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UW–Madison test-optional admissions policy extended through summer 2023

August 20, 2020 By Doug Erickson

For the next two fall enrollment cycles, undergraduate applicants to the University of Wisconsin–Madison will not be required to submit ACT or SAT scores. This is an extension of the university’s previously announced decision to suspend the requirement through Dec. 31, 2020.

The extended test-optional approach, which required and received approval from the UW System Board of Regents Thursday, will affect first-year applicants for spring 2021 through summer 2023. This will include seniors currently applying and current high school juniors.

The move to a test-optional approach for at least two years reflects both an immediate response to disruptions caused by COVID-19 and a broader desire by the university to study over time how such a policy might alter the composition of its incoming classes. Data gathered and analyzed by university researchers will help determine whether UW–Madison returns to a standardized test requirement.

Under the revised approach, freshman applicants will not be penalized for their inability to take and submit test scores due to cancellations or significant delays in testing from the testing agencies themselves during the stated time period.

In the upcoming enrollment cycles, applicants who’ve taken the ACT or SAT will have the option to self-report their scores if they believe it adds to the totality of their academic record.

André Phillips Photo: Bryce Richter

“While test scores have been a requirement for an admissions decision, they have always been only a portion of the holistic review we give each and every applicant to UW–Madison,” stated André E. Phillips, director for admissions and recruitment. “We have never had minimums or ranges for ACT or SAT scores. Our team is trained to review every aspect of a student’s application — including the context of their school and their individual story — to find students who are best able to succeed at our university and who will exemplify the Wisconsin Idea. Our team will be further trained to not make judgements about the presence or lack of test scores in a prospective student’s application so that no one is disadvantaged by not providing scores.”

Admissions counselors will continue to evaluate all elements of a student’s application and will focus on the materials required to complete an application for a holistic admissions review. These include the applicant’s high school grades and coursework, an academic letter of recommendation to provide insight from a counselor or teacher, the student’s involvement and commitments outside of the classroom, and the student’s educational goals and life experiences as told through their admissions essays. If a student opts to have test scores included in the review, the scores will be considered as a part of the larger holistic evaluation, along with any other supplemental information provided by the applicant.

The initial waiver through Dec. 31, 2020, allowed fall applicants from this year’s class of graduating high school seniors to be moved through the admissions process without being penalized for being unable to sit for the SAT or ACT. The Division of Enrollment Management and the University of Wisconsin–Madison wished to extend the waiver in order to compile data to educate and inform the future of the ACT and SAT test requirements for admission.

Photo: Derek Kindle

Derek Kindle Photo: Bryce Richter

“COVID-19 has made it extremely challenging for many students to take the ACT or SAT,” says Derek Kindle, vice provost for enrollment management. “So first and foremost, this is a necessary decision to ensure that we accommodate our applicants. Additionally, we view this as a unique opportunity to better understand, through rigorous research, the impact of standardized tests on our admissions process and whether it makes sense to continue requiring them.”

The Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab, which is housed in the university’s Office of Student Financial Aid, will handle the data gathering and evaluation related to the test-optional approach. The lab is directed by Nicholas Hillman, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis.

For more information on the test-optional approach and how it affects the undergraduate application process, please see the FAQs page on the Office of Admissions and Recruitment website.