The Demise of the SAT II

A couple of months ago, the Admissions and Financial Aid Office of Harvard University announced that applicants will no longer need to submit SAT II subject test scores as part of their application. According to the school officials, they are making this change to encourage low-income students to apply to the prestigious school.

SAT II test scores can–among other things–help students present a more personalized portfolio that illustrates how well they would fit in a particular school and program. However, several colleges have decided these benefits don’t outweigh some of the inequity that the focus on subject tests perpetuates.

While some colleges require their applicants to submit scores for one or more SAT II tests, others consider it as optional. Aside from admission purposes, some schools use the SAT II subject test scores for program placement and counseling. However, when two or three SAT II tests are required in addition to the SAT I or ACT, it can become a huge burden on high school students.

Harvard, and many other schools, rightly believe that this burden disproportionately affects low-income students who cannot afford test preparation and may not have the benefit of early college counseling programs and advice that might have enabled them to plan properly so as to not have all tests crammed into October or November of their senior year. In order to help to ameliorate the disparate gap between early planning in low income communities and higher income communities, InGenius has partnered with organizations like Teach for America and Dallas Urban Debate Alliance to disseminate information and spread awareness.

In addition to the burdens compounded by the lack of test preparation and early planning, taking the SAT II subject tests adds a tangible cost to the entire application in the form of the test fee(s) of more than $23 each (more for certain tests or if you are registering late).

In order to avoid this scenario, the Harvard Admissions Office decided to not require their applicants to submit SAT II test scores anymore. This decision is actually part of the school’s ongoing efforts to attract applicants from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. We expect other prominent schools to follow Harvard’s lead.

Aside from Harvard, the University of California (UC) system has also decided not to require its applicants to submit SAT II Subject Tests scores. This policy is part of a broad-reaching overhaul of the school’s admissions requirements that is designed to provide a “comprehensive review” of the credentials of their candidates. As other schools move toward “test-optional” or “holistic” admissions review processes, we predict that the SAT IIs will continue to decrease in importance and eventually vanish as a meaningful part of the admissions process.

With top US universities leading this trend, it will not be surprising if other US colleges and universities follow their footsteps to totally dismiss the SAT II tests for several reasons. In making this move to encourage more low-income students to apply to top colleges and restore some semblance of competitive balance, schools are making a subtle move toward emphasizing other “soft factors” including personal essays, extra-curricular activities, and letters of recommendation. Because the SAT II served a validating role for a student’s classroom performance in high school, admissions offices will naturally look to other components of the application to fill the gap. There is no reason that your application should not contain such validation in the form of comparative and concrete letters of recommendation and other non-numerical factors. InGenius Prep’s college admissions experts and former admissions officers can help you identify such opportunities and present yourself in the most compelling light.

Relying solely on academic performances and test scores is not enough in evaluating the capacity of an applicant to fit in a particular school. After all, “fitting in” is not only about being intellectually apt, but also about the unique set of life experiences you can bring to campus.


About the Author

David Mainiero, Co-Founder and Director of Operations of InGenius Prep, is an experienced educator and academic and admissions counselor with over almost a decade of experience helping students unlock their potential and achieve their dreams. Having founded and run multiple and small businesses, David has a strong entrepreneurial track record.

He graduated from Dartmouth College Summa Cum Laude with Highest Honors in History with a focus on Nationalism in the Near East and was inducted as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Several years later, he earned a JD from Harvard Law School. To this day, he believes that the most important moments in his own education were learning with his peers during his time as a Policy Debater in high school and college.

David knows firsthand what success looks like and how to achieve it; his passion to help students discover their own passions and realize their fullest potential motivates him to travel all around the world to share his visions for educational access.