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The University of Chicago's June 2018 announcement to drop SAT standardized testing requirements as a part of its admissions process is significant not because it is the first; rather, it is following in the footsteps of over 70 US schools. However, the U of C – one of the most academically rigorous universities in the country, with an acceptance rate of less than 10% – is the first top Research I (research-intensive) university to make test scores optional, and as such this move might represent a sea change in the admissions process for the higher education industry at large.

Technology disrupts the standard admissions process

This move is a part of the U of C's initiative to attract a more diverse student body. Studies have shown that first-generation (first in family) and lower-income students are often put at a disadvantage by standardized testing requirements; admissions are often skewed in favor of higher-income students who have the ability to pay for test preparation courses. In addition, this disruption of the admissions process (which all too often can seem like a numbers game) indicates that the school is instead prioritizing the self-expression and individuality of its students.

The U of C is expanding their "UnCommon Application" initiative to encompass nontraditional materials, including two-minute video pitches. Dean of Admissions James Nondorf tells Inside Higher Ed: "We want students to understand the application does not define you; you define the application." Such a statement places the weight on a more personalized assessment of each student, and a unique opportunity to express themselves – something that those in Generation Z particularly value. Moreover, creating video content gives these digital natives the opportunity to express themselves in a format with which they are well-accustomed.

Video applications have already proven to be popular at schools such as Goucher College and Yale University, where students can submit videos in lieu of essays. Universities should ensure that their application portals, such as SlideRoom or Technolutions Slate, can support the uploading and streaming of videos, and that staff can watch and assess these videos on their personal devices. While Ovum does not foresee that universities will do away altogether with standardized testing, the decision to incorporate video as an admissions alternative indicates how technology is moving the higher education industry forward, bridging the divide between how universities have traditionally operated and the needs and values of their incoming student population.


Further reading

2018 Trends to Watch: Higher Education, IT0008-000321 (October 2017)


Joyce Kim, Analyst, Education Technology

[email protected]