Are your sights set on the Ivy League or other top universities? As you're well aware, these institutions are the most selective in the country. Because of this, you want to carefully craft every aspect of your application so it's as strong as it can possibly be.
Let's look at one particular part of your application - your SAT Subject Test scores. In this article, I'll go over the Subject Test requirements and expectations of top schools, as well as offer some advice on how to balance these tests with everything else you've got going on in your busy life.
Subject Test Requirements
Let's take a look at the eight Ivy League schools - Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale - along with some other top schools, like Duke, Georgetown, MIT, Stanford, and University of Chicago. All of these schools recommend or require two SAT Subject Tests with the exception of Georgetown, which asks for three.
Harvard has recently suggested that the Subject Tests are optional, saying, "While we normally require two SAT Subject Tests, you may apply without them if the cost of the tests represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have your application considered without them." Stanford similarly recommends, but does not require the Subject Tests.
Even though Harvard and Stanford suggest you may opt out, I would strongly recommend that you still take them and send your scores. If they present a financial barrier, then definitely speak with admissions officers and get their advice, along with exploring your options for fee waivers.
The only school on this list that does not emphasize the SAT Subject Tests is the University of Chicago. Their policy states, "If you have done exceptionally well on a particular subject test and would like to show us, feel free to send us that score. However, SAT II's are truly optional, and not sending us Subject Tests will not hurt your application."
Check out the Subject Test requirements and special instructions of these top schools here.
Note: The column "ACT Replace Subject Tests?" means that this school accepts the ACT + Writing in lieu of SAT + 2 Subject Tests. In other words, you can submit the ACT + Writing and not have to worry about the Subject Tests. If this space is blank, that means you need to send in the # of Subject Tests required, regardless of whether you take the SAT or ACT.
|College||# of Subject Tests Required||ACT Replace Subject Tests?||Special Notes from the School||Link to Admissions Requirements|
|Brown University||2||Yes||Liberal Medical Education Applicants should submit at least 1 science Subject Test||Brown Admissions|
|Columbia University||2||Yes||Students who choose to take the ACT may submit Subject Test scores for consideration if they wish. Students may take any 2 Subject Tests for Columbia College; for Columbia Engineering, students must take a) either Math 1 or Math 2; and b) one of the following: Biology, Physics or Chemistry.||Columbia Admissions|
|Cornell University||Varies by program||Additional Requirements: 0, 1, or 2 Subject Tests depending on the college.||Cornell Admissions|
|Dartmouth College||2||Dartmouth Admissions|
|Duke||2||Yes||Applicants to the Pratt School of Engineering who take the SAT must take one SAT Subject Test in Mathematics (level 1 or level 2). Applicants to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences who take the SAT may take any two SAT Subject Tests.||Duke Admissions|
|Harvard College||2||While we normally require two SAT Subject Tests, you may apply without them if the cost of taking the tests represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have your application considered without them...If your first language is not English, a Subject Test in your first language may be less helpful.||Harvard Admissions|
|MIT||2||One Subject Test in math and one in science (biology, chemistry, or physics)||MIT Admissions|
|Princeton University||2||2 SAT Subject Tests (Engineering candidates are advised to take a math Subject Test and either chemistry or physics. More than two Subject Test Scores will be considered if submitted, with greatest weight given to the two strongest scores.||Princeton Admissions|
|Stanford||2||We recommend (but do not require) that you submit official results of at least two SAT Subject Tests, as these additional scores often assist us in our evaluation process. You are welcome to submit any and all SAT Subject Tests you have completed. We do not have a preference for the specific SAT Subject Tests you elect to take. However, if you elect to take a math test, we do prefer to see the Math Level 2 test if you feel that your math background has adequately prepared you for this test.||Stanford Admissions|
|University of Chicago||0||If you have done exceptionally well on a particular subject test and would like to show us, feel free to send us that score. However, SAT II’s are truly optional, and not sending us Subject Tests will not hurt your application.||UChicago Admissions|
|University of Pennsylvania||2||Yes||Wharton Applicants: We recommend Math Level 2 SAT Subject Test and another subject test of your choice
Engineering Applicants: We recommend Math Level 2 SAT Subject Test and a Science SAT Subject Test (preferably physics)
Science Related Programs: It is recommended you take a Science SAT Subject Test and another subject test of your choice
College of Arts and Sciences: Any two SAT Subject Tests
|Yale University||2||Yes||Yale Admissions|
Until recently, most of these schools required three subject tests. Now, Georgetown is the last one standing with this rather high stakes expectation.
Note that if you're taking the ACT instead of the SAT, then you may not have to send SAT Subject Test scores at all. But if you do have to send two or three tests, which ones should you take?
Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Which Subject Tests Should You Take?
Most Ivy League schools don't have a definitive requirement for exactly which subject tests you should take. However, some have suggested that they prefer to see a range of knowledge, such as pairing a humanities or social studies test (literature or history) with a math or science test. Ivy League schools are looking for well-rounded students who excel in a variety of subject areas.
At the same time, the choice is largely up to you. The subject tests are your chance to demonstrate subject mastery, as well as to express your interests and academic potential in a particular subject area. Therefore if you've indicated a major, then you should take and score highly in the corresponding Subject Test.
