissions decisions at any of the nine schools that comprise the UC system. This includes the guaranteed admission program for in-state students, which previously used the admissions index based on test scores and GPA. The UC system is in the process of revising the admissions index. These standardized tests will also not be used in determining the recipients of Regents and Chancellor’s scholarships.
Early in the pandemic, UC schools (like many schools across the country) became test-optional for the 2020-2021 school year when spring SAT and ACT test dates were canceled. A bit later, in response to criticism of the underrepresentation of Black and Latino students on UC campuses, the UC Board of Regents unanimously voted to continue test-blind admissions after the pandemic and enacted a five-year plan to do away with the standardized testing requirement and replace it with a new test by 2025.
The UC system is one of the most prestigious public university systems in the country, and the UC decision to go test-blind will affect admissions at higher education institutions throughout the United States, public and private alike.
Timeline of the Test-Blind Decision
A coalition of students, along with a California school district and several advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit against the UC over the use of standardized test scores in its admissions process, arguing that it discriminates against people of color, largely Black and Hispanic students, and those with disabilities.
The College Board and ACT canceled all spring SAT and ACT test dates respectively because of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting many institutions, including UC, to change their admissions policies to test-optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, and in some cases beyond that.
On May 21, the UC Board of Regent unanimously approved a plan to eliminate its SAT/ACT requirement, voting instead to create its own test, to be implemented by 2025. Under the plan, the system would remain test-optional for two years, after which the SAT and ACT would not be considered in the admissions process. The test would still be used to award scholarships and to determine course placement.
Instead, the system said it would create a new standardized test to replace the SAT and ACT, to be implemented by 2025. If the system was unable to successfully implement a new test, then it would remain test-blind.
Following the unanimous vote, in late August, a California State Court Judge Brad Seligman issued a preliminary injunction preventing the UC from using standardized tests, including the SAT and ACT, as part of its admissions decisions. Judge Seligman argued that the test-optional policies still disadvantaged students with disabilities, as they lacked access to testing centers with accommodations during COVID-19.
The system appealed the decision and was granted a temporary stay, allowing the UC to use the tests as part of the admissions process for the time being.
On October 29, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco lifted the stay, meaning the UC would no longer be permitted to use standardized tests as part of the process. This ruling went into effect immediately, such that the nine schools that comprise the UC would be test-blind for fall 2020 applicants.
The UC schools reached a settlement on a different lawsuit filed in 2019, making admissions test-blind on any applications received from Fall 2021 to Spring 2025.
The Reasoning Behind This Decision
“Test blind has the virtue of sending a straightforward signal that biased tests are worthless as measures of merit,” Joseph A. Soares, a Wake Forest University professor, and Jay Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation, declared in Inside Higher Ed following Judge Seligman’s initial ruling.
Critics of standardized testing have voiced their concerns that the SAT and ACT are biased against low-income and minority students. They contend that the tests are inequitable because students from affluent families can pay for test prep sessions, allowing them to raise their scores through expensive tutoring, while many of their peers are not. Further, because standardized test scores have historically been heavily weighted in college admissions, inequitable tests are said to lead to discrepancies in racial representation on college campuses.
Latino students represent 51.2% of high school graduates in California, but only 28.9% of UC students. Additionally, Black students represent 5.7% of high school graduates, but only 4.7% of UC students. When considering individual schools within the UC system, it is the most prestigious schools that show the largest gaps in representation. Notably, UCLA has 21% Latino students and 3% Black students and UC Berkeley has 21.4% Latino students and 3.7% Black students.
While the UC system has made strides toward equal opportunity through its decision to go test-blind, UC is not alone. Even with less drastic representation discrepancies, the California State University (CSU) system has also decided to extend its test-blind policy until 2023. The CSU student body is 49.7% Latino students, showing a less extreme representation gap than that of the UC system. The gap in Black representation, however, is comparable to that of the UC system with Black students comprising only 4.3% of the student body.
It is important to address the reasoning behind having test-blind admissions as compared to test-optional admissions. According to CollegeVine’s data, in test-optional admissions, students who submit scores are accepted at a higher rate than those who don’t—even if their scores are below the 25th percentile of admitted students at a given school. With that, test-optional admissions does not address the issue of inequity.
In addition to racial inequity, it is important to note that students with disabilities are also often at a disadvantage when taking standardized tests, even if they receive accommodations like additional time.
