The Publics are Next to Reinstate Testing Requirements

March 11, 2024

We’ve had a recent flurry of highly selective colleges returning to testing, but yesterday, the University of Texas at Austin, one of the top public research institutions in the nation, reinstated test requirements. With its 52,000 plus students, and its outstanding reputation, UT is a heavy hitter in the admissions world. Where Texas goes, other publics will certainly follow. 

By now we are seeing a trend in the reinstatement of testing requirements as colleges look closely at the performance data from submitters and nonsubmitters. 

Time and again, colleges are finding that test scores matter when it comes to predicting academic performance. MIT revived that conversation, followed by Dartmouth, Yale and Brown. The data scientists at UT evaluated the performance of its students and, according to UT president, Jay Hartzell, the nonsubmitters, “in many ways, they weren’t faring as well.” 

Without test scores, UT was struggling to place students in the appropriate academic program, particularly those programs that were more rigorous, such as engineering and business. A mere 42 percent of students applied with test scores, but many more applied with extremely high GPAs. Per the New York Times, the Vice Provost of admissions, Miguel Wasielewski, found a lack of variation in high school GPAs and an abundance of 4.0s. Test scores provide more “granular information” to help determine appropriate placement, so students would thrive rather than struggle or even fail out of their chosen program.

Test score submitters performed better academically

The Times reported that for the current UT Austin class of 9,217 freshman, those who “submitted test scores were 55 percent less likely to have a first semester G.P.A. below 2.0.” 

Additionally, test-submitters had significantly higher GPAs, an average of 0.86 grade points higher, after controlling for high school grades and class rank.  That’s a remarkable difference. 

Under this scenario, imagine two students who enroll at UT with the same high school GPA and class rank, one having submitted testing, and the other having applied without testing. After a semester, the test-submitter has a 3.26 GPA, a mix of As and Bs, while the non-submitter has a 2.4 GPA, on the cusp of academic probation (2.0 GPA).

Having testing data, as MIT found, is protective of students, and ensures they are academically prepared to handle the workload. GPA is no longer the standout predictor of college performance it used to be. Inflationary trends have eroded the predictive power of high school GPA, but testing helps improve the prediction.

More Southern Publics to follow


UT Austin had previously announced a return to testing, in October 2021, and then retracted that message within days. Similarly, UNC Chapel Hill announced and then retracted a return to testing in March of 2022. The state university system of North Carolina decided instead to extend its testing waiver through the fall of 2024.  At that time, chief academic officer of the UNC System Kimberly Van Noort cited pandemic-driven learning loss as a driving factor in delaying the return to test requirements.  

Now that we are approaching the end of the waiver period, the university system of North Carolina is actively reexamining its stance on testing requirements. It’s noteworthy that the Board of Governors is attending closely to competitive dynamics, particularly for the less selective schools in the NC system. One board committee member, Gene Davis, was concerned that test requirements could put the UNC system at a “competitive disadvantage.” He was surprisingly candid: “We look at things from an academic perspective, but also from a business perspective.” 

Competitive dynamics moved the University System of Georgia from a statewide testing requirement towards limiting the test requirements to its flagships, UGA and GA Tech. Accordingly, even if the entire North Carolina system doesn’t reinstate test requirements, individual universities, particularly flagships like UNC Chapel Hill “could propose to require admissions test scores for all applicants, subject to approval by President and Board of Governors.”

Alabama, Auburn and Beyond

A significant number of southern public universities are mulling a return to testing. The Florida system never suspended its test requirements, the Tennessee system has reinstated testing and the Georgia flagships require testing. Auburn is test-required for students with a GPA under 3.6. 

The Carolinas, Auburn, Alabama, and UVA could all reinstate testing requirements, which would send a strong signal to students and universities across the country. If a critical mass of colleges reinstate testing requirements, this reduces the concern over competitive dynamics, and opens the gates for other colleges to require testing and leverage the powerful predictive power of test scores.  

Not all colleges will take this path. University of Michigan recently committed to a policy of test-optional admissions, citing its goals of access and diversity as key factors. For several years, the conversation around test score requirements was framed almost exclusively in the context of access, but this has recently shifted. MIT moved the discussion towards the value of test scores in predicting academic performance, and Raj Chetty’s team at Opportunity Insights shifted the discussion in its findings that test scores could be used to simultaneously promote diversity and access while sustaining academic excellence. 

The discussion is far from over, but the return of highly selective private schools and outstanding public schools to testing requirements will continue to have ripple effects throughout the collegiate landscape.