Dartmouth admissions faces national and institutional policy changes
Students and faculty discuss how the Supreme Court’s overturning of affirmative action, as well as changes such as test-optional admissions and need-blind admissions for international students, will affect the admissions process.
This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue.
In recent years, Dartmouth has implemented several changes to its admissions protocol, from test-optional admissions to a need-blind policy for international students, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. At the same time, many admissions-related questions remain unanswered — including if the College violated antitrust laws in an effort to inflate the price of admission, and how it will respond to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down affirmative action.
Amid these changes, students have reported increased discourse about admissions. Sonu Shaik ’25 said he has heard more admissions-related conversations at Dartmouth, while Meena Tate ’27, an accepted student from Iowa City, Iowa, said discussions extend beyond campus.
“A couple weeks ago, [the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action] was the biggest news that anybody was talking about,” Tate said. “Definitely now, [conversations about admissions are] way more prevalent than what [they’ve] been in the past.”
According to past reporting by The Dartmouth, the College — like other schools around the country — first waived its standardized testing requirement in June 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, the College required students to submit scores for either the SAT or ACT, while recommending that applicants also provide SAT Subject Test scores.
Although President Joe Biden ended the COVID-19 national emergency on April 10, 2023, test-optional admissions remain prevalent in higher education. According to their admissions webpages, all eight Ivy League institutions will offer test-optional admissions through the 2023-2024 application cycle. Columbia University, for example, announced a permanent test-optional policy in March 2023, Forbes reported.
Dartmouth has not yet announced plans beyond the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, and representatives from the Admissions Office declined a request for further comment.
Students reported mixed reactions to ongoing test-optional admissions. Alex Lewton ’27, an admitted student from Kensington, Maryland, said that testing places a burden on students to achieve something “not strictly tied” to future college coursework.
At the same time, Lewton said he recognizes the value of standardization in college admissions.
“I think test optional is probably the way to go, but I think there is something to be said for having a more objective metric that can stand as an equalizer across different socioeconomic backgrounds and profiles,” he said.
Tate also said she believes Dartmouth should transition to permanent test-optional admissions, explaining that she appreciates the “freedom” the policy affords students.
“Personally, I love test-optional,” she said. “I like the optional part of it — you can choose to put your score in if you want, or you don’t have to.”
Other students, however, believe the College should transition back to testing requirements. Andrew Xu ’25 said he feels that the current test-optional policy allows people who “should not be considered” to gain admission, hurting “people who got a higher test score.”
“My stance is that I think the tests were a good idea, and that [test-optional admissions] just inflates the applications [of people without high scores],” Xu said. “These people [with lower test scores] can just apply everywhere, even if they wouldn’t think they were competitive given their test scores.”
Shaik added that permanent test-optional admissions would not be a “pragmatic solution,” citing the need for standardization across high schools. He explained that he did not use a tutor — a common equity concern with standardized tests — leading him to believe people can score well regardless of socioeconomic background.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a requirement from an equity perspective to be test-optional,” Shaik said.
Need-Blind Admissions for International Students
The College first announced need-blind admissions for international applicants on Jan. 12, 2022, becoming one of six U.S. colleges and universities with the policy, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. The change was made possible by an anonymous $40 million donation — the largest scholarship gift in Dartmouth’s history, Dartmouth News announced.
Many students have responded positively to the change. Constance Legrand ’25, who applied to Dartmouth while living in Shanghai, China, said she and her friends were “super pumped” about the new policy. Although Legrand applied to college before the change — and attended boarding school in Massachusetts, which influenced her admissions process — she said the practice may counter misconceptions about international students.
“I feel like there’s often a stereotype that international students fit this one specific box, which is [a] wealthy, foreign, exoticized student or person,” Legrand said. “Hopefully [need-blind admissions for international applicants] gets rid of — or it starts to slowly dismantle — the conception … [that] mainly students coming from East Asia [are] these super wealthy students.”
Maria Alice Hebling ’27, an admitted student from Valinhos, Brazil, said that need-blind admissions for international students also shifts the focus from “ability to pay” to merit. Hebling added that the new policy may make decisions about where to apply “easier” for international students, who no longer need to choose schools based on the scholarships they expect to receive.
