If you are a high income or a multi-generational college applicant it means business as usual.
But let's be clear-- the change is to help students who really can't take the test, not to help those who can easily get tutored and can easily take the test.
My advice (and for most things "suggested" but not "required"): If you can't afford the test fee, your high school doesn't offer them, or you're competing at the Olympics on test day, fine, skip the tests, otherwise hunker down with your number 2 pencil and take the tests.
Stanford makes the SAT Subject Tests "recommended." I'd love to hear from someone from a top high school who was admitted and didn't send them.
The UC's made big news several years ago when they dropped the SAT Subject Test requirement, however if you read the proverbial small print, the highly competitive engineering programs at Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, Irvine, and Riverside "recommend" you take the Math II and a science subject test. Santa Barbara engineering recommends the Math II subject test. For the complete list of UC recommended Subject Tests for all majors and schools, visit the UC website here:
If you are applying to a UC in a major or school not recommending the Subject tests, send them anyway if they are good (over 700). They may make a difference, they may not, but as with all things UC, more is better.
If you are thinking about applying to highly selective schools that require or recommend the SAT Subject Tests such as MIT and Pomona, then visit their websites and learn their requirements. MIT wants one Math and one science. Pomona wants two in unrelated fields.
Caution: Don't send the test to schools until you are ready to apply to college. If you take a test after freshman or sophomore year, even though the College Board gives you four free schools, you should wait. You may decide to re-take it, or take different tests altogether.
Do you ever wonder why the college test standards for the top notch Peninsula high schools seem a lot higher than the standards for less rigorous high schools?
Elite colleges can get as many brilliant students from affluent zip codes as they want. What they haven't figured out is how to find the brilliant students from everywhere else. SAT scores are so closely tied to family income and wealth that the scores can't always help schools find who they want and need. Colleges are now focused on solving what they see as the problem of "undermatching" -- when bright students who are low income or would be first generation college students don't apply to elite schools even though they could get in and receive ample financial aid.
For example, several decades ago, Harvard got the son of a wealthy Seattle lawyer, Bill Gates, but they didn't get the son of a Pennsylvania farmer who went to a 2 year technical school. The farm boy, Pat Gelsinger, went on to design the Intel chips Gates' software ran on and now is CEO of VMware. There are a lot of smart farm boys who could teach the Harvard legacy or prep school kids a thing or two.
The thinking at the elite schools is that if you're headed to Harvard you're most likely going to be a leader in your community or your profession and you'll be more well-rounded and do a much better job if you've actually talked to and learned from people who are not like you. Take Seattle Seahawks trash talking cornerback and Stanford grad Richard Sherman, a high school high achiever from Compton whose background is what colleges are looking for. Sherman's very presence on campus speaks volumes and gives hope to other serious students from towns low on the economic spectrum. And if he was as loquacious in class as he was after the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, it would have been great fun to get into a verbal sparring match with him in class. I've got to believe he's not the only kid from a place like Compton who can handle the Stanford curriculum and enrich the campus and not just at Stanford Stadium on Saturdays.
Silicon Valley students have to continue to demonstrate test taking excellence if they decide to enter the sweepstakes for the Ivy League and other elite schools. And those lucky enough to be accepted should hope the elite schools can find more high achieving students from places like Compton and discover some talented farm-boys. Colleges will be changing the lives of the currently "undermatched" kids and those students will be enriching the lives and college experiences of the entire student body.