What colleges look at the SAT Essay?Welcome! Be sure to join my SAT prep mailing list for subscriber-only downloads and content to help you prepare!

The SAT Writing/Essay section is a fairly recent addition to the test, and colleges are still deciding exactly how to react to it, and how to use it for the admissions process.

Believe it or not, some admissions departments won’t look at your SAT Essay, or even the entire Writing section score.

Other schools place a high weight on this section, which makes sense, given how much writing and reading most students will do in college.

In other words, the SAT Writing and Essay section is taken on a case-by-case basis depending on the policies of the college, university, or scholarship in question.

This post will explore such policies and reasons in more depth and give you an idea of how you can use this knowledge to your advantage.

What is the SAT Essay?

You probably know by know, but the SAT essay is a 25-minute timed essay on a random (but predictable) prompt. It’s always the first section of the SAT.

Your job is to take a clear stance on the prompt and support your argument with specific concrete examples and explanations.

You’re allowed to make up evidence and get facts wrong – they aren’t important, only your ability to build a well-structured, effective and convincing argument around your thesis.

Get Exclusive SAT Prep Tips!

I want to send you more tips to help your SAT score, but I need your email address to stay in touch. Enter your email below so I can send you my reports on the SAT and other subscriber-only bonuses.

Although evidence and structure are most important, a strong vocabulary and your ability to express yourself and provide clear insight are extremely important as well.

For more details, check out What is the SAT Essay?

Colleges CAN see your actual essay:

If they want to, any college can view your SAT essay online. It doesn’t cost them anything except time.

Keep in mind I’m not talking about your SAT essay score, which colleges can also see. I’m specifically talking about your essay itself, in your own handwriting, word-for-word, scanned and uploaded into a computer database that colleges can read.

Will they actually read it? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll discuss this more in a minute.

The important thing is not to stress about it one way or the other, and just focus on doing the best you can.

Colleges that look at SAT EssaysNot all colleges look at the SAT Writing section:

Ok, so like I mentioned at the beginning, not all colleges or scholarships count your SAT Writing section score as part of your application. This type of college will instead prioritize your SAT Math and Critical Reading scores.

Of course, a few colleges don’t consider SAT scores at all, but they are definitely in the minority.

Why wouldn’t a college count SAT Writing?

Well, there could be a variety of reasons that a college doesn’t accept the SAT Writing score.

Here are a few I came up with (feel free to think of more and add them in the comments section!)

  • The Writing section is a new-ish development – the college might still be adjusting
  • Reading and evaluating essays takes a huge amount of time and money
  • Many educators don’t consider the SAT Writing section a fair or useful test
  • Many schools already have their own application essays
  • They might not be interested in a rushed, rough-draft-style 25-minute essay
  • They feel that the essay is too “coachable” and therefore favors students who can afford tutoring (this is pretty much true, by the way…)
  • Might be waiting for more data to show a connection (or that there is no connection) between Writing scores and college success

So as you can see, there are actually some good reasons that a college might choose to ignore, or minimize, the impact of your SAT Writing and Essay section scores.

This is what they’re looking for if they read it:

If a particular college admissions department or scholarship committee does choose to read your SAT essay, here’s a partial list of what they could be looking for:

  • Check that you actually wrote your own application essays
  • Use it for placement in Freshman writing seminars
  • Represents a spontaneous test of your ability to think under pressure
  • Use it to detect inconsistencies in your application, since they know you can’t cheat or plagiarize your way through the SAT essay
  • Get an idea of your communication and personal style

I highly doubt that they’re digging through your essay looking for factual errors (such as the author of The Scarlet Letter). Again, it would be simply too expensive in terms of time and money.

Instead, they want to be impressed with what a convincing argument you can lay at their feet. It probably doesn’t hurt to use extra-neat handwriting and your best vocabulary, either.

Can you still be accepted with a bad SAT essay?

Let’s be honest – writing a low-scoring SAT essay is certainly not going to help your chances.

First of all, a bad essay will hurt your writing score, which will hurt your total composite SAT score out of 2400. That’s not good since you no longer have a chance at a perfect score.

Secondly, if they look at your (bad) essay, they’ll be even less likely to accept you. To tell the truth, a bad SAT essay is not good at all for your application, whether this is fair or not. If you’re concerned that this is a risk, you should study and practice starting right away!

The good news is, even if you “fail” at the SAT Essay, there are great schools out there that don’t count the Writing score. But why would you want to limit yourself to only those schools?

Make sure you do your SAT essay prep so that you can keep your options open!

SAT Essays By CollegeSome actual percents on colleges and the essay:

Ok, so I couldn’t dig up the original sources that I heard this from. I looked and looked, but no luck – so take this with a grain of salt.

However, apparently, Kaplan Test Prep did a survey of admissions officers and found that about half of schools do NOT look at the SAT Writing score. On the other hand, the top 60 colleges overwhelming tend to include the Writing score in their evaluation of an applicant.

So, if you’re applying specifically to the elite colleges and Ivy Leagues, that means you’ll need to emphasize the SAT Writing section.

I just want to remind you that in my professional experience, the SAT Writing score is by far the easiest section to improve, so that’s actually a good reason to favor colleges that accept the Writing score.

Also, if you don’t know exactly where you’re applying, you should assume that your SAT essay is going to be very important to your future and treat it accordingly.

List of colleges that care about the SAT Essay:

There isn’t one. Lol! At least, not that I’ve found, and I just spent the last hour and a half searching all of the internet for some kind of central reference document I could give you.

In fact, this kind of says everything there is to know about SAT Writing section policy – it’s completely disorganized and constantly changing, difficult to pin down.

The only way to get the exact facts about a specific college or scholarship is to CALL or E-MAIL them directly. Here’s what you’ll want to ask them:

  1. Does your college consider the SAT Writing section score?
  2. If so, how much weight do they put on it?
  3. Does your college consider the SAT Essay score important?
  4. If so, will you view or read my SAT Essay?
  5. What is the average SAT Writing score at your school?
  6. What is the average SAT Essay score at your school?

The SAT Writing section is a case-by-case decision for each college or university admissions department.

That’s why it’s best to be safe and start prepping your SAT essay strategies and evidence regardless of where you plan to apply!

Further Reading:
What is the SAT Essay?
What Exactly Is On the SAT Writing Test?
How to Get a Perfect Score on the SAT

How to Get Into College: The Complete Guide

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

Winning College Scholarships for High Schoolers (Video Course)

Thanks for reading – I’d love to stay in touch! For more tips and subscriber-only testing tips, join my SAT email list!