Is the SAT Essay Required?

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3 min read

Typically, a portion of SAT prep time is dedicated to success on the essay section. As of late, however, a large number of schools are making the SAT essay optional to applicants. Ivy League schools including Brown, Harvard, and Yale are no longer requiring students to sit for the essay section of the exam. This begs the question, what does this mean for you? Is the SAT essay really required? When examining the requirement behind the SAT essay, it’s important to understand the SAT essay basics, the benefits and drawbacks of taking the essay, and how recent changes apply to you.  

Looking to gain a deeper understanding of the SAT essay requirement? Keep reading to learn more about whether the SAT essay is truly required.

SAT essay basics

The SAT’s essay is a 50-minute assessment in which you’re asked to read a passage and to then write an essay that explains how the author forms his or her persuasive argument. A successful SAT essay will point to evidence from the passage as support for its explanation. The essay is scored on the following criteria:

  • Reading—how well you understood the passage and its central ideas.
  • Analysis—your ability to give insightful analysis of the passage and to evaluate the author’s use of evidence and reasoning.
  • Writing—your essay is well organized and shows a good command of standard writing conventions and style.

[RELATED: What is an Average SAT Score?]

Changes to the SAT essay

In 2016, the SAT changed its essay portion from required to optional. This began raising the question for students and colleges alike as to whether to continue using the essay for admissions.

Now that the essay is optional for test-takers, many schools are changing their application requirements, as well. In the first eight months of 2018, a slew of prominent schools, including Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale, announced that they would no longer require the SAT essay. The end result is that only a handful of schools nationwide require the essay, although others still recommend that students take it.

There are several reasons schools give for dropping the essay requirement. One primary reason is that many public school students are now able to take the SAT for free during the school day, and those tests don’t always include the optional essay, which costs an additional amount. Also, colleges and universities generally already require applicants to show their writing ability in other ways, making the essay test less essential to some admissions processes.

Who should take the SAT essay?

Although the essay is now optional for test-takers and most colleges are no longer requiring it, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider taking it. First, find out whether any of the schools you’re interested in require or recommend the essay. You can find this information here. If your schools of interest require you to submit an essay score, be sure to sit for it on test day. Additionally, if the schools you’re interested in don’t require the SAT essay, it could still be a good way to showcase your writing skills to these schools.

If you choose not to take the essay, inquire about other ways you can show your writing skills to these potential schools. Regardless of whether a school requires or recommends the SAT essay, they still view writing as an important skill for college success. Typically, schools will require their own essays as part of the overall application process, and some are asking students to submit a graded high school essay as an example of their writing skills. Use those opportunities, as well as the SAT essay if you so choose, to showcase your style and analytical abilities, and make the case that you’re a worthy applicant.

[RELATED: What I Wish I Knew About Taking the ACT/SAT]


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