You've just signed up for the ACT. But did you know that there is an optional Writing test for the ACT? More importantly, do you know if your dream schools require or recommend this ACT section?
Check out our regularly updated list of schools to find out if the Writing ACT is worth your time and money. We'll then give you our top tips for acing the ACT Writing section.
What Is the ACT Writing Test?
The ACT Writing test is an optional essay test you can take immediately after the other sections of the ACT. It costs an additional $25 and 40 minutes of your time. It's available to take after the ACT on all national testing dates in the USA.
Keep in mind when deciding to take it or not that you cannot just take the ACT Writing test on its own—you can only take this section after suitably exhausted after taking all the other ACT sections!
The writing test is meant to measure the writing skills you should have learned in your English classes throughout high school. It also claims to be a measure of how you might do in entry-level composition classes in college.
So, what exactly is the test like? First, you'll be given a prompt that tells you about an issue. You will also be presented with three possible points of view on this topic. You then must write an essay on your point of view. You can either borrow and elaborate on one of the ones provided, or offer up a fourth viewpoint. (Sound tough? See this article for top ACT Essay strategies.)
Your ACT Writing score (which is scored on a scale of 2-12) is not part of your composite ACT score (out of 36), which consists only of your English, Math, Reading, and Science scores. Instead, your essay score is used alongside your English and Reading scores to give you what is called an English Language Arts (ELA) score.
Read our guide for a full breakdown of how the ACT is scored.
Why Do Some Schools Require ACT Writing?
You might be surprised to learn that most schools don't require the ACT Writing test! In recent years many schools that previously required ACT Writing have opted to make the section optional or not even review it at all if students choose to take it. This became especially true after the SAT discontinued its essay section in 2021.
However, those schools that do require it think they have a pretty good reason to do so. These schools think that your essay score, combined with your English and Reading ACT scores, can help them understand your grasp of English and your ability to produce a sample of writing under pressure.
This is quite a different skill compared to what they see when you submit your personal statement and other essays in your applications. They are assuming that those have been proofread by 50 of your closest friends and family members, and that they have been heavily edited and reviewed for hours on end.
So while your personal statement is more like a heavily photoshopped selfie in flattering lighting, ACT Writing is more like a candid snapshot of your writing abilities.
Your writing is kind of like a selfie, if a selfie was just words.
Specifically, these colleges want to get a better idea of your reasoning skills and your ability to defend a point of view. Can you write logically and coherently? Can you use proper sentence structure without Microsoft Word telling you what you've done wrong? The Writing Test is your chance to prove you have all these skills.
Apart from your application, the combined English Language Arts score has another use for many schools. For example, colleges might use your score to help place you in different levels of English classes. So this could potentially save you the trouble of having to take a placement test once you arrive at college in the fall!
What Kind of Colleges Require ACT Writing?
Now then, what colleges actually require ACT Writing? The answer to this question might surprise you! Read on to learn which schools require the Writing section of the ACT—and which don't.
Fact Check: Most Top Schools Don't Require ACT Writing
Perhaps surprisingly, most top-ranked colleges and universities do not require ACT Writing. In recent years, many top schools, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, and Brown have stopped requiring the ACT Writing test. Currently, none of the Ivy Leagues require ACT Writing.
Many top public colleges, including the University of Michigan, and University of Texas, have also stopped requiring ACT Writing (and the UC schools have stopped requiring test scores altogether!).
You'll have to write your essay, but no red ink allowed!
Do Top Journalism, Humanities, and English Programs Require ACT Writing?
Not really. Pepperdine and George Washington University, which are known as great journalism schools, do not require ACT Writing.
Similarly, Georgetown and the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts offer great English degrees and do not require the ACT with Writing.
Hamilton College in New York, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Iowa, and Colorado College all have great writing programs and do not require the Writing ACT.
Several well-known, smaller liberal arts colleges do not require (although they might recommend) the ACT with Writing; these include Amherst, Wellesley, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, Pomona, Haverford, and Davidson College.
