Georgia colleges weigh use of ACT, SAT test scores in admissions decisions

Georgia Tech is one of just three schools within the University System of Georgia to require applicants to submit ACT or SAT test scores. (Benjamin Hendren / AJC file photo)

Credit: Benjamin Hendren

Credit: Benjamin Hendren

Georgia Tech is one of just three schools within the University System of Georgia to require applicants to submit ACT or SAT test scores. (Benjamin Hendren / AJC file photo)

Georgia colleges are revisiting a relic of the COVID-19 pandemic era: the test-optional admissions policy.

Numerous schools around the state and the nation paused ACT or SAT mandates in 2020 when the spread of the virus made it difficult to administer the exams to groups of test-takers. Now, the Georgia Board of Regents, which governs the University System of Georgia, will soon decide whether it should continue to waive the test requirement at 23 of its 26 schools or reinstate testing for those applying for admission in fall 2025.

The decision, expected later this spring, will impact thousands of current high school juniors about to apply to college and comes as many universities reevaluate the value of standardized tests. Admissions officials historically have used the scores as one tool to assess a student’s readiness and to compare applicants.

More than 1,800 four-year colleges will remain test-optional for the upcoming admissions cycle, including Atlanta’s private and highly ranked Emory University. That’s about 80% of the nation’s four-year colleges, according to the latest numbers from FairTest, a nonprofit that advocates for schools to drop testing requirements. The organization says tests are unnecessary and create a barrier for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds and that students’ scores are linked to their family’s income and parents’ education level.

But several Ivy League schools — such as Dartmouth College and Yale and Brown universities — recently bucked that trend, announcing they will once again require applicants to submit test scores.

To guide its upcoming decision, the University System of Georgia is collecting data on statewide test scores and reviewing access to academically rigorous high school classes.

Chancellor Sonny Perdue noted at a recent board meeting that experts differ on whether high school grades or test scores are better predictors of college success. He acknowledged concerns that high school teachers and administrators are inflating grades because they want students to qualify for the Georgia Lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship, which requires a 3.0 grade-point average.

But Perdue also pointed out that state funding is driven by enrollment numbers, and Georgia colleges compete for students with schools across the South and the nation. The University System is monitoring neighboring states to see what their schools’ testing plans are, he said.

Three of Georgia’s most selective public universities required an ACT or SAT score this year: Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and Georgia College & State University. Students also must submit test scores to qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship, the HOPE’s higher-tier award. The SAT moved to a fully digital version this month.

Georgia’s private colleges are also reviewing the role of tests in admissions.

Spelman and Morehouse colleges are currently test-optional. Morehouse will continue to be so, preferring “a more holistic approach when reviewing applications,” a spokeswoman said. A Spelman spokeswoman said the college will announce this summer its test plans going forward.

Students seeking to start at Emory in fall 2025 aren’t required to submit a test score. For those that don’t, Emory will look at high school grades and academic rigor; application essays; and a student’s volunteer, work and other activities.

“While test scores have been part of Emory’s evaluation process in the past, scores represent only one component in our comprehensive review process,” the university said, in a recent admissions blog post.

Brookhaven’s Oglethorpe University evaluates its test-optional policy annually. Spokesman Lance Wallace said a student’s high school transcript, letters of recommendation, course rigor and writing quality are influential in admissions decisions.