Why does CollegeBoard (the organization that does the SAT, GRE, etc.) exist? Why don't universities just give their own entrance exams? It seems such centralization of power in CollegeBoard would be a bad thing for diversity in the universities.

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    Are you familiar with how individual university entrance exams work elsewhere? The system in Japan for instance is very different from the US one and creates an huge burden on universities, professors and students.
    – Kimball
    Jul 24, 2016 at 2:09
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    For one, to ensure fairness, everyone has to take the entrance exam for a given university at the same time and in person (so in practice, you can basically only apply to 2 schools in a given year), and each exam should have completely new questions. Making these exams every year and then grading them requires a lot of faculty time (note: in Japan, they are not simple multiple-choice exams, so grading is very time consuming).
    – Kimball
    Jul 24, 2016 at 3:14
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    It's not obvious to me why you think every university administering its own entrance exam would affect diversity (what kind of diversity? Why would it be different?) Perhaps you can edit to clarify.
    – ff524
    Jul 24, 2016 at 4:53
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    I would expect such a system to increase diversity, since it allows people to easily apply for universities outside their local area, and enables those of lesser means the same chances to meet acceptance criteria. Since CollegeBoard would likely lose custom over an inadequate examination or moderation, it has incentive to make the test as accurate and as widely applicable as possible.
    – Nij
    Jul 24, 2016 at 5:58
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    @ff524 and others, there are already concerns in the US, at least, about standardized tests lowering diversity for unplanned socio-economic reasons. Propagating that up a level is likely to make things worse.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 24, 2016 at 14:15

3 Answers 3


Applicants to a particular school may be widely dispersed geographically, which makes it infeasible for all of them to be at the university in-person to take the exam (appearing in person may be particularly problematic for foreign applicants), and at the same time infeasible to find space and proctors to give exams in every combination of (student location, university). Besides, trusting a local party to administer it would eliminate most of the control you propose to give a university over their own exam. As well, different degree programs at the university would probably want different exams.

Besides that, there's the cost of so much redundant exam creation. Do you think individual universities would have the resources to normalize year-over-year difficulty of an entire suite of exams?


There are too many exams to efficiently administer and take if there is one for every university. Combining them into a service makes it easier for everyone involved. If a US student wants to apply to Harvard, MIT, and CalTech, do they have to take one or three exams? What if they apply to ten schools rather than three?

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    I don't think the concern is for the student's time, after all, each university does require filling out its own application, answering its particular essay questions, etc.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jul 24, 2016 at 1:21
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    @BenVoigt Actually quite a few colleges use the Common Application to simplify the process of applying to many different schools.
    – user10636
    Jul 24, 2016 at 1:33
  • @BenVoigt, as a former applicant, I can tell you that there might have been places I wouldn't have applied if I'd needed to take a different 4 hr. exam for each place. Universities care that applicants care because they're competing for the best students. Under this model, they'd be competing in a new way for the best students and have a new reason to lower their entrance requirements (e.g. a sort of race to the bottom to then race to the top). Also, applications are typically shorter than an exam, and not much of anyone will notice if you self-plagiarize your own application letter.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 24, 2016 at 14:18

The other answers make good points, but I think they miss some of the most important.

  • Having such an exam would not help with any of the status games that US schools like to play. It would discourage applicants, and thus actually be counterproductive in such games (since accepting a low percentage of your applicants is easier if you have more applicants).
  • Actually, a big reason that universities pay attention to SAT score is that having an entering class with high SAT scores is one of the status games universities play.
  • Effectively, no one at any university has the least interest in creating and grading such an exam. Certainly the faculty would hate it.
  • It would require a lot of money (or to use university parlance: "resources") to run such an exam, whereas the SAT is paid for by the students. As discussed above, it would lower a university's status and expend faculty goodwill and time (which is effectively money as well). So, it's a lose/lose/lose.
  • There's enough correlation between scores on different exams related to the same topic, that I'm sure a school would have an entering class with very high SAT scores even if the decision was based only on performance on say, CLEP and AP exams. But you're right that a school that chose to give its own entrance exam would still probably demand that students also submit the standard exam scores, just for the bragging rights.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jul 24, 2016 at 21:43

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