SAT Essay: Do you need to take it?

As we approach the first SAT of 2018 on Saturday, a question that has been popping up with many of my students and clients is: Do I need to take the SAT Essay?

SAT Essay
Do you need to sign up for the SAT Essay? Read on to find out! Photo by Caleb Roenigk.

First, some background. When the College Board redesigned the SAT in 2016, they changed the written essay component from mandatory to optional. Ever since, students and parents (and test prep tutors) have puzzled over how optional “optional” really is. Let’s look at a few questions that might lead a student to sign up for the SAT Essay along with the regular test.

1) Do any of the colleges you’re interested in require the SAT Essay?

Some schools require the SAT Essay, and they won’t consider your scores without it. Make sure to check the standardized testing requirements on each school’s website to find out what’s necessary. If the SAT Essay is listed, make sure to add it to your test registration. However, even if a school doesn’t specifically require the Essay, you may still want to take it, as we’ll soon see.

2) Do any of the colleges you’re interested in “recommend” the SAT Essay?

Some schools say that SAT Essay scores are optional, but they “recommend” submitting them. Personally, I find this a bit cheeky. Applying to college is not like attending a wedding that is “black tie optional.” I’ve been to those, and I know that if I show up in a regular suit, no one’s going to mind. But in that case, I’ve already been invited to attend—I’m not applying to get in! As an applicant, I’d be far more conservative, and I advise students considering schools that “recommend” the SAT Essay to make sure they sign up to take it.

SAT Essay
Applying to college is not the same thing as attending a black tie optional wedding. That is to say, make sure you sign up for the SAT Essay. Photo by Max Pixel.

3) What if I’m not sure yet where I want to apply?

Let’s face it—plenty of high school juniors are still doing college tours, and may not even have a finalized list of colleges they want to apply to. I’ve also worked with plenty of students who had their hearts set on a particular school, only to go on another college tour and fall in love with someplace new—and then find that their new dream school requires the SAT Essay. It’s for these more practical reasons that I really recommend any student who is at all uncertain where she might apply to add the SAT Essay to the test registration. That way, you’ll have a score if you need it.

4) I’m retaking the SAT to try to improve my score. I took the Essay last time, and I’m happy with my score there. Do I need to take it again?

The answer most students want to hear is “no.” Unfortunately, my answer is that you should take the Essay again. Here’s why.

Let’s say you retake the SAT and you improve on both math and reading. In such a case, you may not need to submit your old, lower score—unless that previous test score is the only one that has an SAT Essay grade, and your schools need to see that.

To avoid getting into this situation, I personally recommend students just take the SAT Essay with each test. It’s a conservative approach, but if you always sign up with the Essay, you’ll never get into a situation where you need to submit anything other than your best scores. You also won’t find yourself in the fall of your senior year, and suddenly needing to take the SAT one more time just to get an Essay grade.

Conclusion and a helpful link

In general, for students that are at all uncertain about where they’re applying, or who want to keep themselves open and flexible to new options, I recommend taking the SAT Essay at least once, and ideally every time you test. Of course, this is a conservative recommendation, and if you know exactly where you want to apply and you don’t anticipate your preferences changing, then you may not need to.

For those interested, here is a useful link to PrepScholar where you’ll find a list of colleges that either require or recommend submitting SAT Essay scores. They claim that the list is “complete” but I would make sure you exercise your own due diligence by checking on each school’s website. In any event, I hope you find it helpful.

What’s next?

The first SAT of 2018 is this Saturday. Is your student ready? For more information on SAT test prep, or for a free consultation about your student’s needs, feel free to get in touch with me. You can either leave a comment on this post, or send an email to paul@paulkingprep.com. Best of luck, and thanks for reading!

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