SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What's a Good SAT Score for Your College?

Posted by Dora Seigel | Oct 17, 2015 11:30:00 AM

SAT/ACT Score Target

 

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You’ve thought about your dream colleges and are wondering what SAT score will get you accepted. While there is not one number that will guarantee you a spot in the freshmen class, there is a range that will give you the best chance of admission. What is it? I'll answer that and more in this article.

 

Colleges’ SAT Score Range and What They Mean for You

To figure out what score you should aim for, you should look at colleges’ SAT score range. The score range represents the scores that admitted students received. Typically, colleges provide you with scores from the most recent applicant pool.

The Score Range will be given to you in one of two ways: 25th/75th percentile or average SAT. The 25th percentile SAT score means 25% of admitted freshmen scored at or below that number (or 75% of admits scored higher). The 75th percentile SAT score means 75% of admitted students scored at or below that number (or 25% of admits scored higher). The average SAT is simply the average of all admitted students’ SAT scores.

The score ranges will help you understand what kind of score you need to be a competitive applicant to that university, since after looking at it, you'll know what SAT scores admitted students received. Before figuring out exactly what score you should aim for, you need to figure out what schools you hope to attend.  

 

Make a List of Target Schools

If you haven't done so already, create a list of your dream colleges. This list should not include your safety schools. A safety school is a college that you're almost certain you can get into with the SAT score and GPA you have now. 

This list should include the more selective colleges that you hope to attend. You should exclude the safety schools because you want to plan your target SAT score for the schools with the highest admissions standards.

If you meet or exceed the admissions standards for the more selective schools, you will almost certainly be admitted to your safety schools. Once you think you've identified those more selective colleges, draw a table with 3 columns with the following titles:

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

 

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

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average SAT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
UC Berkeley
   
Yale University
   
     
     

 

Under the 25th percentile or average SAT, you'll put either the 25th percentile or average SAT score for that school. As I said before, schools will only provide you with one or the other; whichever they give you, write that number in the middle column.

Under 75th percentile / target score, you put the school’s 75th percentile score (if they provide it). For schools that only give average SAT, you'll be calculating a unique target score. I'll explain how to calculate it later on in the article.

 

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How to Find the SAT Score Ranges

Now that you have your list finding those schools’ SAT score ranges is very easy. Simply search “[College Name] average SAT” or “[College Name] SAT 25th/75th percentile” in Google. That will most likely lead you to what is known as the Freshman Admit Profile for your target school.

If you are unable to find a Freshman Admit Profile for your school of choice, check out our database of college admission requirements. There you'll find the admissions criteria for almost every college in the country. Use the Command + F function on your keyboard to search for your target school. 

Here is a screenshot from Yale’s admission site:

Yale provided the 25th/75th percentile SAT score for their admits on their admissions website. To figure out the 25th percentile composite SAT score if you took the SAT or are taking it this fall, simply add the 3 lower numbers together (which each separately represent the 25th percentile SAT score for the section):

710 + 710 + 720 = 2140

To approximate the 25th percentile composite SAT score if you are taking the new SAT in spring 2016 (which is out of 1600), you need to first average the Verbal and Writing sections (since on the new SAT they are combined into one section out of 800):

(710 + 720) / 2 = 715

And then add that number to the 25th percentile SAT score for Math:

715 + 710 = 1425, rounds to 1430 (the SAT is scored in units of 10)

Do the same math with the higher numbers (75th percentile score) to figure out the composite 75th percentile SAT score.

NOTE: some schools may call it the middle 50% scores, but the 2 numbers they provide are the 25th and 75th percentile scores. Some schools call it the middle 50% since the scores between the 25th and 75th percentile represent the middle 50% of SAT scores of admitted freshmen.

