Tests can be intimidating. And for some students, adding a timed essay is downright terrifying. So as you sign up for the SAT, it’s easy to look at that optional essay and say “fuh-getta-bout-it.”
I mean, who in their right mind would willingly sit for a fifty-minute essay?—Well, maybe you.
Before you immediately say no—or yes—to the optional essay portion, you need to consider which colleges require the SAT essay. Your decision will depend upon where you plan to continue your education.
Several colleges have dropped the SAT essay as a requirement. One of the main factors behind this decision is concern about creating financial hardship or extra stress for students. Many school districts are providing in-school testing for high school students free of charge. But it does not always include the essay section. This means students who want to take the essay may need to sign up and pay for it on their own.
If your high school does not offer the essay portion as part of testing, you can visit the College Board registration page to find a testing center. Registering for the SAT essay portion is an additional $17. The SAT costs $47.50 with an allotted time of 3 hours. If you choose to add the essay, you will pay $64.50 and be given an additional fifty- minute session to end the day. There are fee waivers available for students who qualify due to financial hardship.
There are some schools that will not consider the SAT essay with your application. California Institute of Technology and Georgetown University are two well-known schools that have recently announced your essay will not be considered with your application—they won’t even look at it. However, as grandma always said—don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In other words, you may want to leave your options open by writing that essay.
If you decide not to take the SAT essay you are limiting the schools that you can apply to. Yes, many schools have dropped the requirement. But if you decide not to take the essay, you limit your college options. Even if the schools on your current college list don’t require it, things can change. Finding the right college is a process. You may discover your ideal school does require the essay.
Several schools that no longer require the SAT either recommend it or make it optional and will consider it with your application. If a school recommends the essay, they are politely telling you that it will be a factor in your application. Schools that consider the essay optional or even those that say it is not required still look for evidence of your academic abilities.
Most colleges, even those that have dropped the essay requirement, have stressed that evaluating writing skills continues to be an important part of their selection process. They will seek a writing sample in some form. The SAT essay is a good opportunity to display your writing skills. And, because the prompt and format is always the same, you have opportunities to practice so you go into it well-prepared.
In the chart below, I have compiled a list of the top-ranked U.S. colleges and their SAT essay requirements. If you don’t see your school here, check the College Board SAT Policies page. Remember that colleges and universities often re-evaluate and make changes to their policies. Use this as a guide, but always check your prospective school’s admissions page for the most updated requirements.
|Rank||College or University||SAT Essay Requirements|
|1||Harvard University||Optional – “you may choose to submit with or without the writing component”|
|2||Yale University||Optional – “self report (your) essay or writing subscore on your application”|
|3||Stanford University||Not Required|
|4||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Not Required|
|5||Princeton University||Not Required|
|6||California Institute of Technology||Not Required—will not be considered|
|7||University of Pennsylvania||Not Required|
|9||Dartmouth College||Not Required|
|11||Williams College||Not Required|
|12||Georgetown University||Not Required—will not be considered|
|13||Cornell University||Not Required|
|14||University of California, Berkeley||Required|
|15||Columbia University||Not Required|
|17||Bowdoin College||Test Optional School—may submit any scores that accurately reflect your academic abilities|
|18||University of Chicago||Optional—you may choose to submit your scores, but the essay “will not be an essential part of the application review”|
|20||Northwestern University||Not Required|
|21||University of Notre Dame||Not Required|
|22||University of Michigan, Ann Arbor||Not Required|
|23||Harvey Mudd College||Not Required|
|24||Swarthmore College||Not Required—will not be considered|
|25||Johns Hopkins University||Optional|
|26||Claremont McKenna College||Not Required—will not be considered|
|27||United States Military Academy||Required|
|29||Bates College||Optional—along with all other test options|
|30||University of Southern California||Optional—will be considered|
|31||United States Naval Academy||Optional—will be considered|
|33||Tufts University||Not Required—may submit|
|34||University of Virginia||Not Required|
|35||Washington University in St. Louis||Not Required|
As you look at which colleges require the SAT essay, it is clear that many of the top schools have dropped the requirement. But essays continue to be considered if you submit them with your application. My best advice—and your least limiting option—is to sign up, prepare for, and take the essay portion. It is a well-spent $17 and fifty minutes of your time when compared to your future.