OPINION: Harvey Mudd’s removal of SAT Subject Test requirement is a step in equalizing the college admissions process

Many pink and blue cartoon hands reach out to torn SAT Subject tests
(Waverly Wang • The Student Life)

Harvey Mudd College just took a step forward in equalizing the college admissions process for applicants. On Feb. 6, HMC announced that it will no longer require SAT Subject Tests for applicants from the high school class of 2021, or in other words, students who would graduate from Mudd in the class of 2025.

“We are excited to make this policy change and hope that it will remove a barrier to applying to the College for many students,” Thyra Briggs, HMC vice president for admission and financial aid, said in a press release. “The mission of Harvey Mudd states that we are looking for students who want to study broadly, become leaders in their field and who understand the impact of their work on society. Our alumni have been transformative leaders since our founding. In order to continue this tradition, it is essential that we make a Harvey Mudd education as accessible as possible.” 

SAT Subject Tests are expensive — it costs $26 just to register for one test date, and each subject test costs an additional $22, with the language tests with listening priced even higher at $26 per test. Such fees pose a great financial burden for low-income students who may not be able to afford them.

It’s unfair that students coming from a wealthy family might be able to retake the same SAT subject test multiple times until they receive scores that they are happy with, while students from lower-income families may only be able to take a test once.

Although it is possible for low-income students to receive fee waivers from the College Board, which administers the SAT Subject Tests, that still doesn’t level the playing field. Affluent families are able to afford pricey test preparation services that can boost SAT scores. Many  children from more privileged families also don’t need to worry about spending time taking care of younger siblings instead of studying, since their families can afford to hire nannies or send their children to daycare.

It’s unsurprising, therefore, that researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the City University of New York and the University of Southern California found that wealth correlates to higher SAT scores. Such a fact alone should be enough for colleges to consider placing less weight on SAT Subject Tests.

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“[SAT Subject Tests are] not an equalizer,” Katheryn Wang HM ’23 said. “Everyone goes into the test with different levels of preparation, whether it’s how often we were read to as kids, or how much [our parents] could afford to pay for tutoring. Everyone has different circumstances.”

Although there may be concerns that removing the SAT subject test requirement will make it harder for the HMC Office of Admissions to tell whether an applicant is well-prepared for the rigor of the school, SAT Subject Tests don’t provide useful information that admissions officers can’t already determine from other aspects of candidates’ applications.

The grades recorded on transcripts can demonstrate whether students are hard-working or have put significant effort into their studies during their time in high school. Advanced Placement exams are a more fair form of specialized standardized testing because they can only be taken once per year. And HMC is still requiring applicants to take either the general SAT or ACT, which provide enough of a standard comparison for students coming from different high schools.

Furthermore, tests aren’t everything — a student can score a perfect 800 on their SAT Subject Tests and still not get into Mudd. When making decisions, admissions officers consider much more beyond standardized testing scores, including grades, extracurriculars, leadership and background. 

At the other 5Cs, Pitzer College has been test-optional since 2003, and it’s optional to take SAT Subject Tests to apply to Pomona College, Scripps College and Claremont McKenna College. Institutions like the University of Chicago, Bowdoin College and Brandeis University are also test-optional.

As more colleges shift away from the strict standardized testing requirements of the past and de-emphasize the importance of standardized tests in the admissions process, equal opportunity is slowly being paved for low-income students. Props to HMC for joining the movement.

Michelle Lum HM ’23 is upset that students in incoming classes at HMC no longer need to take the SAT Subject Tests. She believes that scoring a 600-something on the SAT U.S. History exam is a formative experience that everyone should have. Just kidding.

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