Did you recently get your SAT scores back and do, well, amazing? If you got above a 2200, you should proud – you’re in the top 2% of test scorers. In fact, you’re in the top 1% with a score of 2220 and up. (For the New SAT, any score higher than 1480 is likely to put you in the top 1%, but we will have to wait a few months for percentile data.)
But if you’re a perfectionist, you might be wondering, "Since I did so well, shouldn't I try to retake the SAT for a perfect 1600?" We will help you decide if an SAT retake is right for you.
Where Are You Applying?
The main thing to consider when deciding to retake the SAT is where you want to apply for college. If you’re planning on attending a local university or a school that’s not super-selective, your score is already more than fine and you shouldn’t worry about retaking the test. (Your high SAT score will likely be important for merit scholarships, which we will discuss below.)
However, if you’re applying to ultra-selective schools – think the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, or MIT – a retake might be worth it. We'll explore the reasons why below.
Most Selective Schools (Top 15)
If you’re aiming for top schools, it’s worth it to get to a 2300 (or about 1530 on the New SAT) or higher. But once you’re past 2300/1530, any score increases won’t dramatically improve your chances of admission, so you should focus on the rest of your application.
So if you have a 2360, don’t worry about retaking the SAT. If you have a 2200, and want to apply to top schools, consider retaking it to get above the 1530 threshold.
Our rule of thumb is this: try to aim for the 75th percentile of the school's SAT score ranges. Because the admission rate is so low at these selective schools, getting a higher score can raise your chance of success.
In terms of percentiles, 2220 and higher puts you in the top 1% of scorers in the nation, as we discussed above. However, the higher your composite score, the rarer it is, helping you stand out in the admissions process.
If your score is between 2200 – 2300, more students earn that score each year, above 20,000 nationally.
But if you get a 2300 and higher, only about 8,800 other students have such a high score. If you’re 2350 and higher, only 3000 other students are on your level.
So the higher your score, the more you will stand out in a very competitive applicant pool, because fewer applicants will have a score as high as yours. (Again, we don't have data yet for the New SAT, but if the basic principle will likely remain the same: the higher your SAT score, the rarer it will be.)
This is especially important for top colleges, whose admitted students have incredibly high SAT scores. How do we know this?
Colleges release data about their admissions cycles, including the average SAT scores of applicants. They release the middle 50% score range – the SAT scores that the middle 50% of applicants had.
You want to pay attention to the numbers at the top of the ranges. With a score at the top of that middle 50% range, you've scored higher than 75% of successful applicants. A score in that range will put you towards the top of the applicant pool in terms of test scores, rather than in the middle or the lower end. Being towards the top of the pool increases your chances of admission, while being within range but closer to the bottom makes your admission less likely.
Let’s take a look at the middle 50% ranges for some ultra-selective colleges to see just how competitive they are.
Note: these middle 50% ranges still use old SAT scores (scores out of 2400), since the most recent group of applicants only had the old SAT available. It will be at least a year before colleges are able to include the new SAT in their admissions data. Because of this, focus on the Math and Reading sections to estimate a target new SAT composite score goal for each school.
SAT Critical Reading 680-780
SAT Math 700-790
SAT Writing 690-790
Source: Stanford Common Data Set
As you can see, if you have section scores in the high 700s (which would give you a 2300/1570 or higher composite), you have scores in line with their top admitted students. Getting to the top of the pool is crucial to stand out in Stanford’s application process. Just over 5% of their applicants got in last year.
Obviously, even a perfect score won’t guarantee admission, as Stanford turns away perfect scorers every year. But, the higher your score, the less likely you are to get put aside.
SAT Critical Reading: 700-800
SAT Math: 710-800
SAT Writing: 710-800
Source: Harvard Common Data Set
Note that for Harvard, since the middle 50% ranges are basically between 700 and 800, the top 25% of their admitted students have perfect 800s. Section scores in the high 700s or 800 will put you in line with their top admits, and thus make your application very competitive. Basically, the closer to a perfect 1600 you get, the more competitive you will be.
