In a Major Reversal, Harvard Will Again Require ACT and SAT Scores

Following a wave of other prestigious colleges–Brown, Dartmouth, Yale– that have changed from test optional to test required, Harvard University announced today that they will again require standardized test scores for undergraduate admissions:

This shift is especially notable because Harvard had previously stated that they would remain test optional up through applicants for the Harvard graduating class of 2030.

Why this change? First, “Harvard has found that SAT and ACT scores are  the best predictors of Harvard grades.” This comes as no surprise in light of increasing grade inflation at U.S. high schools. According to Inside Higher Ed, “the proportion of students with A averages (including A-minus and A-plus) increased from 38.9 percent of the graduating class of 1998 to 47 percent of the graduating class of 2016.” If most applicants are getting A’s, colleges need another way to differentiate among applicants–hence, the need for standardized test scores.

Second, many students have mistakenly been told that unless they get ACT scores in the high 30s or SAT scores above 1500, they have no business applying to selective schools. Harvard wants to encourage students to submit scores who fall below this range, sharing that “in the last year that Harvard required testing, the range (10th percentile to 90th percentile) of SAT scores for enrolling students was 670 to 790 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 680 to 800 for Math.  The range (10th percentile to 90th percentile) of ACT Composite scores was 31 to 36.” Harvard applicants who score in the in the high 1300s on the SAT and low 30s on the ACT should definitely considering submitting their scores based on this data.

Most college admissions officials to whom I have spoken have said that students are typically well-advised to submit their test scores if they are at least at the 25th percentile for admitted students. Now that standardized testing is widely available, unlike during the Covid pandemic, applicants should be aware that if they decline to submit their test scores to a college, they are effectively signaling that their scores are less than the 25th percentile for admitted students. Students can find the 25th percentile scores for colleges by searching the Big Future website.

The bottom line–in order to differentiate yourself in an increasingly competitive admissions environment, ACT and SAT scores should not longer be considered optional.

–Brian W. Stewart