In a surprising reversal, Harvard said it will reinstate its standardized test requirement for new applicants, a post-pandemic trend initiated by Georgetown, Yale, and MIT.

Harvard first waived the SAT and ACT requirements in 2020 during the pandemic, when in-person testing was impossible. Initially, it indicated that the tests would be optional for at least two years, but the college said Thursday that it will now require exam scores from all applicants in the fall of 2025.

“Standardized tests are a means for all students, regardless of their background and life experience, to provide information that is predictive of success in college and beyond,” said Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi Hoekstra said in a statement. “In short, more information, especially such strongly predictive information, is valuable for identifying talent from across the socioeconomic range.”

Recent research suggests the absence of standardized testing overlooked high-achieving, low-income students. A study by Dartmouth economists and a sociologist last year underscored the value of standardized testing in undergraduate applications. It showed that test scores were a better predictor of college success at Dartmouth than high school grades, essays or teacher recommendations.

The researchers also learned that many lower-income students did not submit their SAT and ACT test scores to Dartmouth because they thought they were too low, but actually would have benefitted from doing so.

Harvard is following its Ivy League peers, including Dartmouth, Yale and Brown, which have also made the change.

“The timing of this decision did surprise me,” said Natasha Warikoo, a sociologist at Tufts University who studies race and admissions.

“I'm not sure this was the right decision but it sure looks like Harvard is following in the footsteps of peer institutions that have recently reinstated the SAT.”

Critics of standardized testing said the vast majority of colleges in Massachusetts and across the country have been test optional for decades and will likely remain so, in part, because the number of 18-year-olds is set to plummet by 2026.

Some student advocates hoped test-optional policies would continue at selective colleges like Harvard, arguing that test scores say more about a student's wealth than smarts. For example, rich families have the means to hire college coaches and tutors.

“The SAT and ACT correlate fabulously to family wealth income. They also have discriminatory impact against racial minorities,” said Harry Feder, Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “To use [tests] as a required part of the college admissions process does real damage to any notion of equity.”

Harvard economist Raj Chetty acknowledged biases are inherent in standardized testing but argued that measures like recommendation letters and extracurricular activities are also susceptible.

“Considering standardized test scores is likely to make the admissions process at Harvard more meritocratic while increasing socioeconomic diversity,” Chetty said.

Others, like Tufts' Warikoo, worried that low-income students might be deterred from applying to selective colleges after learning about the range of SAT scores from previously admitted students.

“It’s going to take a lot of outreach to convince students to apply and convince them it’s okay not to have high SAT scores,” she said.