Add this new information that you found (the 25th percentile composite SAT score) to your chart. (NOTE: I have completed this for a student taking the new SAT in Spring 2016 forward):

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average SAT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
UC Berkeley
 
 
Yale University
1430
1590
     
     

While some schools provide you with the 25th/75th percentile, other schools will provide you with only one number, the average SAT score for admitted freshmen (which UC Berkeley’s does in their Freshman Admit Profile below):   

 As I said before, this is simply the average of all of the SAT scores for admitted freshmen. Since it is an average, you can't know exactly how many students scored above and below it, but presumably about 50% scored above and 50% scored below.

If you took or are taking the SAT this fall, use the Math, Critical Reading, and Writing scores. Simply add them together to figure out the average composite SAT score.

686 + 710 + 698 = 2094, rounds to 2090 (as I noted before, the SAT is scored in units of 10)

If you are taking the SAT in spring 2016 or later, use the Math score as is and then average the Critical Reading and Writing scores together (since on the new SAT they are combined into one section out of 800):

(686 + 698) / 2 = 692

710 + 692 = 1402, rounds to 1400

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 colleges that only provide Average SAT. I will explain what to fill in later on:

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average SAT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
UC Berkeley
1400
 
Yale University
1430
1590
     
     

 

 

How to Calculate Target Score

For schools that provide the 75th percentile, you should aim for a score at or above the 75th percentile. (That is 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 SAT (such as UC Berkeley), I would aim for a score 100 points above that score for the new SAT. For the old SAT, you will need to aim even higher (about 150 points above the average) since there are 3 sections instead of 2.

For the best shot of admission to UC Berkeley if you are taking the new SAT in 2016, I would aim for 1500 out of 1600. If you took or are taking the current SAT, I would aim for 2240.  

You should fill in that number (the average SAT plus 100 points for the new SAT or the average SAT plus 150 points for the old SAT) to your chart under 75th percentile / Target score:

School Name
25th Percentile or
Average SAT
75th Percentile /
Target Score
UC Berkeley
1400
1500
Yale University
1430
1590
     
     

You may ask why you can’t aim for a lower score, closer to the 25th percentile or the average score. After all, a lot of students are accepted with those scores. In writing this article, I'm assuming that you are a typical applicant and not a special applicant. Special applicants such as athletes, legacies, child of significant donors, or a unique talent (such as world-class opera singers or famous actors) are typically admitted with lower scores (25th percentile score).

If you are not in that category, you'll want a higher SAT score to have the best chance of being accepted. The higher your score, the better your chance of admission. Check out Brown University’s breakdown of admission below:

If you look at the highest score (800), 22.8% of applicants who scored an 800 in Critical Reading 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 750 and 790 in Critical Reading) your chances of being accepted drop by 5.7% from 22.8% to 15.1%. The same principle holds true across all sections and the composite (which they did not provide data on).

The lesson to take away from this data is the higher your score, the better your chance of being accepted. As you see from my chart above, the two “Target Scores” vary by 90 points, so which should you aim for? Aim for the highest target score on your list.

If you reach the highest target score, you'll have the best chance of admission at all of the universities on your list. If you got a 1590 and applied to Yale and UC Berkeley, you would have a great chance of being accepted to both. However, if you got a 1500 and applied to Yale, you would now fall short of the 75th percentile score and be in the middle 50% of admits scores. You still could be admitted, but your chances are not quite as good.

 

How to Plan Your Prep

Plan your SAT prep to meet that goal. If you already took the SAT once, or you took a practice SAT and your initial score is far from your score goal, consider taking an SAT class, hiring an SAT tutor, or using an online SAT program such as PrepScholar.

Here at PrepScholar, we do the heavy-lifting for you by figuring out your strengths and weaknesses. We personalize your SAT practice to your needs. For more information about our program, read How to Ensure Online Tutoring from PrepScholarTutors is Right for You?

If you cannot afford one of these options and/or want to try studying on your own, use one of our study plan guides to help you plan your SAT preparation schedule:

Remember, your goal is achievable if you dedicate the appropriate amount of time and effort.


What’s next?

Learn more about applying to college and preparing for the SAT:

 

Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points? We've written a guide 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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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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