On June 4th, Penn announced that the ACT and SAT will not be required for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. This decision came after the spread of the coronavirus pandemic forced the College Board and ACT to postpone many of their tests. This means that the class of 2025, which graduates high school in the spring of 2021, is not required to submit test scores.
Penn’s announcement came with an asterisk: student-athletes must still take a test in accordance with Ivy League recruitment requirements.
The admissions process for Penn athletes is a delicate and complex intertwining of NCAA policies, Ivy League policies, Penn’s general admissions criteria, and more specifically, Penn Athletics’ requirements.
As a Division I conference in the NCAA, the Ivy League must follow the Division I academic eligibility guidelines. According to those guidelines, prospective student-athletes must submit either their ACT or SAT scores.
At the height of the pandemic in April, the NCAA did announce that they will be waiving the standardized test requirement for 2020 high school graduates. However, this statement from the NCAA made it clear that this change in criteria does not apply to students who graduate after summer 2020.
“There’s still a level of optimism that at some point the SAT and ACTs will be able to be held in-person in some fashion,” Brad Fadem, Penn Athletics' Assistant Athletic Director of Admissions and Financial Aid for the Center for Student-Athlete Success, said.
This optimism and holding out on making a decision for next year’s recruiting cycle makes sense when it comes to most conferences in Division I. However, the Ivy League is unique in that its recruitment schedule is earlier compared to that of many other schools.
“The Ivy League admissions and recruitment model is on the much earlier cycle than say Alabama or LSU or some of the other big schools, where those students can wait until the late spring to take the standardized test,” Fadem said. “At the Ivy League you really see the overwhelming majority of student athletes applying and being admitted in that early decision or early action cycle.”
The combination of the Ivy League's tendency to admit earlier in the school year – approximately 50% of Penn's student body is admitted through Early Decision – and the requirement of standardized testing creates a unique situation for prospective student-athletes.
There have been many conversations about standardized tests and how well they reflect a student’s readiness for college. Aside from that, there are also economic barriers for some students in their ability to adequately prepare for these tests. The pandemic has forced many to change their daily lives, and has allowed many institutions and organizations to evaluate which policies are necessary for the future after the pandemic. The pandemic may allow the NCAA to reevaluate its own policies regarding standardized testing requirements.
“[The pandemic] may serve as a catalyst to force the NCAA to have those types of conversations and seriously think about the future of the testing requirement,” Fadem said.
In the scenario that the NCAA decides to make tests optional in the future, the Ivy League would have to reevaluate the way in which it recruits.
In 1985, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents created the Academic Index (AI) to measure the academic performance for recruited athletes. The purpose of the AI is to ensure that Ivy League athletes maintain a level of academic performance that is compatible with non-athlete students.
An individual student-athlete’s AI combines their GPA, SAT, and SAT II scores. The recruiting class of each Penn team is required to meet an average AI. Also, the Penn athletic department is required to reach a certain average AI number that is in line with the academic performance of Penn’s non-athletes. The enforcement of these AI requirements are unique to the Ivy League.
At the moment, talks of how the test-optional possibility would affect the future of the AI, and how much weight is placed on the SAT are only in the very early stages.
“We have a tremendous amount of faith in Dean [of Admissions Eric] Furda, both as he’s looking out for the Penn student-athlete population and the Ivy League as a whole and the voice he brings to the Ivy League admissions dean group,” Fadem said.
For now, prospective student athletes in the class of 2025 are required to submit a score for the ACT or SAT. For student-athletes looking to be recruited by the Ancient Eight, the recruitment process and schedule will likely look very different from years’ past.