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Not all colleges have the same policies about the SAT essay, which frequently leads to confusion and misunderstanding regarding the importance of your essay score.

In addition, colleges and scholarships have the ability to view exactly what you wrote on your SAT essay, and can choose to do so at any time.

The real question is: How many colleges actually see your SAT essay?

What is the SAT essay?

A quick recap – the SAT essay is a timed, 25-minute essay, written early in the morning on a Saturday as the first section of a 4-hour-long standardized test and as one component of your SAT Writing test.

The essay prompts mainly address human nature and ethical behavior, and present the essay-writer with a positive or negative side to take on the issue.

The intention behind the essay section is to assess your ability to clearly take a stance on an issue, organize a well-structured essay format, and support and explain your argument with concrete examples and (hopefully) a few respectable vocab words that you pepper in.

Because the time limit is so short, and the exact essay prompt is unknown until the morning of the test, each essay is graded as more of a “first draft” than a completed essay.

Two human graders review each essay and grade it on a scale of 2-12. The essay score is then rolled into the entire SAT Writing score to produce a final combined score.

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About 30% of the Writing section score comes from the essay; therefore, about 10% of your entire SAT score is from the essay.

Colleges can see your SAT essay:

Colleges DO have the right and the ability to view electronically… in your original handwriting, exactly as you wrote it.

It is quite simple – costs them no fees and no special requests, they just log on to an online account to view them.

Do they actually use it for anything?

Do they look at the SAT Essay?Yes and no – depends – you gotta do your research for each college. This might even involve calling the school up and asking them their exact policy. It’s very difficult to generalize from school to school.

Still, here’s one student’s interesting take on the question:

“Do you really think admissions officers are going to read your crappy SAT essay on top of all the other application essays they have to read?… They see a score and move on.”

I think this is probably mostly true.. the admissions officers have their school-specific essays, the SAT essay is more of a rough draft, the College Board website takes forever to load, and the whole point of having an essay score from the SAT is to save the college admissions department the trouble of grading them.

Furthermore, SAT essay prompts are not very personal, and the resulting essay says more about your ability to construct an argument than it does about you as a person.

The SAT not a personal essay – it’s an argumentative one – and while both are important, at this stage, the college is judging you as a potential person that they may or may not want hanging out on their campus, in their classrooms or winning their scholarships.

From a college’s point of view, the customized essay prompts on their specific college application will provide a much more useful view of you as a person than your SAT essay will, which is written under time and stress pressures, and about issues that may not be important to you.

How much does your essay score matter to colleges?

Also depends… My suspicion is the bigger the school, the more your score matters, since they have less time to spend on personally getting to know you as an applicant and the more they just have to rely on stats and numbers.

Get this – I was reading through the College Board’s instructions to college admissions departments about how to download essays – and admissions can download up to three thousands essays in bulk at a time

SAT Essays and College AdmissionsCan you imagine having to deal with three thousand essays all at once? Because that’s the sort of scale that admissions officers are working on.

Do you think they would spend all that time and money just to re-grade your crappy 25-minute essay that doesn’t even say anything about who you are or what you’re like?

I don’t know… it doesn’t seem like a very good use of time.

Now, at smaller schools, I’ve actually heard some pretty crazy stories – such as the student who only got a 9 out of 12 on the SAT essay, yet received a writing scholarship to the school of their choice.

Furthermore, different departments within the college might view your essay in a different light – for example, some engineering departments use the essay grade to determine if a student can clearly communicate verbally, in addition to doing the math and science work.

Basically, there is a wide variety of ways that colleges will react to your SAT essay.

  • Some will ignore both your score and your essay
  • Some will care a bit about your score
  • Some will care a lot about your score
  • Some will care about your score and your actual words
  • Some will care about your words but ignore the score you were given
  • Etc.

In general, most schools will probably save time by looking at your score, not the actual essay itself.

So what do you recommend, Mr. SAT Tutor?

Clearly there’s a lot to consider. But, I don’t want you getting distracted by all these details when you should just be focused on getting the highest possible SAT score.

I recommend that you don’t even think about all this. Put it out of your mind and just learn how to write a great essay.

Note: Hiring an admissions essay pro?

Hiring a pro to help revise your college essays? Be sure to avoid inconsistencies.

This is one of the only major pitfalls of the SAT essay.

Imagine the following situation from a college admissions point of view:

You get a student application with fantastic, incredibly-well-written personal essays with none of the common college essay mistakes. You know that they’ve had months to write, edit, and get feedback on these essays. In fact, they could have even hired a professional to write your essays for you, and the college could never trace it.

So your college essays are great. But then they get to your SAT writing score. It’s kinda low, to be honest, and it raises their eyebrows.

So, the admissions officer decides that they better do a little check-up. He clicks on over to your SAT essay and sees an embarrassing mess of unsupported assertions, disorganized thought-process, weak vocabulary, and poor handwriting and formatting.

Yup, now you’re in trouble. You will definitely be suspected of getting too much extra assistance on your personal essays and you’ve lost some of their trust. You just don’t look quite so good anymore, plain and simple.

I think hiring an essay editor can be a great idea – just be aware of how it can go too far and become inconsistent with your SAT Writing score.

Now order your copies of my SAT Essay Strategy and SAT Essay Evidence e-books!

Further Reading:
What is the SAT Essay?
Is my SAT Essay Score Good or Bad?
What Exactly is on the SAT Writing Section?
How to Get a Perfect Score on the SAT
How to Get Into College: The Complete Guide

Additional Resources:
Write the Best SAT Essay of Your Life (e-Book)
Top 30 Examples to Use as Evidence on the SAT Essay (e-Book)
Conquer SAT Vocabulary (Video Course)

Winning College Scholarships for High Schoolers (Video Course)

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