SAT Critical Reading: 720-800
SAT Math: 710-800
SAT Writing: 710-790
Source: Yale Fact Sheet
Similar to Harvard and Stanford, Yale’s middle 50% ranges are very impressive. The closer to 800 your section scores are, the closer to the top of Yale’s applicant pool you will be, and the more competitive you will become.
SAT Critical Reading: 690-790
SAT Math: 750-800
SAT Writing: 700-790
Source: MIT Admissions Statistics
Note that for MIT, their math score range is especially high. 75% of the admits have a 750 or higher math score. This means that if your math score is 750 or lower, it would be wise to retake the SAT and aim for a perfect 800 in math, or as close as possible.
If your composite is 2300 but with a lower math score (for example 800 Critical Reading, 800 Writing, 700 Math), you should definitely retake the SAT for a higher math score.
SAT Critical Reading: 690-790
SAT Math: 710-800
SAT Writing: 710-790
Source: Princeton Admission Statistics
Princeton has similar ranges to Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. They also list statistics for the admit rate of applicants with different score ranges:
2300-2400 Admit Rate: 14.5%
2100-2290 Admit Rate: 8.1%
So while Princeton is still very competitive even with a 2300+ SAT, note that your chances of admission almost double if you have a 2300 or higher versus the next step down, 2100-2290. So if you're in the 2100-2290 range, it could be worth it to retake the SAT and aim for at least a 1530.
Selective Schools (Top 15-50)
If you're aiming for selective but not top 15 schools, a 2200 or higher is already towards the top of the applicant pool, and you likely shouldn't worry about retaking the SAT. We have listed some examples below of middle 50% ranges for these schools to give you an idea of where your score stands.
You can look up this data for any school you are interested in by searching “[Name of College/University] Common Data Set.”
University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
SAT Composite: 1930-2250
Source: UCLA Freshmen Profile 2015
SAT Critical Reading: 680-760
SAT Math: 680-760
SAT Writing: 690-760
Source: Tufts Common Data Set
University of Virginia
SAT Critical Reading: 620-720
SAT Math: 630-740
SAT Writing: 620-720
SAT Critical Reading: 660-760
SAT Math: 660-760
SAT Writing: Not considered
Source: Georgetown Common Data Set
For all of these schools, note that if your section scores are in the low to mid 700s, which you likely have if your composite is 2200+, you are well within range for admission. If your composite is 2250, with an average of 750 per section, you have about the same score as the top 25% of admitted students.
So if you got a 2200 or higher SAT score and you’re not aiming for the most selective colleges, don’t worry about retaking it. Your odds of admission are already strong for selective colleges. Instead, focus on the rest of your application.
Another factor in deciding to retake the SAT is scholarships. Many scholarships, both private and University-sponsored ones, use SAT scores as cut-offs. So your SAT score could be important not just for admission, but for paying for college – especially at large universities and state schools.
Your SAT score can translate into thousands of dollars to pay for college.
In many cases, the higher your SAT score, the higher your merit scholarship will be. Check out our post on merit scholarships for more info.
For large, full-ride scholarships with separate applications, the higher your SAT score is, the better. Some state universities have scholarships that are as difficult to get as getting into a top college. If you’re aiming for that sort of scholarship, retaking the SAT to be above 2300 would be smart, but once you hit 2300, it’s unlikely a score increase would dramatically improve your chances.
Also consider your individual subject scores. Many scholarships consider just Math and Critical Reading. If you got 800s in those and, say, a 700 in writing (for a 2300 total), you are more than good to go for those scholarships.
However, if your score breakdown was Math 680, CR 800, Writing 800, that below-700 math score could possibly cost you a higher scholarship, depending on the school.
If there is a scholarship that has an ultra-high cut-off at one of your top choice schools, consider taking the SAT again. If not, focus on making sure the rest of your application is strong, as many merit scholarships consider your whole application.
