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Harvard drops the requirement for SAT Subjects Tests. What you should do for Harvard and other schools, too.

Uploaded: Jun 11, 2014
Harvard made college news last month when they announced that SAT Subject Tests would no longer be required. If you are a low income or first generation college applicant this is good news. It shows that Harvard is part of a trend at elite colleges to evaluate you beyond test scores. Where Harvard goes, others soon follow.

If you are a high income or a multi-generational college applicant it means business as usual.

But let's be clear-- the change is to help students who really can't take the test, not to help those who can easily get tutored and can easily take the test.
My advice (and for most things "suggested" but not "required"): If you can't afford the test fee, your high school doesn't offer them, or you're competing at the Olympics on test day, fine, skip the tests, otherwise hunker down with your number 2 pencil and take the tests.

Stanford makes the SAT Subject Tests "recommended." I'd love to hear from someone from a top high school who was admitted and didn't send them.
The UC's made big news several years ago when they dropped the SAT Subject Test requirement, however if you read the proverbial small print, the highly competitive engineering programs at Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, Irvine, and Riverside "recommend" you take the Math II and a science subject test. Santa Barbara engineering recommends the Math II subject test. For the complete list of UC recommended Subject Tests for all majors and schools, visit the UC website here:

If you are applying to a UC in a major or school not recommending the Subject tests, send them anyway if they are good (over 700). They may make a difference, they may not, but as with all things UC, more is better.

If you are thinking about applying to highly selective schools that require or recommend the SAT Subject Tests such as MIT and Pomona, then visit their websites and learn their requirements. MIT wants one Math and one science. Pomona wants two in unrelated fields.

Caution: Don't send the test to schools until you are ready to apply to college. If you take a test after freshman or sophomore year, even though the College Board gives you four free schools, you should wait. You may decide to re-take it, or take different tests altogether.

Do you ever wonder why the college test standards for the top notch Peninsula high schools seem a lot higher than the standards for less rigorous high schools?
Elite colleges can get as many brilliant students from affluent zip codes as they want. What they haven't figured out is how to find the brilliant students from everywhere else. SAT scores are so closely tied to family income and wealth that the scores can't always help schools find who they want and need. Colleges are now focused on solving what they see as the problem of "undermatching" -- when bright students who are low income or would be first generation college students don't apply to elite schools even though they could get in and receive ample financial aid.

For example, several decades ago, Harvard got the son of a wealthy Seattle lawyer, Bill Gates, but they didn't get the son of a Pennsylvania farmer who went to a 2 year technical school. The farm boy, Pat Gelsinger, went on to design the Intel chips Gates' software ran on and now is CEO of VMware. There are a lot of smart farm boys who could teach the Harvard legacy or prep school kids a thing or two.

The thinking at the elite schools is that if you're headed to Harvard you're most likely going to be a leader in your community or your profession and you'll be more well-rounded and do a much better job if you've actually talked to and learned from people who are not like you. Take Seattle Seahawks trash talking cornerback and Stanford grad Richard Sherman, a high school high achiever from Compton whose background is what colleges are looking for. Sherman's very presence on campus speaks volumes and gives hope to other serious students from towns low on the economic spectrum. And if he was as loquacious in class as he was after the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, it would have been great fun to get into a verbal sparring match with him in class. I've got to believe he's not the only kid from a place like Compton who can handle the Stanford curriculum and enrich the campus and not just at Stanford Stadium on Saturdays.

Silicon Valley students have to continue to demonstrate test taking excellence if they decide to enter the sweepstakes for the Ivy League and other elite schools. And those lucky enough to be accepted should hope the elite schools can find more high achieving students from places like Compton and discover some talented farm-boys. Colleges will be changing the lives of the currently "undermatched" kids and those students will be enriching the lives and college experiences of the entire student body.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by MIT alum, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 12, 2014 at 7:48 am

I'm not sure how to take this. MIT was the only place my brother applied for grad school BECAUSE they stopped requiring the GED. To him, that was the tie-breaker. Although he had a straight-A MIT undergrad average, they aren't necessarily keen on filling the graduate spots with all their own.(He got in, got his PhD there and is doing quite well.)

I also got into Cal, MIT, and Michigan for engineering grad school, and took the GEDs but did not take them seriously or do well in the English. The only other school to which I applied, Stanford, rejected me, saying specifically to me as feedback that my English GEDs were way too low. My undergrad MIT advisor put me in the top 1% of students he had ever met in his career. Unfortunately I satisfied most of my undergrad writing requirement there in 3 foreign languages and took only one humanities requirement in English, perhaps partly explaining the test score. I don't think where I was from ever came up but I was from a poor high school district and only second generation to go to college.

Are you saying things really havent changed at Stanford, that this is more lip service to ideals they would love to espouse but can't? Because if I'm a high performing student coming from a disadvantaged background, I don't want to be treated like a charity case. It meant something to me that I wasn't given preferences in undergrad admissions as a woman.
What you are saying seems to be: We're changing our admissions policies at Stanford *

*but not really.

(Spelling thx to my ipad, not my education)

Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jun 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

Inspired by the World Cup, I handed out a number of yellow cards to our posters for unsportsmanlike behavior and removed their posts. I love a robust debate, but not when it gets personal. Play on.

Posted by MIT alum, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 14, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Where's my first post, which was relevant to the discussion, and not at all unsportsmanlike? Unlike at the World Cup, you didnt react very quickly when I got piled on, only when I defended myself....

Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jun 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

Just so no one is confused. MIT does require SAT Subject Tests for undergraduate admission. http://mitadmissions.org/apply/freshman/tests

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jun 15, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Re MIT'lum, is your iPad confusing GRE with GED?

Posted by MIT alum, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 16, 2014 at 6:58 am

I actually mea culpa'd about that already - also rather nicely, and in response to someone noting it less snarkily than you just did - but both were deleted.

I'm not fond of overly analyzing things, but in this case, my disregard for the tests - 3 letters, begins with G, whatever - apparently continues to this day.

I don't think any aspect of those standardized tests measures anything about the most important aspects of my education at MIT. I appreciated especially that MIT placed such a low emphasis on memorization - virtually all tests, at least in my areas, were open book - and such a high emphasis on problem-solving (despite the open book, the tests were generally challenging for all).

After doing masters level work for an undergrad thesis (or so my advisors said), with all the knowledge and experience gained from that, it frankly felt insulting that my record would be viewed through the lens of those standardized tests. I was not interested in jumping through those hoops, I was spending my time doing further work and publishing. Maybe places that want the test results want students who can do both, including the standardized tests, but by that stage, there was something all too sycophantish about it and I just really didn't care.

As noted above by our bloggers, the undergrad SAT is different than the GRE, and a little hoop jumping is probably worth it if need be. However, I am disappointed to hear that Harvard is leading MIT in dropping the subject tests (if it really, truly is an honest drop).

Posted by pfed, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 17, 2014 at 11:22 am

Thanks for this helpful analysis.

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