Wake Forest Makes SAT Optional

Wake Forest Makes SAT Optional Wake Forest has become the first nationally ranked university to drop the requirement that applicants submit an SAT or other standardized test score, joining numerous liberal arts colleges.

While Wake’s decision isn’t going to have the impact of such a move from a Harvard or Stanford, it is notable. Wake is No. 30 on the U.S. News & World Report list of top national universities and however much most educators may dispute the meaning of that list, it is influential with many prospective students, and this marks the first time that an institution that high on the list for universities has ever dropped its standardized testing requirement.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said it was “very significant” to have a university of this type joining the growing number of colleges dropping the SAT requirement. Beyond showing that such a move is possible at a larger institution, Wake Forest will also draw more attention to the option in the Southeast, where there has been less movement away from the SAT than in the Northeast. “There are now [SAT]-optional schools of every type in every region of the country,” Schaeffer said.


Jill Tiefenthaler, the new provost at Wake Forest, said that she has been interested in the growing debate about the SAT and that she reviewed the research on the test with the university’s admissions professionals and found that the SAT “is not a great predictor of college success,” and appears to discourage applications for black and Latino applicants, who see the test as biased.

An interesting move. Standardized tests are a shortcut to allow admissions offices to quickly compare students from a variety of backgrounds and different schools. Wake is going to increase its admissions staff by 20 percent and devote more time to personal interviews and other more time-intensive screening measures. It will be interesting to see how many large, selective institutions follow suit.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. lunacy says:

    I imagine this will open doors to increased dispute and charges of discrimination down the line. That or every poedunck will be admitted.

    It’s much easier to say, and back up, “well you only scored xxx” on your test than to just say, “you’re not smart enough for college.”

  2. Michael says:

    It’s much easier to say, and back up, “well you only scored xxx” on your test than to just say, “you’re not smart enough for college.”

    True, but the results of a single written test are not a very reliable indicator of actual intelligence or knowledge.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    When the move towards using the SAT for college entrance at prestige colleges in the U. S. was begun in earnest starting in the 1930’s it was intended as a move towards identifying the best students regardless of background. As preparation for the test has become professionalized over the last couple of decades that’s become less effective but I don’t think it’s any less necessary.

    Unfortunately, a fair reliable sure-fire means for evaluating the relative merit of students who’ve attended greatly varying high schools has yet to be developed. Standardized tests are as close as we get and, if the move away from the SAT is a move away from standardized tests generally, it’s probably not that great an idea.

    IMO while standardized tests shouldn’t be the only means of evaluating prospective students it has a role.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    Does Wake Foreststill require or encourage the SAT II (subject tests). My guess is that they will quickly find a proxy that they can use to get enough high achieving students to keep their U.S. News rank while allowing whole person review to allow it to admit enough idiot children of the rich, minorities, and legacies. My guess is that you can major in education at Wake without SAT II test scores and AP/IB test scores but if you want ot major in ecnomics, they will be a requirement.

    My guess is that administrators at Wake Forest realizes that a liberal arts schools is at the short end of the SAT measurement because it will have fewer Asians versus the STE schools.

  5. Going to more subjective analysis will make it easier for an administration to self-select for the echo chamber and exclude those they would rather not have around. I’ve always thought the SAT and ACT were used as a strong data point when it came to getting a candidate in but a much weaker data point when it came to keeping a candidate out.

    Admittedly, coming from a math and science background, I think a lot more of standardized testing than many others do to determine who is capable of succeeding. Importantly, though, it can only determine a level of aptitude and not success. Those that do well tend to work hard and, above a certain threshold, that seems more important than being a little smarter. That metric cannot be measured well in these tests.

    Largely, it seems as though they have identified a real problem, but misidentified the cause of the problem so the solution isn’t going to fix it and stands a better than even chance of making it worse.