No college application is complete without test scores. But sending scores to colleges doesn't have to be a confusing and frustrating process! Read this article to understand all the options for sending out your ACT scores, to get help with the many decisions you will have to make, and to know what to do if you run into problems.
I'll describe the basic process of how to send ACT scores, how to take full advantage of the ACT's individual score reporting, when to send scores, and how to make sure your scores don't get lost. At the same time, I'll go through the pros and cons of every available option and suggest a recommended course of action.
How to Send Your ACT Scores
You can send your scores either when you take the test or any time after you get your scores.
From the time you register for the ACT until the Thursday after your test date, you have the option of sending out 4 free score reports to colleges or scholarship programs – but without having seen your scores.
Whether you should take this free reports offer really depends on your circumstances:
- Pro: These 4 reports are free, so you save some money.
- Con: You won’t be able to take advantage of the ACT score choice-like policy (more on this in the next part of the article). In other words, instead of getting to pick and choose which of your scores colleges see, your test results will be sent to colleges even if you do worse than you expect.
- Recommendation: Use the free reports to send scores to colleges that require you to send all your scores (here is a list of all-scores colleges).
You can also send your scores any time after you receive them by logging into your ACT web account. In your account, you can see scores from all the dates that you have taken the ACT, and create reports of these scores for colleges.
Our advice about whether you should send scores after seeing them:
- Pros: You can customize each report with only those test dates you want to send. This lets you take advantage of ACT score choice (again, I'll tell you all about this a little further down).
- Cons: Each report costs $12 (even for students eligible for fee waivers), and each report can only have one test date and one college on it. For example, sending 1 test score to 10 schools costs $120; sending 4 test scores to 1 school costs $48. These fees add up quickly, so you have to think carefully about exactly what you want to send where.
- Send scores with your best subsection results to colleges that superscore. They will make a new composite from your best Math, Science, Reading, and English scores from any tests you took (here is a list of superscoring colleges).
- Send your single highest score to colleges that neither superscore nor require all your scores, to ACT scholarship programs, and to the NAIA if you are going to play college sports.
To send out scores from more than a year ago, you have to request them from the ACT archives, which you can do in several ways (each of these services has an associated fee):
- If you tested sometime after September 2013, you can use the score report inquiry form.
- If you tested between 1966 and 2013, you can:
- Request your scores online by creating your ACT Web account.
- Send in a request form (if you can remember your approximate test year, ACT can check a range of years in their records for you).
- Call (319) 337-1270
- Send a letter of request to: ACT Student Services – Score Reports, PO Box 451, Iowa City, IA 52243-0451.
Pro Tip: some Q&A websites are telling students that printing out a copy of your scores from the ACT website and mailing or faxing it to colleges is a way of sending scores for free. If only! Unfortunately, the vast majority of colleges only accept score reports sent by ACT as official and authorized – and most colleges also only accept electronic scores through ACT’s special service.
It didn't work when you tried to mail your baby brother away when you were four, and it won't work for you to mail your scores now.
Can You Choose Which Scores to Send?
Because of the way the ACT score ordering process is structured – you get to pick which score or scores to send to which colleges – their policy ends up being almost identical to the SAT’s Score Choice. (The ACT doesn’t call it Score Choice, but I will for simplicity’s sake).
Let's say you took the test twice and the first time you were getting over the flu and having a terrible day. The basic idea of ACT Score Choice is that you get to send just the second test score to your target colleges and pretend that first test didn’t even happen.
- Score Choice is awesome for colleges that don’t want to see all of your ACT scores.
- It's also perfect for colleges that superscore – you can send them just those test dates that have your highest subsection scores.
- It’s also the best way to send your best score to scholarship programs and the NAIA.
- You have to be careful and read your target colleges score submission policy carefully. Failing to send all your scores to colleges that require all your scores could put your application in jeopardy.
- Because each score report can only have one college and one score on it, sending out many reports quickly becomes expensive.
The hot new "make it rain" rap video montage accessory? A stack of envelopes from ACT.
When Should You Send Your ACT Scores?
Now, let's talk about the best timing for sending your scores out.
Should You Send Scores Early?
Some students have heard that sending scores early (maybe even in your junior year!) shows the college that you are a very interested applicant.
It’s true that there is such a thing as “demonstrated interest” – admissions committees do sometimes want to see proof that an applicant sincerely wants to go to their school. But demonstrated interest only comes into play after your full application is already in, usually as a way to move up on the waitlist.
In any case, sending ACT scores early does not give you an edge or constitute “demonstrated interest.” Generally, if you send scores to a college but you haven’t applied there yet, the admission staff will simply save them under your name in a general file until your application shows up. They don’t keep track of whose scores got there first.
And it's not only that. If you send your scores early, but are still planning to retake the ACT, you won't get the full benefit of Score Choice since you won't be able to choose between that early score and ones from later testing.
Sending scores early enough for Neanderthals to receive them won't give you a leg up.
When Should Scores Get to the Admissions Office?
