Jul 30, 2015

Colleges requiring SAT Subject Tests: Are they going out of style?

Applicants to Cal Tech must take Math II and a science Subject Test.

According to Cigus Vanni, long time Executive Board Member and former member of New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling NACAC’s Professional Development Committee, the number of colleges and universities requiring SAT Subject Tests for at least some section of their applicant group has shrunk from about 55 twenty years ago to only about two dozen institutions this year.

And he should know.  Since 1996, Vanni has painstakingly assembled an incredibly useful list of schools that require, recommend or utilize Subject Tests in admission or for placement/credit, which he is willing to share free for the asking to anyone who contacts him and makes the request.

A year ago, four colleges completely dropped Subject Tests:  Bryn Mawr College, Wesleyan University, Olin College of Engineering, and Boston College. At the same time, Harvard made a small adjustment in policy by announcing that while admissions “normally” requires two SAT Subject Tests, students “may apply without them if the cost of taking the tests represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have your application considered without them.”

This shift in policy produced a few additional ripples, as this year more major players changed their rules governing the submission of Subject Tests.

In his annual report, Cigus Vanni points out the following changes for this year:

  • Pomona College:  Subject Tests are no longer required but optional and will be considered if submitted
  • Princeton University:  Subject Tests are no longer required but recommended
  • Yale University:  Subject Tests are no longer required but recommended

Dartmouth University followed Harvard’s lead.  Students for whom taking Subject Tests would prove a financial hardship may elect to be evaluated without them.

Many in admissions find this trend puzzling. 

“I thought that when the ACT gained in popularity and that when various highly selective schools dismissed the need for Subject Tests if a candidate submitted the ACT (perceived as a set of Subject Tests), Subject Tests would be the preferred standardized testing instrument over SAT,” said Vanni.  “I envisioned that in the near future many schools would require Subject Tests or ACT with SAT being optional/recommended.”

It seems, however, that over the past decade Subject Tests have simply gone out of style.  Vanni speculates that it may be because the Advanced Placement (AP) program has “exploded” and the multiple choice section of an AP exam can be compared to a Subject Test. 

It’s also possible that Subject Tests are viewed as a little redundant in view of the “new” SAT, which will now contain what may be considered a set of subject/content tests like the ACT.

“This swing happened fairly quickly considering the long history of college admissions testing,” added Vanni.  “I wonder if Subject Tests will eventually fade altogether.”

Regardless of the future standing of SAT Subject Tests in the admissions hierarchy, here is a sample from Cigus Vanni’s list:

California Institute of Technology:  must take Math Level 2 and either Physics, Chemistry or Biology
Case Western Reserve University:  optional—“you may send them if you feel they strengthen your application”
Columbia University:  ACT may be submitted in lieu of SAT and two Subject tests; if submitting SAT, prospective engineering students must submit Math Level 1 or 2 and a science exam
Cornell University:  required or optional by individual school
Georgetown University:  three “strongly recommended”
Harvey Mudd  College:  must take Math Level 2 and one of student’s choice
Johns Hopkins University:  two “encouraged;” if applying in Engineering, Math Level 2 and one science Subject Test “strongly encouraged”
MIT:  one math and one science required
Middlebury College:  SAT or ACT or three Subject Test “in different areas of study”
Skidmore College:  “welcomes but does not require two Subject Tests”
Stanford University:  recommended but not required; if Math, Level 2 preferred
Swarthmore College:  one of 3 options—SAT and two Subject Tests of student’s choice; or ACT; or SAT and ACT with or without Writing; engineering applicants “encouraged to submit Math Level 2 regardless of whether SAT or Act is presented
Trinity College:  requires “one or more” of the following—ACT, SAT or any two Subject Tests
University of Michigan: if included as part of the application “we will consider them only in light of how they might benefit your review”
University of Virginia:  “strongly recommended”
Washington and Lee University:  “two exams in unrelated” areas recommended—can’t submit Math Level 1 and Math Level 2 for example.
Williams College:  two required

To obtain a copy of the complete 15-page list, email Cigus Vanni at cigusvanni@verizon.net.  In his words, "distribution trumps attribution."

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