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SAT Subject Tests: To Take Or Not To Take?

SAT Subject Tests: To Take Or Not To Take?

One of the most frequent questions students (and their families) have is — do they have to stake the SAT subject test? In the current frenzied college admissions landscape, it can feel like almost every student is prepping for some SAT subject test. And then students (parents) start to feel FOLO, Fear Of Losing Out about not taking a subject test.

Is the FOLO real? Does the student really need to take a subject test? Taking the subject test depends on three factors:

  1. If the college that is of interest to the student and is on his/her application list requires or recommends the SAT subject tests as a part of their application requirement.
  2. If any particular major, department, college/school within the larger university requires/recommends the SAT subject test and the student is interested in that major/department/field of study.
  3. Some colleges require home schooled students to take the SAT Subject tests.

That’s it! There are the different reasons for students taking the SAT subject test. So let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these factors to get a better understanding of the requirement. Our next post has a handy flow chart for you regarding the SAT subject tests.

When the college requires/recommends the SAT Subject tests

There are only a few colleges that require or highly recommend the SAT subjects as a part of their application requirements. The first thing to do is to get a sense of whether these colleges are a part of the student’s reach or target list of colleges for application. It is very rare that such colleges would be a part of any student’s safety colleges. If the college requires the subject test then in most cases it would be either 2 or 3 different subject tests (such as Georgetown University). Then comes the question: which subject tests to take? The conventional wisdom goes along two different tracks:

  1. Take tests that align best with your intended field of interest.
  2. One math/science and one social studies/language to show breadth or if undecided.

SAT subject tests are offered in the following subjects:

SAT Subject Tests

Sometimes colleges themselves will offer guidance about the SAT subject tests and which of the two paths do they prefer while taking the tests into consideration.

When only some majors require/recommend the SAT Subject tests

There are a few colleges that do not require the SAT subjects as a part of their application requirements, BUT an application to certain majors, programs, departments, schools within the college do require the SAT subject tests as a part of the application. E.g. University of California does not require SAT subject tests, however certain majors in certain campuses do. SAT Math 2 and a science subject test is required for application to the departments of chemistry and engineering at UC Berkeley or Biology E/M and World History for application to the program of public health policy at UC Irvine. Even some private schools such as Carnegie Mellon University have different subjects tests for different majors.

For the colleges where only certain majors require the SAT subjects tests, usually the college will inform the student of the needed subjects tests, so that they are not left guessing. To figure out if the major requires a subject test warrants more research on the part of the student. The best advice that we have is that the student should have a list of colleges for their intended field of study and then research to see if those colleges need a SAT subject test for that major.

This does push out the SAT subject test to the end of the junior year/beginning of the senior year…which is a reasonable time frame for a student to have an idea of what they may be interested in studying while at college. Any earlier than junior year does not really offer the full spectrum of choices of major for a student. Taking subject SAT tests earlier than junior year works only IF the student is quite sure about their major AND they know it is a competitive major like engineering, computer science, biology/pre med AND the student has completed the required courses in test taking subjects. However, even for competitive majors, there are many colleges across the country that DO NOT require/recommend the SAT subject tests.

What should a student do is they are undecided about their major? We suggest that the students have a preliminary list in their junior year based on possible choices of majors and see what comes up as their reach and target colleges. By doing so, If some of the colleges need the SAT subject test, then the student can take the tests by the end of junior year/beginning of senior year. Otherwise the student may get into a time crunch if they take the tests concurrently with application time and/or if they are taking the SAT/ACT tests in the fall of their senior year.

Taking the SAT subject test is not a requirement or a necessity like the SAT/ACT and even then the SAT/ACT is not an absolute requirement as there are many test optional colleges. In conclusion, the subject tests are a requirement/recommended only for a small number of colleges and majors and unless the student is applying to that small set of colleges and majors, there should be FOLO if they do not take the SAT subject test.