Newsletter: Should Elite Universities Reinstate the SAT?

Debate Should Elite Universities Reinstate the SAT?

This week:

  • New episode: Is the SAT the best objective measure for academic success?
  • A closer look at the public opinion on standardized test scores
  • Your Sunday reading list



Earlier this week on National College Decision Day, many graduating high school students officially committed to a college they longed to attend, confirming their enrollment. In recent months, Dartmouth, MIT, Harvard, Brown, and other universities announced that they are bringing back the SAT after a break during COVID. The SAT also went digital this spring. Amid this breaking news and new research, we ask the question: Should Elite Universities Reinstate the SAT?

A study from Opportunity Insights released this January revealed that standardized test scores, like those from the SAT or ACT, are a better tool for predicting academic success than students’ grade point averages. Other studies like this 2020 Educational Researcher article maintain that a student’s grade point average is a stronger indicator because it measures a wider range of skills and behaviors needed to succeed over time which students of every economic level can achieve, while the SAT focuses on a narrower set.

The Numbers on Standardized Tests:

  • The SAT was first administered in 1926.
  • According to the College Board, the average SAT score is around 1050, but an average score of 1350 would make your application more competitive at more selective colleges.
  • Over 1,900 colleges and universities in the U.S. did not require any standardized test scores for Fall 2024 admission.


Joining us in this debate is the lead author of the Opportunity Insights paper John Friedman, who is also chair of the economics department at Brown University, one of the selective universities bringing back the SAT. Arguing against him is Ben Nelson, the founder of Minerva University, called the “Most Innovative University in the World” by World’s Universities with Real Impact whose application focuses more on a student’s potential and skills, and a member of Open to Debate’s board of trustees.

Is the SAT the right measurement for determining students’ readiness for college? Does the SAT help or hurt low-income applicants’ chances of attending a top university? Listen to the debate now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube — as always, let us know what you think.




John Friedman

Professor and Chair of the Economics Department at Brown University; Founding Co-Director of Opportunity Insights



Ben Nelson

Founder of Minerva University; Leader in Reforming Higher Education for Tomorrow’s Global Leaders



John Donvan

Host and Moderator-in-Chief




Should Standardized Tests Be the Main Factor in College Applications?




Should Elite Universities Reinstate the SAT?


YES: John Friedman

“Standardized test scores… are the fairest and broadest means to let students — no matter their background or life experiences — demonstrate that they have the academic preparation and potential that these universities are looking for… These elite schools are using this information in context so that it’s not that a rural student who gets a 1200 is going to outperform a student from a wealthy part of the city with a 1400. It’s that rural student is bringing lots of other value to campus, even if they will, on average, perform less well or struggle more. Test scores help the schools make this type of tradeoff as best they can.”


NO: Ben Nelson

“We have to ask, what is it that universities select for? The reality is that universities, in their entire application process, select for wealth. The issue is those that are excluded from the beginning, both because of various biases in the test and because when you actually look at the dollars invested in test preparation. The socioeconomic bias in the SAT has been shown for decades to be significant, and there’s a threshold value in the SAT. When you start at a much lower SAT score, you’ve got a lot more headroom where test prep will help; but it’s extraordinarily rare for somebody to be able to go from a 1410 to a 1600. However, small increments at that range matter quite a bit for college admissions. The difference between a 1410 and a 1440 when you apply… is a factor.”





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