Many students are curious about what standardized test scores they will need to make in order to gain admission to a particular school. Unfortunately, the admission process to most colleges and universities is not as simple as meeting a particular number.
The question, “What SAT or ACT scores do I need to get in at…” usually cannot be answered. It depends. It helps to be aware of many factors that go into the admissions process, depending on the school(s) of your choice.
The admission approach used by each school will determine the scores a student will need to make on tests like the SAT or ACT.
The Numbers Approach
Some universities use an empirical approach to college admission, focusing exclusively on data such as a student’s grade point average (GPA), class rank, and SAT or ACT scores. Often, schools using this approach to admission are large public universities seeking to admit large numbers of qualified applicants.
The Big Picture Approach
Smaller and more selective schools, frequently employ a holistic approach in which many factors are weighed, including GPA, class rank, standardized test scores, student essays, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and interviews. These schools are looking at the big picture, not just the numbers.
Numbers Only Schools
If students are interested in schools that use an empirical (numbers only) admissions processes, it is possible to find the specific scores they need to earn admission. These colleges and universities frequently publish the particular test scores that students need for admission.
Consider Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, which is a useful example. According to state law, all Texas high school graduates in the top 10% of their high school classes will be granted admission to Texas state universities, no matter what their standardized test scores are. Students applying to Texas Tech who are in the top quarter of their class (excluding the top 10%) need to earn at least 25 on the ACT or 1140 combined on SAT reading and math in order to earn automatic admission. Students in the second and third quarters need to earn increasingly higher test scores. Students in the bottom quarter of their high school class, or those who fail to meet the minimum ACT or SAT standard, undergo a holistic review.
Check the schools on your list to see if they use any type of automatic admission formula based on your grades, rank, and test scores. If so, you can see what test scores you need.
Schools Where the Answer Is “It Depends”
These are the schools where there is no simple answer to what SAT or ACT scores a student needs to earn.
Under holistic review, exceptional abilities in one area may be able to compensate for slightly lower grades or test scores. Because all factors for admission are considered as a whole, these colleges and universities rarely set minimums for SAT, ACT, GPA, or class rank. Students can get an idea of the average scores for admitted students, but will not find any absolute numbers available.
How to Use Average Scores from Colleges
It is common for schools to release a score range for the middle 50% of students admitted. Frequently, this will be shown as 25% – 75%, because it shows the scores from the 25th percent to the 75th percent of admitted students.
For example, Elon University in North Carolina reported that the middle 50% of students admitted in 2013 earned between a 1710 and a 1960 as a combined reading, math, and writing score on the SAT. This means that a quarter of the admitted students scored above and a quarter scored below those scores.
A student applying to Elon with a combined SAT of 2100 is not guaranteed admission, but should know his or her scores are above average for admitted students. Elon will evaluate the student’s SAT scores along with the rest of the application before making a decision.
More and more colleges are opting to make standardized admissions tests optional for admission.
In the case of schools using test-optional admissions criteria, students do not need to worry about earning a minimum score on the SAT or ACT. Students who feel their scores adequately reflect their abilities can submit scores for consideration, but students who are not happy with their scores have the option of not sending any results.
Students who do not submit SAT or ACT scores will be evaluated on the rest of the material they submitted for admission, with no penalty for not sending in test scores.
Trying to figure out what score one needs to earn on the SAT or ACT in order to gain admission to a particular school can be complicated. I wish there was a simple answer because students would know exactly what they needed to score, but that’s not how college admission works at a majority of institutions.
Not every school will have clearly published admissions standards, but students should search school websites for admission data and learn as much as possible about how admissions decisions are made at the schools that interest them. Very often, there will not be a clear answer to the question of what score a student needs on the SAT or ACT in order to be admitted.
The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. Nationally, the average composite score on the ACT is a 21. The SAT has three sections: reading, math, and writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 200 to 800, which combine for a maximum possible score of 2400. Nationally, the average SAT score per section is 500 for a combined average of 1500.
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