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Harvard Won’t Require Standardized Tests Through 2026
The campus of Harvard Business School and Harvard University, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, emphasizes the case method in the classroom. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)
Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images

Harvard University — one of the top postsecondary institutions in the United States — suspended its standardized test requirement through 2026.

According to the school’s admissions blog, high schoolers vying for a spot in the undergraduate class of 2027, 2028, 2029, or 2030 will not need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT:

Consistent with Harvard’s whole-person admissions process, standardized tests are one factor among many considered. Accomplishments in and out of the classroom during the high school years — including extracurricular activities, community involvement, employment, and family responsibilities — are considered as part of the admissions process.

Students who do not submit standardized test scores will not be disadvantaged in their application process. Applicants will be considered on the basis of what they have presented, and students are encouraged to send whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future.

As The Washington Post explained, the onset of COVID-19 in the United States prompted many universities to suspend their testing requirements. However, Harvard’s landmark announcement signals that the policy will become entrenched in American higher education:

Coming from one of the biggest names in higher education, the extension announced Thursday evening likely presages similar actions elsewhere to lengthen or solidify test-optional admission policies that arose amid the public health crisis. The movement nationally, with most highly ranked schools on board at least temporarily since spring and summer of 2020, appears to be at a tipping point even as debate rages about the value of the tests.

COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown policies present other challenges to universities — namely, dropping enrollment rates. According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 7.8% fewer students are currently participating in undergraduate programs in comparison to 2019 levels, with public two-year schools and private for-profit four-year schools seeing the most significant declines.

Between fall 2019 and fall 2021, enrollment for males fell by 10.2%, while enrollment for females fell by 6.8%. Enrollment for men has diminished in all types of schools with the exception of private nonprofit four-year institutions. 

Meanwhile, selective institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton are increasing their financial aid offerings. “They are often made to be the villains, but the vast majority of these institutions are working very hard to deploy those funds to the benefit of students,” National Education Policy Center partner Sam Pollack told CNBC. “If the highly selective schools are able to subsidize that cost, it makes it even more compelling and that has broad implications for the higher education landscape.”

In recent days, the Ivy League has been rocked by another phenomenon — a male swimmer dominating women’s swim competitions. “Lia” Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania student who went by “Will” until recently, has crushed female competitors by margins as high as 38 seconds.

Parents of the female swimmers recently sent a letter to the NCAA arguing that “at stake here is the integrity of women’s sports.

“The precedent being set — one in which women do not have a protected and equitable space to compete — is a direct threat to female athletes in every sport,” the parents wrote. “What are the boundaries? How is this in line with the NCAA’s commitment to providing a fair environment for student-athletes?”

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