What This Means for Students
The rationale behind developing standardized tests in the first place was that they would add a supposedly more objective measure to the admissions process since grades are not standardized across high schools or even courses within the same high school. In other words, an A at High School 1 could be a B+ at High School 2. Eliminating the SAT and ACT from the equation might be concerning for students hoping to attend top schools. Additionally, eliminating test scores in admissions will affect the number of applications schools receive and the number of students who take the SAT and ACT.
Effects on Admissions Decisions
Before the UCs went test-blind, standardized tests were one of many data points admissions officers used when making admissions decisions. Now that admissions officers have one fewer data point, your grades, extracurriculars, and essays will hold more weight. That being said, because UC applicants tend to have high GPAs, the real place to differentiate your application is going to be in building your high school resume (this will be especially important as we emerge from the pandemic) and in writing deeply compelling personal essays. You’ll need to focus more on these elements of your profile and application, rather than investing in test prep. If you are looking for help to make your essays stand out, review our guide for responding to the UC prompts.
Additionally, admissions decisions are going to become more “random” and influenced by the personal discretion of admissions officers. Applicants previously needed to meet a certain baseline GPA and SAT/ACT for UC consideration, but under the test-blind admissions process, students only need to meet the baseline GPA. Because 60% more students meet the baseline GPA than the baseline SAT/ACT scores, more students will be eligible for consideration at UC schools, making in-state and out-of-state admission significantly more competitive.
Effects on Where Students Apply
Generally, test-optional colleges receive a higher quantity of applications because students only have to meet a baseline GPA (but not a baseline SAT/ACT score). The UC schools should see a similar increase. For example, students who previously would’ve applied to the CSU system but not the UC system due to not meeting the UC system’s baseline test scores are now likely to submit applications to UC schools. More out-of-state students are likely to apply to UC schools for the same reasons.
Before the UCs went test-blind, students who graduated in the top 9% of their class were kind of “guaranteed” admissions to a UC campus. We say “guaranteed” because students who weren’t accepted to their UC campuses of choice became part of the “referral pool” and were usually admitted to UC Merced, space permitting.
Under this admissions guarantee, the SAT and ACT usually played a major role in determining if students ended up at UC Berkeley (with high baseline test scores) or UC Merced (with low baseline test scores). Now, these admissions decisions will be more random (e.g. students that previously would have gotten into UCSD and not UC Berkeley might get accepted at UC Berkeley, while students who were accepted at both UC Berkeley and UCSD might only get into UCSD).
Knowledge of the new randomness of UC admissions will likely affect where students submit applications. High-performing California students who previously had schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley high on their lists are likely to apply to more out-of-state colleges with less “random” admissions. This could cause out-of-state admissions to be more competitive, as out-of-state schools become more attractive compared to non-flagship UC schools.
For out-of-state students, UCLA and UC Berkeley are expected to see much higher yields (since they will be the first choice of a larger percentage of accepted students) while the other UC schools are likely to see lower yields since more students may apply to them as safeties due to the increased randomness of UC admissions.
Effects on Testing Numbers
Because the UC and CSU systems have gone test-blind, there will likely be a dramatic reduction in the number of California students who take standardized tests. It is thought that the SAT could have 85,000 fewer test-takers based on California test-blind admissions, while the ACT could lose 30,000 test-takers.
If you are a California student and only plan on applying in-state, you can safely skip the SAT or ACT. However, if you are a strong test taker, it might still be worth taking the test to see if you qualify for admissions or scholarships at out-of-state schools. This could be especially valuable if you don’t get into your preferred UC or CSU campus(es).
Since most colleges across the country have extended their test-optional policies until 2022, there is no downside to taking the SAT or ACT. It may lead to opportunities (admissions or scholarships) at other schools and you can always choose not to submit it. If you can, it is in your best interest to take the SAT or ACT.
Should I Submit My Test Scores to Other Schools?
UC schools will not be reviewing any scores submitted in the application process since they are test-blind, but test-optional schools will still consider scores.
Not sure how you stack up against other applicants, with or without a test score? To find your real odds of admission to more than 500 colleges in the U.S., including all nine of the UC schools, try out CollegeVine’s free Chancing Engine. This unique tool can help you decide whether your test scores will help or hurt you in your college admissions process. It takes into account your test scores if you’re planning on submitting them, along with your GPA and the other qualitative factors that admissions officers look for. We’ll also give you feedback to help you improve your profile. And it’s completely free!