Should Your Students Take the SAT Essay now that Harvard Won't Require It?

Harvard Has Dropped the Essay Portion of the SAT.png

Next year, Harvard's pool of applicants will not be required to send SAT Essay scores. In a recently announced policy shift, Harvard has joined fellow Ivies Columbia, Cornell, and Penn in no longer requiring applicants to submit either of the optional SAT or ACT writing tests.

While both the SAT and ACT essays focus on argumentative skills, they approach from different angles. The ACT Writing Test tasks writers with creating and defending an argument based on a given topic. However, the SAT Essay is focused on the writer’s ability to deconstruct someone else’s argument. For more information on the differences between the SAT and ACT, be sure to download our free SAT vs ACT ebook

Both essay formats are designed to give admissions counselors a clearer, standardized picture of how a prospective student will perform with these common, college-style writing tasks.

As far as Harvard is concerned, they already provide enough opportunities for applicants to display these skills:

The College accepts the Common, Coalition, and Universal College applications—all of which require a personal essay. Applicants also have the option to include an additional personal essay which, according to Dane, “most students will also choose to submit.” Applicants may also submit writing portfolios for faculty review.

They also cite a combination of internal and College Board research in their determination that the SAT Essay is less predictive of student writing abilities than the rest of the SAT Writing section. They seem to have concluded that it's not necessary to ask applicants to spend extra time and money to complete the essay section of the SAT. It’s hard to argue with their logic, but every school isn’t Harvard.

Many Schools Still Require Either the SAT or ACT Essay... for Now

While Harvard may be done with the SAT Essay, numerous schools including Stanford, Princeton, and Brown still require it. Beyond that, the SAT and ACT essays remain optional submissions for the vast majority of American higher ed institutions.

With Harvard joining the no-essay club, some claim it may open the floodgates to more schools following suit. In reality, the resulting reaction may be more of a trickle. In California alone, the University of California schools and Stanford all still require applicants to submit essay scores. Neither organization has expressed an interest in scrapping the essay as a means of evaluating college applicants.  

The reality is, a standardized essay test has value to admissions officers looking to evaluate applicants. Writing ability matters. Students who enter college with the requisite skills to write stand out among an increasing number of freshmen who enter post-secondary programs in need of remediation.

Colleges know that less remediation means a higher likelihood of degree completion. Ultimately, there’s less money to be made and less prestige to be earned from enrolling a potential dropout. Having an extra data point about an applicant’s writing abilities is just good business. For these reasons, many schools continue to accept the SAT and ACT essays and likely will for the foreseeable future.

Top-Performing Students SHOULD Still Take the SAT Essay

Applying to college is all about maximizing opportunity. While there are a slowly growing number of schools that don’t accept the SAT or ACT essays, there are plenty more that do (as either a requirement or an option).

Even if a student’s list of dream schools is made up entirely of non-essay schools, it is hard to recommend skipping the SAT or ACT essay altogether. Rejections happen. Students should do whatever they can to keep their options as wide open as possible. Since there are many more schools that view the SAT or ACT essays as components of a strong application, it's probably best to advise ambitious students to sit for the essay portion of the test.

Even if writing is a student's weakness, the predictability of the SAT and ACT essay formats make them some of the easier writing tests to prepare for. By taking advantage of Clear Choice Prep’s essay guide, test prep tutors can help bolster students’ confidence and writing abilities and help students produce high-scoring essays.

To experience Clear Choice Prep for yourself, schedule a free software demo and we'll send you a free sample SAT Workbook including the SAT Essay Guide & Course Supplement!