Here’s how Stanford’s test-optional admissions cycle impacted early admits

Dec. 28, 2021, 4:25 p.m.

Stanford welcomed the newest members of the Class of 2026 on Dec. 15 when it released its restrictive early action decisions. This year marks the second admissions cycle in which students were not required to submit SAT or ACT test scores due to COVID-19 conditions — a temporary policy change that some recent admits say has helped mitigate inequities in the application process.

When Stanford first introduced its test-optional policy for Class of 2025 applicants, it was met with positivity and relief from some students. The new policy emerged amid a national discussion regarding the role of standardized tests in college admissions. 

Momentum for test-optional admissions is building: Peer institutions around the country are extending test-optional policies for multiple years and some, including the University of California system, have abandoned standardized testing requirements entirely.

Megan Peng ’26, a high school senior from San Diego, Calif., decided to include her standardized test score in her Stanford application. 

“I was lucky enough to be able to test during the pandemic, and I received a score that I felt reflected/supported my academic strength,” she wrote in an email. 

On the other hand, Kristine Pashin ’26 decided not to submit a standardized test score, a decision she says allowed her to more accurately represent herself and stay true to her values in her application. 

Pashin said that she does not think standardized tests accurately predict college readiness or the individual one will shape up to be in college — an outcome she said is “up to you and you alone.”

Pashin added that she felt uncomfortable with what she sees as the inequity posed by standardized tests: “Not many people had access to take these tests for these past two years, and at the end of the day, I was thinking, ‘I don’t really believe in it.’ I wasn’t going to submit something that I didn’t think represented me or my beliefs,” she said. 

Though some studies have shown that students who submit standardized test scores typically have higher first-year GPAs than those who opt not to submit, there is also evidence that the effectiveness of standardized testing as a predictor differs along racial and socioeconomic lines. 

Some researchers contend that the SAT is a less accurate predictor of the subsequent academic performances of Black and Hispanic students than those of white students. In addition, researchers have indicated that standardized test results are more representative of a student’s individual opportunities than their academic potential.

Pashin said that by not submitting her test scores in her application, she felt she could still demonstrate her intellectual vitality, focusing instead on her interest and work in international law and with the Stanford Ratio Scholars.

“In order to get admitted to Stanford, you do need to work hard and you do need to do good in school,” she said. “But I loved how test-optional highlighted that it wasn’t the only thing that matters.”

Unlike applicants of the Class of 2026, sophomore Amara Okoli ’24 applied to Stanford during the 2019-20 admissions cycle, when standardized test scores were still required.

“I didn’t do formal SAT prep,” she said. “I think that just comes from the privilege of growing up in a community where teachers really emphasized standardized testing strategies from a very young age.” 

For Okoli and others, the weight of standardized test scores in their applications was a significant source of anxiety. 

“The idea of trying to reduce people to a number or a grade concerned me a lot in high school,” Okoli said. “I don’t think that standardized test scores can really show anybody’s character compared to the interview, essay, extracurriculars, and teacher recommendation — but rather reflect one’s test-taking strategies.”  

But Okoli said that standardized test scores — if used correctly — could help equalize the metrics of academic success between high schools of differing socioeconomic stratums. 

Okoli said that though many in her high school environment “didn’t have any problems with standardized testing,” coming to Stanford exposed her to a more socioeconomically diverse community where some students have experienced the asymmetrical impact of the standardized testing requirement.

Stanford announced in November that it is extending its test-optional policy for Class of 2027 and transfer applicants as access to standardized testing facilities remains a challenge for some students.

Despite growing support for test-optional admissions within and beyond the Stanford community, Stanford officials say the policy is still up for debate: “We will continue to study the impact of the test-optional policy to ensure a fair and equitable admission process for applicants,” a Stanford spokesperson wrote in November.

Lea Nepomuceno is a high school reporter in the The Stanford Daily Winter Journalism Workshop.Sabrina Ottaway is a high school reporter in the The Stanford Daily Winter Journalism Workshop.

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