An Update on SAT Subject Tests
Children of the 1980s will remember Domino Rally, the excessively-colorful and elaborate pre-made domino sets that looked spectacular on the commercials and, well, kind of sucked when you tried them at home.
College admissions trends tend to unfold very much in the fashion as Domino Rally—the first hollowed out, polyethylene domino falls, several follow suit, and then the process stalls out when a cheaply made hinge snaps. Only the flick of a nine-year-old’s finger can restart the sequence. This is certainly the case with elite institutions dropping SAT Subject Test requirements (minus the nine year old’s finger). In a slow, sputtering, yet still steady procession, elite schools have been eliminating their requirement of this former staple of the prestige college application over the last decade.
Changes (fallen dominoes)
In 2008, a panel comprised of members across the University of California system began seriously exploring the removal of SAT Subject Tests as a requirement for admission. Many felt that the tests failed to shed any significant new light on the 121,000 annual applicants to UC campuses while also placing low-income and minority students at a disadvantage. In 2009, they officially codified this as a system-wide policy.
One year later, the idea started to spread and Harvard and Georgetown, the last two remaining schools that required three Subject Tests, lowered their requirement to two. Fast forward a couple more years and Boston University waved goodbye to the SAT IIs. By 2015, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Dartmouth all ditched the requirement entirely. This past June, Columbia and sister-college Barnard both decided to join this increasingly popular club.
It’s critical not to mistake your prospective schools dropping the test requirements as a go-ahead to eschew the SAT II’s altogether. Applicants possessing strong Subject Test results should still submit their scores to these institutions, as doing so may help them stand out from the competition. If your scores are not (relatively) strong, there may be no reason to worry. Some schools like Haverford and Vassar openly state that applicants will not be penalized if they choose not to submit Subject Tests.
Required, Recommended, or Considered?
Some of the most selective schools in the country such as Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, and MIT still require students to take either one or two Subject Tests. Emory, Georgetown, and Duke are among the institutions that recommend or in some cases “strongly recommend” that Subject Tests be a part of any application.
Many other schools do not officially “recommend” Subject Tests but will give them serious consideration in the application process. Institutions such as The University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, and Boston College operate this way. Several of the most prestigious universities consider, but do not require, students to submit Subject Tests if they have taken the ACT (with writing). These schools include Brown, Tufts, and Wellesley College.
It is worth noting that some schools will accept Subject Tests in lieu of the SAT I. The University of Rochester will accept two SAT II tests in place of the SAT/ACT. Colorado College and Colby College offer the same deal but require three test scores instead of two.
Other schools require more research as they only require or recommend SAT II scores from applicants to certain academic or honors programs. For engineering applicants, UCLA and UC-Berkeley strongly advise the submission of math and science Subject Test scores. The University of Delaware, George Washington University, and the University of Miami all strongly recommend Subject Tests be included as part of any application to their honors programs.
If you referred to your high school teacher as “mom” or “dad” then you may be held to special Subject Test requirements. Northeastern, Virginia Tech, and American University all require SAT Subject Test only for home-schooled or other non-traditionally educated applicants.
In a world analogous to pre-fab plastic domino arrangements, you never know when the next one will drop. We will keep our readers updated on future changes to Subject Test policies, but it is also important to visit the admissions website of each prospective college in order to stay 100% up-to-date on application requirements.
Feel free to also visit our constantly-updated list of colleges requiring or recommending Subject Tests. Please click here to review.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).