- Before national college admissions tests, like the SAT and ACT, were required for admission to the University of Chicago, the institution — which admits fewer than 10% of students who apply — administered its own entry tests. The institution announced June 14 an initiative to increase access for first-generation and rural students, which includes a new SAT/ACT test-optional policy. The top research institution joins hundreds of other colleges nationwide dropping all or part of the entrance exam requirement.
- In addition to scrapping the SAT/ACT requirement, students will have the opportunity to submit two-minute video introductions in place of the in-person admissions interviews, and will be able to self-submit transcripts to eliminate fees associated with having the student's high school send them. There will also be "new opportunities to submit non-standard" supplemental materials to allow learners to highlight the things they think best give admissions officers a better understanding of their strengths and what they'll bring to campus.
- The institution is also guaranteeing free tuition to students whose household incomes are under $125,000 and tuition, fees and room and board for students whose families make less than $60,000. First-generation students who qualify will receive a scholarship of $20,000 over four years and a guaranteed paid internship the summer after their freshman year.
More than 100 elite institutions, including the University of Chicago, pledged recently to do more to increase access to higher education for low-income students, who presently make up just 3% of all students on elite college campuses.
Research has shown standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are biased towards those who come from wealthier, better-educated families. Not only is the content written to favor these students, the cost of the test could likely mean lower-income students cannot afford to take it multiple times to achieve a desirable composite score, like many others from better-off families do. Given this, it makes logical sense that if leaders at these institutions are committed to enrolling more low-income students, and eliminating barriers like these tests would be a good first step.
But the University of Chicago announcement takes the commitment further. In addition to dropping application requirements that come with financial barriers and cultural biases, the institution is committing to financially supporting these students to help remove barriers once they arrive on campus. For families from lower-income brackets, it's often not tuition that presents the greatest barrier, as the industry is learning with the rise of free-tuition plans. Often, it's the cost of living in an area and other personal necessities that get in the way of student completion.
Part of participation in the new initiative to bring more low-income students to campus requires a pledge to graduate them at a 70% rate, and this new initiative from the University of Chicago seems to take into account that non-completers most often drop-out for financial reasons, not academic issues.