Caltech Joins the SAT/ACT Testing Bandwagon in Step with Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, and Harvard

12/04/20245 minute read
Caltech Joins the SAT/ACT Testing Bandwagon in Step with Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, and Harvard

Caltech has now joined the handful of Ivies and other prominent schools reinstating standardized testing requirements for applicants to the Class of 2029, in other words, beginning with applications for admission in the Fall of 2025. Caltech's announcement came shortly after Harvard officials announced a similar reversal and further expands the circle of top schools opting to reinstate testing sooner rather than later.

With Harvard's recent decision to reinstate testing for its Class of 2029 making big headlines, it might be easy to overlook Caltech's decision to reinstate standardized testing, announced shortly after Harvard's news broke.

Like Harvard, Caltech is a challenging school to get into, with an infinitesimal acceptance rate hovering around 4%, based on projections and available data.

Caltech initially suspended test requirements in 2020, in response to Covid and the recent reversal, just announced, comes one year earlier than anticipated.

What's on the Horizon for Test-optional Admissions?

With Caltech now being the next elite-school domino to fall, it's clear that the current prevalence of test-optional policies — which almost seemed to constitute a new norm in higher education — is indeed on shifting sand.

The rapid-fire reversals, from a small but very influential line up of prestigious institutions, make it difficult to project how test-optional policies will fare in the near term on the larger national stage.

Our close look at Harvard's announcement suggests top schools are deciding to reinstate testing mandates because they want to put test scores to work, not for ranking students, but in a more progressive framework of holistic admissions, as a critical mechanism for advancing more inclusive admissions outcomes.

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What's Behind the Decision by Caltech?

Caltech adopted its test-optional policy in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium was extended in 2021, and then again in 2022, and was already slated to expire in 2025.

Caltech officials presumably also took into consideration the fact that, even with the test requirement suspended, most students were opting to submit test scores.

Thus, even coming a year ahead of schedule, Caltech's decision is hardly likely to have a very material impact on the large majority of prospective Caltech applicants.

According to Caltech officials, most of its applicants — well above 90% — are already choosing to submit SAT or ACT scores, making the policy reversal close to a moot point for students.

For Caltech, on the other hand, the test-optional policy was arguably a bit irrational in addition to being largely irrelevant. Although over 95% of Caltech applicants submitted SAT or ACT scores in the last admissions cycle, the test-optional policy nonetheless prohibited admissions officials from viewing scores prior to making an admissions decision!

“We think it is critical that our admissions office and the faculty who are reviewing applicants have available to them all the information that could shape their understanding of a prospective student's readiness for our rigorous academic programs.”

- Caltech Faculty Advisory Committee

Caltech's decision goes into effect immediately, according to school officials, affecting students who apply this year and beyond for admissions in the Fall of 2025 (Caltech Class of 2029) and afterwards.

“We are proud of the students we've enrolled over the last several years and confident in the steps we've taken to enhance our ability to identify students who will succeed at – and beyond – Caltech”

- Provost David Tirrell

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Final Thoughts

Given the decisions at some other highly selective schools over the past month or two, Caltech's decision to do away with its testing moratorium a year sooner than anticipated is not a big surprise.

Since most applicants at this school submit test scores anyway, Caltech's decision to reinstate the testing requirement will probably have a negligible impact on the majority of prospective applicants.

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