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 $15 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 from 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 some 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.
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.
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!).
Do Top Journalism, Humanities, and English Programs Require ACT Writing?
Some do, but there are quite a few notable exceptions to this. 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, tech schools also care about your writing ability.
Why Should You Care About ACT Writing?
Below, we've broken down by state and territory 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 list below), you still have the option to if you wish.
You can usually 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 as equally important to the other ACT sections, whereas others will give it less weight.
But the bottom line is this: a strong Writing score will almost always help you out. If you opt to take the test and score well on it, it could be a great way to enhance your application and give you an edge!
Fortunately, this is a real possibility because just like every other part of the ACT, the essay can be taught so that you can excel on it. So 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 2021, there are only 7 schools in the US that still require the ACT with Writing (or haven't clarified otherwise):
- Elizabeth City State University (NC)
- Molloy College (NY)
- Soka University of America (CA)
- United States Military Academy (West Point) (NY)
- University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (TX)
- University of Montana Western (MT)
- Wyoming Catholic College (WY)
However, while most schools no longer require the ACT Writing section, it's still recommended for many schools if you can do well on it.
Next, we have a comprehensive list of four-year universities broken down by state. The first colleges in each section are those that require the Writing ACT; these are then followed by schools that recommend it. Recommend 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.
To find your favorite schools, either scroll down to the state in which they're located or use ctrl+F to search for a specific school name.
Keep in mind that school requirements frequently change (especially with the recent rise in test-optional admissions, particularly due to COVID-19), so it's always a good idea to check with individual schools before you apply.
This data comes from the official ACT, Inc. website as well as from the schools themselves. The ACT website tends to say tests are required or recommended when a school's policy may vary, and you can always double-check with the school if you're unsure.
A * next to a school name indicates it is test-optional due to COVID-19 for students applying for admission for the fall 2021/spring 2022 semesters.
- Auburn University*
- Oakwood University
- Spring Hill College
- University of Alaska Fairbanks*
University of Arizona is the only school in AZ that still recommends students submit ACT with Writing scores
- California Lutheran University*
- California Polytechnic State University—San Luis Obispo*
- Chapman University*
- Holy Names University*
- Oak Valley College*
- Point Loma Nazarene University*
- Providence Christian College
- San Diego Christian College
- Scripps College*
- Thomas Aquinas College
Chapman University recommends students send in their ACT Writing scores (Tracie Hall/Flickr)
- Colorado School of Mines*
- Johnson & Wales University—Denver*
- University of Colorado—Colorado Springs*
- New England Baptist College
- Post University
- Trinity College—Connecticut*
- United States Coast Guard Academy
- University of Bridgeport*
- Delaware State University
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
- University of the District of Columbia
- Ave Maria University
- Bethune-Cookman University
- Florida A&M University
- Florida Atlantic University
- Florida Baptist College—Tampa
- Florida College
- Johnson & Wales University—North Miami*
- Palm Beach Atlantic University
- Reformation Bible College
- Webber International University
- Berry College*
- Covenant College*
- Fort Valley State University
- Morehouse College
- Oglethorpe University
- Toccoa Falls College
- University of West Georgia
Oglethorpe University still recommends students take the ACT with Writing. (Boston Public Library/Flickr)
- Hawaii Pacific University
- O.P. Jindal Global University
- University of Hawaii at Manoa*
- Boise Bible College
- New Saint Andrews College
- Benedictine University
- Christian Life College
- Columbia College Chicago
- East-West University
- Eastern Illinois University*
- Greenville College
- Lake Forest College
- Lincoln Christian University
- Methodist College of Nursing
- Southern Illinois University—Carbondale
- University of Illinois—Chicago*
View of the Loop from University of Illinois Chicago campus
- Franklin College*
- Holy Cross College*
- Huntington University
- Indiana State University
- Indiana University East*
- Indiana University Kokomo*
- Indiana University Southeast*
- Indiana University—Purdue University at Columbus
- Indiana Wesleyan University*
- Taylor University
- University of Evansville
- University of Indianapolis*
- University of Notre Dame*
- University of Southern Indiana*
- Valparaiso University*
- Wabash College*
University of Notre Dame
- Divine Word College
- Faith Baptist Bible College
- Grand View University
- Iowa Wesleyan University*
- Mercy College of Health Sciences
- Morningside College
- Barclay College
- Haskell Indian Nations University
- Kansas City College and Bible School
- McPherson College
- Campbellsville University
- Centre College*
- Northern Kentucky University*
- Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University
- Louisiana State University
- Loyola University New Orleans*
- Tulane University*
- Xavier University
You never know where Mike the Tiger is going to show up at LSU (Derek Jensen/Flickr)
- Husson University*
- Maine Maritime Academy*
- University of Maine at Fort Kent
- University of Maine*
- University of New England*
- University of Southern Maine
- Maryland Institute College of Art*
- Amherst College*
