UNC System waived SAT, ACT requirements during the pandemic. Now it could bring them back

It’s been almost four years since public universities in North Carolina stopped requiring applicants to submit standardized test scores as part of their applications for admission — a change first made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now the governing board that oversees the universities could reinstate the requirements in some form.

A UNC System Board of Governors committee on Wednesday will review a policy recommendation from system staff that would require applicants with certain weighted grade point averages in high school — between 2.5, the minimum that will be needed to apply, and 2.8 — to submit test scores again. That would take effect with those students who will enter the universities in the fall 2025 semester.

For that semester and the one immediately following it, spring 2026, there would be no required minimum score for students required to submit them, according to the proposed policy revision. Beginning in the fall 2026 semester, though, students with GPAs that require them to submit scores would be required to score either at least 17, out of a possible 36, on the ACT or 930, out of a possible 1600, on the SAT.

Under the proposed policy change, the chancellors of the state’s 16 public universities, with approval from their campus-level boards of trustees, would decide for their respective schools whether students with weighted GPAs above 2.8 would be required to submit test scores.

If the committee approves the policy changes Wednesday, the full Board of Governors will vote on the matter at its meeting in April. The full-board vote would be taken through the consent agenda, meaning the board could approve it as part of a package of policies and without individual consideration or discussion.

The board first waived test requirements system-wide in July 2020, initially only for students applying for admission through 2021, citing the disruptions the pandemic had caused to education and testing, including test days for the SAT and ACT being postponed. The board then voted twice to extend the waiver, first through 2022, then through the fall 2024 semester.

Throughout the pause, students have had the option to submit test scores if they wished to do so. Students who did not submit scores were required to meet the system’s minimum weighted GPA requirement, 2.5, to be considered for admission.

The minimum GPA requirement would remain in place for all applicants under the proposed policy changes.

Other colleges’ test waivers ending

The board’s discussion on the policy will come as many colleges and universities across the country deal with the same issues around standardized testing requirements, which many schools paused — but did not fully end — during the pandemic.

Now, four years removed from the start of the pandemic and almost one year after the federal government declared an end to it, colleges are evaluating whether to continue their test-optional or no-test policies, or reinstate the requirements.

Yale University announced Thursday it would again require students to submit scores, though the university is offering flexibility on what tests students are allowed to take and submit. The University of Tennessee has also reinstated test requirements for first-year applicants, while the University of California system eliminated its requirements in 2020, The Washington Post reported.

When the Board of Governors previously voted to waive the university system’s test requirements, some board members expressed fear that the change would allow ill-prepared students to be admitted to the state’s universities or that the change might devalue degrees from the schools, The News & Observer previously reported.

Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem has been test-optional for more than 15 years, with “little appreciable difference” in student performance between students who submit scores and those who do not, The N&O reported.

Just before the pandemic, the Board of Governors had approved a policy change that allowed the state’s universities to admit students with either a minimum 2.5 GPA or minimum test scores. That change was based on UNC System research that GPA is a better indicator of student success and performance, The N&O previously reported.

Discussions around the use and importance of standardized tests in college admissions also center around inequity, with research showing students from lower-income backgrounds generally scoring lower than their wealthier counterparts. Poorer students are also less likely to take the tests, according to a New York Times analysis last year.

Duke University, which is test-optional this admissions cycle, is no longer assigning numerical values to applicants’ standardized test scores or essays during the admissions process, The Duke Chronicle reported this week. Duke admissions officials made the changes due to “a rise in the use of generative artificial intelligence and college admissions consultants,” The Chronicle reported.

North Carolina administers the ACT to all 11th graders in the state’s traditional public schools and charter schools each spring. Students in 10th grade take the PreACT.

Under current system policy and the proposed revision, chancellors of UNC System universities reserve the right to set additional admissions requirements that exceed the minimum system requirements.