Campus freshman Jack Galloway was “a little disappointed” when the university announced it would no longer require standardized testing scores in admissions. Galloway, who applied to UC Berkeley during the 2021 admissions cycle, believed he had worked hard to receive a good score.
He was not alone. In 2020, the university’s decision to no longer require SAT and ACT scores in admissions prompted a flurry of emotions from the campus community and beyond. Amid concerns about the fairness, or lack thereof, of standardized testing, community members reflected upon the impact of its removal and discussed the remaining metrics in a holistic admissions process.
Does inequality in admissions extend beyond standardized testing?
Campus education professor Tolani Britton emphasized the importance of having racial and socioeconomic diversity in who universities admit.
“There is a strong correlation between test scores and family income,” Britton said in an email. “An approach that looks at the holistic profile of each candidate in the context of their secondary schools and the opportunities afforded to students makes sense.”
Galloway, who said he had a tutor while studying for the SAT, also emphasized that white and wealthy applicants have an advantage with standardized testing. However, he said he believes that standardized testing remains the “best metric that we have.”
He noted that other metrics, such as extracurricular activities and high school grades, also depend on one’s income.
“Unfortunately, there’s inequality in American society,” Galloway said. “If we had a perfect meritocracy where how hard you worked got you into university, that would be great but is realistically not the case.”
Likewise, campus professor of education Zachary Pardos expressed concerns regarding what is left in the admissions process. He questioned whether the remaining considerations have less bias and whether there has been an effort to account for those biases, particularly because he does not believe the UC system is interested in “lowering standards.”
Pardos added that campus has existing alternatives to fill knowledge gaps — particularly in subjects such as math — for incoming students. Such alternatives, he said, have allowed campus to admit students whose high school districts may not have fully prepared them for college-level math courses and have provided some students with a “path to success.”
Upholding equity moving forward
“UC remains committed to maintaining a fair admissions process that reviews every applicant in a comprehensive manner and endeavors to combat systemic inequities,” said UCOP spokesperson Ryan King in an email.
For Pardos, the university has yet to demonstrate “a deliberate statement of strategy and values” in dropping the test and evidence that the institution cares about equity. He added that if the UC system’s strategy is to admit diverse students who have potential but may be less prepared for college, the university must increase support for them.
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the change in testing requirements did not significantly affect who was admitted to UC Berkeley in the 2021-22 class nor their academic strength.
“We believe that this is because Berkeley’s admissions process has, for many years, considered all the information in a student’s application,” Gilmore said in the email. “It is also important to note that we admitted our first record-breaking class, in terms of under-represented students, before we stopped considering the SAT/ACT.”
Contrarily, Pardos alleged the current freshman class is not handling its first year academically as well as previous cohorts. However, he noted that this cannot be entirely attributed to the removal of standardized testing due to the effects of the pandemic and online learning.
Meanwhile, Galloway believes that becoming test optional has been beneficial for students’ mental health.
“It’s an OK thing that people weren’t stressed out about taking standardized tests and placing their self-worth on how they did,” Galloway said.