What's a Good Score on the SAT or ACT?

One of the questions I hear most often is: "What's a good score on the SAT or ACT?" And my response is typically "It really just depends." What may be a high score for one college may be a low score for another college. Students (and parents) often want a single number, but it really depends on the goals of the student. 

Note: The SAT scores are for the New SAT. If you need to compare the Old SAT to ACT, click here.

Highly Selective Colleges (1400+ New SAT/30+ACT)

So what SAT or ACT score ranges do you need to have a shot at Harvard (and other Ivy League or highly selective private colleges)? The Ivies and other  highly selective colleges, like Stanford or Duke, have average SAT scores (the middle 25%-75%) above 700 for each section, or above 1400 overall (even higher) for the SAT and 32-34 Composite for the ACT. So anything below that range puts you in the bottom of the applicant pool, lessening the likelihood for admission.

When I work with students who I feel are qualified to apply to the Ivies, we typically set the following goals: 1450+ SAT, with 700+ in each section and 700+ on two Subject Tests (remember these highly selective colleges often require or recommend Subject Tests). For the ACT, 32+ Composite, with 30+ in all four sections and 700+ on at least two Subject Tests. These scores also help students qualify for merit-based scholarships at non-Ivies (yes, the big money).

With all that said, I do not want to burst any bubbles here, but each year Harvard receives enough perfect or near perfect SAT scores to fill the entire freshman class.

Student Examples

Last year, one of my students was one of the lucky ones accepted to Harvard, and guess what? She had a perfect score. But an awesome overall application as well. Another student I worked with scored 2360 (SAT) and 34 (ACT), spoke Hungarian fluently, worked in the local district attorney's office, and has won several film awards, and he was wait listed at all the Ivies, except for Brown, which he chose to attend.

Another student received a perfect ACT score (36 in every section), very high Subject Test Scores (800 on Math 2), and a strong extracurricular profile. The one weakness, however, were his essays, which he did not spend enough time developing (and seemed to think his scores would override that). He was waitlisted at all of the Ivies, but accepted at many other great schools like UCLA and Vanderbilt. By contrast, I had a student with a 34 ACT, good baseball player, strong Subject Test scores (800 Math 2) and wrote a great essay who was unexpectedly accepted to MIT, based on his commitment to his math team.

Why do I say that? Because parents and students need to be realistic and to spend timing researching all of the great colleges and programs at all college selectivity ranges. And test scores definitely matter, but so does the application as a whole. The Ivies are selecting exceptional students, in which high test scores are just one part of the picture.

Selective Public Universities (1300+SAT/28+ACT)

Although many state colleges and universities consider at good score on the SAT exam to be the 1550-1700 range or 25-27 Composite on the ACT, more selective public universities expect SAT scores between 1800-2100 or 28-31 on the ACT test. And if you are applying out-of-state to these universities you will often need scores at the higher end of the range. Public universities with some of the highest SAT scores are the following:

University of California (especially UCLA, UC-Berkeley, and UCSD)

University of Michigan

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

University of Texas-Austin

University of Virginia

William and Mary (VA)

Most State Universities (1150+SAT/23+ACT)

As a general rule, a "good score" at most state colleges and universities for the SAT or ACT test would be scores higher than the national average, around 1100 for the SAT test or 22 Composite for the ACT test. Many of these types of colleges do not use the Writing portion of either exam, so it is always better to have stronger Math and Reading scores than Writing scores for these colleges. Some of these colleges will waive the test score requirements if a student has a GPA 3.0 or 3.5 and higher.

There are also hundreds of private colleges that will also take students with SAT scores near the national average of 1550. Think about it, colleges need students, so if the middle 50% of students score near 1550 on the SAT, colleges must be accepting students with these scores.

What If You Don't Have a Good Score?

Before you get discouraged about your test scores, consider all of your options. Many students have to take the SAT or ACT test 2-3 times to obtain a good score on the test. If you need to score higher, make sure to study with good quality SAT prep books and ACT prep books.

If you did not score well on the SAT, make sure you understand the differences between the ACT vs. SAT and take a practice ACT).  If you are really concerned that you may not have a "good score" on the SAT (and you also know about the ACT) then investigate applying to some "test optional" colleges and universities. You may be surprised to learn that over 800 colleges and universities do NOT require SAT or ACT scores for college admission if a student maintains a strong GPA. 

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