Are you applying to college and wondering if the SAT and ACT essay sections are really optional at top schools? In this blog we talk about the recent changes to SAT/ACT essay policies from many top schools and whether you should be taking these exams with or without the essay portion.

In 2018, most top schools started dropping the requirement that you must take the SAT/ACT with an essay. Many high schools are giving the SAT/ACT to the whole school for free, without the essay portion. College have reasoned that students would then have to spend money out of  pocket just to retake for the sake of the essay portion, and thus some students would be discouraged  from applying to these top universities. Many universities have removed that stipulation in hopes of being more equitable to students regardless of income.

However, many of the schools that have announced that the essay portion is not required to apply still use the essay as a piece of the admissions portfolio. Below is a look at the top 25 or so ranked universities and their individually published policies as of July 2019.

*Disclaimer Always DOUBLE CHECK each school’s individual policies on the ACT/SAT essay. Everything here is subject to change.*

The following list shows some top-10 schools that have basically said they don’t care about your essay score. So take a sigh of relief and don’t worry at all.

SchoolNot Using EssayNo College PolicyEssay RecommendedEssay OptionalEssay RequiredUsed for AdmissionUsed for PlacementUsed for AdvisingIn Place of Application EssayValidity Check of Application Essay
Cornell UniversityX
Carnegie MellonX
NYUX
Rice UniversityX
University of MichiganX
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillX
Notre DameX
University of Southern CaliforniaX
Stanford UniversityX
Cal TechX
MITX

The following schools do accept essay scores but are not clear on how they used them. The thing to note is that instead of flat out saying they do not use them, they do accept them so they must be using them in one way or another.

SchoolNot Using EssayNo College PolicyEssay RecommendedEssay OptionalEssay RequiredUsed for AdmissionUsed for PlacementUsed for AdvisingIn Place of Application EssayValidity Check of Application Essay
Northwestern UniversityX
Tufts UniversityXX
Emory UniversityX
Vanderbilt UniversityXX
University of ChicagoX
Columbia UniversityX
Washington UniversityX
Johns Hopkins UniversityX

Here are schools where the essay score is still actually going to matter. You’re compared typically to people in the same socioeconomic background as you are, so if you’re in a group typically taking the essay, it might benefit you to do so, too.

SchoolNot Using EssayNo College PolicyEssay RecommendedEssay OptionalEssay RequiredUsed for AdmissionUsed for PlacementUsed for AdvisingIn Place of Application EssayValidity Check of Application Essay
Harvard UniversityXXXX
Amherst CollegeX
Brown UniversityXX
Yale University (Should self report if completed)XX
Princeton UniversityXXXX
University of PennsylvaniaXXX
Dartmouth CollegeXXXX
Duke UniversityXXXXX

Note: The entire UC (University of California) system requires you to take the SAT/ACT essay. Also, if you are an international student make sure you check out the international student policies for each school.