Do I Have to do the ACT/SAT Essay?


This is a question we get all the time. Since both essays are “optional,” you might be thinking, “Why would I choose to write a 40 or 50 minute essay after I’ve taken a 3+ hour test?” While that logic is solid, the real answer is slightly more complicated.

The shorter version: check your colleges’ requirements. Most colleges don’t require you to submit the essay with your score. They understand you’ll be drained by the time the essay rolls around, and they’ll get another chance to see your writing skills in the essays you submit for admission (ie, The Common App). However, there are some schools that highly recommend the essay and others that won’t even consider your scores unless you take the essay. The complete list of those schools can be found here for the ACT and here for the SAT. If you plan on applying to any of the schools on those lists, make sure and take the essay.

If you haven’t decided exactly which schools you want to apply to, you should probably take the essay. The last thing you want is to take the ACT/SAT without the essay and then later decide to apply to an essay-requiring school. In that case, you would have to take the entire test over gain, and if your composite score ends up being lower than the test you took without the essay, you’ll have a big dilemma on your hands.

Even if you’re completely sure none of your colleges require the essay, there’s still reason to consider it. The composite score is significantly more important to colleges than the essay, but if you’re a strong writer, it never hurts to show off your skills and get a score that will wow schools.

In short, you should probably take the essay. It adds less than an hour to your time, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing you can apply to absolutely any college you want.