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Removal of standardized testing may have contributed to UC application increase

By Loan-Anh Pham and Hanna Sato

Feb. 11, 2021 6:31 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 15 at 08:57 p.m.


The elimination of standardized testing in admissions may have been a factor in the record-high number of people who applied for fall 2021 admissions at the University of California, faculty and students said.

UCLA received nearly 168,000 applications for fall, the all-time high and a 24.6% increase from fall 2020, according to preliminary data released by the UC Office of the President. The nine undergraduate UC schools altogether received nearly 250,000 applications for fall 2021, a 16.1% increase from fall 2020, according to the data.

First-year and transfer applications increased by 18.4% and 7.2% respectively, while out-of-state and international student applications increased by 44.2% and 10% respectively, according to the data. At UCLA, the percentage of Chicano/Latino applications increased by 33%, while African American applications increased by 48%, according to data from UCLA Newsroom.

Fall 2021’s application cycle was marked by the UC’s unprecedented decision to not use standardized testing scores in the application process, said Mitchell Chang, an  Asian American studies and education professor.

[Related: SAT, ACT test scores no longer required in UC admissions process]

“The pandemic had some effect, but more so than anything is the pushing of institutions to move away from requiring standardized test scores,” Chang said.

The removal of the standardized testing requirement encouraged students to apply to the UCs, said Jacob Lubarsky, a senior at Burlingame High School who applied to UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside and UC Irvine.

“There are many people who will score academically well, but the SAT or ACT may be a sore spot in their resume,” Lubarsky said. “But when that is removed, I think it can not only bring out more confidence, but actually make each applicant look a lot better.”

Removing standardized testing requirements helps bridge income disparities and racial underrepresentation, but a lack of academic resources is still an obstacle for minority students, said Sylvia Hurtado, an education professor.

Minority high school students have disproportionately low access to Advanced Placement courses and counselors, Hurtado added. This impacts first-generation students in particular, because it forces them to navigate the college application and financial aid processes alone, she said.

The pandemic also has highlighted the digital divide, where underserved areas and students still face lack of access to stable internet and technological resources, Chang said.

UC’s decision to not consider standardized testing scores also may have encouraged more international students to apply this cycle, said Soorya Balasubramanian, a senior from The International School Bangalore in India.

Many international students participate in multiple extracurricular activities and International Baccalaureate or AP classes but feel discouraged to apply if they think their test scores are too low for UC schools, said Balasubramanian, who applied to UCLA as a political science student.

“International applicants can kind of bring a flavor to campus,” Balasubramanian said. “I think that cultural exchange is just beautiful.”

Jennie Christenfeld, a student at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, said the 2021 application cycle required many adjustments, adding that she thinks the travel limitations caused by the pandemic may have factored into the increase in college applications.

“I probably applied to more schools this year than I would have (in another year) because I didn’t tour any places, so I didn’t have a good idea of what schools I would have liked,” Christenfeld said.

Applying to college in the middle of a pandemic was difficult, said Brittney Tran, a transfer student from De Anza College who applied to UCLA and three other UCs. Despite it being her second time applying to UCs since high school, virtually connecting with counselors was still a tough process, Tran said.

“It was extremely overwhelming,” Tran said.

With the ongoing pandemic, Tran said removing the testing requirement lifted a weight off her shoulders, since she was planning to retake the SAT for her transfer applications.

“Without the testing requirement, it definitely made it a little less pressured,” Tran said.

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