Cielo Gazard ’27, who receives financial aid from Yale, told the News that she never considered herself a good test taker. 

Even before she sat for her SAT, Gazard said she knew that she would not be submitting those scores with her applications to Ivy League or other selective schools.

Still, when it came time to apply to college, Gazard worried about the possible implications of omitting scores from her application. 

She asked for advice from her school counselor, who said, “[it’s] up to you.” She looked at the average test scores listed on the Yale admissions website, which cite a score of 1450 as being in the 25th percentile. She attended talks with admissions officers in her county, who assured her that withholding a score would not be held against her.

Ultimately, she decided not to submit her test score — which was well below Yale’s average — to any Ivy League school.

The deciding factor, Gazard said, was that she did not want schools to “write her off” just because she had a low score. Instead, she hoped that omitting a score would allow the other, stronger parts of her application to shine.

“I’m a top student, I’ve done some interesting extracurriculars, I am really strong in my supplemental writing and my interview went really great,” Gazard said. “I felt like if I put the test score down, it would have probably been to my detriment, and taken away from all that.”

As the debate over the merits of requiring standardized test scores in applications at universities across the country has swelled, the News found in a survey of nearly 1,000 undergraduates that Yale College students receiving financial aid are less likely to have included an ACT or SAT score in their Yale applications than students not on aid. 

But this finding comes at a time when new research from policy institute Opportunity Insights suggests that test scores may be better predictors of college success than high school grades, which could help colleges facilitate upward mobility. Previous research from the institute found that requiring test scores may act to enhance the diversity of admits, rather than restrict it.

The News received 978 responses to a survey sent to all students in the College, marking a 15-percent response rate overall. Of those who took the SAT, the ACT or both since Yale adopted a test-optional policy in 2020, 86.7 percent submitted a score with their application. 

The survey revealed that 95 percent of respondents receiving no financial aid who took a test submitted a score, compared to only 75 percent of respondents receiving full or almost full aid. 

Bruce Sacerdote, one of the researchers at Opportunity Insights, told the News that the survey results are consistent with his findings, which both indicate that disadvantaged students submit their tests “at too low a rate” given their scores.

“We hypothesize that this stems from applicants not having full knowledge of how test scores are used in context,” Sacerdote wrote to the News. “Scores are used as only one input and are viewed in the context of the applicant’s background, neighborhood and high school. As a result, applicants may not realize that their score is an impressive one that could help their admission chances.”

Earlier this month, Dartmouth College announced that it will resume its standardized test requirement for applicants in the next admissions cycle. Several other selective colleges such as Georgetown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also reinstated requirements, which — like Yale’s — were originally suspended during the pandemic.

Yale plans to announce its long-term testing policy at the end of the month, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan. 

Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions at MIT, where the testing requirement has been reinstated, told the New York Times that when low-income students and students of color submit their scores, those numbers are considered in the context of their economic situation and are useful to flag promising applicants whose potential might otherwise go overlooked.

The News survey found that students on no financial aid who took a test were 19.6 percentage points more likely to have submitted those results than students on full or almost full financial aid, and 14.8 percentage points more likely to submit than students on any level of financial aid.

Out of the 978 students who responded to the survey, 529 students, or 54.1 percent, are on some amount of financial aid. This figure is similar to Yale’s overall share of 53 percent, according to Mark Dunn, senior associate director for outreach and recruitment at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

The News’ results coincide with a trend in increased application rates from first-generation and low-income students in the years since Yale went test-optional. Between this year’s application cycle and last year’s, applications from first-generation college students increased 13 percent more than the overall uptick in applicants, and applications from students from neighborhoods with below-median household incomes increased 19 percent more than the overall pool, according to data shared with the News by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

According to Yale’s submission to the Common Data Set from the 2022-2023 academic year, an annual report of statistics and information about various colleges, 88 percent of all students who matriculated last year submitted a test score with their applications to Yale.

This 88 percent figure refers to the total number of students who had a test score in their application materials; however, when applying to Yale, students had the option to opt out of their test scores being considered by Yale specifically. There is no figure available on the total number of students whose test scores were considered with their Yale applications, but Dunn said that the figure is lower than 88 percent. In other words, less than 88 percent of all students who matriculated last year had test scores considered with their Yale applications. Yale has not released any further details about admissions patterns

Quinlan wrote to the News that the admissions office is not reporting data on test scores, the choice of applicants to share test scores or the share of admitted students who submitted test scores.

The News spoke to 21 students about their experiences with taking standardized tests. 15 students submitted test scores when applying to Yale and six did not.