Look up schools you are interested in to see what type of merit scholarships they have. Chances are your SAT is already high enough for their scholarship cut-offs, and you should focus on keeping your GPA and/or class rank high. (For a guide on how to search for merit scholarships, see our automatic scholarships article.)
Is It Worth The Time To Try Again?
Another important consideration if you’re thinking of retaking the SAT is if you have enough time to commit to a retake.
You’ll have to study and practice for your second time. You definitely shouldn’t just walk in and retake it – you’ll likely make the same mistakes and get a similar score, or even a lower one. You need to study carefully, identify the weak spots that caused you to miss points the first time, and work to be as close to perfect as possible. In addition, you'll have to learn all about the New SAT and how to study for the redesigned test.
This could come at the expense of other things important to your application, like extracurriculars, or essays if you are in your senior fall. If you manage to get a 1600 but submit a sub-par essay, your overall chances of admission will not increase very much.
Also, remember your transcript and GPA are another very important piece of your application. As Yale says on their undergraduate admissions website, “The admissions committee is primarily concerned with what kind of Yale student you will be. So it is very important that we see a high level (or an improving degree) of rigor and success throughout your high school years. This includes your senior year. If you wish to make your application among the most competitive, you must take a challenging senior program and continue to excel in it.”
Translation: taking tough courses and doing well matters, especially senior year. If your GPA drops because you were studying for an SAT retake, you could hurt your chances, even if you end up with a higher SAT score.
Bottom line? Think carefully about your schedule and other commitments before deciding to retake the SAT.
What If Your Score Decreases?
Although you’re hoping for the best-case scenario of retaking the SAT and getting a higher score, you need to think about what your application will look like with a second, lower score – which is well within the range of possibility.
Some students score lower on their second try on the SAT, even with studying.
This could be because they psych themselves out – for example, finding errors in the writing section when the answer is “No Error,” or triple-checking one math problem, causing them to run out of time on another.
Remember, if you’re at a 2300, you only have 100 points to gain, but many more potential points to lose.
Colleges will look at your highest scores, but in some cases they request that you send all scores to them – which means they will have an effect on your application and chances.
As an example, Stanford requires you to send all scores: “Official scores from all test dates must be sent to Stanford directly from the ACT or the College Board (the reporting agency for the SAT) or both if the applicant has taken the ACT and the SAT. Applicants may not use the College Board's Score Choice feature or "hide" any scores with either testing agency.”
Yale has a similar policy.
However, some schools do allow Score Choice – an option that allows you to send only your highest SAT scores. For example, “You are free to use the College Board’s Score Choice option and/or the similar option offered by ACT when applying to Harvard.”
Look up your top-choice schools and see if they accept Score Choice or not. If they don’t, keep in mind retaking the SAT and getting a lower score could affect your chances of admission.
Also Consider Subject Tests
Another factor to consider is SAT Subject Tests. Many top tier schools either require them or heavily recommend them. Getting high subject test scores will also be important for admission to top schools.
If you already have a strong SAT score, it might be worth your time to focus on getting strong SAT subject test scores to round out your application.
If your score is above a 2300, you should not worry about retaking the SAT, even if you’re aiming for top schools. One exception is if you have math score below 750 and you are aiming for admission to top engineering schools like MIT or CalTech.
If you have a score between 2200-2300, it would make sense to retake the SAT if you are applying to the very top schools. If you’re not applying to top schools, check to see if any merit scholarships at schools you are applying for have SAT cut-offs or averages higher than your score. If not, don’t worry about retaking the SAT, and start working on the rest of your application.
We mentioned taking SAT subject tests. Learn about what kinds of scores you need for the Ivy League as well as which colleges officially require them.
If you decide to go for a retake, definitely read our guide by our 2400 full-scorer about getting a perfect SAT score. These are the principles you’ll need to get to the perfect score. You should also read our complete guide to the New SAT to understand the changes the test will undergo in March 2016.
Learn more about SAT percentiles and where you stand based on your current scores.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.