Cornell to reinstate standardized test requirements for fall 2026

Cornell will reinstitute standardized testing requirements for students seeking undergraduate admission for fall 2026 enrollment, based on evidence from a multiyear study conducted by the university’s Task Force on Standardized Testing in Admissions.

Cornell will remain test-optional for students applying in the upcoming admissions cycle for enrollment in fall 2025, although these applicants are encouraged to submit SAT and/or ACT scores to the Cornell colleges and schools that are currently test-optional.

To provide students with time to prepare and take standardized tests, Cornell will remain test-optional for those applying to enroll for fall 2025 to the College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell Engineering, the College of Human Ecology, the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. However, while the submission of SAT and/or ACT scores is optional, it is recommended. For students applying to enroll in fall 2025, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business will remain score-free.

Effective for those applying to enroll for fall 2026 or beyond, applicants to all eight Cornell undergraduate colleges and schools will be required to submit standardized test scores.

In 2020, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, test scores became optional at five of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges and schools (A&S, Cornell Engineering, Human Ecology, the Brooks School and the ILR School) and were not considered by three others (Cornell CALS, AAP and the SC Johnson College). Analyzing admissions since 2020, the task force found that when reviewed in context with other application materials, such as GPA, academic rigor, extracurricular engagement, essays and letters of recommendation, test scores help to create a more complete picture of an individual applicant.

Though standardized test scores are imperfect measures of a student’s aptitude and potential, the data suggests that when taken in context, these scores provide valuable insights into a student’s potential for academic success while at Cornell, and thereby help to ensure that admitted students are likely to thrive academically. After accounting for other predictors, including high school GPA, student demographics and high school characteristics, those who were admitted with test scores tended to have somewhat stronger GPAs and were more likely to remain in good academic standing.

The data also showed that test-optional policies may have inadvertent consequences. Cornell’s fall 2022 New Student Survey showed that 91% of matriculating first-year students took the SAT and/or the ACT at least once (and 70% had taken multiple tests), but only 28% of applicants opted to provide test scores even though doing so could have advantaged them.

“While it may seem counterintuitive, considering these test scores actually promotes access to students from a wider range of backgrounds and circumstances,” said Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff. “Our analysis indicates that instituting the testing requirement likely enhances, rather than diminishes, our ability to identify and admit qualified students.”

Students’ decisions to share test scores are shaped by social background factors such as the type of high school they attended, their family income, and their access to and use of college counseling. Students from different kinds of backgrounds may decide to withhold scores that are strong enough to help them gain access to Cornell, which means that test-optional policies may undermine equity in admissions. For example, an applicant might choose not to submit a score that is at or slightly below Cornell’s median score, even though a reviewer would note favorably that the score is in the top tier for that student’s high school. Such an application would be stronger with the score included.

“While important, standardized test scores represent only one of many factors we consider in the admissions process,” said Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education and interim vice provost for enrollment. “In addition to test scores, Cornell will consider both the context provided by the rest of a student’s application materials and the context of where they are applying from – their high school, personal circumstances and background. We are committed to evaluating an applicant’s academic preparedness as well as how their unique interests, lived experiences and strengths will contribute to Cornell’s vision of ‘… any person … any study.’”

A summary of the task force’s report can be viewed here.

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Lindsey Knewstub