If you’re like most people, you don’t give much thought to the SAT IIs.  They seem like pesky little annoyances that don’t matter much to your application…until the day comes when you realize you need to take two of them in three weeks or else your application won’t be accepted.

Do You Need to Take the SAT IIs?

As with most college questions, “it depends.”

First, know this:

The majority of colleges do not require SAT IIs, and an even larger majority don’t expect them.

HOWEVER, a large majority of the most competitive colleges DO expect them, and weigh them pretty heavily in their overall application picture.  

EVERY college accepts the SAT and ACT with equal gravity.  Anyone who tells you that colleges “prefer” one test to the other is wrong.  Don’t listen to them. A quote from William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard University: “We treat the SAT and the ACT on an absolutely equal basis.” Enough said?

HOWEVER, depending on the school you apply to, taking the ACT might make you EXEMPT from taking the SAT II, whereas taking the SAT might not make you exempt at all.

So here’s how it goes:

1. Many schools don’t require SAT IIs at all.

2. Those schools that do are split between:

A) Schools that accept the ACT in place of the SAT and SAT IIs

B) Schools that require SAT IIs regardless of whether you’ve taken the SAT or the ACT

If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of schools that accept, review, require, and exempt from all SAT IIs, look no further than Compass Prep’s list here:


Notice that most of these schools are extremely competitive.  As I said, the SAT II is largely an expectation of the nation’s most challenging schools.  However, don’t trust a list to make all your college decisions for you, at the end of the day, there’s one golden rule:

CALL the admissions offices of EVERY college on your list and figure out their SAT II rules IMMEDIATELY.  Find out if it’s required, if you can avoid the SAT II by taking the ACT, etc.  Get the full scoop – only you know which schools you’re applying to and are interested in, so it’s your job to get the most up to date information possible on the issue.

As far as requirements are concerned, that’s all there is to it.  I’d like to bring up one extremely important issue:

SAT 2s can show that you’re “Ivy Caliber.”

SAT IIs can help you to show colleges your expertise in a certain area, and it can also show them that you’re “up to snuff.”

For instance, if you’re trying to apply to a pre-med program, you should really consider studying for and taking the Biology SAT II.  Even if your dream school doesn’t require it, don’t you want to do everything you can to show them that you care passionately about your area of interest, and to demonstrate your expertise?

If you’re applying to be a math major, and you don’t take a math SAT II……it just looks sort of weird.

Even if there’s no particular subject you’re “showing off” for, taking a few SAT IIs and getting  incredible grades shows that you’re “Ivy Caliber.”  As you saw, only the nation’s most competitive schools require SAT IIs.  If you show other schools that you can get 700+ scores on tests they don’t even require – they notice, even if they say they don’t.

Quick Note: many schools allow you to switch out AP grades for SAT 2 scores.  Again, to find out which ones allow this, CALL THE SCHOOLS ON YOUR LIST AND FIND OUT.  As far as I’m concerned, high AP scores perform the same function as great SAT 2 scores – they show that you’re an expert within a given field.  If a school accepts either test interchangeably, or doesn’t require either one, then both accomplish the same feat.

Do your research!