ACT or SAT: What to Consider a Good Score

A perfect score on the SAT is 2400; and for the ACT, it is 36. The national average score for the SAT is 1540 (combining the math, reading, and writing sections of the test). For the ACT, the average score is between 20 and 21. If your score is in the ballpark of these average numbers, you're probably going to be accepted by quite a few colleges and universities — providing that you took college-prep courses in high school, made good grades, and participated in extracurriculars.

The more selective schools won't admit a student with an average score. If your goal is to attend an Ivy League or equally challenging school, you'll need an SAT or ACT score that's above average. Scoring 600 on each of the three parts of the SAT (for a combined score of 1800) puts you in the top 20% of national test takers; scoring 700 on each section (for a combined score of 2100) puts you in the top 10%. 

Here is a small list of universities and the unofficial estimates of the minimum scores on the SAT and ACT they will accept.

School

Unofficial Minimum SAT Score

Unofficial Minimum ACT Score

Columbia

2070

28

Duke

2020

29

Florida State

1500

23

Harvard

2200

31

Indiana University

1650

23

John Hopkins

1920

29

Michigan State

1470

23

MIT

2040

31

Northwestern

2010

30

Ohio State

1800

25

Princeton

2080

31

Purdue

1500

23

Rice

1960

30

Southern Methodist University

1710

25

UC Berkley

1890

25

UCLA

1730

24

University of Virginia

1860

27

University of Washington

1600

23

Note that the figures above are all rough estimates; few schools publicize an absolute minimum acceptable score, and factors besides your college entrance exam play into the admission process. (If you get test anxiety and didn't score so well on the SAT or ACT, but you have stellar grades and write an amazing essay, you could score slightly below minimum and still get in.)

Scores below 1100 on the SAT or a 15 on ACT are considered low, and you'll have a hard time getting accepted to just about any four-year college. You can overcome low scores with great grades and an impressive application, but you might have to take some remedial courses as a freshman. When in doubt, take the test a second time. Even if you're happy with your scores, remember that a great SAT or ACT score will help you get scholarship money. You might think about taking the test again for that reason alone.

If you're a poor test-taker or really don't want to take the SAT or ACT, note that a growing number of colleges and universities are making college entrance exams optional. Most of these are small bible colleges, technical colleges, and art schools/music conservatories, but some big-name universities, including the following, have also made the standardized admissions tests optional:  

  • Kent State
  • New York University
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • Smith College
  • Texas A&M
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Oregon
  • Wake Forest
  • Wheaton College