Students applying to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2022 will have to submit SAT or ACT exam scores, the university announced on Monday, nearly two years after suspending the requirement because the pandemic had disrupted testing for many applicants.
The requirement was reinstated “in order to help us continue to build a diverse and talented MIT,” said Stu Schmill, the dean of admissions and student financial services and a 1986 graduate, in a statement.
“Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants,” he said. The decision will affect first-year students or transfer students who want to enroll at MIT in 2023.
In a Q. and A. posted by the MIT News Office, Mr. Schmill said the office’s research had shown that the university “cannot reliably predict students will do well at MIT unless we consider standardized test results alongside grades, coursework, and other factors.”
The move bucks the trend seen at other elite colleges and universities, which have waived standardized testing requirements amid criticism that wealthier students can afford prep coaching and have an advantage.
MIT “is definitely an outlier,” said Bob Schaeffer, executive director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. He called MIT’s reinstatement of standardized test scores “an unfortunate decision.”
“So much of the super selective admissions world has decided that test scores are not fair or accurate,” he said.
The University of Chicago, one of the most selective schools in the country, did away with requiring SAT and ACT scores before the pandemic, Mr. Schaeffer said. The school was among 1,075 four-year colleges and universities that instituted test-optional policies before 2020, he said.
During the pandemic, when many high schools were closed or teaching remotely, about 750 additional colleges and universities waived the requirement that SAT and ACT scores be submitted with applications, Mr. Schaeffer said.
As of today, more than two-thirds of the 2,330 four-year colleges and universities in the United States have extended making SAT or ACT scores optional at least through fall 2023, he said.
Last May, leaders of the University of California system voted to eliminate test score requirements permanently. And Harvard will remain test-optional at least through fall 2026, Mr. Schaeffer said.
“All the Ivy League schools are test optional for at least one more year,” he said.
Other universities like the California Institute of Technology and Worcester Polytechnic Institute have also waived making SAT and ACT test scores a requirement on applications, Mr. Schaeffer said.
Mr. Schaeffer also noted that MIT had not publicized the research it cited showing that SAT and ACT math test scores can predict success at the university.
“It’s hard to understand how without more evidence,” he said. “MIT math scores are so high on average that there won’t be much distribution in scores.”
Andrew Palumbo, the vice president for enrollment management at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, said on Monday that while he doesn’t “begrudge any individual institution for making any decision that’s right for them,” he views standardized testing as having “classist, racist , sexist overtones.”
A high ACT or SAT score, he said, is not necessarily the only harbinger of success, especially when that score could have been earned through expensive, specialized classes, which may not be an option for most students.
Instead, Worcester Polytechnic Institute puts more weight on a student’s high school transcript because it paints a better picture of academic success over several years, Mr. Palumbo said. The school will not be considering test scores in its admission process for at least eight years.
“It really bothers me — the societal costs — if we continue to let these test scores and what we think they mean be a barrier to better outcomes for students in our universities,” he said.
He added that even for math-heavy schools like Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a student’s SAT score is not important.
The math portion of the SAT focuses mostly on algebra, problem solving and data analysis, according to the College Board, the national organization that sponsors the college admission tests.
“It’s not looking at calculus,” Mr. Palumbo said. “So it’s kind of a bizarre tool for us to use.”
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Schmill said that MIT did not publish its data because it could compromise the privacy of its students.
Typically, the university enrolls about 1,000 students a year, he said. MIT accepted about 1,337 students for the 2022-23 school year and expects to enroll about 1,100, he said.
MIT said last year that 33,240 students applied to join the class of 2025, an increase of 66 percent over the previous year.
The choice to reinstate the requirement is “a very MIT specific decision,” Mr. Schmill said. “I’m not saying that this is the right decision for any or every other school. But for us, we think this is the right decision.”
In his statement, Mr. Schmill said that all MIT students must pass two semesters of calculus and two semesters of calculus-based physics, as part of the university’s general requirements.
“The substance and pace of these courses are both very demanding, and they culminate in long, challenging final exams that students must pass,” he said. “Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the SAT/ACT are predictive (indeed, it would be more surprising if they weren’t).”
On Monday, he said that students who were accepted when test score requirements were waived have done well so far.
“We had confidence in every student we admitted,” Mr. Schmill said. “For students who don’t have an SAT score, there was something else that gave us confidence that the students would succeed here.”
Jeffrey Selingo, the author of “Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions,” said on Monday that some universities may revert to requiring SAT or ACT scores in order to shrink the increasing number of applications received and improve the selection process.
The number of first-year applications through mid-February increased by 10 percent from last year, according to the Common App, one of the nation’s most used application services.
“What’s the best thing to put a limit on applications?” Mr. Selingo said. “It’s to bring back the testing and require the test.”