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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Carrasco Alayo: The SAT Admissions Requirement Disadvantages Low-Income, International Students

Low-income international students face economic and emotional challenges to access the SAT in their countries.

As a low-income, international student from Peru, I write to express my profound concern about the reinstatement of the SAT requirement in the admissions process for the Class of 2029 and beyond. As Dartmouth’s senior leadership is undoubtedly aware, the application process for international students differs significantly from that of American students, since the resources available to international students are both more limited and more exclusive. While some international students are fortunate enough to have the means for SAT fees and preparation, many do not have these privileges. This is especially burdensome for low-income, international students who seek to apply to prestigious institutions such as Dartmouth.

SAT preparation and execution are inherently unfair processes for low-income, international students. The cost of private tutoring programs and preparatory books for a full application cycle is very expensive. Then, to take the SAT itself, international students are required to pay $103 for each attempt, a price that is quite exorbitant given the absence of fee waivers for international students. This financial burden is further compounded when one considers the expense and time commitment associated with traveling to the test centers located in major cities. While this is a very high burden for all low-income, international students, for those living in rural areas, this may represent an impossible task. Additionally, some low-income, international students may not even have access to a testing center or adequate equipment to complete online testing.

Financial concerns surrounding the SAT are not the sole burden; the emotional toll placed upon low-income, international students and their families and friends during the test-taking process is often substantial. Many of them are unfamiliar with the intricacies of this process, and extended conversations regarding acceptance prospects and the pressure to excel on the test can lead to detrimental mental health effects.

Drawing from my own experiences, my opportunities for a fair application process during the 2019-20 cycle were hampered by the SAT requirement. While I was on a gap year, I had to secure employment to fund my first SAT examination. Subsequently, I had to seek assistance from family members to finance my second SAT exam. While I am grateful to my family and friends who supported me through my application process, their inquiries about whether my scores were adequate for Dartmouth and the time I spent waiting for a decision placed an emotional burden on me. My mental health suffered due to the pressure associated with an unfamiliar examination and the accompanying financial strain. Furthermore, adequate preparation was financially unfeasible for my family. The introduction of the test-optional policy filled me with hope, as it increased my chances of being evaluated as a student and a human being, rather than as a mere numerical score. This change also alleviated my anxiety, allowing me to focus on other aspects of my application.

In light of the data I have presented about taking the SAT internationally as well as my personal experiences, I ask that the testing requirement for international students be reconsidered. If not, the College should offer insights into the steps it will take to create a more equitable application process for international students. Could Dartmouth advocate that the College Board offer SAT fee waivers to international students? Could Dartmouth help propagate free SAT resources for low-income, international students?

Additionally, I wonder how the option of submitting International Baccalaureate scores, Advanced Placement scores or a final national examination as a substitute for the SAT or ACT will work when many countries don’t offer them. Peru, for example, has no national standardized final examination.

Perhaps most importantly, I am curious why low-income international students like me were not consulted before the decision to reinstate the SAT requirement. These are genuine inquiries shared by many, especially in the wake of the recent New York Times article and the SAT research released on Feb. 5. The College must do more to explain its decision and to correct for the negative consequences it has for low-income, international students.

Alejandra Carrasco Alayo ’25 is from Lima, Peru, and is co-director of the Latine and Caribbean Council, vice-president of the Dartmouth Peruvian Students Association, a Dartmouth Student Government senator, a member of the International Student Association, a King Scholar and student director at the First-Generation Office. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

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