Which Colleges Require the SAT Essay?

sat essay require

Tests can be intimidating. And for some students, adding a timed essay is downright terrifying. So as you sign up for the SAT, it’s easy to look at that optional essay and say “fuh-getta-bout-it.”

I mean, who in their right mind would willingly sit for a fifty-minute essay?—Well, maybe you.

Before you immediately say no—or yes—to the optional essay portion, you need to consider which colleges require the SAT essay. Your decision will depend upon where you plan to continue your education.

Why Some Colleges Have Dropped Essay

Several colleges have dropped the SAT essay as a requirement. One of the main factors behind this decision is concern about creating financial hardship or extra stress for students. Many school districts are providing in-school testing for high school students free of charge. But it does not always include the essay section. This means students who want to take the essay may need to sign up and pay for it on their own.

If your high school does not offer the essay portion as part of testing, you can visit the College Board registration page to find a testing center. Registering for the SAT essay portion is an additional $17. The SAT costs $47.50 with an allotted time of 3 hours. If you choose to add the essay, you will pay $64.50 and be given an additional fifty- minute session to end the day. There are fee waivers available for students who qualify due to financial hardship.

Should You Take the SAT Essay?

There are some schools that will not consider the SAT essay with your application. California Institute of Technology and Georgetown University are two well-known schools that have recently announced your essay will not be considered with your application—they won’t even look at it. However, as grandma always said—don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In other words, you may want to leave your options open by writing that essay.

If you decide not to take the SAT essay you are limiting the schools that you can apply to. Yes, many schools have dropped the requirement. But if you decide not to take the essay, you limit your college options. Even if the schools on your current college list don’t require it, things can change. Finding the right college is a process. You may discover your ideal school does require the essay.

Several schools that no longer require the SAT either recommend it or make it optional and will consider it with your application. If a school recommends the essay, they are politely telling you that it will be a factor in your application. Schools that consider the essay optional or even those that say it is not required still look for evidence of your academic abilities.

Most colleges, even those that have dropped the essay requirement, have stressed that evaluating writing skills continues to be an important part of their selection process. They will seek a writing sample in some form. The SAT essay is a good opportunity to display your writing skills. And, because the prompt and format is always the same, you have opportunities to practice so you go into it well-prepared.

Top College SAT Essay Requirements

In the chart below, I have compiled a list of the top-ranked U.S. colleges and their SAT essay requirements. If you don’t see your school here, check the College Board SAT Policies page. Remember that colleges and universities often re-evaluate and make changes to their policies. Use this as a guide, but always check your prospective school’s admissions page for the most updated requirements.

RankCollege or UniversitySAT Essay Requirements
1Harvard UniversityOptional – “you may choose to submit with or without the writing component”
2Yale UniversityOptional – “self report (your) essay or writing subscore on your application”
3Stanford UniversityNot Required
4Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyNot Required
5Princeton UniversityNot Required
6California Institute of TechnologyNot Required—will not be considered
7University of PennsylvaniaNot Required
8Brown UniversityOptional
9Dartmouth CollegeNot Required
10Duke UniversityRecommended
11Williams CollegeNot Required
12Georgetown UniversityNot Required—will not be considered
13Cornell UniversityNot Required
14University of California, BerkeleyRequired
15Columbia UniversityNot Required
16Amherst CollegeRecommended
17Bowdoin CollegeTest Optional School—may submit any scores that accurately reflect your academic abilities
18University of ChicagoOptional—you may choose to submit your scores, but the essay “will not be an essential part of the application review”
19Pomona CollegeOptional
20Northwestern UniversityNot Required
21University of Notre DameNot Required
22University of Michigan, Ann ArborNot Required
23Harvey Mudd CollegeNot Required
24Swarthmore CollegeNot Required—will not be considered
25Johns Hopkins UniversityOptional
26Claremont McKenna CollegeNot Required—will not be considered
27United States Military AcademyRequired
28Rice UniversityOptional
29Bates CollegeOptional—along with all other test options
30University of Southern CaliforniaOptional—will be considered
31United States Naval AcademyOptional—will be considered
32Vanderbilt UniversityOptional
33Tufts UniversityNot Required—may submit
34University of VirginiaNot Required
35Washington University in St. LouisNot Required

As you look at which colleges require the SAT essay, it is clear that many of the top schools have dropped the requirement. But essays continue to be considered if you submit them with your application. My best advice—and your least limiting option—is to sign up, prepare for, and take the essay portion. It is a well-spent $17 and fifty minutes of your time when compared to your future.


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  26. https://www.swarthmore.edu/admissions-aid/standardized-testing-policy
  27. https://apply.jhu.edu/standardized-test-information/
  28. https://www.cmc.edu/admission/first-year-application-instructions
  29. https://westpoint.edu/admissions/steps-to-admission
  30. https://admission.rice.edu/policies/standardized-testing
  31. https://www.bates.edu/admission/optional-testing/
  32. https://admission.usc.edu/apply/first-year-students/#/checklist
  33. https://www.usna.edu/Admissions/Apply/index.php#fndtn-panel1-Steps-for
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  36. https://admission.virginia.edu/admission/testing
  37. https://admissions.wustl.edu/apply_site/Pages/Frequently-Asked-Questions.aspx
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