SAT subject tests are NOT truly optional for middle/upper middle class applicants at elite colleges!

I just wanted to post this because I have seen quite a few profiles of kids from upper middle class backgrounds, with top grades and scores applying to the ivies and other elites without having taken the subject tests because they think they are optional.

The subject tests are not really optional for such kids. The tests are truly optional only for kids from low income, very underprivileged backgrounds.

If you come from a middle class or above background and want to have a decent chance at these types of schools, please do not neglect to take subject tests.


I agree completely. According to what has been said at our (high income/high performing) school, sat 2 is required. They name it recommended as to not deter lower income/performing high schools students who may have not been told the sat2 is a ‘thing’.

That is what we tell students who ask out here.

It isn’t just a necessity to take them, though, you have to do well. Kids I know who do SAT2s and have less than mediocre scores don’t really get the message that this is not better than none at all. It is more like a sign to take note of.

@Sybylla absolutely, this is definitely true. But it is especially frustrating to see kids with great SAT scores and strong profiles who could probably have scored very well on the subject tests, mess up their chances because they didn’t get the memo.

Yes, this is what our college counselor said last year to the whole class. “It’s not optional for YOU.”

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I’ve posted the following numerous times on this site, but it bears repeating:

While Subject Tests are “recommended,” my belief is the reason many schools have switched to “recommended” is that some applicants from a lower socioeconomic status (SES) can’t afford more tests and/or the applicants attend a HS where no students apply to colleges where Subject Tests are requested, and therefore, may not have received the best advice from a GC.

If that does not apply to you, I am of the opinion that colleges at the top tier who request Subject Tests are expecting them from all other applicants. Although everyone will have a story about someone who was admitted without Subject Tests, my view in these cases is that there was probably more to the story (e.g. seriously hooked or lower SES).

Along the same lines, I am a believer in sending either zero or two (or more than 2 depending), Submitting one, in my mind, looks as though the applicant is trying to hide a score since nobody (OK maybe a very small percentage) takes just one Subject Test.

Please tell me this is not the case at other than elite colleges? I don’t think I can handle more test-taking in this household. Kid is aiming for general publics/LACs, def. not top-tier.

Very very few colleges recommend/require Subject Tests, and those that do state so on the websites. Generally, Subject Tests fall into 4 categories in the admissions process.
• Required
• Recommended
• Considered
• None of the above.

Required is self-explanatory. Recommended is what is discussed on this thread. Considered is truly optional - if the scores are great, it can help and certainly won’t hurt.

Almost all publics (except as examples top UC’s and UGA don’t consider them and do not want them). Many LAC’s (but not all) will consider them. If your kid’s list does not have schools that require/request, then don’t worry about it.

Not that even for colleges that do not require/recommend Subject Tests, there are some uses. As an example, if the colleges has a foreign language requirement for graduation, a high enough score on the Subject Test may exempt them from the requirement. Of course, that colleges generally also have free placement test which accomplish the same thing.

@Gatormama Just look at the CDS for admission criteria. The vast majority of state schools/LACs do not use subject tests. The only reason for subject tests are additional data points for adcoms at elite colleges, or evidence of subject mastery at some foreign schools.

Phew. Thanks.

Some UCs recommend SAT subject tests for certain majors or divisions (mainly engineering or science) but not others:

I don’t agree. Many colleges have now stated on their websites that these tests will no longer even be considered. Read the website and verify with the admin office for every school. Dont pay college board any more than you have to.

OP, your post is what I tell many of my students. In the area where I live, many students are aiming high. Another thing to consider: if all the competition submits them, and you don’t, you have just weakened your app. Again, this refers to schools as detailed by @skieurope .

While you may not need them for admissions, FL subject tests are used by some schools for language placement. This can be a worthwhile one to take, even at the end of senior year, particularly if your college has an FL requirement. Worth doing the research to see if it could help you in your college.

I have a question- is this also the case for students from public high schools that aren’t very wealthy or good or competitive? If necessary I know that my family could afford to pay another 50 dollars for a test, but I didn’t even know these existed until I saw them listed on the sign up for test registration, and I didn’t know what they were for. Nobody in my school takes these- I mean literally nobody. We just assume they’re for rich smart kids applying to Princeton, and our guidance counselors never mentioned them to us. Also a whole lot of kids in my school get fee waivers (though I don’t) for the SAT and they probably wouldn’t get them for the SAT subject tests so maybe that’s why they don’t tell us about them.

Excellent PSA, @Penn95.

@stressedgirl21 read skieurope’s posts on this thread. Schedule a meeting with your counselor and discuss which subject tests you might do well in. If you are aiming high and and are not hooked, you should consider taking two subject tests, especially if you are not taking any AP clases or tests.

@stressedgirl21 I answered your question in post #6.

“Recommended” instead of “required” is meant to cover students in high schools like yours where students tend not to be told about SAT subject tests until it is too late.

It is the students in upper middle class to wealthy district schools or private prep schools which have college-admission-express trains running starting in 11th grade or earlier, where students are advised of all of the usual requirements and recommendations early enough that they can plan for them without as much time pressure, who should treat “recommended” as “required”.