What’s a Good SAT or ACT score?

Many high school students and their parents aren’t sure what qualifies as a “good” SAT or ACT score.  It can be confusing trying to decide if you scored high enough to impress college admission officers or earn scholarships. Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

Look at SAT and ACT statistics:

To get started, you need to have an idea of how other students perform on college admissions tests. First of all, the SAT is scored from a 400 – 1600 score range. Last year, 2.1 million students completed an official SAT test. Out of those 2.1 million students:

  • The Average score was 1058
  • Only 20% of students earned between a 1200-1600
  • Only 7% of students earned a 1400-1600
  • Only 1% of students earned a 1500-1600

*Data from Understanding SAT Scores

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 – 36. Last year, 1.9 million students took the official ACT. Out of those students:

  • The average score was 20.8
  • Only 20% of students earned a 26-36
  • Only 10% of students earned a 30-36
  • Only 1% of students earned a 35-36

*Data from ACT National Profile Report

This gives you a rough idea of what is average, above average, and stellar for test-takers. However, this is just the beginning.

Look at the colleges you want to attend:

The key to setting your SAT and ACT goal score is to look at the colleges you are interested in. A good score is simply a score that is going to help you gain admission to the university you want to attend. Do some research and find out the average SAT or ACT scores for that school.

For example:

As you can see, the more competitive the school the higher your score will need to be. Princeton University is currently ranked as the #1 Best College in the 2019 U.S. News and World Report. With a 5% acceptance rank, it makes sense that you would need to score in the top 1% of test-takers to have a shot at admission. Rutgers University is ranked #56. While not as competitive as Princeton, with such as high rank it will still require a top 20% score.

Generally, you need to aim to score ABOVE your prospective college’s average score. Remember, you will be competing for admission with students who may have a higher GPA or more impressive accolades than you. So to increase your chances, you should set your SAT goal about 50 points higher than your school’s average and your ACT goal at least 2 points higher. For Princeton, this would be SAT 1570, ACT 36; for Rutgers, SAT 1350, ACT 30; and for Montclair, SAT 1130, ACT 22.

Here is a list of SAT and ACT averages for top-ranked Universities:

Look at your application:

Finally, you need to look at the major or program you are applying to, your GPA, and your additional achievements.


The most important factor college admission officers take into consideration is your GPA. So, as a good rule of thumb, the lower your GPA, the more impressive your SAT score needs to be. You should research the average GPA for incoming freshman of your prospective college and raise your SAT or ACT goal score if you are below the average.


Of course, you will also need to consider your major and the program within the university you are applying to. For instance, if you want to major in English, your score for the Reading and Writing section of your SAT will count for more than your Math section score. If you are applying to New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, the Science and Math section of the ACT will matter more than the English and Reading section. You should set your goals appropriately. For instance, in the second example, you may have a SAT goal for NYU of 1420, but a Math Section goal of 750.

Additional Achievements:

You also need to consider other aspects of your resume. Are you a nationally ranked polo player? Do you have a remarkable art portfolio? Have you won a statewide debate competition? Obviously, the more impressive your extracurricular activities, the better your chances of admissions. However, this doesn’t mean you can slack on test scores. A college still wants to know that you have the academic and test skills to succeed. But if you are short on achievements, you will need to make-up for it with a top SAT or ACT score.

Putting it All Together:

With this guideline and about 3 minutes of Google research on your potential colleges, you can easily set your SAT and ACT goal score!

What do you do next? Take a FREE full-length practice SAT or ACT to see how close or far away you are from your goal. MEK offers Free Test Events throughout the year, so you can see where you stand. And we don’t just give you your score. We give you a detailed breakdown of that score, so you can see where you need to improve.

After you receive your results and see how close or far you are from your goal, it’s time to close the gap! Check out MEK’s SAT and ACT Prep courses to find out how.


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