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Do I Need to Write the Optional SAT Essay?

Sunday, June 09, 2019

THIS POSTING HAS BEEN REVISED TO REFLECT FREQUENTLY-CHANGING SAT ESSAY POLICIES.

The optional SAT essay, requiring an additional 50 minutes of test takers' time, focus and energy, is swiftly becoming an artifact.  

Like the vestigial human appendix, at one point in time this component of the standardized testing landscape had its purpose. Today, more often than not, the essay score is simply disregarded, serving no true function in evaluating applicants, so says the testing policy at the vast majority of colleges and universities.  Still, every year we grapple with the wisdom of signing up for the optional essay.  

Testing Requirements Run the Gamut

How should students approach the decision of whether or not to sit for the optional essay?  General wisdom has long suggested that the smart and safe move would be to write the essay because without it colleges that do require this component will regard the main two-part SAT score, consisting of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing plus Math, to be incomplete.

So what are the policies that colleges hold around the essay?  Schools such as Bates, NYU, Quinnipiac, Connecticut College, UConn neither require nor recommend the optional essay and will not consider its score at the time of application review.  No longer does the College of Charleston or Occidental even recommend the essay, a relatively recent change.  As of last year, Duke stopped requiring it. None of the Ivies require the essay.  So who does?   

Look West

Primarily, the University of California system institutions (ex. UCLA; UC San Diego; etc.) and Stanford still ask for the essay.  A student applying to these schools will need to submit their essay score in order to complete their application. 

Future Tense

Another possible rationale behind writing the essay is as a back-up in the event a student later decides to transfer colleges, and the destination college is one that requires the SAT essay score for admission -- including transfer admission.  Without a complete score, the SAT two-part score may be regarded as insufficient.

International applicants whose language of instruction is not English may consider writing the essay to lend another perspective to their TOEFL or IELTS score.

In the present timeframe, if a student feels that they will likely have remaining mental focus to satisfactorily write the essay after completing the main SAT sections, then they might just pay the extra $15 fee and register for the essay.  And after once completing the essay and if satisfied with the two-part score, the student may not need to write the essay again in future testing scenarios.  In other words, when it comes to the essay more often than not it's "one and done."    

If a student wants to learn more about the essay section (highly-recommended prior to test day), click here to learn more about the approach to writing the essay and the skills assessed.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

9th Grade, Before the College Search

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
It all counts!

With five months into their freshman year, 9th graders have been learning how manage their day-to-day, including the mundane elements of high school life such as the bell schedule or remembering Pizza Friday. Our freshman boys and girls are occupied with how to find their way into clubs or onto teams, not to mention figuring out the fluid nature of the social structure in their new school.  

For most, college is still a distant notion — a concept at best. And that’s fine because in our culture there is far too much discussion — and pressure — around the college conversation. Yet it’s important to be "applicant-ready" when the time comes. And that means setting a solid foundation for academic success and knowing what colleges will, shortly down the road, want to learn about your student.

So with their very first completed high school semester and grade report, a student is on the path to becoming a potential college candidate.  The grades students earn early on in high school will affect their GPA as much as grades earned as upperclassmen. Ninth graders content with earning Bs and Cs may find their college choices affected later on.  As much as upward grade trend does count, so do numbers.

Building an all-around good start

Let's support our kids by reminding them that the essentials of a good high school start include:
  • solid grades in academic courses...
  •  … and study skills grounded in time management and focus
  • organizational skills
  • firm reading skills, steadily developing 
  • a successful start to foreign language so the student is set up to pursue at least two years of the same foreign language, typically the base requirement at many (but not all) colleges
  • same for math, as a foundation in this subject prepares a student for further success in upper level classes. As with foreign language, students need to solidify the foundation in order to be successful.
  • understanding how to access support if the student requires assistance ex. teachers for outside help; school counselors; resource staff 
  • learning how to balance academic life and social life, finding a foundation in each
  • most of all, taking care of the self -- and that includes sleep and sustenance
Learning the ropes -- asking for support -- building confidence -- all combine to smooth the road in high school for our first-year boy and girls.
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com


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