Skip to main content

See also:

Harvard makes minor adjustment to admissions policy

A walking tour of the Harvard campus.-slide0
Nancy Griesemer

Harvard College recently announced a minor adjustment in admissions policies regarding standardized testing requirements for 2014-15.

Harvard underscores how much it welcomes “evidence from a wide variety of sources, well beyond the two Subject Tests.”
Nancy Griesemer

SAT Subject Tests will be “normally required” rather than “required” as they were in the past. Along with the new, more expansive wording, applicants will be provided with specific advice about standardized testing and its role in Harvard’s admissions process.

“As access to guidance counseling has deteriorated in the U.S. over the past decade, more outstanding candidates including many top minority students receive little or no advice from counselors and apply to Harvard without Subject Tests,” explained Dean William Fitzsimmons in an email to alumni interviewers. “Even more worrisome, they may not apply at all.”

Fitzsimmons suggests that some of the “most promising” high school students may view the current two Subject Tests (down from an earlier requirement to submit three) as “a rigid, not particularly challenging and redundant impediment.”

In changing the standardized test requirement, Harvard underscores how much it welcomes “evidence from a wide variety of sources, well beyond the two Subject Tests.”

“The decision whether to take Subject Tests is entirely up to you,” according to new information posted on the Harvard website. “You should ask yourself whether other academic credentials including, but not limited to, AP results, IB marks, A Levels grades, etc., adequately represent your suitability for studying at Harvard. If there is any doubt, you should take two Subject Tests.”

Harvard will continue to require all applicants to provide scores from the SAT Reasoning Test OR the ACT Test with Writing. Applicants may choose which scores to report in accordance with Score Choice policies—Harvard has no problem with Score Choice and wants applicants to choose which scores best represent them.

In addition, Harvard will normally require two Subject Tests. And if Subject Tests are submitted, it may be “more useful” to choose only one math test rather than two. Similarly, if a student’s first language is not English, a Subject Test in the first language may be “less helpful.”

Harvard provides no discussion about the possibility of allowing the ACT with Writing to "substitute" for Subject Tests. The two requirements stand alone.

While not exactly going down the “test-optional” path in admissions, Harvard is signaling some flexibility in its test policies, which is in accordance with ongoing research about the role of standardized tests in predicting academic success in college.

In 2008, Dean Fitzsimmons chaired a commission convened by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) that looked at the usefulness of standardized testing in college admissions. Commission findings along with Harvard’s independent research on what factors best predict academic success led to a reevaluation of policies governing test submission.

“Test scores are just one element of our holistic review,” said Fitzsimmons in an interview with the Harvard Gazette. “They can be helpful when they are particularly high or low but only in concert with high school grades, teacher recommendations, guidance counselor reports, interviews, essays, and all the achievements a student reports on the application.”

And the new testing policy underscores that evidence of unusual academic achievement such as "contest results, writing or poetry, science and mathematics research, or academic portfolios of any kind” are welcome.

Note that the policy change will probably have little impact on test scores submitted by most applicants to Harvard. It will, however, allow the admissions office to consider those applications submitted without Subject Tests from students not aware of the requirement or who feel other scores and accomplishments better represent them.

For more information on the new policy, visit the Harvard College admissions and financial aid webpage.