SAT Subject Tests: To Take or Not to Take?

Most students take the SAT or ACT when applying to U.S. institutions. Could SAT Subject Tests be the hidden gem you've been looking for?

I bet I can guess the part of your application process that’s causing you the most stress: your test scores. Maybe you’ve taken the SAT once, twice, three, or even five times – and you’re still not sure if your scores are good enough. Or let’s say it’s the ACT that you’re unsure about because science courses were always challenging for you. Or maybe you’re pursuing an IB diploma and you don’t know if your IB tests are all that you’ll need. How do you ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward? Some schools are going test optional now, but what about the schools that aren’t test optional?

NYU isn’t a test optional school (except for artistic programs) but we are test flexible. So if you’re the type of student that hates your SAT score, we don’t need it – as long as you send something else instead! But if you choose to submit SAT Subject Tests, there are a few things that you’ll want to keep mind.

Over head shot of NYU Abu Dhabi campus

To use SAT Subject Tests to fulfill our requirements, you need to submit three subjects. For most f our programs, that means one math or science, one literature or humanities, and a third test that’s completely of your choosing. However, if you’re applying to Tandon or Stern, their subject test requirements are more specific. This system that allows you to put your best foot forward. If math courses were never your thing, then you can send a science exam instead. And if literature courses didn’t usually work out for you, then a history exam might be a better fit.

But be careful – there are some common pitfalls here. If you don’t follow the subject guidelines that I laid out above, then you’ll need different tests. You cannot send us two math scores and a science score. Nor can you send us one literature score and two humanities scores. If you haven’t taken exams that follow the guidelines, then you won’t be able to use this option. The same applies if you won’t receive your scores by your Common Application deadline.

A busy street in NYC, with cars passing by and pedestrians walking.

Now, it’s worth highlighting that submitting these might not be your easiest option. Instead of taking one exam (like the SAT or ACT), you need to take three. Rather than taking exams that allow you to complete both your application and high school graduation requirements, you’ll go out of your way to take these. But taking SAT Subject Tests may be attractive if you’re trying to showcase your best subjects. If you were never so great at science, this option may allow you to bypass that subject. If the thought of having to prepare for an exam about several subjects isn’t sitting well with you, then maybe you’d prefer to study a single subject at a time. These are all things that taking Subject Tests can do for you!

Since most of our programs do require some form of testing, it might be easiest to default to the SAT or ACT. If those are what you prefer, then that’s fine with us! But if you don’t love your scores and find yourself wishing there was a better way – take a look at one of our other options.