“I think that the need-blind admissions for international students was a really positive thing because … the financial situation [of] a lot of families … really impacts the choices that we make when we apply to college,” Hebling said. “We can really focus on bringing our abilities [to the table] and talking about our goals … without worrying about our financial situation.”
Hebling added that the policy change will engender more diversity, both in socioeconomic status and viewpoints.
Representatives from the Office of Pluralism and Leadership declined a request for comment. The International Students Association did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
On June 29, the Supreme Court struck down nearly 50 years of affirmative action, deeming racial considerations in college admissions unconstitutional in a 6-3 ruling. While the College “does not share its specific admissions policies and procedures,” according to an email statement from College spokesperson Diana Lawrence, the decision will not impact Dartmouth’s “fundamental commitment” to diversity.
“Diversity, including racial diversity, is vital to our mission of knowledge creation in service to society,” Lawrence wrote. “Our general counsel is reviewing the implications of the ruling for our current policies and practices to advise us on how to modify them moving forward. The changes we make will follow the law and adapt our holistic admissions processes to ensure a diverse Dartmouth community.”
According to government professor John Carey, Dartmouth could still consider race in admissions through a “holistic process” — such as evaluating discussions of race in essays or considering socioeconomic status. That said, Carey said that alternatives to affirmative action are more “labor intensive” for institutions.
“[Considering socioeconomic status is] not as efficient a way of racially diversifying your class as just considering race directly,” Carey said. “Do I think Dartmouth might do it? Yeah. I think … if they’ve been told that they cannot consider race directly or categorically, they’ll look for other substitutes. Are those substitutes as effective? No, they’re imperfect substitutes. That’s why they haven’t been using them as heavily all along.”
Donors and Legacy
In recent weeks, Dartmouth and other elite colleges have faced increased scrutiny for favoring privileged applicants. On July 24, the New York Times reported that students from the top 0.1% are five times more likely to attend Dartmouth than the average applicant with the same test score. Moreover, students from the top 1% make up one in six students at elite colleges, the article reported.
In another New York Times article on July 30, Dartmouth Latino Alumni Association president Kially Ruiz ’98 spoke against “nepotism” that could lead to an “unfair advantage” against non-legacy students. However, Ruiz still highlighted the value of a “very strong alumni community.”
“There’s a place for legacy admissions, in the sense that if the candidate is qualified and has merit,” Ruiz said in the article. “Having that strong connection to the college is important for us.”
According to the Dartmouth Admissions webpage, 10% of the Class of 2026 are legacies.
According to a court transcript purchased by The Dartmouth, the College also considers donations in its admissions process. In Jan. 2022, Dartmouth and 15 other universities were sued for allegedly conspiring to reduce financial aid offers and increase the cost of attendance. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest supporting the plaintiffs in the case in March 2022.
During a July 24 hearing for the case, lawyer for the College Terri Mascherin discussed the role of donations and legacy in the College’s admissions procedures.
“We put forth a witness last week who gave testimony to the effect that each year in certain admissions decisions, candidates who were on the fence, if you will, would be admitted because of the interest of the Alumni Affairs and Development Office,” Mascherin said during the hearing. “…The dean of admissions was provided with information about either the giving potential of the family or the family’s long standing legacy relationship or contributions to the alumni body.”
While Shaik, who is not a legacy student, said he was frustrated by legacy and donations during his own admissions process, he said he has come to understand their value.
“There’s probably a handful of kids in our grade whose parents have given fabulous sums of money to the College and, because of that, the College is able to build new buildings or have need-blind admissions for international students,” Shaik said. “It’s such a small price for my college experience.”
While Lewton also recognized the benefits of legacy admissions — namely, finances and involvement — he said the practice gives an “unfair advantage” to students with connections, especially considering historic unequal access to college.
Tate added that legacy and donor status are “nothing more than a title” that “favors the wealthy.”
“You’re not going to donate unless you have a lot of spare money,” Tate said. “I don’t think [legacy and donations] should be a factor.”
Representatives from the Admissions Office declined a request for comment.