With a redesigned SAT set to launch in the spring, certain Ivy League schools — Yale included — have altered their testing requirements in order to accommodate the new exam.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the Admissions Office used the redesigned SAT as an opportunity to take a more comprehensive look at the University’s current testing requirements. Previously, applicants were expected to either take the ACT Plus Writing test, or the SAT along with any two SAT II subject tests.
Now, Quinlan said, applicants can choose between the ACT Plus Writing or the redesigned SAT with the optional essay section. He added that Yale will be requiring the essay section for students who just wish to submit SAT scores.
SAT II subject tests are now simply recommended, Quinlan added, and students have the option of using Score Choice to send in their highest subject test scores.
“There’s no perfect standardized admissions test,” Quinlan said. “But the redesigned SAT does look to be an improvement over the last exam, in terms of clearness and connection to [the college] curriculum. We felt like requiring the optional writing portion would send a message that quality writing is highly important at Yale. And because the SAT and ACT are now more similar, it didn’t make sense to have the additional SAT II requirement.”
The redesigned SAT will be launched in March 2016. In addition to the exam aligning more closely with college curriculums, Caldwell said, the test will emphasize evidence-based reasoning and more specific math concepts. The exam will also be returning to a 1,600-point scale, Caldwell said.
One notable component of the redesigned SAT is the exam’s optional essay section, which will ask students to evaluate and analyze source texts. The current test simply requires students to write an opinionated essay.
Although Yale and many of its peer institutions — Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth — have decided to require the optional essay section of the test, the other four Ivies have not aligned their testing policies in this way. Columbia, Cornell, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania will not be requiring its applicants to complete the writing section.
Quinlan said Yale made alterations to its testing requirements based on internal conversations, referring to the policy change as an “institution-specific decision.” The choice was discussed by the faculty committee on admissions and financial aid, Quinlan said, as well as admissions staff.
Parke Muth, a former associate dean of admissions and director of international admissions at the University of Virginia, said that when each Ivy League school considered whether to require the optional essay, there were likely a variety of factors taken into account.
“Why are some schools — including Stanford and a few of the Ivies — requiring the writing section of the SAT?” Muth said. “If you look at the changes the SAT has made to the writing section, it looks as if they really are trying to give universities a chance to read and evaluate writing and critical thinking skills. The new writing section for both the SAT and ACT requires more thought on the part of the students.”
Muth added that other schools may be hesitant to require the new essay because past studies have shown the SAT essay to be ineffective in assessing writing quality.
Michael Goran, director and founder of IvySelect College Counseling, said schools have always questioned whether or not the essay is indicative of a student’s ability to do college-level work. Goran cited the University of Pennsylvania as a school that has expressed doubt regarding the essay’s usefulness.
“Some schools may still choose to require it,” Goran said. “It’s a philosophical difference of whether you want to have more information, because the more information you gather, the better you’ll be able to holistically evaluate a student.”
According to Muth, some schools may have opted against the essay in an attempt to encourage more students from certain backgrounds to apply. The issue, some admissions officers noted, is one of cost.
The redesigned SAT costs $43 without the essay, and $54.50 with the essay included. Columbia Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jessica Marinaccio wrote in a statement that Columbia will not require the optional essay, partly because the essay poses an extra cost to students.
Though the College Board does offer fee waivers to eligible students, Marinaccio noted, Columbia does not want the “perceived expense of testing costs to be a barrier.”
Both Muth and Goran agreed that requiring the optional essay will not result in fewer applicants to Yale.
“Schools that give more freedom about tests or the writing section may increase the number of applicants,” Muth said. “But the schools that still require SAT II or the writing section or both are the most selective and highest ranked in the U.S, so it is unlikely that their application numbers will fall as a result.”