Aug 24, 2015

College admissions just got harder with changing standardized test policies

University of Pennsylvania

One of the biggest surprises of the summer has been how many colleges and universities are already turning their backs on the new essay or writing section of the “redesigned” SAT (rSAT), set to debut in March 2016.  And many of these schools are revising long-standing policies requiring the ACT with Writing, to align with what’s been decided about the new SAT.

While it seems reasonable for colleges to be announcing test requirements for students applying for entry in fall 2017, what’s making college admissions just a little bit harder is how many colleges are changing policies for students applying for fall 2016.

Over the past few weeks, a number of high-profile colleges and universities announced they will not be requiring the optional essay on the new SAT.  And some of these colleges decided to also drop the writing section of the ACT effective immediately, including the University of Pennsylvania, University of North Carolina, and Cornell University.  

Although some of the new policies could have been predicted, some came as a complete surprise to students and their advisers who followed instructions on websites available at the time they registered for and took standardized tests.

Certainly, colleges that never required the ACT with Writing would not be likely to require the rSAT with the optional essay.  According to the ACT, colleges falling into this category would include Georgetown, University of Chicago, Colgate, Macalester, College of William and Mary, Davidson, Reed College, and Southern Methodist University—to name a few.  

Colleges that are fully test optional also wouldn’t be requiring the SAT’s new essay, because well, they don’t require standardized tests for admission.  These might include Bowdoin College, College of the Holy Cross, Connecticut College, DePaul University, Dickinson, George Washington University, Lewis and Clark, Mount Holyoke, Pitzer, Providence College, Temple University and Wesleyan University (for a complete list and specific terms of test optional policies visit ).  

Because relatively few colleges have made public announcements about their policies vis-à-vis the rSAT, most of the information available concerning writing or essay requirements is coming from a webpage maintained by the College Board.  

But the College Board doesn’t address policies for the ACT.   In fact, ACT maintains an interactive webpage for this purpose.  But for now, it’s not doing a great job keeping up with changes in test policies already announced for this year at Penn, Cornell and Chapel Hill.

So what should an applicant do?  To determine if a college wants the ACT with Writing for either the class of 2016 or the class of 2017, applicants need to go directly to websites.  Some are more specific than others.  And some like Villanova and Boston College—both listed by the College Board as not requiring the rSAT with essay—have not been updated (as of this writing) and are not particularly helpful.

For now, testing requirements are in a state of flux and some colleges are reacting to changes in both the SAT and the ACT by dropping standardized tests, as suggested by the almost weekly announcements from FairTest, which keeps track of these developments.

But because test scores are cornerstones of college list development, counselors will probably continue to recommend the ACT for the class of 2017 and to cover all bases, they will recommend taking it with Writing—but it’s by no means an absolute given.  

For the class of 2016, most of whom have already committed to a test strategy and taken at least one standardized test, the recommendation for fall testing may be a little more nuanced.  If there’s the possibility of taking or retaking the ACT, it might be worth considering if colleges on your list really require or recommend the writing component to save time and money!

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