Though SAT essay optional, choosing to take it offers benefits

Colleges require SAT Essay says counselor

Catherine Jasper, Co-Editor

Throughout the course of their schooling, every student will undeniably write numerous essays. However, with at least one standardized test, they are given a choice.

When it comes to deciding whether to take the SAT essay, students are at a crossroads. Not taking the essay would save time (the essay portion adds an extra 50 minutes to the test) and money (opting to take the essay costs an extra $12) but choosing to take the essay could look better on a transcript.

Counselor recommendation

Ms. Kathy Pivonka, director of guidance and college counselor, recommends students take the SAT with the essay. She said, “The recommendation I think most of the college counselors in this office would give is take at least one test, whether it’s the SAT or the ACT, with writing.”

Both the ACT and SAT essay focus on a piece of writing and analyzing argument. However, the SAT essay asks writers to analyze the opinion of the author while the ACT essay asks students to form their own opinion and support it with the text.

Essay not needed

Some students may feel that taking the essay when their top college doesn’t request it is unnecessary. Pivonka said, “There are some schools that will require it and some schools that won’t require it. For example, if you’re a junior who is taking the SAT or ACT you don’t know all the schools you are going to apply to yet.

“We don’t want students to wait until senior year and then find out they took (the SAT or ACT) without (an essay) only to see their Number-1 school requires it. Usually with the first round you take it, we (recommend you take the essay portion) so you have a score. It depends on what the school would like to see included in your test scores.”

On the other hand, junior Annie Bingle chose not to take the essay because it was her first time taking the SAT. Bingle said, “I took the SAT on Dec. 3 of last year. I chose not to take the essay because (it) was my first time taking the SAT and I didn’t want to overdo myself with stress.” Although choosing not to take the essay during your first SAT is common, Pivonka recommends students take the test with essay at least once while applying for college.

Why take the essay?

For senior Megan Wolcott, this is why she chose to take the SAT with the essay. “I took the essay because some of the colleges (I looked) at require it,” she said.

Pivonka shared her insight on why certain colleges require an essay score to be recorded and why some do not.

“I think that when it was required, (colleges) liked getting an extra writing sample from a student.

“Now that it’s optional, if they already have a sufficient writing portion like the (common application) or their specific application, they are getting enough adequate information from the student. The schools that tend to want that writing sample, (from the SAT or ACT), want a pure sample. Nobody helped the student with it, it wasn’t tweaked by a teacher or proofed by a counselor,” she said.

Pivonka and Bingle each had good things to say about the essay portion of the test.

Pivonka said, “If a school requires it and the student is a good writer, it can maybe offset the other scores especially in the English or reading areas, (in the opinion of the college, the essay portion of the SAT is scored separately from the rest of the test).

“It gives colleges an opportunity to see a sample of your writing. Also, I’ve heard that some colleges will give you a scholarship based on your essay,” Bingle said.

Honesty is key

However, like two sides to a coin, the essay portion of the test “could hurt the student if they aren’t true and honest on their application in their writing. If it’s not their own work, the SAT or ACT essay could show the difference. It’s almost a side note. Schools are going to focus first and foremost on the transcript, the grade trends, the rigor of coursework, more so than the test scores even though that is a very key point of the application process,” as Pivonka said.

Practice makes perfect

When asked if they had any advice for students taking the essay portion of the SAT, Pivonka, Bingle and Wolcott expressed similar answers.

Wolcott said, “I think students should read what the essay prompt is telling you and answer the question fully.” She said she felt prepared “because I knew what to expect due to the essay prompts we did in English class.”

Similarly, Bingle said, “I feel prepared to take the essay because my classes here have (helped me learn) to write in a timed situation like the SAT.”

Pivonka said, “Be aware of what schools are going to require it. If you don’t have a list together; don’t take a chance, make sure you have a score for the essay on your application.

“Be familiar with the format of the essay, which has changed over the years. It’s changed a little bit in what they expect. Be familiar about what the expectation is. I would say that about the entire test.”

The next opportunity for students to take the SAT with the essay will be on Mar. 11.