College Applications

Why Are Top Colleges Dropping SAT Subject Tests?

By September 6, 2016 No Comments

still-life-838362_1920There has been a trend recently of certain top schools beginning to drop or loosen their requirements for SAT subject tests. So what does that mean for students? First, Let’s take a look at an excerpt from Laura Krantz at The Boston Globe:

Several top New England colleges have joined a growing number of schools nationally that no longer require applicants to submit scores from SAT subject tests, saying the specialized exams lend little insight into students’ readiness and can work against low-income and minority students.

In the past year, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and Williams College all have dropped the subject test requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University, which announced the new policy this spring. Duke University and Vassar College also no longer require the tests, often called SAT II…

“We want to make the application process as fair to all students as possible,” said Mary Dettloff, a spokeswoman for Williams College. “We felt like we weren’t getting any valuable data from the SAT II scores to help us.”

The hour-long multiple-choice exams are taken separately from the main SAT and cover 20 subjects, like math, history, chemistry, or a foreign language.

Although the tests are no longer required at many schools, they are still optional and in many cases recommended, a nuance many college admissions specialists said means students should still take them if they expect to score well.

“You would be misguided to think that strong scores on the tests won’t help you,” said Adam Ingersoll, cofounder and principal at Compass Education Group, a California company that tutors students for standardized tests and counsels them about college admissions.

A handful of elite schools, including Harvard and MIT, still require SAT subject tests.

Data from the College Board, the company that administers the test, show participation in the subject tests has dropped over the past decade by about 14 percent, with a steeper decline since 2012, when the University of California system dropped them as a requirement. Last year 241,000 students took subject tests, compared to the 1.7 million who took the regular SAT.

Mathematics continues to be the most popular subject test, with 144,772 students taking that exam in 2015. Other tests are much more scarcely utilized, like the Hebrew exam, which just 330 students registered for last year.

In short, schools are dropping the requirement to make the admissions process more fair for students of all backgrounds. So should you take the test? Well, here are a couple of things to consider:

  • If your desired school doesn’t require them and you don’t believe you would earn a good score, it might a good decision to opt out of the Subject Tests
  • If you do believe you can get a strong score, even if your desired institution doesn’t require them, it would be a good idea to go and take them anyway because the strong scores would only help your case.

Top colleges dropping their subject test requirement provides a dual opportunity: it creates a more fair shot for students who would not be able to take them (or wouldn’t do well), but it also allows strong candidates to add additional evidence to their admission case.