Reactivating the SAT/ACT requirement for Dartmouth undergraduate admissions

Informed by new research, Dartmouth will reactivate the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission beginning with applicants to the Class of 2029.

Dear Dartmouth community members, 

As president, I am acutely focused on how we enhance Dartmouth's academic excellence in pursuit of our teaching and research mission. One way we do this is by constantly reviewing how we recruit, admit, and enroll a talented and diverse group of undergraduate students. We are looking for students from the broadest swath of society who will thrive at Dartmouth, create impact in the world, and become the next generation of leaders across fields, ideologies, and disciplines. 

To that end, I am sharing an announcement made today by Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lee Coffin that returns to a standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admissions, effective for next year's application cycle (the Class of 2029). This decision was guided by social science research that suggests we can improve our ability to identify students from a wide range of economic backgrounds who will succeed at Dartmouth.

The testing requirement was paused at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when many students were not able to take SATs and ACTs. The hiatus allowed us to look at our admissions data over several years—years in which the SAT/ACT was required and years in which it was optional. Analysis of this data by Dartmouth economics and sociology professors and related analyses examining students at a number of Ivy Plus institutions (here and here) has led us to conclude that our holistic admissions approach to identifying the most promising students, regardless of their background, benefits from a careful consideration of testing information as part of their application package. In particular, SAT/ACTs can be especially helpful in identifying students from less-resourced backgrounds who would succeed at Dartmouth but might otherwise be missed in a test-optional environment. 

Several key findings guided our decision: First, standardized test scores are an important predictor of a student's success in Dartmouth's curriculum, and this is true regardless of a student's background or family income. Second, in a test-optional system, many applicants don't submit test scores. This disadvantages applicants from less-resourced families because Dartmouth admissions considers applicants' scores in relation to local norms of their high school (so, for example, a 1400 SAT score from an applicant whose high school has an SAT mean of 1000 gives us valuable information about that applicant's ability to excel in their environment, at Dartmouth, and beyond). In a test-optional system, Dartmouth admissions often misses the opportunity to consider this information. 

SAT and ACT scores reflect inequality in society and in educational systems across the nation. The research does not dispute that. Crucially, though, the research shows that standardized test scores can be an important predictor of academic success at a place like Dartmouth and beyond—more so even than just grades or recommendations, for example—and with a test-optional policy, prompted by the pandemic, we were unintentionally overlooking applicants from less-resourced backgrounds who could thrive here. 

Dartmouth has dramatically increased financial aid offerings in an effort to ensure that admitted students, regardless of their family's income, are able to matriculate. We are committed to evidence-based policy decisions. A standardized test score doesn't—and shouldn't—dictate our admissions decisions, but it should inform those decisions. Reinstating our testing requirement (which considers scores as one of many factors within our broader understanding of a candidate's application, see our FAQ) allows us to use all of the data at our disposal, along with generous financial aid that continues to expand, to admit and support the broadest and most talented student body possible. 

We know standardized tests can cause anxiety in the lives of prospective students. We hope clarity around our policy and the reasoning behind it lessens this stress. We will continue to examine our admissions practices over time and base our decisions on social science research and data to ensure that we are finding the most promising students who, with a Dartmouth education, will have an outsized impact on the world.



Sian Leah Beilock