Should I Submit SAT Subject Tests to Harvard as an International Student?

I'm an international student and am applying early to Harvard this year. I've taken the ACT and scored a 35. I'm also taking the Math 2 and Physics SAT Subject Tests since many of the schools I am applying to require/recommend them. However, because my school does not run on an internationally recognized curriculum (the school created it itself), and does not offer any AP or IB courses or any kind of examinations whatsoever, I am not as prepared for them as I probably should be. For both tests I am predicting scores in the high 700s, only around the 80th percentile.

I was worried that my Subject Test scores would undermine my application and my ACT score, and so for Harvard in particular, since they only 'recommend' them, I was not going to submit those scores. However, I just found this on their website:

"International students generally benefit from submitting Subject Tests and should take them if possible as they are unlikely to be admitted on the basis of SAT or ACT alone."

Since my school's curriculum is not recognized, I am worried that my grades (straight A's in math and science) will mean nothing and that even more emphasis will be placed on the tests than normal. Do you have any idea why Harvard stresses these tests more for internationals? I thought that their admissions process did not distinguish between domestic and international applicants. In your opinion should I really take this statement seriously? Do you think because of this I should submit my scores, even if their percentile rankings are low?

Thank you so much, and sorry for the loaded question.

Going against the recommendation on Harvard's own website is probably not a good idea -- you will want to submit the scores. You should retake the SAT Subject tests until you get a good percentile (around the same or higher than your ACT score).

First, Harvard (and other top colleges) tend to be very subtle about things. For example, even though they don't say on their site, if you get a great SAT score (much better than your old one) after your applications are in, you are probably very well-served to send it in.

Given Harvard has said "[International Students] are unlikely to be admitted on the basis of SAT or ACT alone", you should read this to mean that you almost surely will not be admitted without SAT Subject scores. They have to be polite and not say that, but I can.

The reason is exactly as you mentioned. I have confidence your school is legit, but there is really poor standardization in many other countries, especially ones without strong rule-of-law. (E.g. if you are outside of a country like the UK, France, Germany, etc). You may be surprised to learn for example, in certain high schools in India or China you can just pay for perfect grades.

I would thus do intense studying, perhaps using Barron's SAT Subject books (my favorite in high school). You can also do APs, which will even be stronger than SAT Subjects tests. Finally, even if you cannot improve your SAT Subject scores, I would still send them in. 700s and above is generally quite good, and Harvard will especially understand if part of the reason you didn't do as well as you'd like is because you were taught a subject (e.g. Chemistry) in your home language and not English.

Source: I was a Harvard College student. I've been to the admissions office many times. I'm also very familiar with the tone of Harvard's wording on it's admissions site.

Thank you for the reply!

I got my results back. I scored an 800 in Physics despite never taking a physics class before (none were ever offered at my school). Unfortunately I got a 750 in Math II. I was shocked to discover that it placed me in the 61st percentile.

Do you think that a 750 is enough to not raise eyebrows inside the admissions office?

Would I benefit from taking the test again? I know that I am capable of an 800 with enough studying, but at this point I am wondering whether it would be more worthwhile to focus on crafting essays for my applications.

Thanks a ton!