Few colleges now require the essay when you take the SAT or ACT. In fact, in 2016, the College Board made the essay optional, stating: “While the College Board remains steadfast in its commitment to the importance of analytic writing for all students . . . one single essay historically has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam.”

Yet, for the Class of 2017, 1.2 million students wrote the SAT essay (70% of total test-takers), and 1.1 million students wrote the ACT essay (53% of total test-takers).

Currently, there is a strong movement among colleges to no longer require the SAT or ACT essay. Amidst highly selective colleges, the main institution that still requires the essay is the University of California system, which is comprised of 9 universities. There are no longer any Ivies that require the essay for the ACT and SAT. Princeton’s former Dean of Admissions, Janet Rapelye, says the decision to drop the essay requirement was caused by concern that testing costs or logistical issues could deter some students from applying.

In lieu of the essay portion of the SAT and ACT, Princeton now requires a graded high school paper, preferably in history or English. Brown recommends that students submit a graded school paper from a humanities or social sciences course.

Schools that Require the ACT/SAT Essay Schools that Recommend the ACT/SAT Essay
Benedictine University
Delaware State University
DeSales University
Martin Luther College
Soka University of America
U.S. Military Academy
University of California—Berkeley
University of California—Davis
University of California—Irvine
University of California—Los Angeles
University of California—Merced
University of California—Riverside
University of California—San Diego
University of California—Santa Barbara
University of California—Santa Cruz
University of Montana Western
University of North Texas
Abilene Christian University
Amherst College
Austin College
Berry College
Binghamton University (SUNY)
Chapman University
Colby College
Concordia College-Moorhead
Duke University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Manhattan College
Michigan State University
Morehouse College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
Simmons College
Stanford University
Stony Brook University (SUNY)
Taylor University
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
University at Buffalo (SUNY)
University of Massachusetts—Amherst


We recommend that for upcoming SAT or ACT tests, you do not register for the essay unless you plan to apply to a college that requires the essay. In other words, even if a college recommends the essay (without requiring it), we feel that you do not need to take the essay because typically it does not play a role in the college admissions review process. Alternatively, if you excel at writing and do not mind the additional expense or time, you certainly can opt to include the essay in your standardized testing plans.

There is increasing complexity surrounding the requirements for taking and reporting standardized testing, including the ACT, SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB exams.  If you would like guidance, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!