Shiho Fukada/The New York Times

Applicants in the Fall 2026 admissions cycle will be required to submit standardized test scores.

April 29, 2024

An Inside Look Into How Cornell’s Test-Optional and Test-Blind Policy Affected Applicants

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On April 22, Cornell announced its reinstatement of standardized testing requirements for Fall 2026 first-year applicants despite continuing the current suspension of the policy for the Fall 2025 admissions cycle.

The reinstatement follows similar moves from peer institutions including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Brown, which all will require Fall 2025 applicants to submit standardized test scores.

The Fall 2026 admissions cycle will be the first for Cornell to require test scores since the requirement was originally suspended in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The University stated in 2021 that it had entered a two-year “deliberate experimental review” to guide admissions on future standardized testing policies. 

In Spring 2023, a task force led by the school administrators, professors and faculty members explored the impact of removing the testing requirements on the Class of 2025 and 2026. Reported by Cornell’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning, a summary of the key findings complemented the latest reinstatement, which argues that students admitted with reported test scores show better academic performance than students admitted without scores.

To further explore the impact of the testing requirement suspension, The Sun sourced admission data from the Common Data Set and several colleges’ admissions offices to identify trends for students admitted to and enrolled in the University and other Ivy League colleges.

Without testing requirements, the proportion of enrolled students submitting SAT or ACT scores respectively dropped by more than one-third. While around 70 percent of enrolled students at Cornell submitted SAT scores in the years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage dropped to 41 percent for the Class of 2025 and then remained at a similar level of 43 percent for the Class of 2026 and 42 percent for the Class of 2027. Similarly, ACT submissions greatly declined during the test-optional period, decreasing from about 40 percent to less than 20 percent after the Fall 2021 admissions cycle.

This declining trend in submitted scores is consistent among all Ivy League colleges. However, Cornell has seen the largest decline in the proportion of enrolled students with SAT submissions. It had the highest percentage of enrolled students submitting SAT before the COVID-19 pandemic but the lowest thereafter. Brown and the University of Pennsylvania are two other Ivy League universities with large submission declines.

While the proportion of Cornellians who reported scores declined, those who did submit SAT scores in their application during the test-optional period have stronger scores overall. The middle 50 percent range of submitted SAT scores to Cornell slid from 1410-1530 for the Class of 2024 to 1480-1550 for the Class of 2027. The range shrunk from 120 to 70, with the 25th percentile increasing by 70 points.

These range changes indicate that students enrolling at Cornell after the requirement suspension submitted scores that are higher but less diverse. This trend echoes the Office of Institutional Research and Planning’s report that claims recent students who did not submit their SAT scores tended to have lower scores than those who submitted. Self-reported SAT scores from the New Student Survey for the Class of 2026 show that more than 60 percent of SAT scores submitted for the class’s admission were above 1500.

When comparing across Ivy League universities, the trend of stronger and less diverse reported SAT scores exists for all Ivy League schools. No matter if compared before or after removing the testing requirement, enrolled Cornell students have relatively lower 25 and 75 percentile scores compared with other schools.

The impact of submitting test scores on acceptance is far from negligible. While fewer than 30 percent of Cornell applicants submitted SAT or ACT scores, more than 40 percent of students accepted by Cornell and about half of enrolled students submitted their scores from the Classes of 2025 to 2027. However, this difference is not as significant in test-blind colleges — including the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; the College of Architecture, Art and Planning and the S.C. Johnson College of Business.

As explained in the Office of Institutional Research and Planning report, this difference may be attributed to the fact that applicants with stronger standardized scores are more likely to have strong application profiles overall and are thus more likely to be admitted.

The data above does not reveal many nuanced factors relevant to the suspension’s impact. According to the Office of Institutional Research and Planning’s report, The 2022 New Student Survey revealed that students’ decisions to submit standardized test scores were shaped by socio-economic factors including the type of high school, family income and access to and use of application guidance counselors.

Among students who scored above 1400 on the SAT, only 62 percent of Black students submitted their scores compared to 74 percent for White students and 79 percent for Asian students.

According to an April 22 University announcement, Cornell’s reinstatement of test requirements is based on evidence that students from underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds may choose to withhold scores that are below Cornell’s average overall but would advantage them in Cornell’s admissions process once contextualized. The decision to reintroduce test requirements thus intends to increase diversity in the student body.