In a world where applying to college seems difficult at its best and completely random at its worst, it’s tempting for college-bound students to want quantifiable evidence of their worth as a student. With college essays or resumes, it can be difficult to quantify how you compare to other students. With the SAT and the ACT, however, it can feel as if your score will make or break your chances of getting into college.
Remember though, an SAT or an ACT score doesn’t tell the whole story. Of course you want to receive as high of a score as possible, but rather than stressing yourself out with that lofty goal, it can be more beneficial to aim for a score that aligns with your list of colleges. That way, you can balance your efforts towards college admissions more appropriately.
So what does it mean to have a “good” SAT or ACT score if it’s not based solely on how high it is? It’s all about averages.
First, there’s the average score in general; that’s to say, you’ll want to first consider the average score of everyone applying to any college anywhere. For the new SAT, an average score rests between 1000-1100, or above 500 on each section. An excellent score means 1200 or higher, or above 600 on each section. A poor score lies below 1000. Similarly, the average ACT score sits around a 20, an excellent score means 24 or above, and a poor score would be below a 16.
These numbers only go so far though. If you’re starting to take practice exams for these two tests, but haven’t finalized a list of colleges to apply to, these can serve as your standard for now. If you do have a list of colleges to apply to, however, then you’ll want the averages for those colleges. While an ACT score of 24 may be considered excellent on average, a certain college may only offer admissions to students with a score of 27 or higher.
There are a number of ways you can find this information. Some schools will list the average scores of their admitted students on their websites, or you can find a list that compiles a number of schools for you, such as this one here.
You’ll always want to reach for the upper percentile of average scores, no matter where you’re applying to. But to make sure you at least reach the average score, make a chart for yourself of the averages for each school you’re applying to. You can list the name of the school, list its average SAT or ACT score next to the school, and then once you have them all listed, you can create an average for all of your schools combined at the bottom of the sheet. This bottom number, or range of numbers, will then serve as your goal score.
If you’re able to reach the average score you set for yourself, or even go beyond it, great! You’re on track to having a great college application. If you don’t reach it the first time, remember that you can take the SAT or ACT more than once. You can use the information you gained from taking it the first time to practice certain sections more, or find a tutor to help you out. No matter how you do on the SAT or the ACT, remember that it’s only a part of a larger picture of you as an applicant. While it’s certainly an important part, you are not just a number. Once you can remember that, you’ll be able to relax a bit and help yourself out in the long run.