Does the SAT Essay Matter? | Should You Highlight It on Your College Application or Remove It?

The essay used to be a major part of the SATs, but now that it has become optional and on the brink of discontinuation, I bet you're wondering: "Does the SAT essay matter?" or "Should I showcase the essay portion of my SATs?"

If you're on this boat and would like some clarity, read further. This post should help you understand if the optional essay is beneficial to you (or not) and if you should highlight it on your college application or remove it completely.

College Board Terminates Optional Essay Portion

College Board, the organization responsible for the development and management of the SAT, introduced the SAT essays in 2005. From its introduction, the essay portion of the SAT included rhetorical analysis.

SAT writing was made optional in 2016, giving school districts and colleges the control of whether they would require applicants to take the SAT essay (or not). Many colleges still require applicants to submit their SAT scores with the optional SAT essay writing included.

In January 2021, College Board announced that it would terminate the SAT essay section by June 2021. As such, if you are taking a new SAT voluntarily after this date, you no longer have the SAT writing option.

The SAT essay will only be available in states (like Delaware and Oklahoma), where it’s required as part of SAT School Day administrations. If you're still in high school and your batch is scheduled to take the SAT - see the best prep books here - on a school day, ask your teacher or guidance counselor about whether the SAT essay will be included.

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Two Reasons to Showcase Your SAT Essay

Because the optional essay is no longer applicable to any new student who would want to take the SAT voluntarily from July 2021 onward, this guide is only for any student:

  • Who already took the SAT essay before June 2021
  • Who will be taking the SATs with essays at their respective high schools after June 2021? If you really want to highlight your writing skills, check with your high school and see if your SAT includes essay writing.

If you fall under these two types of students, then here are two situations where your SAT essay could still matter:

1. The Ease of Applying to any School.

In the past, when you take the SAT along with the optional essay (check out the best prep courses), your SAT record would automatically include any old and new SAT essay score and SAT score you've taken.

If you already applied to all the schools you wanted to, and they didn't require the SAT essay, you might think you're safe from having to take the essay. But if you wanted to submit applications to more colleges (that require the SAT essay), you're going to have a problem.

Having the SAT essay section already taken and as part of your SAT report means you can apply to any university you want.

Even today, the admissions officers of many schools, colleges, and universities would still consider the SAT essay section. For example, Harvard states that "Harvard admission officers review all material that an applicant submits, so if you have already taken Subject Tests or the essay portion of the SAT, you may still submit it along with your other application materials."

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2. The Optional Essay Could Give You a Leg Up

Even if the SAT served as a standardized test used by multiple colleges and schools, the College Board has no power over the admissions process of these schools. As such, every school you sent college applications to follow their own criteria.

For most schools, the most common criterion is high school grades and SAT scores. If all applicants have similar grades, schools would then look at other extracurricular activities, read letters of recommendation, and SAT writing.

Although it is highly unlikely that your SAT writing alone could be the deciding factor of your college applications, giving the admissions officers options that could showcase your skills gives you a leg up on your competition.

Make sure you include your SAT essay score if:

  • You are applying to schools that are highly competitive.
  • You are super-selective with the colleges you submit your application to.
  • The college you're eyeing "recommends" writing the SAT essay but does not actually require the essay.

As you can see, SAT writing would be a thing of the past in the coming years, but this doesn't mean you should just hide your essay score if you already took the SATs. For some college admissions, this essay could be used as evidence of your strong writing skills.

Students writing a test

Essay Portion FAQs

Students always stress about the essay portion of the exam, even if it is the least considered score on your SAT record.

Now that College Board announced the discontinuation of the SAT essay, I'm sure there would be more questions. Here, I'll try to answer some common inquiries about the future of SAT Essay:

Is it Worth Taking the SAT Essay?

If you're not sure which college or university you would apply to, taking the SAT essay section is totally worth the trouble. (Of course, this would only be possible if you're attending high school with state-required SAT School Day).

In case you didn't get into your preferred college or university that doesn't require the SAT essay, you wouldn't have to retake the SAT again if you discovered that your second, third or fourth choice of schools still require SAT writing portion as part of their admissions process.

I recommend you list at least 7 schools you want to apply to. Check their college admissions and verify if they still consider the SAT essay score. If all the colleges do not, then skip the optional essay completely.

girl reading a lot of books

What's a Good Essay Score?

In the past, if you take the SAT essay, you receive a score from two different people, analyzing your reading, analysis, and writing skills with 1 to 4 points for each category/dimension. You'll receive 3 separate essays SAT scores (one for each dimension) ranging from 2 to 8 points. Unlike the SAT score, your essay points won't be added together.

Once SAT essays are discontinued, the essay score you currently have on your record would probably be based on the old criteria.

  •  A perfect SAT essay score is three 8s or a 4 from both graders in all three categories.
  • The average essay score is 5 for reading, 3 for analysis, and 5 for writing. A good essay score is anything above these averages.
score for essay

Does the SAT Essay Matter?

If the colleges you want to apply to requires all applications to have SAT and SAT essay scores included, then it does matter. If the college of your choice doesn't indicate this, it could still matter under the following circumstances:

  • Your personal essay included in your college application isn't the best. You're hoping that your SAT or ACT essay would totally make up for your past writing. 
  • You already have an SAT essay score from a past exam.
girl writing happily

Which Schools Require the Essay?

According to College Board, there wouldn't be any universities that would require the essay after June 2021. However, if you already have the scores, it is highly likely that colleges would still consider your essay scores if you submitted them along with your application.

Your best bet is to check with the colleges you’re interested in and confirm their policies about the SAT essays. If you take the SAT with Essay, colleges may consider your scores as part of their admissions review process.

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Why Did College Board Discontinue SAT Essay?

If you're wondering why College Board didn't keep the essay optional, the org explained that they are "adapting to respond to the changing needs of students and colleges" and that the "change simply streamlines the process for students who have other, more relevant opportunities to show they can write an essay as part of the work they’re already doing on their path to college."

The decision was brought about by the 2020 pandemic and how it “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students.”

As part of this change, the SAT Test Subjects would also be removed from the exam.

a lot of students in the library

SAT in 2021 and Beyond

So what sections would be left in the SAT?

If you're going to take the SAT anytime from July 2021 and beyond, expect to take three hours (not including breaks) for two sections. The first section focuses on math (and is worth 800 points), while the second section is on evidence-based reading and writing (also worth 800 points).

As you can see, SAT will still continue with its two main exam sections, but no more essay sections will be available in the future even if you opted for it.

SAT Subject Tests, available in 20 subject-based standardized tests in math, science, English, languages, and history, were also discontinued in June 2021. Like essays, Subject Tests were optional and are taken separately from the main SAT.

Leonard Haggin

I created this site to help students like you learn from the experiences my team had learned during our extensive academic careers. I am now studying Law at Stanford, but I also make time to write articles here in order to help all you fellow students advance in your academic careers and beyond. I hope our efforts on Study Prep Lounge will arm you with the knowledge you need to overcome whatever trial or test you find in front of you.

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