Yale and the “Optional” SAT Essay

Yale recently announced that it would require that students submit scores for the “optional” SAT essay. It’s reasoning is that the essay represents a significant improvement in assessing a student’s writing ability. No less than Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions said that, “We felt like requiring the writing portion would send a message that quality writing is highly important at Yale.”

Not all Ivies are as sanguine as Yale about the redesigned SAT essay’s ability to impart a clear picture of an applicant’s writing prowess. Columbia, Brown, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania are not requiring the essay. Does that mean that such universities think that the essay is either merely superfluous, providing information about candidate that can easily be gleaned from other aspects of an application, or downright useless, not testing what it purports to: an applicant’s ability to write analytically and critically? In the case of Columbia, cost seems to be an issue. The $11.50 might serve as a deterrent to some students (a magnanimous gesture, though the College Board will waive the fee for eligible students).

On the whole, how the new SAT essay is weighed may be dependent on the institution. What does this mean for you the test taker? Basically, there is a whole lot of uncertainty, if you were wondering whether or not to take the essay. Might Brown or Cornell admissions still give preferential treatment to a student who submits an essay anyhow, especially if that student received a perfect score? It is hard to say.

Even a school’s decision to not require the SAT might be temporary. Some speculate that the stigma of the current SAT essay—many believe this section is a farce—makes the redesigned essay guilty by association. If, over time, that stigma is removed, then perhaps schools that had not required the essay might change their minds.

My thoughts are that unless you know exactly which school you want to apply to, and you are certain that they don’t require the essay, you should take the optional essay section. Of course, I’m basing this prescription on what is mostly Ivy League chatter. If most state universities decide to make the essay optional, then it might make the most sense to skip the essay entirely. But if you plan to shoot for the Ivies—and essay cost is not an issue—I recommend prepping for the essay now.


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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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