Achieving Equity in College Admissions: Strategies for Providing a Fair Opportunity to All

Systemic inequality in the United States, particularly in education, has often been discussed through historical lenses or calls for social reform in response to current conditions. However, a slow and potentially harmful systemic shift is unfolding in higher education in real time, which warrants our attention. 

A new inequitable system is emerging in higher education, or a resurgence of an old one, that has the potential to deeply divide and harm society, communities, and the future workforce. 

Reflecting on the recent testing policy changes in college admissions for the year 2024, prominent Ivy League institutions and selective universities like Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, and others have reintroduced the SAT and ACT requirements after being test-optional. While these announcements may seem mundane for colleges commonly seen as inaccessible due to high academic standards, they play a significant role in admission decisions that primarily consider grades.

The conventional understanding that outstanding grades and test scores are essential for college acceptance is shifting. With test-optional schools, the importance of test scores and the threshold for grades have become ambiguous. Students from more privileged backgrounds tend to opt for standardized tests, maintaining an advantage, while those from lower-income backgrounds lack access to resources and are led to believe that tests are less critical in admissions, limiting their opportunities at these prestigious institutions.

This disparity risks perpetuating systemic divides reminiscent of hierarchical structures in the mid-20th century, where educational opportunities were dictated by social status, gender, race, and class. To address this growing inequity, there is a call for transparency in how colleges utilize test scores in their admissions processes.

While advocating for uniform testing regulations across all colleges seems fair, practical challenges limit its implementation. Instead, emphasizing transparency in the assessment criteria and offering clear guidelines on the significance of test scores can provide equal footing for all students. Additionally, ensuring adequate testing opportunities for students, regardless of their background, is crucial in promoting fairness in the college admissions landscape.

To make educational opportunities more inclusive and accessible, there is a need for a collective effort to rethink the current system and ensure that all students are empowered with equal information and opportunities for academic advancement.

Yoon Choi is CEO of CollegeSpring, a national nonprofit that trains schools and teachers to provide SAT prep to students from low-income backgrounds.

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