If you’re currently applying to college or getting ready to apply to college, you’ve probably heard of the SAT and/or the ACT. You may already know that the SAT is a standardized test which high school students take before applying to college, but how important is the SAT in college applications? It’s hard to overstate the importance of the SAT. Your test score will be one of the most important parts of your college application (if not the most important part).
In this guide, I'll explain why test scores are a key part of your application and how you can determine the SAT admission requirements for the schools you're interested in.
Why Is the SAT Important to Colleges?
There are two main reasons for the importance of the SAT to colleges. Let's go through them one at a time.
#1: Your SAT Score Is How Colleges Compare You to Other Applicants from Around the Globe.
Applicants to one university will come from different backgrounds, will have attended different high schools, will have taken different classes, will have done different extracurricular activities, but all applicants will have taken the SAT and/or ACT (at least at non-test optional schools).
Your SAT score reveals whether your GPA and transcript are accurate representations of your academic ability. Admissions officers use your SAT/ACT score to figure out if your grades were inflated or not.
If you have a 4.0 GPA with a perfect 1600 SAT score, admissions officers will likely be impressed and think your GPA is reflective of your academic potential. If you have a 4.0 GPA with 1000 SAT score, admissions officers may think your grades were inflated and that your SAT score is a better representation of your academic potential.
A high SAT score can also make up for a lower GPA. If you have a 3.0 GPA with a perfect 1600 score, a college admissions officer may be willing to overlook your GPA and consider your SAT score as an indication that you’re college ready.
#2: Colleges Are Judged by Their SAT Score Ranges
The SAT is important to colleges because they use it to judge your academic preparedness for college. However, it's also important to colleges because if you're admitted, your SAT score will be incorporated into their yearly SAT statistics.
Each year, universities publish their freshman admissions profile (see an example of Princeton's freshman admissions profile). In this profile, colleges provide the data on admitted students. The data includes either the 25th/75th percentile SAT/ACT scores (sometimes referred to as the middle 50%) or the average SAT/ACT scores of admitted students.
However, usually, the 25th/75th percentile is provided instead of average score. The 25th percentile score means that 25% of admitted students scored at or below that score (and therefore 75% of admitted students scored above). The 75th percentile score means that 75% of admitted students scored at or below that score (and therefore 25% of admitted students scored above). The average score is just what it sounds like, an average of all the admitted students scores.
The public judges this data to perceive the selectivity of the school (the higher the range, the more competitive or “better” the public thinks the school is). When you think of Ivy League schools such as Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, you likely think, "Wow those are good schools!"
Why do you think they are good schools? You might think of their alumni or campuses. However, many lower ranked schools such as Denison have beautiful campuses with famous alumni like billionaire Michael Eisner. You might think of their low admissions rates, but there are other colleges with comparable admissions rates to the Ivies. The main reason you associate Harvard, Stanford and other top colleges with prestige is because of their published SAT score ranges and their ranking.
When doing research on applying to colleges, you likely came across the US News & World Report ranking of US colleges. Every year, US News & World Report assembles their rankings based on several categories including the SAT scores of admitted students. If you’re admitted to the school, your SAT score will be factored into that school’s overall national ranking in US News & World Report.
Top colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford want your SAT scores to be a good so that it reflects well on them. Even "second tier schools" such as Vanderbilt, USC, and Emory care about this because they hope to continue to rise in the US News & World Report rankings.
Don't be blinded by beauty or rankings! Find the right school for you!
What Does This Mean for You?
How To Find Out a College's SAT Admission Requirements?
I’d recommend reading our guide to finding your SAT score for your target school first. However, the simple route is to Google Search for “[College Name] SAT PrepScholar.” That will bring you to our admissions page for your target school.
You will find the average SAT score, along with the 25th/75th percentile SAT scores of admitted students, and you’ll be able to use our nifty admissions calculator to determine your chances of getting into that school based on your GPA and current SAT score.
Take note of the 75th percentile SAT score listed on our admissions page for your target school. That should be your target SAT score.
You can do it!
What Can You Do To Improve Your SAT Score?
Now that you’ve found out your target score, what can you do to reach it? If you have not prepared for the SAT, you need to. Start with our complete SAT study guide.
If you’ve prepared but are still seeing no improvement, consider switching up your strategy. We’ve prepared many great SAT strategy guides. Read them here and make sure you’re trying to incorporate some of these strategies. NOTE: not all strategies will work for all test-takers. Try out some on your practice tests. Try to figure out what works for you and what doesn't work for you.
If you’ve tried all of the strategies and are still seeing no improvement, you should consider hiring a tutor or trying PrepScholar’s program. Don’t sweat! With the appropriate amount of time and effort dedicated, you should be able to reach your score.
In a hurry? Check out our SAT 10-day cramming guide.
Not sure where you’d like to go to college? Figure out how to find your target school.
Still not sure whether the SAT or ACT is right for you? Let’s help you pick the right test for you!
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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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.