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US unis drop SAT/ACT essay requirement – what does this mean for students?

A new era of admission requirements? Source: Shutterstock

When the College Board first added an essay portion to the SAT in 2005, it was said to be sending a strong message about the importance of writing in a student’s curriculum.

It’s had its fair share of supporters and critics ever since. Some were unhappy with the added testing time, the higher price that came with it and the futility of the essay format in assessing a student’s academic writing ability in college. Others said it was necessary to show subject mastery, rather than just aptitude.

This week, Princeton and Stanford became the latest to drop this essay as part of their admission requirement, joining other elite universities to have done the same, including Harvard and Yale universities and Dartmouth College.

In its place, applicants to Princeton will have to submit a graded writing sample from high school, preferably from English or history class.

“With this policy, Princeton aims to alleviate the financial hardship placed on students, including those who have the opportunity to take the test without writing during the school day and for free,” Princeton said.

The SAT’s four sections are: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calculator), and Math (calculator allowed). The fifth section is the essay, which is optional. Source: Shutterstock

Stanford, on the other hand, would “strongly recommend” that applicants submit an essay score from either the SAT or ACT.

Stanford’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw said they will seek alternative methods to promote good writing, The Washington Post reported.

The message behind this trend is clear: US universities no longer consider an essay score essential for screening applicants.

What value does the essay add to a college application?

Jim Jump, Director of College Counseling at St Christopher’s School, Virginia questioned how much value the essay adds to college applications in an opinion piece last March.

To Jump, this depends on whether colleges use the essays in “any meaningful way”.

“Those essays can certainly offer a control for admissions officers worried about how much outside help and editing is taking place on application essays. But if students are paying $14 or $16 extra for the essay section and the essay section is not being used in the admission evaluation, then colleges should no longer require students to submit.

“As a counselor I’d love to have a better handle on how many colleges actually utilize the SAT or ACT essays,” Jump wrote.


The Princeton Review described the essay option as nothing more than “one more source of anxiety when it comes to college applications”. It said Harvard’s drop is a sign that the essays should be eliminated from the two standardised tests.

“While over 70 percent of students taking the SAT and more than 50 percent taking the ACT opt in to the essay, not even 2 percent of colleges require an essay score,” the blog post says.

“Students and taxpayers are sending tens of millions of dollars into the College Board’s and ACT’s coffers and don’t appear to be getting anything out of it other than one more source of anxiety when it comes to college applications.”

“It is time for the SAT and ACT essays to go.”

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