SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What's a Good ACT Score for Your College?

Posted by Dora Seigel | Oct 17, 2015 12:00:00 PM

SAT/ACT Score Target

 

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Hopefully at this point in your college application process you have thought about your dream schools. Whether you took the ACT once and are debating taking it again or if you are just beginning the ACT preparation process, you are probably wondering what ACT will get you accepted.

While there is no one exact ACT score that will be considered “good” for your college or guarantee you a spot, there is a particular ACT score that will you give you the best chance of being accepted. What is it? I will answer that and more by guiding you through 4 easy steps. 

  

College ACT Score Ranges and What They Mean for You

Before figuring out your target score, you should look at colleges’ ACT score range. The score range will show the scores that admitted freshmen received. Usually, schools provide you with scores from the most recent applicant pool.

The scores will be written in one of two ways: as a 25th/75th percentile range or as an average ACT score. The 25th percentile score indicates 25% of admits received an ACT score at or below that number (and 75% of admits scored higher). The 75th percentile score means 75% of admits received an ACT score at or below that number (and 25% of admits scored higher). The average ACT score is simply the average of all admitted students’ ACT scores.

Looking at the score ranges will help you understand what ACT score you need to be a competitive applicant to that university since you'll know what ACT scores admitted students received. Before figuring out your target ACT score, you need to figure out what your list of target schools.

 

Step #1: Create Your List of Target Schools

You may have some schools in mind, but take the time to write down a list of the schools you hope to attend. Do not include your safety schools on this list. A safety school is a school that you're almost certain you'll be accepted to with the ACT score and GPA you have now. 

This target school list should include the more selective colleges. You should exclude the safety schools because you want to plan your target ACT score for the colleges with the most difficult admissions criteria.

If you meet the admissions criteria for the selective colleges, you'll very likely be accepted to your safety schools. Once you have identified your target schools, draw a table with 3 columns with the following titles:

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average ACT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
     
     
     
     

 

Fill in your target colleges under school name as I did below:

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average ACT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
University of Michigan
 
 
UC Berkeley
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Under the 2nd column for 25th percentile or average ACT, you should write either the 25th percentile or average SAT score for that college. As I said before, universities will only give you one or the other; whichever they give you, write that number in that column.

Under the last column for 75th percentile / target score, write the school’s 75th percentile score (if you can find it). For colleges that give average ACT, you will be calculating a unique target score later on in this article.

 

Step #2: Find Out the ACT Scores of Admitted Students.

Now that you have your list finding the admitted students’ ACT score range is very easy. Simply search “[College Name] ACT” or “[College Name] ACT 25th/75th percentile” in Google. That will lead you to what is known as the Freshman Admission Profile for your target school. If you can't locate a Freshman Admit Profile for your target college, check out our database of college admission requirements. There you'll find the admissions requirements for almost every school in the US. Use the Command + F function on your keyboard to search for your target college. 

Here is a screenshot of University of Michigan’s Freshman Admit Profile

 

 

Colleges will usually provide you with the 25th/75th percentile ACT score for freshmen. Some colleges call it the mid 50% range (as UMich does above), but the 2 numbers they provide are the 25th and 75th percentile scores. For UMich, the 25th percentile ACT score is 30, and the 75th percentile ACT score is 34.

Add the 25th percentile / 75th percentile composite ACT score to your chart in the appropriate columns:

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average ACT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
University of Michigan
31
34
UC Berkeley
 
 
     
     

 

While most colleges tell you the 25th/75th percentile ACT scores, other colleges will only give you one number, the average ACT score for admits (which UC Berkeley does on their admissions site). The average ACT score is just the average of all of the ACT scores for admits.

Since the score is an average, you cannot determine exactly how many applicants scored above and below it, but we will assume about 50% of admits scored above and 50% of admits scored below. For Berkeley, the average ACT is 31.

Knowing this information, we'll write it in the column for 25th Percentile or Average SAT, leave the 75th Percentile / Target Score blank for now for the schools that only provide average ACT. I'll explain what to fill in for those schools later on:

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average ACT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
University of Michigan
31
34
UC Berkeley
31
 
     
     


Step #3: Determine Your Target Score for Those Schools.

Based on each school’s 25th/75th percentile ACT or average ACT, we'll determine what your target score should be. For schools that provide the 25th/75th percentile ACT, you should aim for a score at or above the 75th percentile. (Which is exactly why I had you list the 75th percentile in the same column as target score. The 75th percentile is your target score!)

For those schools that just give you an average composite ACT (such as UC Berkeley), I would aim for a score 2 points above that average score. For the best shot of admission to UC Berkeley, I would aim for a 33.  

You should write in that number (the average ACT plus 2 points) on your chart under 75th percentile / Target score:

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average ACT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
University of Michigan
31
34
UC Berkeley
31
33
     
     

 

You may wonder why you shouldn’t aim a score closer to the 25th percentile or the average since many applicants are accepted with that score. I wrote this article assuming that you are a “normal” applicant and not a “special” applicant. To qualify as a special applicant, you need to be an athlete, legacy, child of significant donors, or a unique talent (such as world-class opera singers or famous actors). These special applicants are typically admitted with the lower scores (25th percentile score).

If you're a “normal” applicant, you'll want a higher ACT score to set you apart and give yourself the best chance of being accepted. The higher your score, the better your chance of admission. As an example, check out Brown University’s breakdown of admission; below is a screenshot:

If you look at the highest score (36), 23.8% of applicants who scored a 36 were accepted to Brown, which is significantly higher than the overall Brown admissions rate 8.7%. You can see that as your score begins to decline (you get between 33 and 35) your chance of admission drops by 11.1%, from 23.8% to 12.7%. The lesson to take away from this data is the higher you score, the better your chance of being accepted.

In my chart above, the two “Target Scores” vary by 1 point, so which should you aim for? Aim for the highest target score on your list.

That way, when you reach the highest target score, you have the best chance of admission at all of the universities on your list. If you got a 34 and applied to UC Berkeley and University of Michigan, you would have a great chance of being accepted to both. However, if you aimed for the lower target score and got a 33 and applied to University of Michigan, you would now fall short of the 75th percentile score and be in the middle 50% of admits scores. You still have a decent chance of being accepted, but your chances are not quite as good.

 

Step #4: Create a Plan to Achieve Your Target ACT Score.

To achieve your target score, you need to have a clear plan of attack. If you need significant improvement to meet your target score, you should think about taking an ACT prep class, hiring an ACT tutor, or using an online ACT program such as PrepScholar. Our program figures out your strengths and weaknesses and personalizes your ACT preparation to your needs. For more information about our program, read How to Ensure Online Tutoring from PrepScholarTutors is Right for You?

If your family can’t afford one of those options and/or you want to prepare on your own, check out our ACT study plan guides:

Don't forget that your target score is in reach if you put in the time and effort.

 

What’s Next?

Learn more about preparing for the ACT:

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.

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

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Dora Seigel
About the Author

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.



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