University News

Admissions Update
A letter from the President

By Christina Paxson / June–August 2024
June 6th, 2024

In last summer’s column, I wrote about how Brown was considering whether to reinstate required testing or continue with the “test-optional” policy that was adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision to suspend required standardized testing during the pandemic made sense. Many in-person testing centers were closed and it was only fair to give applicants the option of not submitting SAT or ACT scores during this challenging period. We extended the “test-optional” policy through the last admissions cycle in order to determine whether required testing helped us attract and admit exceptionally talented, creative, and intellectually curious students who bring diverse experiences and views to Brown.

Last fall, I charged the Ad Hoc Committee on Admission Policies, comprised of senior faculty and Corporation members, to consider whether Brown should alter its Early Decision policy, reinstate a standardized test score requirement, and modify existing preferences for applicants with family connections to Brown—specifically preferences for “legacies” and children of faculty and staff.

In March 2024, at the recommendation of the ad hoc committee, I announced that Brown would continue to offer its Early Decision option and reinstate the requirement that applicants for first-year admission submit standardized tests scores (the SAT or ACT, except in the rare circumstance when these tests are not available to a student) starting with this year’s application cycle (effective for the Class of 2029). The decision on Early Decision (ED) was straightforward: Brown has consistently high levels of diversity and academic excellence among students admitted in the ED round. And the concern that has been expressed by policymakers and in the media about ED—that low- and middle-income applicants may be less likely to apply because they are unable to compare financial aid offers across institutions and secure the most competitive award—does not apply to Brown, given that we meet the full demonstrated financial need of all undergraduates.

Test scores provide valuable information on students’ ability to succeed at Brown.


The decision to reinstate required standardized testing was driven by analysis that shows that test scores provide valuable information on the ability of students to succeed at Brown. Also, the committee’s report makes a compelling case that being “test-optional” can disadvantage talented students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Since Brown follows a holistic admissions practice and assesses test scores in the context of an applicant’s background and experiences, requiring test scores will not disadvantage lower-income students who are less likely to have the benefit of test-prep services and other advantages.

Simply put, test scores can give students who come from less affluent families and who have attended high schools less well known to our admissions office a chance to distinguish themselves. And they can give our admissions team the confidence that these applicants will thrive at Brown.

Moving forward we know that we will need to communicate clearly to students and high school counselors about our commitment to consider test scores “in context,” so that students with less access to educational opportunities that could boost their scores are not disadvantaged. These students—some of whom may have scores that are lower than the median for Brown, but excellent in their local setting—are strongly encouraged to apply and can be highly competitive in the admissions process.

I should note the committee did not make a recommendation on admissions preferences related to family connections. Relative to our peers, Brown accepts relatively few “legacy” students—only about 8 percent of the enrolled class—and those who are admitted have stronger-than-average academic credentials. And members of multi-generational Brown families are among some of our most loyal alumni who support Brown in a myriad of ways and carry forth Brown traditions and culture. However, I recognize that some question whether admissions preferences based on family connections align with the core values of our community.

This is a difficult issue and inspires deep emotions among many in our community. The committee recommended that we probe these issues and collect information from a broader range of faculty, staff, alumni, and students before making a decision.

To that end, I invite you to share your thoughts about family preference in admissions. Please feel free to write to president@brown.edu. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Related Issue
June–August 2024