At Illinois public colleges, admissions tests are now optional

The state's Fair Admissions Act aims to break down barriers that have prevented students from pursuing a degree.
By: | July 12, 2021
(AdobeStock/VectorMine)(AdobeStock/VectorMine)

Starting in January 2022, students who wish to attend public colleges and universities in Illinois will no longer have to submit SAT or ACT scores after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that makes admissions test-optional.

Although many institutions adopted their own policies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois said it would go a step further to protect talented, prospective students at its 12 public four-year universities. The state of Colorado also struck down its requirement in May, citing inequities that can exist during the process.

“Standardized tests are not what universities need to rely on when accepting students,” Illinois State Sen. Christopher Belt said. “This necessary transition away from test scores will benefit those students who have the capability to be accepted into Illinois’ universities but may struggle with test anxiety.”

The new Higher Education Fair Admissions Act in Illinois gives students the opportunity to submit standardized scores if they desire. Admissions counselors at colleges and universities across the U.S., including leaders at the University of Indiana, have noted the benefits from adopting test-optional strategies, including larger and more diverse applicant pools. They say they have been looking more closely at other important “holistic” submissions from students, such as essays, activities and academic records, in determining qualifications for entry.

“The ACT and SAT can serve as a barrier to college for students from underprivileged backgrounds, with a correlation between household income and test success,” said House Sponsor LaToya Greenwood. “We need to look at the larger picture of a student’s academic career, not just how they filled out bubbles on a single Saturday. Overreliance on these test scores can reduce the number of otherwise qualified applicants at our universities.”

More than 1,500 colleges and universities—or 65% of all institutions—have installed test-optional policies, according to Fair Test, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, although some have been reluctant to make them permanent, instead pushing those policies for several admissions cycles or the upcoming academic year only.

In Illinois, several top private universities including Northwestern, DePaul and the University of Chicago all have test-optional policies in some form. Northwestern extended its grace period for applicants through 2021-22 and is putting no pressure on hopeful high school students now, saying “there is no need for applicants to report scores. That said, if you have test scores you feel duly reflect your academic potential, we welcome them.” The University of Illinois was one of several across the state—including Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois—that had installed policies before the pandemic and now will fall under the new state guidelines.

As colleges and universities wrestle with waning enrollment numbers, as highlighted in periodic updates this past year by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, eliminating the test requirement can do a lot more than increase applications. State senators in Illinois noted how beneficial implementing test-optional policies have been at the University of Chicago, which enrolled a record number of first-generation, low-income and rural students over the past year.