UChicago

The University of Chicago's main quadrangle (Luiz Gadelha Jr. | CC BY 2.0)

On Thursday morning, the University of Chicago announced that it would no longer require undergraduate applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score in order to be considered for admission. However, according to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, Penn will maintain its current testing requirement and will not follow up with a similar move anytime soon.

While some schools — mostly liberal arts colleges — around the country have done so since the 1950s, the University of Chicago is the first top-10 research university in the United States to adopt a test-optional admissions policy, according to The Washington Post. Every Ivy League school currently requires standardized test scores for admission.

"Do I see Penn going test-optional? I don't see us going test-optional," Furda said. "We look at testing as part of our admissions policies and there is some added validity there."

Despite not championing the policy for Penn, Furda did say that he saw the University of Chicago's decision as well-intentioned and potentially impactful on the world of competitive admissions to elite universities.

"Whenever an institution of Chicago's stature makes an announcement like this, it makes institutions then look at what they're doing," Furda said. "They are trying to increase access and looking at where there are barriers to that access."

Furda said that Penn's office of admissions is always looking for the best way to evaluate its applicants, noting the policy change they implemented in 2015 to disregard applicants' scores in the essay section of the SAT.

The testing requirement change is part of a larger set of policy shifts under the "UChicago Empower Initiative," a series of changes posted online on the school's admissions website.

"The UChicago Empower Initiative will increase access to UChicago by expanding access for first-generation and rural students, enhancing financial support for those who serve our communities, and enabling student agency and ownership in the college admissions process," the online post said.

In addition to dropping the testing requirement, the initiative also changes the application process by granting applicants the option to submit a two-minute video introduction, replacing the old alumni and on-campus interviews.

Penn Vice Dean and Director of Marketing and Communications for the Office of Admissions Kathryn Bezella said that, despite being potentially helpful for admissions officers, the two-minute videos present their own difficulties in evaluation because of socio-economic and geographic inequalities that could manifest in the qualities of the submitted videos.

"It'll be interesting to see how they evaluate those things and think about those biases," Bezella said.

She added that some students simply might not be talented or charismatic in ways that would be apparent in a video production yet still might be qualified applicants.

Furda also noted the so-called "digital gap" that might prevent students in certain areas of the country from producing compelling videos. However, he added that he is considering implementing some sort of video option in the application to supplement the alumni interviews rather than to replace them.

"Maybe having a one-minute introduction so our alumni interviewers could have some icebreaker already and then know what that student looks like when they're going to that coffee shop, looking for that student among a sea of other 17-year-olds waiting for their own college interviews," Furda said.

The "UChicago Empower Initiative" also makes several financial aid policy changes — most notably, a guarantee of free tuition for families with incomes under $125,000 per year and "typical assets."

With regard to that new rule, Furda said that, though a commendable move, the message is simple "while the calculation of financial aid is not that simple."

Furda added that the creation of such a benchmark seems inconsistent with the new SAT/ACT policy which completely removes any formalized testing benchmark.

"What's interesting here is fixing one point of an adjusted gross income and using that fixed point while then also saying that a testing fixed point is something that you cannot make a decision on," he said. 

Despite several criticisms of the policy shift, Furda did stress that the University of Chicago deserves credit and respect for making the move.

"I think it is an incredibly powerful message that will be well received broadly, popularly," Furda said. "But, institutions that see tests as part of a holistic process will have some questions."

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.