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Do Colleges Care About SAT Essay? More Schools Drop the Essay

As teenagers nervously head into the SATs or ACTs this fall, there’s one thing they might not have to worry about: writing the dreaded essay.

A growing number of elite colleges and universities, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Brown, Duke and the University of Michigan, have announced in recent months that they will no longer require SAT essay or ACT essay scores for admission.

Colleges That Don’t Require SAT Essay

They join smaller colleges and universities who started tossing the requirement several years ago, said Christine M. Hall, owner of North Carolina-based CMH College Consulting. In some cases, these higher education institutions are encouraging students to turn in a graded paper from a high school class instead.

“It’s just now that the big leagues are getting on board,” Hall said.

One reason for the change is cost. Across the country, low-income students can take the SAT for free during the school day, but these test-taking opportunities do not always include the essay section.

To take the essay test, students typically must travel to a testing site on a Saturday and come up with the registration fee or apply for a fee waiver. It costs roughly $16 and $17 more to register for the writing portion of the SAT or ACT.

“Our goal is that for any talented student interested in Brown, the application process is not a deterrent. We don’t want this test to be a barrier to their application,”said Logan Powell, Brown’s dean of admission, in a news release about his decision to eliminate the requirement.

Valid Assessment?

Others have questioned whether the essays are a valid assessment of a student’s writing skills. In the SAT essay, for instance, test takers get 50 minutes to read a passage and explain how the author builds an argument, according to the College Board’s Web site.

“Good writing takes time,” Hall says. “Just because you can write fast doesn’t mean you’re a good writer.”

Teens, of course, may be celebrating a shorter test, but Hall explained they can’t completely let their guard down. Here are three things college-bound teens and their parents still need to keep in mind as colleges and universities drop the test essay requirement.

Do Your Research

While many colleges and universities no longer require the score from the SAT writing portion or the ACT essay, some say they’ll still consider it as part of a student’s overall application. Others require it. And some of those institutions say they are evaluating their current position.

In other words, there’s a lot of flux.

If students plan on attending a college inside their state or nearby, high school guidance counselors likely will have the details about whether they need essay test scores, Hall states.

Once students begin considering schools outside of their state or region, parents and students should do their research, so they know exactly what they’ll need to fill out the college applications for their target schools successfully.

Take Humanities Courses

With more focus on science, technology, engineering and math careers, Hall says she sees many parents steering their children toward Advanced Placement science and math classes and away from AP humanities courses in English or history.

But now, some colleges are asking students to submit graded papers as part of their college education. Accordingly, Hall says parents should think twice about letting their students avoid these rigorous, writing intensive courses.

“Those are the classes where they are going to produce those papers,” she explains.

Start Keeping a Portfolio

When graded papers are required as part of their applications, students will need to ensure they have those papers to turn in. The last thing you want is a frantic search for that 11th grade English paper before you can hit “send” on a college application.

To ensure they have everything they need, Hall recommends students keep their highest-graded work in one place. This way they have it on hand when it’s time to apply to college.

“They need to start making a portfolio and keeping track,” says Hall.

For some students, the move away from essay tests and toward graded papers will be a boon. Hall recently worked with a high school valedictorian whose SAT score was too low for her highly selective dream school. But the institution was a test-optional school where prospective students could turn in a paper instead. And this student had a complex and expressive argumentative paper from a high school class.

“She submitted it. And they admitted her,” says Hall. “I’m so glad they had that option for her. This was the girl’s strength.”

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall, a mom to a tween and teen, is a longtime journalist and parenting writer whose work has appeared in, Mashable,, and EatingWell.

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