studying for college admissions exam

SAT Subject Tests and Top-Tier College Admissions

The most highly selective colleges and universities review far too many academically outstanding applicants to admit all but a small fraction of them to the freshman class. As a result, most admissions decisions are made on the basis of tiebreakers. These are factors such as essays, recommendations, internships, summer jobs, demonstrated interest, legacy status, extracurricular activities, and extraordinary talents. Even an impressive campus interview can make a difference.

Your target school may not require SAT Subject Test scores, but if you aspire to attend a highly selective institution, remember that when the final selections are being made, admissions officers need reasons to choose you over other well qualified applicants. Strong Subject Test scores may be the factor that gets you over the threshold.

In contrast to the SAT exam itself, which measures the depth and breadth of knowledge in English and Math, SAT Subject Tests focus only on specific subjects. They’re the only national admission tests in which the student can exercise discretion in choosing to take only those tests that best exhibit their strengths.

There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics, and Science. Each Subject Test is one hour long. All questions are multiple choice and are scored on a 200–800 scale.

Table A lists the SAT Subject Test policies for top-tier institutions of various types. In the right-hand column, a category summarizes the SAT policy for each institution as being Required, Recommended, or Considered. The terms are defined below.

  • Required– Students must submit SAT Subject Test scores as required by the institution.
  • Recommended– This policy leaves it up to the student whether to take Subject Tests and, if taken, whether to submit scores. If you achieve high scores, then submitting them will be beneficial. Because the Subject Tests are recommended, admissions offices will at least credit you for taking on an extra challenge and demonstrating subject knowledge.
  • Considered- These colleges don’t expect Subject Test scores to be submitted but, if they are, they will consider them as a factor in admissions. If you have a genuine interest in a particular subject and it’s relevant to your educational goals, it may enhance your application to send strong Subject Test scores.

Table A: The SAT Subject Test Policies Of Top-Tier Institutions

Institution Category
Amherst College Required (2)
Babson College Considered
Barnard College Required (2)
Boston College Considered
Boston University Considered
Bowdoin College Considered
Brown University Required (2)
Bryn Mawr Recommended
Bucknell University Considered
California Institute of Technology Required (2)
Carleton College Recommended
Carnegie Mellon University Required (2)
Case Western Reserve University Considered
Claremont McKenna Considered
Columbia University Required (2)
Connecticut College Considered
Cooper Union Required (2)
Cornell University Required
Dartmouth College Required (2)
Davidson College Recommended
Duke University Required (2)
Emory University Recommended
George Washington University Recommended (2)
Georgetown University Recommended (3)
Harvard College Required (2)
Harvey Mudd College Required (2)
Haverford College Required (2)
Holy Cross Considered
Ithaca College Considered
Johns Hopkins University Recommended (2)
Kenyon College Considered
Lafayette College Recommended
Lehigh University Recommended
Macalester College Considered
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Required (2)
McGill University Required (2)
Mills College Considered
Northwestern University Recommended
Oberlin College Considered
Pomona College Required (2)
Pratt Institute Recommended
Princeton University Recommended (2)
Randolph-Macon College Considered
Reed College Considered
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Considered
Rice University Required (2)
Scripps College Considered
Smith College Considered
Stanford University Recommended
Swarthmore College Required (2)
Tufts University Required (2)
Union College Considered
University of California, Berkeley Recommended
University of California, Davis Considered
University of California, Irvine Recommended
University of California, Los Angeles Recommended
University of California, Merced Considered
University of California, Riverside Recommended
University of California, San Diego Recommended
University of California, Santa Barbara Recommended
University of California, Santa Cruz Considered
University of Chicago Considered
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Considered
University of Notre Dame Considered
University of Pennsylvania Required (2)
University of Southern California Recommended
University of Virginia Recommended
Vanderbilt University Considered
Vassar College Required (2)
Wake Forest University Considered
Washington and Lee University Recommended (2)
Washington University in St. Louis Considered
Wellesley College Required (2)
Wesleyan University Considered
William & Mary Recommended
Williams College Required (2)
Yale University Required (2)

Be sure to go to the websites of each university to which you’re applying to check the SAT Subject Test requirements for your targeted schools and to confirm that the policies listed in Table A are still correct. You need to know all of the information that applies to you, to your planned major, and to the specific tests that you need to take. Also note that there are institutions that accept the ACT + Writing in lieu of the SAT and Subject Tests. In other words, you can submit the SAT + 2 Subject Tests or the ACT + Writing in some cases.

SAT Subject Tests are given six times annually on the same days and in the same test centers as the SAT — but not all 20 tests are offered on every SAT date. The Language tests with listening are only offered in November. You can take one, two, or three Subject Tests on one test date. You cannot take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests on the same day because the times conflict. You select the tests that you will take when you register. On test day, you can add, subtract, or switch tests, with some limitations.

Your IvySelect college admissions consultant will advise you on your decision to take unrequired Subject Tests and whether to submit the scores that you obtain. Our private counselors are experts on the best approach to all of the tiebreaking factors. We position you and your profile to assure that admissions offices will perceive you in a positive light and a worthy addition to their student body.