If you’ve already taken the SAT, you know it will likely be an important component of your college applications. You’ve likely set a goal score for yourself based on the types of colleges that you’re interested in. If you haven’t taken the SAT yet or are still considering whether to take it, you probably want to know more about what the most competitive colleges and universities expect when it comes to applicants’ standardized test scores.
I’ve compiled a list of colleges with the highest average SAT scores for admitted students. You’ll be able to compare your own SAT scores with those of top colleges and universities. I’ll also talk about what these rankings actually mean so that you can interpret this information effectively. For example, are these schools the best schools you can attend? Are they the most competitive? What do you do if your SAT scores are below the listed averages?
Read on for a list of the top schools ranked by SAT score, and answers to the above questions!
Let's get right to the good stuff, the list! Note that the scores on this list are from before the 2016 SAT revision. The SAT is now scored out of 1600.
|RANK||SCHOOL||Average Reading||Average Math||Average Writing||Average Composite|
|1||California Institute of Technology||760||785||755||2300|
|5||University of Chicago||746||746||726||2228|
|6||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||723||769||728||2220|
|6||Washington University in St Louis||730||755||735||2220|
|9||Franklin W Olin College of Engineering||721||758||717||2196|
|14||University of Pennsylvania||710||728||725||2163|
|21||Carnegie Mellon University||685||736||696||2117|
|22||The Webb Institute||690||750||670||2110|
If you want more detailed information about admissions statistics (and where you happen to fit) for any of the above schools, check out PrepScholar's school-specific admissions pages. Just google "[school name] PrepScholar admissions." You can even estimate your chances of getting into a school by entering information on your test scores and GPA!
How Do You Interpret These Rankings?
The list above won't mean much without a Rosetta Stone of SAT scores.
Hopefully, you now have an idea of the highest expectations schools can have for students' SAT scores. This information isn't that helpful, though, if you don't know how students tend to perform on the exam.
The SAT is currently scored out of 1600 points - 800 points for the Math section, and 800 points for Evidence-Based reading and writing. Data on the new SAT scores aren't available yet, but the average should be around 1000 points out of 1600. On the old SAT, the average composite SAT score is 1500 points out of 2400.
Generally, a student is considered to have an excellent SAT score if they're in the top 25% of scorers. To fall within this category, you'd need a composite score of around 1200 or higher on the new SAT (1800 on the old). A student is considered to have a low SAT score if they're in the bottom 25% of scorers, with a composite score of around 840 or lower on the new SAT (1260 on the old SAT). You can learn more about how to think about "good" or "bad" SAT scores here.
Are These Really the Top Schools?
The average SAT scores listed for the schools above are much higher than average - in fact, some of them are pretty close to perfect. But if a school has dizzyingly high average SAT scores, does that mean it's necessarily a top school?
In a sense, yes. Schools that attract the strongest applicants tend to do so because they have excellent reputations and offer strong undergraduate programs. When schools have a stronger student body - undergraduates with very high SAT scores, for example - they tend to build up a positive reputation and get more competitive as a result. It's a positive feedback loop: strong students with strong SAT scores continue to attract strong students with strong SAT scores.
Many of the schools on the list above are ranked on well-known "best colleges and universities" lists, like the one that US News & World Report publishes. These ranking systems aren't perfect, but they do take many quantifiable factors into account (besides just standardized test scores) when evaluating US schools. You’ll notice, for example, that all the Ivy League schools are on this list. These schools have such high average SAT scores because they are well-reputed enough to attract students with exceptional scores.
A small side note: You might have noticed a trend in the scores that gave you pause. Several of the schools listed tend to have higher math section averages than critical reading/writing averages. Quite a few of these schools are heavy in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) - these sorts of schools may weight test scores more heavily in the application process than your average liberal arts institution, which could account in part for their high test averages.
With that said, it’s important to note that the best school you can attend is the school that’s the best fit for you. Perhaps you’re interested in schools with strong Romance language departments, or with core curriculums, or with generous financial aid programs; not all of the schools listed above will meet every student’s criteria.
What’s most important to your success in college and beyond is that you find an institution that is able to support and foster your interests, passions, and future career path. You wouldn’t list a school renowned for its engineering program as your top choice, for example, if you want to major in comparative literature.
Are These Schools Really the Most Competitive?
The way you gauge a school's competitiveness is by looking at its acceptance rate: the greater the ratio of student applicants to spots in a new freshman class, the lower a school's acceptance rate. Schools are defined as competitive if many students are vying for a limited number of spots.
In terms of acceptance rates, many of the schools listed above are some of the most competitive in the country. Several have acceptance rates of less than 10%. There are some equally competitive niche institutions which aren't included on the list above, however; institutions like Cooper Union, the US Naval Academy, the US Military Academy, and Alice Lloyd College all have extremely low acceptance rates. In sum, the top schools ranked by SAT scores do tend to be competitive, but they're not the only institutions with very low acceptance rates.
What If Your SAT Scores Fall Below the Listed Averages? Do You Still Have a Chance of Getting in?
Just because you're lagging behind the group doesn't mean you won't have an opportunity to catch up.
So what do you do if you're trying to get into a very competitive school, but your scores don't measure up? In order to be a competitive applicant, you’ll have to make up for that perceived weakness elsewhere in your application. You can do this, for example, with an exceptionally high GPA or an impressive commitment to community service. Admissions officers consider each student as a whole applicant, and not just a set of standardized test scores. The extent to which you have to "make up" for low test scores with other parts of your application depends on how far you fall below the school's average. At an elite school, it's unlikely that you'll get in with very low SAT scores, even if the rest of your application is strong.
So how do you know whether your scores fall below a dangerous threshold? Because the scores above are averages, you know that about half of all accepted students will have SAT scores that are lower than the ones listed. You can also access information on the “middle 50” for each school - so, the score at the 25th percentile and 75th percentile for admitted students. This will tell you the range of scores that the median 50% of accepted students have. You’re generally a safer applicant if you fall in this middle 50% than if you’re in the bottom 25% of students.
Another factor to consider is that each school will weight applicants’ SAT scores a bit differently in the application process. Schools like the University of Washington at St Louis, for example, are well known for heavily favoring students with excellent scores. Some other schools will forgive below-average test scores if another part of your application impresses the admissions office, like in the examples I gave above. There are even schools that don't require test scores at all.
If you want to calculate your chances of getting into a particular school, you should use our admissions pages - just google "[school name] PrepScholar admissions" to get more information on the school you're interested in.
Finally, if it turns out that your SAT scores just aren't up to par, consider taking the ACT. All 4-year colleges accept ACT scores, and some students tend to perform better on the ACT than the SAT.
If you're considering adding some of these schools to your college application list, you'll want your SAT scores to be the best they can be. Check out our famous guide to getting a perfect score on the SAT.
If you don't have a ton of time to prep for your SAT, but still want to improve your score, read our tips and strategies guide to improving performance on the exam.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.