- Bard College at Simon's Rock*
- Bay Path University
- Becker College
- Bridgewater State University
- Elms College
- Emerson College
- Endicott College
- Lesley University
- Massachusetts College of Pharmacology and Health Sciences
- Massachusetts Maritime Academy*
- Northpoint Bible College
- Regis College
- Simmons University*
- UMass Boston
- Wentworth Institute of Technology
University of Michigan
- Andrews University
- Central Michigan University*
- Cleary University
- Concordia University—Ann Arbor
- Cornerstone University
- Grand Valley State University*
- Great Lakes Christian College
- Madonna University
- Sacred Heart Major Seminary
- Spring Arbor University
- Augsburg University
- Bethany Lutheran College
- Gustavus Adolphus College
- Hamline University
- Martin Luther College
- Baptist Bible College
- College of the Ozarks
- Drury University
- Missouri Baptist University
- St. Louis Christian College
- Webster University
- William Jewell College
- University of Montana Western*
- Carroll College
- Montana State University—Bozeman
- Montana State University—Northern
- Montana Tech of the University of Montana
- University of Montana*
- University of Providence
- Yellowstone Christian College
University of Montana wins most dramatic campus location
- Saint Gregory the Great Seminary
- Union College
- York College
- Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts
- New Hampshire Institute of Art
- Plymouth State University*
- Saint Anselm College*
- Caldwell University*
- Centenary College
- Rider University
- Rutgers—State University of New Jersey*
- University of the Southwest
- Molloy College
- United States Military Academy (West Point)
- Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
- Binghamton University—SUNY*
- Canisius College*
- Cooper Union*
- Culinary Institute of America
- Dominican College
- Farmingdale State College
- Hobart and William Smith Colleges
- Iona College
- King's College
- List College—Jewish Theological Seminary*
- Mercy College
- Morrisville State College (SUNY)
- New York Institute of Technology*
- Parsons The New School for Design
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)*
- Rochester Institute of Technology
- St. John's University
- SUNY College at Buffalo*
- SUNY College at Old Westbury
- Stony Brook University—SUNY*
- Touro College
- University at Buffalo—SUNY*
- Webb Institute of Naval Architecture*
- Wells College
- Elizabeth City State University
- Barber-Scotia College
- Bennett College
- Davidson College*
- East Carolina University*
- Grace Baptist Bible College
- Mars Hill University
- North Carolina State University at Raleigh*
- North Carolina Wesleyan College
- Salem College
- Queens University of Charlotte
- University of North Carolina at Pembroke
- Dickinson State University
- Mayville State University
- Trinity Bible College
Bowling Green State University is one of several schools in Ohio that still recommend students take the ACT Writing (Tim/Flickr)
- Allegheny Wesleyan College
- Bowling Green State University
- Cedarville University
- Cleveland Institute of Music
- College of Wooster
- Columbus College of Art and Design
- Heidelberg University
- John Carroll University*
- Miami University—Middletown
- Mount St. Joseph University
- Ohio University—Athens*
- Ohio Wesleyan University
- University of Rio Grande
- University of Toledo
- Walsh University
- Wilberforce University
- East Central University
- Oklahoma Wesleyan University
- Randall University
- Spartan School of Aeronautics
I wonder if you can still send this in?
- Corban University
- Western Oregon University
- Willamette University
- Bryn Athyn College*
- Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
- Delaware Valley University
- Elizabethtown College*
- Gettysburg College
- Lehigh University*
- Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania*
- Lycoming College*
- Messiah College
- Millersville University of Pennsylvania*
- Muhlenberg College
- Rosemont College
- Saint Francis University
- Seton Hill University
- Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
- Waynesburg University
May Day at Bryn Mawr
- Johnson & Wales University—Providence
- Rhode Island School of Design
- American College of the Building Arts
- Charleston Southern University
- Coastal Carolina University
- College of Charleston
- Furman University
- Lander University
- North Greenville University
- South Carolina State University
- University of South Carolina—Aiken
- Voorhees College
- Black Hills State University
- Bethel University
- Carson-Newman University
- Cumberland University
- Fisk University
- Lincoln Memorial University*
- Martin Methodist College
- Tennessee State University
- University of the South
- University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
- Abilene Christian University
- Arlington Baptist College
- Art Institute of Houston
- Austin College
- Dallas Christian College
- Hardin-Simmons University*
- Huston-Tillotson University
- Jarvis Christian College
- McMurry University
- Messenger College
- Mexican American Catholic College
- North American University
- St. Edward's University
- Texas College
- Texas Independent Baptist School
- Texas Southern University
- Texas State University*
- University of Houston—Main Campus*
- University of Houston—Victoria*
- University of the Incarnate Word*
- University of North Texas*
- University of Texas at San Antonio*
- University of Texas at Tyler*
- Brigham Young University*
- Neumont College of Computer Science
- Westminster College*
- Northern Vermont University
- Saint Michael's College
- University of Vermont*
- Vermont Technical College
- Hartland College
- Hollins University
- Old Dominion University
- Radford University
- Randolph College
- Randolph-Macon College
- University of Mary Washington
- DigiPen Institute of Technology
- Eastern Washington University*
- Saint Martin's University
- Seattle Pacific University
- Seattle University
- Bluefield State College*
- West Virginia University*
Very dramatic, West Virginia
- Cardinal Stritch University
- Carroll University*
- Marquette University
- Saint Norbert College*
- Wyoming Catholic College
- University of the Virgin Islands
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.