Harvard Goes Backwards, Requires SAT/ACT Scores for Admission

By: Lauren | Published: Apr 20, 2024

Harvard University is one of the most prestigious colleges on the planet. In many ways, the historical and revered institution sets the tone for other Ivy League and even public schools around the country and the world. 

Now, Harvard has made yet another big change that could be extremely influential over the coming years. While the university only stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores a few years ago, they will be compulsory once again as of this year. 

The Debate Regarding Standardized Testing

The SATs and ACTs are two forms of standardized testing that allegedly showcase a high school student’s overall aptitude. For years, universities and colleges have used a student’s score to assess whether they have the capacity to excel at their institution. 

Close-up photograph of an SAT answer sheet with a pencil and eraser

Source: iStock

However, in recent years, experts have started to argue that these scores are not substantial predictors of academic success. In fact, all they really prove is that students can regurgitate information, not that they actually know it. 


Universities Abandoned Standardized Tests

With this new information, many universities around the country abandoned the standardized test. They explained that they were looking for unique students with creativity, problem-solving skills, and strong inter relational capabilities, not just those who excelled in test taking. 

A person filling out a college application by hand with a pen

Source: Adobe Stock

On applications, prospective students were asked to answer more essay-style questions about their personalities, experiences, and desires for the future. 

Students From All Backgrounds Finally Had a Chance at Top-Rated Schools

Of course, they hoped that this new tactic would ensure that students who were actually excited and dedicated to their college experience would be accepted above those who were indifferent. But there was another benefit, too. 

A diverse group of Harvard students at a football game

Source: Harvard University

The idea was that by abandoning these expensive and often exclusive tests, students from all backgrounds would finally have a chance to be accepted at top-notch schools. Underprivileged students who didn’t have the same opportunities to learn the complex questions on the tests would no longer be immediately cast aside. 

Grades Were Still a Factor in the Application Process

It’s important to note that universities didn’t just accept or deny students based on their personalities and essay responses; they also considered their high school grades. 

A close-up photograph of a student report card with a pen

Source: iStock

However, it’s since become clear that high school grades are not a solid indicator of aptitude or even work ethic. In fact, according to one study conducted by Opportunity Insights, standardized tests are a far more useful way to determine whether a student has what it takes to excel in college.

Harvard Has Recently Been Under Fire for Leaning to the Left

What’s especially interesting about Harvard’s announcement that it’s returning to the more traditional way of screening applicants by assessing their test scores is that it comes right after the school has been making headlines for its new non-traditional policies.

Exterior view of the US Supreme Court at dusk

Source: Wikipedia

In June 2022, Harvard and the University of California had their day in the Supreme Court for their decisions to factor in race during the admissions process, a practice known as Affirmative Action. The Supreme Court ruled against the schools, stating that they could no longer specifically choose students to increase diversity. 


Harvard Has Faced Several Other Recent Dramas

Harvard’s dedication to Affirmative Action made headlines as many conservative Americans worried that the institution was leaning too far to the left. But that wasn’t the only bad publicity for the university.

Former president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay

Source: @CBSSacramento/X

After the October 7 attacks on Israel by the Hamas, many at Harvard and around the world argued that Claudine Gay, the university’s first Black president, hadn’t done enough to prevent antisemitism on campus. She was forced to resign only two months later. 


Harvard Applications Have Since Decreased

Although it’s impossible to say whether these complex situations are to blame, Harvard applications are decreasing significantly for the first time in centuries.

Exterior view of the Harvard Admissions Office on campus

Source: Harvard University

Harvard only received 54,008 applications for the current admissions cycle, compared to 56,937 last year. While this is only a 5% decrease, it’s still quite significant, as the school hasn’t reported fewer applications than the one before in years. Interestingly, the school also noticed a 17% decrease in early admissions applications, which may mean that Harvard is no longer the top choice for many applicants.


Harvard Remains One of the Most Prestigious Schools in the World

Even though Harvard has had its fair share of issues and is certainly seeing fewer applicants than it has in years, Harvard remains one of the most impressive, exclusive, and idolized universities in the world.

Exterior of a building on the Harvard University campus with the school flag hanging

Source: Harvard University

Hundreds of the country’s leaders, doctors, lawyers, and influential members of the general public attended Harvard University, and the current students are highly likely to go on and change the world in a wide variety of ways. 


Other Ivy League Schools May Follow Harvard’s Lead

Consequently, Harvard is still an influential institution, and many experts believe that other universities will follow its example and reinstate standardized testing this year. 

Aerial view of the prestigious Brown University

Source: Brown University

However, several schools, including Brown Yale, Dartmouth, Georgetown, and M.I.T., actually reversed their standardized test policy before Harvard. So, some might say Harvard is the one following suit.


Some Schools Will Remain Test Optional

While universities all over the country are trying to find the best solution to this complex issue, many have taken the middle road and made including standardized test scores in an application optional.

A young student taking a math test on a wooden table

Source: Freepik

The University of Michigan, Vanderbilt, and the University of Wisconsin are just a few of the 1,850 who don’t believe test scores should be required—at least for now.


What’s the Best Course of Action for America’s Youth?

The debate as to whether standardized tests are the best way to analyze a student’s academic potential and success in life will unquestionably continue. But this conversation is less about tests and more about finding the best course of action for America’s youth. 

A classroom of high school students listening to their teacher with open books

Source: Freepik

All young people deserve to go to a university like Harvard if that’s their dream, but the competition is stiff. Hopefully, by consistently reassessing its application process and requirements, Harvard can ensure that the most deserving candidates find a place in its hallowed halls.