Harvard Drops SAT Essay as Requirement

Many other colleges have already dropped the requirement.

March 19, 2018
 
Widener Library at Harvard University

Harvard University has announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit the essay portion of either the SAT or the ACT, even though they will still be required to submit scores for the other parts of the tests.

A statement Harvard released Sunday night noted that applicants will still submit essays, and that writing is an important part of the admissions process -- just not the essays of the standardized testing providers.

The university's statement says, "Harvard will accept the ACT/SAT with or without writing, starting with the Class of 2023, entering in August 2019. This change will add an additional component to the comprehensive outreach of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which seeks outstanding students from all economic backgrounds. Students will continue to submit an essay through the Common, Coalition, or Universal applications -- and most students will also choose to submit an additional essay through the Harvard Application Writing Supplement. As noted on our application, students with unusual academic talent of all kinds -- including all forms of written expression -- are encouraged to submit portfolios of their work for Faculty consideration.

Harvard has not been the only institution requiring the SAT essay or equivalent from the ACT. Princeton University, for example, does so.

But many other colleges with highly competitive admissions -- where the SAT or the ACT remain required and where most applicants submit SAT scores -- have already dropped the essay requirement. Among these institutions are Columbia and Cornell Universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania.

The College Board first started offering an essay on the SAT in 2005. But many writing experts were highly critical of the format, noting among other things that it did not judge whether statements were factually correct. Les Perelman, an MIT writing professor, famously coached students on how to write ludicrous essays that would receive high scores.

In 2014, the College Board announced revisions to the SAT -- with substantial changes to the essay, including the use of writing passages to force test takers to cite evidence for opinions in their essays. Some advocates for the essay hoped the changes would lead more colleges to rely on it as part of the admissions process.

On its blog, Princeton Review said Harvard's decision was a sign that the essays should be eliminated from the SAT and ACT. While they are theoretically optional, many students feel pressure to take them (and prepare for them), even though a very small number of colleges actually use the scores.

"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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