Just as with the rest of your application, your choice of Subject Test can communicate something about your interests and future goals. It may also be an opportunity to strengthen an area where you wish your course grade or AP exam score were higher.
The language tests can also be a valuable indicator of your language skills, which admissions officers appreciate in our increasingly globalized world. If you can present a strong language score, then you can showcase your multilingualism, and maybe even advance to higher levels of language courses once you arrive at school. However, Harvard warns against taking a Subject Test in your first language if it's not English. A score in another subject would be more helpful to indicate your academic potential.
Schools with an engineering or technical focus, like MIT and California Institute of Technology, require math and science tests.
MIT says students must take one math test, Level I or Level II, and one science test, Biology, Chemistry, or Physics. CalTech also wants one math and one science, but will only accept Math Level II.
For more considerations when choosing the best Subject Tests for you, check out our expert guide, Which Subject Tests Should You Take? Once you've decided on your Subject Tests, what scores should you aim for?
What's a Good SAT Subject Test Score for the Ivy League?
Selective schools often don't publicize a cut-off for test scores, instead insisting they take a holistic approach to your application and consider all parts in the context of the greater whole. However, as you know, there are many more qualified candidates than there are spaces at these schools. With this in mind, you want your application to be exceptional and stand out as particularly strong and unique.
MIT has said that its admitted students score between 720 and 800 on a science test.
Princeton shared that students score between 710 and 790 on the Subject Tests.
Selective institutions expect to see scores in the 700s, usually in the upper half of the 700s. For a further breakdown of how scores translate to percentiles, check out our article on, What's a Good SAT Subject Test Score? With this data, you can aim to be in 80th or 90th percentile of test-takers in the tests you've chosen.
If you're planning to major in math or science or are applying to schools like MIT, then an 800 on your math and science Subject Tests would be really helpful, even expected, for your application.
As you prep for the Subject Tests and the SAT or ACT, which one should take priority?
How Important Are Subject Tests Compared to the SAT/ACT?
The SAT Subject Tests are not nearly as important as the SAT. From my understanding, the SAT or ACT might be considered as much as 30% of your application, while the Subject Tests only account for about 2% to 5%. Therefore the SAT or ACT should be your top priority.
Luckily, the Subject Tests should align with the work and studying you're already doing in your classes. It is usually better to take a Subject Test near the end of the school year in which you've been studying that subject. It also helps if it aligns with your studying for finals or an AP exam. Click here for more on the best dates to take the SAT Subject Tests.
While the Subject Tests are not as important in your application, they still need to be taken seriously if you want to achieve SAT Subject Test Scores for the Ivy League and gain admission. To get into these highly selective institutions, every component of your application should be outstanding.
Plus, since you have some choice in the matter, you're expected to choose the subjects in which you can demonstrate subject mastery. A low score would seem like an outlier and may raise doubts about your academic abilities and potential in that subject.
Schools are becoming more and more flexible in their standardized testing policies. The Subject Tests are another application requirement, but, if you choose well and excel in the relevant subjects in school, then they shouldn't require too much additional prep to achieve strong SAT Subject Test scores for Ivy League schools.
Let's discuss some other strategies to balance your time throughout the college application process.
How to Juggle Everything
If you're gearing up to apply to Ivy League schools, you probably lead an active and busy life. Whether it's homework, clubs, sports, or all the prep work for applying to college, you have a lot of activities to juggle. Adding Subject Tests on top of everything can make you feel like you're going to drop something.
As long as you approach the tests with a thoughtful plan, you should be able to maintain balance and achieve your goals. Being able to independently manage your time, while still leaving time for breaks and fun, is an important skill that you'll need in college. By designing a schedule for yourself in high school, you'll be further developing these useful life skills.
First, check out our article on when you should take the Subject Tests. You can get all three done in one day, but you don't have to do them at once or wait until junior year to take them. A 9th grade biology class, for example, might make you ready for the Biology Subject Test. You might be prepared for Math Level I after sophomore year.
Even if you do decide to wait until junior year to take them, you can line them up with your finals and AP exams, so that your studying can kill two birds with one stone. By planning when you will take and study for the Subject Tests, alongside your prep plan for the SAT, you can allocate time in advance so you have a balanced schedule.
You might be thinking, making the schedule is the easy part. The hard part is, how can I stick to it? One day you might be motivated by your dream of a big envelope containing an acceptance letter arriving at your door. The next day that letter seems like an image from a future life, far away from your present one.
There are no easy shortcuts here - staying on task requires motivation, but even more importantly, it requires discipline. It requires the ability to push through your resistance and all the things you might rather be doing at that moment and commit yourself to studying, because you have clearly outlined your goals and want to do everything you can to achieve them.
College Board has a useful breakdown of the Subject Tests and sample questions here. Check out our other resources for helpful study strategies, like identifying your weaknesses and dividing each section into small, manageable goals.
What are average scores and standard deviations on the SAT Subject Tests? Take a look at this data and why it's important as you choose your Subject Tests.
Are you aiming for perfection on the SAT? Read our expert guide on the key strategies and tips you need to score a perfect 2400 on the SAT.
If you're taking the ACT, this article by a full scorer explains how you can achieve the elusive 36.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.