Many colleges and universities are ending the requirement for the writing portion of the SAT or ACT in admissions, favoring writing samples, teacher recommendations, and other parts of the student application. Fewer than 25 schools require the writing part of the test, including Brown University and the University of New Hampshire.
The SAT and ACT essay tests began with fanfare in 2005, a bid to assess the writing chops of college-bound students under the pressure of a clock.
Now, many colleges say time’s up for those exams. With a few notable exceptions, the consensus in higher education is that the tests are becoming an afterthought even though hundreds of thousands of high school students still take them every year as one of the grinding rituals on the road to college.
One by one, major schools this year are dropping their requirements for prospective students to submit an essay score from the national testing services. Princeton and Stanford universities last week became the latest to end the mandate, following Dartmouth College and Harvard and Yale universities.
Those schools are dropping the requirement because they wanted to ensure that the extra cost of essay testing did not drive applicants away. Others have resisted requiring the essays because they doubted the exercise revealed much.
It is a remarkable and humbling fall for an initiative that arose little more than a dozen years ago with the hope of reshaping college admission testing, offering a tool to measure student potential on a massive scale, using just pencil, a prompt and lined sheets of paper.
Fewer than 25 schools now require the essay scores, according to some tallies, including nine in the University of California system. Brown University, as of Friday, was the lone holdout in the Ivy League.
“I guarantee you it’s on the way out entirely,” said Charles Deacon, dean of admissions at Georgetown University.
A longtime skeptic of the timed-writing exercises, Deacon said he never considers the essay scores when reading applications. “Just didn’t make any difference to us,” he said.
But Janet Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admission, said she finds the scores helpful and sometimes reads the essay that yielded the score (colleges can view them) when she wants to know more about an applicant. “It’s actually a very good test,” she said. But the university dropped the requirement, she said, out of concern that testing costs or logistical issues would deter some students from applying.
Students are still welcome to send in essay scores, Rapelye said, but the university will now require applicants to send a graded sample of high school writing, preferably in English or history.
“We really value writing,” Rapelye said. “It’s a required part of our curriculum. We want to be able to assess a student’s ability before they get to us…”
Selective colleges don’t need essay scores to find evidence of writing skill.
They ask what grades students earned in English and whether their classes were at an advanced level. They scrutinize teacher recommendations. They read personal essays students send with applications – mindful that those are often heavily edited. And they note scores applicants receive on the ACT or SAT in multiple-choice assessments of reading comprehension, grammar, rhetoric and other language skills.