Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Test-optional policy continues for prospective students of the Classes of 2027 and 2028.

February 7, 2023

Test-Optional Policies Emphasize Diversity, Holistic Applications for Prospective Class of 2027

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During the height of the pandemic, Cornell University was the first Ivy League school to go test-optional, not requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores as tests were canceled and rescheduled. The University declared that it would remain test-optional through the 2023-24 admissions cycle, impacting the Classes of 2027 and 2028. 

Three colleges  — the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Architecture, Art and Planning and the Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business — do not consider test scores as part of their admission process. The rest of the other schools — the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, the College of Human Ecology, Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations — remain test-optional. 

According to Jonathan Burdick, vice provost of enrollment, the University is entering a two-year period of deliberate experimental review in order to guide future admission testing policy requirements. Burdick also said that the University saw increased diversity among applicants and admitted students after adopting its test-optional policy.

“The University saw a very large increase in the total number of applications and in the share of applicants who are from the first generation in their family expected to earn a bachelor’s degree,” Burdick said. “Both kinds of increase have mostly been sustained for the two more recent years.”

Aguii Garcia ’27, an early decision admit, applied through the test-optional route. Garcia said her application emphasized how she overcame educational boundaries stemming from her disadvantaged background, rather than test-scores.

“I didn’t [think I did] well enough [on the ACT or SAT by] Cornell standards, so I didn’t want to risk [standardized test scores hurting my application],” Garcia said. “Instead, I highlighted my passion for law and how my personal background applies to that, as an immigrant [and non-native English speaker from a low-income household].”

According to Burdick, other parts of the application have weighed more heavily, for example, how the applicant communicates their readiness and intent through the writing of college application essays. Other academic indicators such as grades, rigorous courses and, in some cases, results from exams such as AP or A-levels — must also support a reader’s decision to recommend admitting or rejecting a student. 

Raiven Vargas ’27, another early decision admit, also refrained from submitting standardized test scores, despite scoring highly on the ACT and AP exams.

“My ACT [score] was a 34, but I still chose not to send scores because I wanted to ensure that my application spoke for itself and my academic record, not just one standardized test,” Vargas said. “I didn’t submit AP scores because I wanted to get everything I can out of Cornell’s curriculum, which meant for me not testing out of certain classes due to AP scores.”

Vargas thought the test-optional policies allowed them to present a holistic picture of themself in their application to Cornell. 

“In my application, I highlighted the fact that I come from a ton of adversity, like having a single mom in the Navy and living in a predominantly white town as a person of color, and [I] still was able to obtain good grades and life lessons I intend on growing and exploring on campus,” Vargas said. “I prefer the test-optional option with universities, because it allows the school to see the student for more than just a standardized test score and for more of their character.”

Similarly, Garcia said that the devaluing of test scores allowed her to emphasize her background, character and experiences on her application.

“I heavily highlighted my extracurriculars and community service,” Garcia said. “I presented myself not only as a scholar but [as] a leader and, most importantly, a person.”