It will be no surprise to hear that official scores reports should be received by each university's application deadline. In order to figure out what this means in terms of when to send your scores, let’s go through the timing of everything that happens after you take the test.
Step 1: The ACT has to score your test
- This usually takes 2 weeks for multiple-choice scores (but can take up to 8).
- It takes an extra 2 weeks for writing scores (if you took the ACT with writing).
- It also takes an extra 1 – 2 weeks if you took the test outside the US or Canada (on top of the extra 2 weeks for writing).
Step 2: Score reports are posted online and processed for sending
- Scores are posted online as soon as multiple-choice results are ready (and writing results are added 2 weeks later, when they are finished). However, if you tested through State and District, School, or DANTES Testing, you’ll only see your scores online after getting your printed score report in the mail.
- If you registered for the 4 free score reports, they are sent out as soon as your full score (multiple choice and writing) is ready.
- If you order score reports from the ACT website, they take 1 week to be processed for sending to colleges.
Step 3: Colleges receive the scores
- Most colleges get scores electronically. They themselves determine how often they receive scores. The least frequent possibility is once every 2 weeks, although most schools choose to receive scores far more often (for example, UVA gets them daily).
- A small number of colleges receive paper score reports sent by first-class mail. These are delivered within a few days.
- Remember: there will be a lag between when a college gets your scores and when it adds them to your application file.
So in most circumstances, the math for ordering the test goes: 1 week for ordering scores + 1 week for colleges to get and file scores = you need to order at least 2 weeks before the application deadline. Just in case, however, it's best to send scores as soon as you're done testing and are sure which schools you're applying to.
Your last possible test date math goes: 2 weeks for scoring multiple choice + 2 weeks for scoring writing + 3 weeks for ordering tests = take your last test no later than 7 weeks before the application deadline.
Sending your scores is the synchronized swimming of college applications: to do it well, you have to master perfect timing.
Should You Order the ACT Priority Delivery Service?If you’re running short on time, you can order your scores through ACT’s rush service.
- Pros: Instead of taking up to 1 week to send out your scores, the ACT guarantees that scores will be processed in 2 days and delivered 3 – 4 days after being processed.
- This service does not speed up how long it takes to score your test.
- This service also does not speed up how long it takes for the college to receive your scores – colleges choose the timing themselves, and can take up to 2 weeks. In other words, while scores are sent sooner, they aren't necessarily going to be seen sooner.
- Colleges that receive score reports electronically may not view priority reports at all.
- It costs $16.50 per report.
- Recommendation: If every moment counts because the deadline is very fast approaching, it might make sense to pay extra to buy yourself a little more time. Just keep in mind that colleges may not see your scores any faster if their delivery preferences aren’t set up for priority reports.
What if You Miss the Deadline?
What happens to applications when scores are received late depends on each college’s individual policy.
Some schools have a hard and fast rule that late application materials disqualify the applicant. For example, the University of Texas’s policy even overrides the guaranteed admission this state school offers to any in-states students in the top 10% of their class.
At some schools late SAT scores are a gamble – you’re betting that your application won’t be considered until further into the process, so your scores have a chance to get there. For example, Stanford University’s admissions site warns that “We cannot delay the review of an application in anticipation of scores ... nor can we guarantee that late scores will be reviewed." Meanwhile, UVA points out that if your scores are late, “There is a chance that we will have already started the review your file before those scores arrive. [But] there's a chance that the scores will be seen at some point in the process.”
Finally, some schools judge each application on a case-by-case basis – this means that an otherwise excellent application might be put aside until SAT scores arrive, while an application that is clearly not a good fit for the school is rejected even before scores are received.
Still better than being late for the Queen of Hearts and her "off with your head" policy.
How Do You Make Sure Your Scores Don’t Get Lost?
The number one reason colleges can’t find your ACT scores is that you entered the wrong ACT college code or did not release your scores to your target college. If you registered for the 4 free reports, you can check your own score report for the code numbers you put in and confirm that they are correct. If you ordered reports from the ACT website, then go to your account and double check the college codes there.
A good rule of thumb is to wait three weeks after your sending date to check whether your scores have been received. Usually, this info is available on the college’s application site, or some colleges will contact you to let you know which application materials are still not in your file.
If you get a notice from the college that your scores are missing, don’t panic: it can take a few weeks for received application materials to be logged. Chances are the school has indeed received your scores but they simply haven’t been filed yet. Feel free to call the admissions office, and calmly and respectfully ask them to check whether your scores have arrived.
If your scores do not turn up – whether because they got lost in the mail, were somehow electronically derailed, or were simply misfiled – you can still resend your scores by ordering new ones from the ACT website.
If she's facing away from Lost, does that mean she's going to Found? Deep thoughts.
Is your ACT score good enough? Learn what an excellent ACT score is for your top-choice schools and then get a first-person guide to getting a perfect 36.
Want to blow off a little steam? Here are 5 fun facts about the ACT. Maybe one will help you win that coveted pink Trivial Pursuit wedge!
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.