What’s a Good SAT/ACT Score for Applying to College?

In addition to the usual application materials, like transcripts, letters of recommendation, and essays, students are often asked to submit standardized test scores from either the SAT or ACT exam when applying to college. Top schools do not recommend one test over the other; students are allowed to submit whichever one they prefer.

What’s a Good SAT/ACT Score for Applying to College? | Image

SAT/ACT scores are used by colleges to try and standardize students across the country. High schools have many different academic philosophies and offer varying curriculum types, including the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. For schools that don’t have an advanced curriculum, standardized tests provide colleges a chance to see how those students compare to others.

By considering SAT/ACT scores alongside other application materials, such as grades and extracurricular activities, institutions can make more informed decisions about an applicant’s academic preparedness. Many top institutions also feel that SAT/ACT scores can indicate the applicant’s academic readiness and ability to handle their curriculum. Many of these institutions believe that higher SAT/ACT scores often indicate stronger critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and problem-solving skills, which are essential for success in college.

Furthermore, SAT scores may also impact scholarships and financial aid opportunities. Many colleges and universities consider SAT scores when awarding merit-based scholarships or determining eligibility for specific programs. Higher scores can make an applicant more competitive for these financial incentives, potentially reducing the cost of education and opening doors to additional opportunities.

While SAT/ACT scores hold weight in the admissions process, it is important to note that they are only one part of an application and not the determining factor. Admissions committees take a holistic approach when curating a class, considering many different factors, including intellectual vitality, extracurriculars, personal achievements, essays, letters of recommendation, and more. Still, SAT/ACT scores provide a standardized benchmark that helps admissions officers make informed decisions about an applicant’s suitability for admission.

The SAT/ACT exam is especially important for international students, as they usually don’t have the AP/IB curriculum scores to show a standardized level of knowledge, expertise, and strong potential in certain areas, so admissions officers only have the SAT/ACT as a barometer. There is also often a requirement from recruited athletes to submit SAT/ACT test scores, so for certain segments of applicants, standardized testing is not really optional.

What about Test Optional?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities dropped standardized testing requirements for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle (student applying for the Class of 2025). This caused application numbers to skyrocket and opened the doors to a number of applicants who previously would not have applied, making the competition even stiffer for top colleges, including the Ivy League.

While the trend towards eliminating standardized testing barriers continues to gain momentum across the country – especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced access to testing facilities for many students – and many of the top schools have decided to go test-optional again for the Class of 2028, test scores remain an important component of a competitive application.

SAT/ACT Testing Averages – What is a Good Score?

When applying to the Ivy League, you’ll want to make sure that if you’re submitting test scores that they are competitive for the school. Generally, we recommend an applicant needs scores that fall into the top 25% or higher admit range for the colleges to which they apply.

What’s a Good SAT/ACT Score for Applying to College? | Image

Source: College Navigator

Bottom Line: You should aim to score a 1560+ average SAT score and/or 35+ average ACT score to be competitive for the Ivy League (in the top 25% of candidates).

Average SAT/ACT Scores for Top 25 Colleges

What’s a Good SAT/ACT Score for Applying to College? | Image

** Source: College Navigator

** NOTE: Caltech and the University of California system have temporarily gone test blind

When to Send SAT/ACT Scores

Many colleges will require you to submit official test reports to their admissions teams. This takes time, as you have to order the test reports to be sent by the ACT and the College Board directly to each college that requires an official report. Therefore, you should plan this into your list of deadlines when putting together your college application timeline.

Generally, the best time to submit your standardized test scores is roughly one (1) month before the deadline, to ensure that they get to the admissions committee with plenty of time. This gives you some buffer in case there are any issues. You can submit scores at any point, though – the ACT and the College Board allow you to submit your scores to colleges whenever you’d like.

Many schools will allow you to self-report your SAT/ACT scores (as well as AP/IB supplemental testing scores). It’s absolutely essential that you check each school’s testing policy websites for the most up-to-date information on what they require in terms of score submission. These policies change, especially during a time like now when so many schools are going test-optional. You can access a school’s testing policy on their main homepage in the Common Application or the Coalition Application, you can find their testing policy on their Admissions Department website, or by calling the Admissions Department directly.

How Long Does It Take to Send SAT/ACT Scores?

It takes approximately 10-14 days for a college to receive your SAT/ACT scores from when the ACT or College Board sends them. You should plan this into your application timeline. The reason it takes a variable amount of time is that each college has a different way they’ve opted to receive scores from the College Board, so sometimes it’s faster than others at certain colleges. The general rule is to plan for at least 2 weeks for your scores to be received. If you need, Rush Reporting may be an option for you, as well.

What is Free Score Report?

According to the College Board, You can send four free score reports to colleges every time you register for the SAT. This is the fastest way to send scores to colleges and scholarship programs—and there’s no fee. You can use your free score reports up to 11:59 p.m., U.S. Eastern Time, nine days after the test. If you’re eligible for an SAT fee waiver, you can send as many score reports as you want for free. Learn more about the SAT fee waiver program here.

The issue with this is that you don’t get to see your scores before they’re released. It’s best to see how you score on the exam before submitting your test scores directly to schools.


Standardized testing is a necessary evil of the college admissions process – especially when applying to an Ivy League school. It’s important to score a 1560+ on the SAT and/or 35+ on the ACT to be competitive for the Ivy League and other top schools. Therefore, you should pursue a robust test preparation plan to get ready for the SAT/ACT, and work with your college admissions consultant to put together the best testing plan to maximize your results.

All of our blog posts are written by Former College Admission Officers who serve as members of our admission consultant team.

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