Harvard announced last week that it would no longer require students to submit scores from the optional essay sections of either the SAT or the ACT, as colleges across the country continue re-evaluating their testing requirements for applicants.
Yale is one of just 28 schools that currently require applicants to submit scores from the essay portion of a standardized test, According to the Princeton Review.
Since the March 2016 launch of the completely redesigned SAT, which made the essay optional, and the changes made to the writing portion of the ACT in September 2015, many universities across the country have reconsidered their testing requirements. With its new policy, Harvard joins several peer institutions, some of which stopped requiring students to submit scores from the essay portion as early as 2015, including Columbia, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania.
“This change will add an additional component to the comprehensive outreach of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which seeks outstanding students from all economic backgrounds,” Harvard College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in a statement announcing the new policy.
Several other schools, including Columbia, have also said that dropping the essay requirement removes a barrier for lower-income students wishing to apply to college. Taking the SAT with the essay portion costs $14 more than without, while the ACT Plus Writing costs $16.50 more than without. Additionally, some states that allow students to sit for the SAT or ACT during the school day free of charge offer both tests without the essay portion — including Connecticut.
Other schools that dropped the requirement argued that the essay portion is not a good predictor of students’ academic success in college. When the University of Pennsylvania changed its policy in 2015, Eric Furda, the university’s dean of admissions, said that the school’s “internal analysis as well as a review of the extensive research provided by the College Board showed that the essay component of the SAT was the least predictive element” of the overall writing section.
But whether or not the essay portion of the standardized tests is a good predictor of students’ success in college is a long-standing question and one the College Board addressed when it announced the details of the redesigned SAT in 2015.
“While the writing work that students do in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing area of the exam is strongly predictive of college and career readiness and success, one single essay historically has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam,” the College Board wrote. “Feedback from hundreds of member admission officers was divided: some respondents found the essay useful, but many did not.”
Yale has changed its testing requirements in response to the changes to the SAT and ACT in 2015, according to Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan.
Before the changes to the SAT were announced, Yale required that students submit either the SAT, along with any two SAT Subject Tests or the ACT with Writing. In 2015, however, Yale changed its policy to require that students take either the SAT with the essay section or ACT with Writing. The University now only “recommends” taking the SAT Subject Tests.
Applicants to the Class of 2022 were the last cohort permitted to submit scores from the old SAT as part of their applications, according to the Admissions Office’s website. Quinlan said the University annually evaluates its testing policy.
He said the Admissions Office has worked closely with Yale’s Office of Institutional Research to evaluate how well the scores for the old essay portions of both the SAT and the ACT predicted students’ academic success in college. The offices found a “predictive validity” — which refers to how well a certain measure can predict future behavior — between higher essay scores and the academic success of students at Yale. Since the Admissions Office can look at the essays students write as part of their standardized tests, Quinlan added, they are sometimes also “a valuable tool” to assess how well students can write analytically.
“In an ideal world, we would give ourselves a couple more years before we change the testing policy again because right now the first class to take the new SAT and ACT in large numbers is the current first-year class,” he said, adding that this makes it difficult to evaluate the predictive power of the new essay portions of the SAT and ACT.
While the issue of exam costs is “something [the Admissions Office] definitely considers,” Quinlan said, both the SAT and ACT have generous fee waiver policies, which mean that even lower-income students whose schools do not offer the exam with the essay portion free of charge are able to take the exam as required by Yale. He added that as long as students sit for at least one test with the essay component, they can submit scores from other sittings without the optional essay portion, and that Yale considers students’ highest scores for all portions.
The College Board first started offering an essay on the SAT in 2005.
Anastasiia Posnova | firstname.lastname@example.org