Mar 9, 2014

Colleges requiring the ACT with Writing or why the SAT essay is not dead yet

The University of New Hampshire requires Writing for students submitting the ACT

Contrary to early reports from the Washington POST, the SAT essay is not dead yet.

Judging from the attention it received from College Board President David Coleman, at his press conference last week, it’s likely to come back stronger than ever in the redesigned SAT Reasoning Test set to launch spring 2016.

In an attempt to grab back market share from the more popular ACT, the College Board is reshaping the much maligned essay and making it “optional.”   This mirrors a move made by the folks in Iowa in February of 2005, when they added an optional Writing section to the ACT just months before the current SAT was brought to market.

And although the College Board wants the world to believe that the SAT redesign will bring total test-taking time down to a more manageable 3 hours, the new optional essay may take as long as 50 additional minutes—doubling the current time allotted to the essay and substantially adding to the overall length (and possible cost) of the SAT for those staying to write.

So what does it mean for part of a standardized test to be optional?  The College Board says it will be up to individual school districts and colleges to determine whether or not they will require the test.

The ACT has already laid the groundwork for these kinds of decisions and opened the “take it or leave it” possibility to colleges:  “Because postsecondary institutions have varying needs, we offer the ACT Writing Test as an option.”

The website goes on to add that students are not required “to take a test they do not need to take, thus incurring unnecessary expense,” and colleges “have the freedom to require the tests that best meet their information needs.”

But because a large portion of the most visible and selective colleges would not accept the ACT without the Writing section, most counselors routinely advise students to take that part of the test before college lists are even close to finalized.

Yet it turns out that the vast majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. do NOT require the ACT with Writing, for applicants.  And some of these institutions are surprising.

An interactive webpage maintained by the ACT shows that Georgetown University, the University of Richmond, the University of Colorado, Colgate University, SMU, and the University of Chicago are among those institutions not requiring the writing section add-on for students submitting the ACT. 

“Georgetown accepts the ACT in lieu of the SAT. Applicants who take the ACT more than once will have their highest composite score considered in the evaluation process. The optional writing section on the ACT is not required, nor is the writing subscore used in the application review process.”

Others might include colleges listed on the FairTest website as test optional or test flexible.

But despite these outliers, the list of colleges that DO require the ACT with Writing encompasses the entire Ivy League, Stanford, the University of California system, as well as a fair share of the “public ivies” such as the University of Virginia, UNC Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan.

To help counselors keep track of which colleges and universities require the ACT with Writing and to foreshadow future decisions for colleges opting to require Writing with the new SAT, Cigus Vanni has once again authored a list based on information provided by the ACT and updated with individual website research.

And here is a sample of colleges currently requiring Writing with their ACT (note that some colleges haven’t reported their preferences to the ACT and many have opted to stay in the “recommended” but not required column):

  • Butler University
  • Cal Tech
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Emerson College
  • Georgia Tech
  • Goucher College
  • Kalamazoo College
  • Michigan State University
  • Monmouth University
  • New College of Florida
  • Northwestern University
  • Quinnipiac University
  • Rhode Island School of Design
  • San Jose State University
  • Towson University
  • Tufts University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Dallas
  • University of Georgia

For a copy of the complete list of colleges with this requirement, email me ( or Cigus (    Warning:   this is one of the quirkier and less consistent college lists you’ll ever review!

And because the ACT is not always right about requirements, be sure to check directly with individual colleges to make sure of the most up-to-date and accurate admissions information.

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