Finally, the University of Chicago is great all around for humanities and does not require it.
Do Top Technical/Math/Science Schools Require ACT Writing?
As you might expect, most of the top tech/math/science schools don't require the ACT Writing, including Caltech, MIT and the University of Michigan.
Yes, STEM programs also care about your writing ability.
Why Should You Care About ACT Writing?
Below, we list every college that either requires or recommends the ACT Plus Writing.
Keep in mind that although you don't have to take the ACT with Writing (unless you want to apply to a college on the first list below), you still have the option to if you wish.
You can still submit the Writing test to colleges even if they don't require it. By doing this, you allow them to consider your essay along with the rest of your application. Some schools will treat ACT Writing equally important as the other ACT sections, whereas others will give it less weight or not consider it at all. But the bottom line is this: a strong Writing score will often help you out. If you opt to take the test and score well on it, it could be a way to enhance your application and give you an edge!
If you're thinking of taking the ACT Plus Writing, either because you have to or because you just want that extra bright point in your application, it is definitely worth your time to study and practice so that you can master the ACT Essay.
Another point: you might change your mind about what colleges you want to apply to, and that is another reason it's a good idea to take the ACT Plus Writing. If your plans change, you don't want to have to retake the whole ACT just because you didn't think ahead!
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Full List of Colleges That Require ACT Writing
As of 2023, there are only 3 schools in the US that still require the ACT with Writing (or haven't clarified otherwise):
- Martin Luther College (MN)
- Soka University of America (CA)
- United States Military Academy (West Point) (NY)
If you apply to any of these schools, you must take the ACT with Writing, otherwise your application won't be considered complete, and it won't be reviewed.
Full List of Colleges That Recommend ACT Writing
While few schools still require the ACT Writing section, it's still recommended for some schools. Note that when a college recommends ACT Writing, they're explicitly stating that a high score on your essay will give a decent boost to your college application and is a piece of information they appreciate seeing from applicants. This is different from schools that simply accept ACT Writing scores.
If a school accepts ACT Writing, that means they'll review your essay score if you take and send it. However, it's not something they're hugely interested in, and it may not have much or any impact on your application, even if your score is particularly high or low.
Recommending ACT Writing means that the college doesn't require it, but that scoring well on it will improve the strength of your application and help you reach equal footing with other applicants who do take it.
Many more schools used to recommend ACT Writing, but with the recent rise in test-optional admissions, as well as the SAT ending its essay section, almost no schools explicitly recommend it. Currently, most schools will view your ACT Writing scores if you send them, but it won't at all be an important part of your application.
Currently, four schools specifically state on their website that they recommend taking ACT Writing:
- Colorado School of Mines (CO)
- Bethune-Cookman University (FL)
- Morehouse College (GA)
- Molloy College (NY)
You can still get accepted into any of these schools if you don't take ACT Writing, but taking the essay can give your application a boost. If you're concerned about your chances of getting into one of these schools, a high ACT Essay score will give you a bit of an extra edge over the competition.
These policies can change at any time and, additionally, many schools aren't particularly clear how/if they review ACT Writing scores. If there's a school you're particularly interested in, check their admissions page (usually under "standardized test policies" or something similar) to see if they state their policy on ACT Writing. If they don't, a quick email or phone call to the school's admissions office will clear the issue up and help you decide if you should take the ACT Writing section or not.
Now that you know whether you need to take ACT Writing, make sure you do well on it. Learn the prompts that ACT Writing tests, 15 strategies to improve your ACT Writing score, and how to get a 12 on the essay.
For top strategies for scoring a 36 on ACT English, check out this article.
Don't forget the rest of the test—here are tips for getting a perfect ACT score, by a 36 full scorer.
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Mary Ann holds a BA in Classics and Russian from the University of Notre Dame, and an MA from University College London. She has years of tutoring experience and is also passionate about travel and learning languages.