Emily Macias ’25 applied to Stanford during a global pandemic and amid fast-changing testing requirements. Test-prep affordability and difficulty in finding testing centers made Stanford’s move to test-optional “a relief,” as she could not take the test before her senior year due to COVID-19.
“I am FLI [first generation and/or low income], so I could not afford any SAT prep courses,” Macias wrote to The Daily. Stanford’s test-optional policy meant that Macias “no longer had to worry about long studying hours, testing stress or the possibility of not being able to find an unfilled testing site near me.”
Incoming frosh report that Stanford’s test-optional admissions policy reduced stress and allowed more time to focus on other aspects of college applications.
The test-optional decision came amid dialogue surrounding the background and impact of standardized testing, which some allege to be discriminatory across race and class lines. In 2020, Black and Latino students on average scored lower on the SAT, particularly in the math sections, relative to white and Asian students. When standardized testing scores are weighted heavily in the college admissions process, this gap in scoring can affect racial and socioeconomic representation at American colleges and universities, according to a 2018 study analyzing effects of test-optional policies on college demographics.
Stanford announced this February that standardized tests will be optional for first-year and transfer applicants in the 2021-22 admission cycle due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This announcement came as COVID-19 made access to testing centers difficult in many areas. While tests like the SAT and ACT have long been required components of application packages, colleges across the U.S. — including Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Yale — did not require testing for Class of 2025 applications.
“We recognize the disruptions many applicants have faced during the pandemic — including limited access to standardized admission testing worldwide,” Stanford Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Richard H. Shaw wrote. The Admissions Office works to understand different student situations and to be accommodating, Shaw added.
Some students are thinking more broadly about the consequences of standardized testing in college admissions. Yarency Avelar ’25 said that richer parts of America have more access to tools and preparation than less-advantaged communities, access which could help more affluent families get a leg up in the process.
“Wealthier communities tend to have more resources compared to those who lack the resources,” Avelar said. “I come from Oakland, so there isn’t a lot of that where I am from — I feel as if that’s where a lot of gaps in education are.”
Test-takers from wealthier backgrounds may be more likely to take the test again (registering for the SAT costs around $55). Students in affluent communities also tend have more access to test-preparation programs, more advanced classes and better school funds.
The absence of a test requirement allowed Leonardo Daniels ’25 to focus on other parts of the application and show his individuality in his application. Daniels had been studying for the tests during his junior and senior years when colleges began removing testing restrictions.
“I feel like personality, your intersectionality and identity is so much more important than just a test score,” Daniels said.
The Office of Undergraduate Admission announced that it views applicants in context and understands the difficulties in accessing standardized testing, mentioning their continued work for diversity and equality.
Incoming frosh indicated their preference for Stanford to continue its test-optional policy in future admission cycles.
“I feel as if it opens more doors for other students like myself who don’t have the tools to study for tests,” Avelar said. “It opens more possibilities to students like me to come to a school like Stanford.”
Studies show that students from less-advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, students with disabilities and those with limited English language abilities may be disadvantaged by generalized standards used for assessment, such as Common Core. Students with disabilities and English Language Learners can receive certain accommodations, though the regulation of these accommodations differs on a state-by-state basis.
Macias hopes that the test-optional policies continue after the pandemic at Stanford and beyond: “In the long run, I think the factors that really make a good student are the dedication and experiences shown through their essays and extracurricular activities.”