If you're an adult who needs or wants to take the ACT, you might be worried. Most people taking the test are 16 or 17, but can you take the ACT after high school? Yes, you absolutely can! There are many valid reasons for taking the ACT after high school, and the process barely differs from taking it as a teenager.
In this article, I’ll discuss the reasons you may want or need to take the test as an adult, how to register, how testing as an adult will be different, as well as additional advice.
Why Take the ACT After High School?
Taking the ACT is definitely not something to do for fun. Preparing for the ACT is a big time commitment (not to mention spending 4+ hours on a Saturday to take the test). Don’t do take the ACT if you don’t need to, but there are three good reasons to take the ACT.
#1: You’re Applying to College
If you took some time off after high school and never took the ACT, you'll most likely need to take it (or the SAT) for your college applications. If you took the ACT during high school, you might not need to retake the test now.
ACT scores from October 1, 1966, to today, are stored online by the ACT. While the ACT will send scores from as far back as 1966, some colleges require you to send an ACT score from the last 3-5 years. Check the individual college’s application requirements. You should be able to find the applications requirements by doing a Google search for “[College Name] application requirements.”
Additionally, if you did take the ACT during high school, you still may elect to retake the ACT to raise your score. To give yourself the best chance of being accepted, you want your ACT score to be at or above the 75th percentile ACT score of admitted students at your target school. I urge you to read our guide to finding your target ACT score for more information about this.
NOTE: Not all universities want you to send a test score. Some colleges don’t require ACT scores for adults who never took the ACT in high school or for whom taking the ACT would be excessively difficult such as a deployed soldier. Furthermore, some schools are test-optional or test-blind, meaning they don’t require you to send ACT scores. If you’re only applying to test-optional or test-blind schools, then you don’t need to take the ACT.
Check out the admissions website for each of your target colleges to find out their application requirements. You should be able to find the application requirements by doing a Google search for “[College Name] application requirements.” If you’re unable to find this information online, then you should send an email or call the college’s admissions office.
#2: You’re Applying to Transfer Colleges
Interested in switching from your community college or 4-year university to a different 4-year university? If so, you might need to submit an ACT or SAT score with your application. If you’re applying to transfer after only six months to a year at that college or community college, then you most likely need to submit an ACT or SAT score with your application.
However, if you have an ACT or SAT score from high school, then you’ll probably be able to use that score though you may want to take the ACT to raise your score. To give yourself the best shot of being admitted, you need your ACT score to be at or above the 75th percentile ACT score of admitted students at your target school. Definitely read our guide to finding your target ACT score for more information about this.
As I noted in the section above, you won’t need to submit a test score if you’re only applying to test-optional or test-blind schools. Check out the admissions website for each of your target colleges to find out their application requirements. You should be able to find the application requirements by doing a Google search for “[College Name] application requirements.” If you’re unable to find this information online, then you should send an email or call the college’s admissions office.
#3: You’re Applying for a Job or Scholarship
More jobs are now requiring you to submit a test score from test-prep companies to investment banking. Also, many scholarships require you to score within a certain range on the ACT or SAT. If you took the ACT in high school, you might be allowed to send those scores, but if you didn’t or if you need to raise your score to qualify, you’ll have to take the ACT now as an adult.
Check out what the score requirements are for the job/scholarship and make sure you adhere to them. Some may ask for a high school ACT score and may not consider a new score. Others may not want a score that’s older than 3-5 years. Know the requirements, and if you’re unsure, call or email to clarify.
How to Take the ACT After High School
Whatever your reason for taking the ACT after high school, I’ll walk you through the logistics of registering for and taking the test.
Registering for the ACT
You can register on the ACT website. The registration process will involve entering your personal information, submitting a photo or yourself, paying the registration fee, etc.
It can be just slightly more difficult as an adult since the entire registration process is geared towards high school students. However, it's only minor inconveniences. The ACT asks for parent information, but you can leave that blank. Also, it asks for your high school, but there is an option to say "I am not in high school." Otherwise, answer the rest of the questions to the best of your ability. Read our full guide that walks you through every step of the ACT registration process.
Where Do You Take the ACT?
No matter where you live, you’ll take the ACT alongside high school students at an ACT test center. These test centers are usually high schools but are sometimes community college campuses, college campuses, and other locations. Regardless of location, you’ll be testing alongside high school students.
When you register to take the ACT, you’ll select your test center location. You’ll be able to search for a test center close to you. NOTE: It’s best to sign up early as test centers can fill up. The earlier you register, the more likely you’ll get your choice of the test centers.
How Is Testing as an Adult Different?
I'm not going to lie: as someone who took the SAT last year at age 23, it's kind of weird at first. Showing up to check in among high school students feels strange.
However, once I got over the initial weirdness, I felt confident. I remember being so nervous to take the ACT and SAT in high school; I felt that there was so much pressure riding on the test. As an adult, you realize one test will not define you. I was able to relax more and do better on the test due to my newfound confidence. I hope you feel the same when you sit for the ACT!
ACT Testing After High School: Advice
Just because the ACT is a test for high schoolers doesn’t mean it will be easier for you as a high school grad. Don’t underestimate the test. It’s tricky and very fast-paced.
Also, as a high school grad, you actually might be at a disadvantage since there are probably some high school fundamental topics that you’ve forgotten or are a little rusty on. If you haven’t studied Math since high school, you might have forgotten how to solve a system of equations or how to find the sine of an angle.
Don’t assume the test will be a breeze: you must prepare for the ACT.
3 Tips for Prepping for the ACT as an Adult
To get the best score possible on the ACT, you’ll want to prepare. Here are three key tips for prep success:
Tip #1: Know the ACT Format
The best way to learn the ACT format is to take as many ACT practice tests as you can. However, the practice won’t help if you don’t take the tests under realistic testing conditions while keeping accurate time and if you don’t review the practice tests.
The ACT is fast-paced, so you need to get used to pacing yourself during your practice tests. Also, you need to review your practice. When you review your mistakes, you learn from them. If you don’t review, you’ll keep making the same mistakes.
Tip #2: Master Forgotten/Rusty Content
As I noted above, since you graduated, you may have forgotten or gotten rusty in some content areas. Make sure you refresh yourself before taking the ACT. Here at PrepScholar, we’ve written free complete guides for nearly every tested content area on the ACT. Read our ACT Reading, ACT Writing, ACT Math, and ACT Science guides for an overview of topics you’ve forgotten along with more helpful test tips.
You don't want to be confused during the ACT!
Tip #3: Create an ACT Prep Timeline Based on Your Needs
I think the most challenging part of taking the ACT after high school is juggling work, family, friends, and all your other commitments while trying to find alone time to prepare for the ACT. However, it’s crucial you set aside time to study for the ACT so that you can reach your target score.
My suggestion would be to start studying far in advance (at least 3-6 months in advance) and to dedicate at least 5 hours per week to ACT prep. Pick an ACT test date that will give you enough time to do this type of in-depth preparation. However, you might not have that ability if your application is due ASAP. If you don’t need to take the ACT in the next month, you should check out our guide to cramming for the ACT.
Transferring colleges? Check out our complete guide to transferring successfully.
Need help paying for college? Check out our scholarship and financial aid guides.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.