Is the SAT/ACT Essay Still Needed?

In 2005, the College Board debuted the “new” SAT, which included a new and mandatory essay. The impetus for the change was both a desire to prioritize the importance of good writing but also in response to pressure from the University of California. The large UC system, enrolling over 200,000 students, said that fewer freshmen were prepared for the rigors of college writing, and threatened to drop the SAT altogether unless a writing section was added. Not to be left behind, the ACT also added an optional writing section in 2005.

No one disputes the importance of writing, but nearly 15 years later, are these writing assessments relevant? Do they provide admissions committees helpful information to assess a student’s writing ability?

SAT/ACT ESSAY: REQUIRED OR NOT?

Let’s start with a look at the current admissions requirements of schools atop US News and World Report’s top national universities and liberal arts colleges to see what they say about this assessment:

National University

Essay Liberal Arts College

Essay

Brown

not required Air Force Academy

not specified

Cal Tech

not required Amherst recommended

Carnegie Mellon

not required Barnard

not required

Columbia not required Bates

not required

Cornell

not required Bowdoin

not required

Dartmouth

not required Bryn Mawr

not required

Duke

optional Carleton

not required

Emory

not required Claremont McKenna

not required

Georgetown

not required Colby optional

Harvard

not required Colgate

not required

Johns Hopkins

not required Davidson

not required

Michigan

not required Grinnell

not required

MIT

not required Hamilton

not required

Northwestern

not required Harvey Mudd

not required

Notre Dame

not required Haverford

not required

Princeton

not required Middlebury

not required

Rice

optional Naval Academy

not specified

Stanford

not required Pomona

not required

Tufts

not required Smith

not required

U Chicago

not required Soka University

required

U Penn

not required Swarthmore

not required

UC Berkeley

required U Richmond

not required

UCLA

required Vassar

not required

USC

not required Washington and Lee

not required

UVA

not required Wellesley

not required

Vanderbilt

not required Wesleyan

not required

Wash U

not required West Point

required

Yale

not required Williams

not required

NOTE: This list is subject to change. Be sure to confirm with each school prior to applying.

Only two top national universities – UC Berkeley and UCLA (as well as the rest of the UC system) clearly state on their websites that the essay portion of these exams is required.  Of the top national colleges, only two require it—Soka University of America, and West Point—and one (Amherst) recommends it.

THE VALUE OF WRITING 

Does this mean that admissions committees no longer value writing? Absolutely not. They will review grades in rigorous and honors level English courses, your essays and supplements, other standardized testing (especially AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition), recommendations, and increasingly, graded English or history papers.  Yes, many schools, Princeton for example, are finding that the graded papers required by all applicants are helpful in evaluating for admissions.

So, don’t stress out about the essay portion of your SAT or ACT, unless you are targeting any of the schools mentioned above, but do focus on improving your writing abilities through rigorous coursework and reading great literature (fiction, non-fiction, classic, and contemporary) and challenging periodicals. Beyond just getting into college, improving your writing skills will be key to your lifelong success.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.