As families begin their test preparation process, a very frequently asked question is “what is a good SAT/ACT test score?”

While SAT/ACT scores are by no means the determining factor in college admissions, they play a significant role. Most colleges strive to receive more applicants than their admitting batch of freshmen, so they begin by looking at course rigor, GPA and standardized test scores. If the three are in the ball park of what they are looking for, then the applicant is moved to the next stage of assessment. This includes personal statements, essays, resume etc.

What is a high enough score to move to the next step? The answer depends upon where you are applying.  All things being equal, good score will be combination of any of the following:

  • The colleges on your list.
  • Cut off scores needed for any academic or athletic scholarships you may qualify for.
  • Majors you are interested in.

While the above criteria definitely helps establish a score goal for the student who is more aware of the type of colleges he/she may be interested in applying, it does not help a student who is not quite ready even for a draft college list. In such cases our recommendation is to consider college readiness benchmark scores published by College Board and ACT. This measure allows determining overall college readiness for the students taking the test. When these respective scores are combined with student’s high school GPA, it makes for a very strong indicator of success in the first year of college.

Benchmark College Readiness Scores

SAT score 1030 – 480 in Evidence-Based Reading & Writing; 530 in Math

ACT scores – English (18), Math (22), Reading (21), and Science (24).

Most Competitive Scores (Top 5%) | SAT 1400-1600 | ACT 31-36

Some examples of colleges that look for scores in this range are U. Michigan, Northwestern, U. Penn, CMU, all the Ivy schools etc.

Highly Competitive Scores (Top 10%) | SAT 1320+ | ACT 29+

Needed for many Honors colleges Pitt, Penn State, and competitive majors like Pre-Med, Engineering at main campuses, technical schools like Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, UVA, UNC etc. Many college specific Presidential Scholarships also start to become available at this score range.

Competitive ScoreS (Top 25%) | SAT 1200+ | ACT 25+

At this score range, you have a good shot at state schools and some private schools. University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Penn State main campus etc.