Going beyond the headlines: Why the SAT is still important to CA High Schools

The UC Regent’s publicized and politicized vote to move away from the SAT, is not as sweeping as the headlines suggest.


The UC Regent’s publicized and politicized vote to move away from the SAT, is not as sweeping as the headlines suggest.  Only 10% of CA High School graduates attend a UC campus. Within the UC system, SAT scores will continue to play a role in admissions and scholarships. 

UC's Timeline

Graduating classes of 2021 & 2022: Test-optional admissions at all UC campuses
Graduating classes of 2023 & 2024: Test-blind admissions at all UC campuses
Graduating class of 2025 & beyond: UC plans to administer a new admissions test

Key Points

  • UC Regents decision impacts 10% of college-going HS graduates
  • SAT scores are still a value-add for UC admissions for 2 years. Scores will factor into admission decisions.
  • SAT scores will be used for the CA Resident Statewide Guarantee4, and may still be considered for UC Regents Scholarships (up to $8,000 in the first year)
  • SAT/PSAT is still an essential application component for:
  • Many private scholarships
  • Many in-state private colleges (4% of college-going HS graduates)
  • Out-of-state colleges (11% of college-going HS graduates)
  • Merit-based aid outside of CA
  • NCAA Eligibility

Analysis of Key Points

The UC Regents decision impacts 10% of college-going HS graduates.

The UC system has a goal to serve the top tier of CA high school graduates. UC data show that they admitted 71,405 CA high school graduates, or roughly 62% of those who applied in 2019. The 71,405 represent approximately 10% of all college-going high school graduates. In line with the UC system goals, the admitted students represent some of the best and brightest that California has to offer. Unfortunately, there were more than 43,000 high school graduates in 2019 who applied and did not get into a UC campus. A small percentage of students will attend a UC campus after graduation, and schools should be mindful not to let UC admissions practices dictate how high schools prepare students for college.

SAT scores are still a value-add for UC admissions for two years. Scores will factor into admission decisions.

There is some confusion about the difference between Test Optional and Test Blind decisions. In Test Optional decisions, a standardized test score can be included in the college application and considered in admissions decisions. In Test Blind admissions, the standardized test score will not be included in admissions decisions.6 Data from schools that have gone test optional in recent years shows a few common trends: An increased number of total applications, an increased number of underrepresented minorities applying, and an increase in the average test scores for those students that apply.  History shows that for a highly selective school (such as most of the UC campuses), 80-90% of admitted students included their test scores in their application.6 The average test scores for admitted students has gone up, so in most cases only students with higher scores are including it in their application. While the number of underrepresented minority applicants increased, the data is mixed if Test Optional and Test Blind have consistent impacts on the diversity of the students who end up attending.

When it comes to highly selective schools, every advantage helps. In a recent UC Regents meeting, the test optional SAT scores were compared to AP courses on a transcript. Most college admissions experts would agree that AP courses are barely optional when applying to top-tier UC campuses; the median admissions GPA at six campuses is over 4.00. The vast majority of admitted students have honors or AP classes boosting their GPA. Given the highly competitive nature of UC admissions for the classes of 2021 and 2022, students would be taking a risk not to submit respectable SAT scores along with their transcript for UC admissions.

Test optional and test blind admissions were not supported by everybody within the UC system. The Academic Council's Standardized Testing Task Force released a comprehensive report in support of the use of SAT/ACT scores in admissions.11 Research is conflicted if test optional admissions are effective at improving diversity.

SAT scores may still be considered for UC Regents Scholarships and Statewide Guarantee.

Changes in admissions requirements have yet to trickle down to UC Regents Scholarship awards. Every UC campus awards Regents Scholarships differently, although many include language such as UCSD’s statement: Demonstrated academic excellence (strength and breadth of your high school academic program, test scores, grades and other academic criteria). It is unclear how campuses will adjust to test optional and test blind admissions, and how that will impact the award of scholarships. This represents an additional risk for students to submit a UC application without SAT scores.

The UC Board of Regents has stated that the UC CA Resident Statewide Guarantee4 will still use a standardized test to determine statewide eligibility. The Statewide Guarantee ensures that all CA high school students graduating in the top 9% statewide, will be ensured a place on a UC campus. Without a SAT or ACT test score, highly qualified applicants will not qualify for Statewide Guarantee.

The SAT is still an essential component of college admissions.

Setting aside the 10% of college-going high school graduates who will attend a UC campus, there are another 4% of high school graduates who will attend an in-state private university, and another 11% who will attend a four year university outside of California. This makes up a larger group of students who may need SAT scores for college admissions. The number of students leaving California continues to grow every year, and the UC and CSU campuses fail to keep up with the growing population. Schools from across the nation see qualified California high school students as a source of students to support their sagging admissions.9,10 As more students leave the state for higher education, they also qualify for hefty merit-based scholarships that factor in SAT/ACT scores in calculating their financial award.6 Smaller schools offering a more personalized, lower cost education can also use standardized test scores to identify and reach out to a broader group of students. Students report that above average SAT scores can lead to more than 50 colleges and universities initiating contact. It is important that we don’t let the UC system, with 10% of all college-going high school students, overshadow the other groups that benefit from standardized tests.

Beyond merit-based scholarships provided by the college, there are countless private scholarships that will still take the SAT into consideration. Even if a student earns admission to a test optional or test blind school, they can benefit from private scholarships and grants.

NCAA Eligibility for student athletes can be earned through one of three pathways. The sliding scale eligibility pathway uses SAT or ACT scores as a factor. An average SAT score can help students with GPAs as low as 2.3 earn eligibility.

What Should K-12 Educators Do?

Stay current and communicate frequently.

Students and families are going to have more questions than ever before. The media has created a simplistic picture of college admissions, and the UC has yet to release additional information for how test optional and test blind admissions will work. Educators at all levels will need to stay informed, and have accurate information to support students and parents.

Continue to provide SAT support for class of 2021 & 2022.

Even if a student is planning to attend a UC after graduation, the SAT score may provide advantages in admissions. The class of 2021 and 2022 will have some unique attributes that may challenge any college admissions team:

  • Distance learning has created a patchwork of grading practices during the Spring 2020 term. Credit/No Credit, no-harm grading, limited access to AP exams, and the possibility of future terms of distance learning will make comparing student transcripts problematic. 
  • Based on patterns from other test optional schools, students with high scores will continue to submit their SAT scores to highly competitive schools.
  • The UC system has committed to a test optional and test blind admissions process, with very little time to plan and implement the changes.

For these reasons, submitting an SAT score can only benefit students. 

Ensure that college-going conversations acknowledge the diversity of the student opportunity.

Ensure that leaders and teachers talk about colleges beyond the UC system. We know that more than 43,000 high school students applied and did not get into a UC campus in 2019, while out of state and smaller colleges were actively recruiting California students. Ensure that college conversations extend beyond the big names of UCLA and UC Berkeley.


  1. Where California High School Students Attend College
  2. UCSB Regents Scholarship
  3. UCSD Regents Scholarship
  4. UC Statewide Guarantee
  5. National Merit Scholarship Program
  6. Test-optional Does Not Mean Test Blind
  7. University of California
  8. University of California will end use of SAT and ACT in Admissions
  9. Looking for a UC alternative? Colleges outside California would love to have you
  10. California students find tuition discounts, less-crowded campuses out of state
  11. Systemwide Review of the Report of the Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force
  12. The Test-Optional Movement at America’s Selective Liberal Arts Colleges: A Boon for Equity or Something Else?
  13. NCAA Eligibility Requirements for Student-Athletes

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