The choice to submit

Several students told the News that they decided to submit their test scores in order to distinguish themselves from other students from their high schools and areas that admissions officers would be comparing them to.

Annalie Diaz ’27 — who was admitted to Yale through the QuestBridge match program — chose to submit her score. She said that she decided to submit her score, which was below Yale’s average, because she knew it stood out in comparison to scores from other students at her high school.

Diaz described her high school as “extremely” under-resourced. She said the average SAT score ranges from around a 900 to a 1000. Since colleges went optional, Diaz said most students stopped taking the SAT altogether.

Even a score in Yale’s 25th percentile, when considered in the broader context of her high school environment, would show her commitment and capability, Diaz recalled thinking.

Freddie Rivas-Giorgi ’26 was also compelled to submit a test score in hopes of standing out. In his case, however, he hoped to stand out in comparison to students from wealthy urban areas.

Coming from a rural high school, Rivas-Giorgi said he didn’t have access to the same impressive extracurriculars as his peers in larger, more affluent cities. As an example, he recalled not being able to conduct research at a university because of geographic barriers. 

“[Submitting a score] really helped in my case, simply because it provided an objective measurement of my own skills and preparation,” Rivas-Giorgi told the News. “That certainly could overcompensate for a relative weakness in extracurriculars compared to students coming from larger cities. I think scores certainly can level the playing field, at least in my situation it did.”

Owen Haywood ’26 came from a public school where students are rarely admitted to Ivy League schools. 

Early on, Haywood wanted to “aim low” and be realistic in his college plan, but when he got his score, he realized he was a competitive student for a school like Yale. 

“Getting the score was something that I felt not only helped my application in the end but also gave me the confidence to even send in that application in the first place,” Haywood said.

Several other students on financial aid who took a test told the News that they opted not to submit a score because they felt that their score did not represent them and that a low score would take away from other, stronger parts of their applications.

David Rutitsky ’27, who receives financial aid from Yale, said that he was too busy with other commitments in high school to devote enough time to study for and score well on the SAT. 

With many AP classes and two jobs, he had too much on his plate to add test prep to the mix, he said.

“I really think SAT scores are more of a reflection of just how good of a school you’re in and even your income,” Rutitsky said. “Because some people don’t have to work two jobs.”

Impending University decision 

With the University slated to announce its long-term testing policy in the coming weeks, students were relatively split on their opinions on the role of standardized testing in college admissions.

Some students said that they are opposed to a test-required policy, saying that tests are not accurate predictors of success and that they disadvantage students who face difficulties accessing them. Others were open to the University requiring tests so long as scores are considered in the context of an applicant’s overall academic background.

“I think, when considering standardized test scores, what colleges have to do is look at the score as just a part of who the student is and within the broader context of that student’s demographic and personal background,” Haywood said. “A student who’s coming from a Title I funded public school who gets a 34 on the ACT is very different from a student coming from a private boarding school who gets a 34 on the ACT.”

Diaz said that, as a low-income student, she believes she greatly benefited from submitting her test score. 

Even though it was below Yale’s median, her score was 400 points above her high school average, something that she believed showed her ability to excel within her environment. 

“But, if they switch back to test-required, Yale needs to make themselves seem more welcoming to low-income students,” Diaz told the News. “They need to be transparent about how they’re considering scores. And they need to work alongside organizations like QuestBridge, which taught me that, regardless of test scores, Yale welcomes people like me.”

On the other hand, Rutitsky said that tests pose a barrier to entry that may not accurately measure applicants’ capability.

If Yale reinstates a test requirement, he said that he fears Yale may be depriving itself of highly capable students who simply do not have the time or resources to test well.

“I want to stress the fact that I’m doing well in college, even though my test scores were low,” he said. “A big reason why I don’t think tests should exist anymore is because the whole idea of the tests in the first place is to judge how well you would be able to get college work done. And in my case, the test is not a reflection of that.”

But Evan Burkeen ’27 said he believed submitting his test score was crucial to demonstrating his academic ability and validating the upward trend of his high school grades.

He said he believes that because test scores are a quantitative measure of achievement, they become a scapegoat for disparities in the admissions process, even though there are disparities in extracurriculars, essays and other qualitative parts of the application.

“This is the wrong thing to attack if we need to make sure that admissions is a more equitable process,” Burkeen said.

The first SAT was offered in 1926.

Update, Feb. 15: The article was updated to clarify the context of the data included in Yale’s Common Data Set.

Josie Reich covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Washington, DC, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in American Studies.
Molly Reinmann covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Westchester, New York, she is a sophomore in Berkeley College majoring in American Studies.