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Yale joins other top colleges in again requiring SAT scores, saying it will help poor applicants

Yale University on Thursday said it is reversing a pandemic-era policy that made standardized test scores like the SAT exam optional for applicants, joining other top colleges such as Dartmouth and MIT. 

In a statement posted to its website, Yale said it is abandoning the test-optional approach that it began four years ago, when the pandemic shut down testing centers and made it difficult for many high school juniors and seniors to sit for the exams. Many other colleges became test-optional for the same reason. 

Yale accepted about 4.5% of applicants last year, making it one of the nation's most selective universities.

At the same time, standardized exams such as the SAT have come under fire from critics who point out that higher scores are correlated with wealth, meaning that richer children tend to score higher than poorer ones, partly as high-income families can pay for tutoring, test prep and other boosts. But Yale said it decided to reverse its test-optional policy after finding that it may actually hurt the chances of lower-income applicants to gain admissions. 

"This finding will strike many as counterintuitive," Yale said in its post. 

During its test-optional admissions, applicants could still submit scores if they wished, but weren't required to do so. Yale found that its officers put greater weight on other parts of the application besides scores, a shift that the university found "frequently worked to the disadvantage of applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds," it noted.

The reason is due to the fact that students from wealthy school districts or private schools could include other signals of achievement, such as AP classes or other advanced courses, Yale said. 

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In contrast, students from schools without deep resources "quickly exhaust the available course offerings, leaving only two or three rigorous classes in their senior year schedule," Yale noted. "With no test scores to supplement these components, applications from students attending these schools may leave admissions officers with scant evidence of their readiness for Yale."

Providing a standardized test score, even one that's lower than the median SAT range for Yale students, can give Yale admissions officers confidence that these applicants can succeed at the school, it added. 

Yale said its new policy will require that students submit scores, although they can opt to report Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores instead of the ACT or SAT. 

Does wealth gain access?

The decisions of Yale, Dartmouth and MIT to require SAT or ACT scores come amid a debate about the fairness of admissions at the nation's top universities.

Last year, the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in college admission decisions, effectively ending the use of race as a basis for consideration in whether to accept an applicant. At the same time, critics have pointed out that top universities often provide advantages to certain types of students who tend to be wealthy or connected, such as the children of alumni who have an edge over other applicants through legacy admissions.

The "Ivy plus" colleges — the eight Ivy League colleges along with MIT, Stanford, Duke and University of Chicago — accept children from families in the top 1% at more than double the rate of students in any other income group with similar SAT or ACT scores, an analysis found last year. 

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There's a reason why so many people are focused on the admissions policies of Yale and other top colleges: the Ivy-plus universities have collectively produced more than 4 in 10 U.S. presidents and 1 in 8 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. 

For its part, Yale said its research has found that test scores are the single best predictor of a student's grades at the university, even after controlling for income and other demographic data. 

Still, the school added that it will continue to examine other parts of a student's application, noting, "Our applicants are not their scores, and our selection process is not an exercise in sorting students by their performance on standardized exams."

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