High school students looking to apply to colleges within the University of North Carolina system may have to face SAT or ACT testing in the years ahead after a four-year hiatus from standardized testing in response to COVID-19.

Colleges initially paused testing requirements because students couldn’t go into testing sites in person. However, that pause is still in effect throughout UNC schools. The board of governors is looking to return to the testing requirement as other universities across the nation do the same. 

A multitude of Ivy League schools recently announced they will reinstate standardized testing, including Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Brown University. Harvard and California Institute of Technology unexpectedly announced earlier this month that testing requirements will take effect this fall, two years ahead of Harvard’s previous indication. 

Last week, UNC Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs approved a proposal that would return testing requirements based on GPA. If the full board approves the change during next month’s meeting, all 17 campuses will be given the authority to determine their own standards. At a minimum, applicants with a GPA below 2.8 would need to submit standardized testing scores. Test scores would also need to meet minimum benchmarks in the subsequent year. Still, applicants with a higher GPA would not need to unless the individual school implements its own criteria, offering continued flexibility in the UNC system.

“The chancellor of each respective constituent institution may, subject to the approval of the
president and the Board of Governors, require all students with a weighted High School GPA of 2.80 or greater to also submit a standardized test score,” the draft reads.

Judy Rasetti, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, says that UNC’s approach provides students and each campus with flexibility in the admissions process. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, she said that the updated requirements will come as a wake-up call for some high school students because they’ve never known it as a required element of college admissions.

“These current juniors are maybe having to pivot a little bit because, for the first time, it is going to be required – or maybe the current sophomores even more so. Because by the time they get up there, I think it’ll be back in place just about everywhere,” said Rasetti. “Requiring testing for students between certain GPAs, that’s all very reasonable to me. Because if a student has a 2.5 GPA, that’s not even a B average. So you do want to have some kind of data point that shows you what is the student’s likelihood of success.”

As a former undergraduate admissions officer at Georgetown University, she sees the importance of data-driven decision-making with standardized testing. It allows colleges to put all applicants on an equal playing field, but on the flip side, there are a lot of proponents of eliminating standardized testing.

By providing all UNC campuses with flexibility in their admissions approach, students’ best interests are kept in mind while not implementing any overarching decisions made hastily by one person.

“It’s going to vary greatly from campus to campus, but they’re giving that level of control to the Chancellors at the different campuses at the various universities, so I think that’s the right thing to do,” Rasetti added.

Waiving testing requirements in 2020 grossly inflated applicant pools, which narrowed acceptance rates and made it harder for qualified students to gain admission. Since then, ACT and SAT scores have consistently dropped year-over-year. The ACT composite score of 19.5 fell to a 30-year low in 2023, with scores peaking in 2017 at 21 before trending downward ever since. SAT scores have also reached a new low since the test was redesigned in 2016.