After becoming test-optional for certain colleges in 2021, the University will extend this policy and remain test-optional for 2023 and 2024 applicants.
Standardized tests are typically used in the college admissions process to measure math, reading comprehension and science skills. The ability of standardized test scores to accurately measure academic capability has been called into question in recent years.
“A generation or two ago, it was believed that the SAT/ACT was able to measure innate ability and one could not effectively enhance your score through preparation,” Prof. John Sipple, global development, wrote in a statement to The Sun. “No one believes that to be true anymore.”
Sipple studies the public school system and says test prep systems “guarantee improved scores” for students with resources including time, motivation, money and transportation.
“[A test-optional policy] changes the whole ball park of what admissions is,” said Ken Gonzalez ’24. “It blurs the lines between you not getting in because you weren’t what Cornell was looking for, and you not getting in because of circumstances that you can’t control in your environment.”
Gonzalez is a student intern with the Higher Education Opportunity Programs, which supports students from low-income backgrounds, as part of Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. He said his own high school offered free test-prep resources, but it wasn’t effective for raising scores.
“A lot of the ways to outsmart standardized testing come through money and being able to afford private tutoring,” Gonzalez said.
In a statement to The Sun, Vice Provost for Enrollment Jonathan Burdick, said the admissions office is working on conducting “whole-person reviews” with far fewer or no SAT/ACT scores.
“I’d say there’s significant awareness across Cornell of the challenging impacts testing policies can create in terms of assembling a diverse and well-qualified student body,” Burdick wrote. “There’s much more for everyone to learn and consider.”
Still, according to Sipple, a test-optional policy is no easy solution for equitable admissions. He voiced that, without the SAT, other factors – the essay, extracurriculars and courses – bear more weight, and they are not immune to inequities.
But even if test scores aren’t mandatory, students can still submit them – and some aren’t quiet about it. Sestak said, recently, she was in a dining hall when she overheard students compare SAT scores – someone got a 1550, another a perfect 800 for their math score.
“I’m like, ‘Oh My God, people still talk about this?’” Sestak said.
By fall of 2024, most enrolled Cornell students will have applied without mandatory standardized tests. The University has not announced if it will permanently make testing optional.
“I’ve been here for three years, and I’m surviving, I’m doing it,” Gonzalez said. “So what did the scores really mean?”
Correction, Sept. 17, 6:28 p.m.: A previous version of this article missrepresented Prof. Sipple’s quote on the accuracy of being able to improve standardized testing scores through practice. This error has been corrected.