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Editorials

Against Standardized Writing

The College is right to no longer require standardized test essays from applicants

By The Crimson Editorial Board

Each year, millions of hopeful students across the globe sharpen their No. 2 pencils and arrive at approved testing centers to sit for the ACT or SAT. Though all will emerge with scores assessing their mathematical ability and critical reading skills, only some will opt to also write the optional essay portion of the standardized test. And on March 19, the College announced that its applicants would no longer be required to submit the scores from that essay.

We are pleased that Harvard has decided to join the vast majority of colleges across the country and drop the SAT and ACT essay from application requirements. We believe that this decision will heighten the integrity of the admissions process while making Harvard accessible to a broader range of students, and we look forward to witnessing the impact that this will have on future Harvard classes.

In the past, we have repeatedly and strongly condemned the practice of standardized testing and the SAT in particular, for myriad reasons. However, we believe that the essay is perhaps even more variable than the other sections of the exam. While all test scores inevitably depend on a student’s mindset on testing day, the essay portion depends disproportionately on prior knowledge and is not an accurate predictor of writing success in college. This is even more true at colleges such as Harvard, where first-years must fulfill a mandatory writing requirement. The SAT functioned for decades without an essay component until 2005—we are glad that future Harvard applicants will no longer be forced to submit a score that is wont to misrepresent their ability.

Similarly, the essay’s fee was an unnecessary financial burden. Though fee waivers are available for domestic students who meet certain financial criteria, the fee still represents a barrier to others who fall just outside of this criteria. Furthermore, international students do not qualify for fee waivers unless they take the test on U.S. soil, unfairly disqualifying potential Harvard applicants who are unable to pay the additional cost.

In part as an effort to ensure that all applicants have equal opportunity to represent themselves well in the admissions process, we urge Harvard to carefully consider how it can ensure the integrity of students’ application essays now that this piece of writing is no longer required. In addition to their SAT or ACT essay scores, students are able to submit two additional essays in the Harvard application. The sad reality is that these essays are pitifully easy to fabricate—students with adequate resources presumably have no trouble submitting essays that they did not write, and Harvard ought to put in every effort to ensure that the applications that it accepts are truly representative of the applicants’ talents.

It is vital that, with this change, Harvard be transparent about whether or not students who submit their essay scores will be given any preference in the admissions process. Though the supplemental essay is billed as optional, many students feel that they will not be seriously considered unless they submit it. Especially in light of the aforementioned concerns around financial accessibility, Harvard should dispel these fears and genuinely disregard the essay score as an application component.

While we are glad that Harvard will join the more than 98 percent of colleges and universities in the United States that do not require these essay scores, we hope that the 28 remaining schools who still require the exam will soon make a similar change in admissions policy. The college application process is a stressful and challenging time, and any practice that will improve the accessibility of higher education as well as the truthfulness of the applications themselves ought to be a common one.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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