Do Students Need the SAT Essay?

Should You Take the SAT Essay?

The SAT is undoubtedly a vital part of any college application. The highest scores can see a prospective student flying through the admissions process (provided you already have a good GPA), whereas a poor score can automatically resign an application to the discard pile. 

Many parents are confused when it comes to taking the SAT essay. Even though the essay is now an optional portion of the test, many schools still require students to submit an SAT essay in order to gain entry to their respective colleges. 

This post aims to clear up the confusion by revealing which schools require the SAT essay and when exactly you want to take the essay.

What is the SAT Essay? 

The SAT essay is one section of the SAT exam. Initially, this was a required portion of the test. However, it has now been designated optional by the Collegeboard, making this standardized test the same as the ACT, which has always had an optional writing portion.

Students are given 50 minutes to analyze a passage of an author’s text. The student’s job is to then to determine, through their essay, how the author came to build his or her argument. 

The score received on the essay is separate from the rest of the scores given on the SAT. The main SAT is scored out of 1600, whereas the essay is graded from 2-8, with three categories evaluated: Reading, Writing and Analysis. 

Do Universities Require the SAT Essay Now That It’s Optional? 

Universities remain divided on the subject of the SAT essay and their admissions requirements. Even prestigious groups such as the Ivy League cannot agree with their stance on the optional essay. 

For example, almost every Ivy League University indeed requires the SAT essay.  However, Brown and Cornell no longer ask for it as part of their admissions requirements. 

Additionally, there are some public schools who vehemently stick to their requirements for the SAT essay, particularly in California, where all applicants to the University of California campuses will need to submit their SAT essay scores to successfully gain entry. 

The full list of US colleges that currently require the SAT essay can be found below:

• Benedictine University 
• California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
• Claremont McKenna College 
• CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
• Dartmouth College
• Delaware State University 
• DeSales University 
• Dominican University of California 
• Duke University 
• Harvard College
• High Point University
• Jewish Theological Seminary of America
• John Wesley University 
• Kentucky State University
• Martin Luther College 
• Princeton University 
• Rhode Island College
• Schreiner University 
• Soka University of America 
• Southern California Institute of Architecture
• Stanford University 
• Texas A&M University—Galveston
• United States Military Academy (West Point)
• University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley)
• University of California, Davis (UC Davis)
• University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine)
• University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
• University of California, Merced
• University of California, Riverside
• University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
• University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)
• University of California, Santa Cruz
• University of Miami
• University of Michigan 
• University of Minnesota (Morris)
• University of North Texas
• Villanova University 
• West Virginia University 
• West Virginia University Institute of Technology
• Western Carolina University 
• Yale University

Benefits of the Essay

There are many benefits to taking the SAT essay, even if the schools that a student is applying to do not actually require it for admission. 

Firstly, completing this segment of the exam covers a student for all colleges’ requirements, and it means that they won’t have their choices narrowed based on any specific SAT requirements. 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a good SAT essay score can boost your application chances, even if it is not required. If a college is particularly competitive, going above and beyond by completing this optional portion of the exam will make an application stand out over others who have decided to skip it. 

This is especially the case if you are applying for either an English-based or essay-based subject such as Literature or History. 

SAT Essay Misconceptions

Many students have incorrect assumptions about taking the SAT essay, and therefore choose to skip it, rather than take it and gain the benefits laid out above.   

Many feel that the essay is another section of the SAT that will require a serious amount of dedicated additional studying.

This is not actually the case. Even a few hours of committed essay practice can dramatically improve overall scores. 6-8 hours of study should be plenty, and with that amount of time dedicated to essay practice, students should expect to be receiving marks on the higher end of the scale. 

Next, the section of the exam requires an extra 50 minutes at the end of an already 3-hour long exam. Many students feel that they will struggle to stay focused for this amount of time, and therefore skip the essay in order to achieve the best possible score on the main SAT segments. 

This is an incorrect assumption. Firstly, the essay has no bearing on the SAT’s overall score out of 1600, it is assessed independently on a scale of 2-8. Secondly, whilst students will indeed have to sit for almost 4 hours, it is more important to complete the essay and receive a grade, than not complete it at all. 

This leads onto the final misconception. Many feel that they don’t want to attempt the essay for fear of receiving a bad grade and tarnishing their SAT exam results. 

Although many schools require you to take the test, only the supremely prestigious and competitive schools will analyze the grade. For the majority of schools that require the essay, the actual score is not terribly important in the admissions process. 


Students are well-advised to take the SAT essay. First and foremost, it gives prospective students the ability to apply to any school in the country, instead of narrowing their choices to colleges that have made it an optional requirement. If there is a 25% chance (or above) that a student will apply to a school with the essay requirement, then completing this additional section of the SAT is a must. 

Finally, and perhaps crucially, the SAT essay provides an opportunity for students to gain an edge over other applicants at competitive schools. Pupils who complete the SAT essay will demonstrate to admissions staff that they are willing to go above and beyond in order to gain entry to their school. 

Parents would be sensible to register their child for the SAT with essay, allowing their child a better shot at gaining entry to their preferred college. 

About the author

Leave a Reply