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Average ACT Score - which one matters to you?

feature_averageYou're probably curious about how you stack up against average ACT scores. But how many types of averages are there, and which averages are important for you? How about the national average ACT score? Or ACT score averages by gender and by ethnicity?

We'll discuss official results for all these questions and tell you which ACT average actually matters for your future.

What is the ACT average score? That depends on which group of students you're looking at. We'll look at national averages, averages by gender, and averages by ethnicity. Then we'll discuss which average ACT scores actually matter to you.


National Average ACT Score

The national average for the ACT stays roughly the same from year to year. For the graduating class of 2014, the ACT reported 1,845,787 total test takers. These were the average scores by section, and as a composite score:

  • Composite: 20
  • English: 19-20
  • Math: 19-20
  • Reading: 20-21
  • Science: 20-21

All scores reported are the 50th-percentile score, meaning half the students scored above this number, and half scored below.

If you scored the national average of 20 composite, you have a decent selection of schools that you have a great chance of getting into. If you raise your score by just a few points, this can make a huge difference in the schools that you're likely to get into.

Now a few more ACT average scores for curiosity:


Average ACT Scores by Gender

  Students Percent English Mathematics Reading Science Composite
Males 856,651 46 20.0 21.4 21.1 21.2 21.1
Females 977,127 53 20.7 20.5 21.5 20.5 20.9

Interestingly, just like the SAT, boys tend to score higher in mathematics and science, while girls score higher in English and reading.

Of course, these are national averages - just because you're a particular gender has little influence on the score you'll receive. It's much more up to the individual - if you stay motivated and prep for the ACT, you can earn a high score.


Average ACT Scores by Ethnicity

When registering for the ACT, the College Board allows students the option to specify their ethnicity. Most students do share their ethnicity, and the ACT has reported average scores across ethnicity: 

Ethnicity Students Percent English Mathematics Reading Science Composite
All Students 1,845,787   20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 21.0
Black/African American 241,678 13% 15.8 17.2 17.3 17.0 17.0
American Indian/Alaska Native 14,263 0.8% 16.6 18.1 18.4 18.3 18.0
White 1,038,435 56% 22.0 22.0 22.8 22.1 22.3
Hispanic/Latino 281,216 15% 17.7 19.2 19.1 18.8 18.8
Asian 80,370 4% 22.8 24.9 22.8 23.2 23.5
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 5,676 0.3% 17.5 19.2 18.7 18.6 18.6
Two or more races 70,013 4% 20.6 20.9 21.7 21.0 21.2
No response 114,136 6% 20.0 20.7 21.1 20.5 20.7

Once again, take this information with a huge grain of salt. While there are score differences by ethnicity, these are very rough metrics that may not apply to you. Because these are national averages, it ignores the ability of you as an individual to exceeds the average. Just by searching for this information, you're already outperforming doing more than what most students do to learn about the ACT.

Now we get to the real question - which average ACT scores actually matter for you? 

The answer is:


Average ACT Scores for Your Target Colleges

The average ACT score that you should care about is the average ACT score at the colleges you're planning to apply to.

If you're applying to selective colleges like those in the Ivy League, you'll need to score much higher than the national ACT score average of 20.

Likewise, if you're applying to local community colleges, you may not need to score as high as 20 on the ACT.

Your score target is unique to you, based on the schools you're interested in. We're going to take you through an easy process to figure out what ACT score you need to aim for, based on just 10 minutes of work.


Step 1: Download this Worksheet

To work through the following steps, we'll be filling out a worksheet for all the schools you're planning to apply to. Click here to download it, or click the image below.


I recommend you print it out so that you can write on paper and keep it next to your work space.


Step 2: Fill in the schools you want to get into in the first column.

Include your reach schools (or schools that you have a smaller chance of getting into). Don't include your "safety schools," or schools that you're 90% sure you'll get into (because you're likely already scoring well enough to get into those schools).

If you don't know what schools you're aiming for yet, feel free to use ones that have been suggested to you, or schools that your friends are interested in. I recommend that you take the time to research schools first, though, so that we have a realistic target score.


Step 3: For each school, Google for "[name of school] average ACT".

For example, if I'm interested in U Alabama, I'll do the following search:


Most schools will have an link or the school website, as shown here. Either page will usually list the 25th/75th percentile scores for current U Alabama students. As a reminder of what this means: 25th percentile means that 25% of the students attending have a score at or below that number (this is below average). 75th percentile means that 75% of students have a score at or below that number. In essence, this covers the middle 50% of all students admitted to U Alabama.

If you score at the 75th percentile for any school, you have a great chance at getting in. If you're at the 25th percentile, you'll need to have a strong application to boost your odds of getting in.

Fill out the worksheet this way for all the schools on your list.


Step 4: Calculate your Final ACT Target Score

Finally, take the average of both columns - 25th percentile, and 75th percentile.

I recommend that you use the 75th percentile average as your target score. If you achieve this score through hard work, you'll have a very strong shot at getting into many of the schools on your list.

For you, this is what your "Average ACT score" should be. It's unique to you - not the nation at large, and not your state or gender average score.

Finally, you should set a target for your score for each section. My suggestion would be to use the composite score for each section. If you're applying to engineering schools or as a science major, your math and science scores can be higher than your other sections. Similarly, if you're applying to liberal arts programs or as a humanities major, your English and Reading scores can be higher.


Step 5: Share Your Target Score

As a last step, I suggest that you do two things with your score target:

  1. Share it with your parents. This will be a helpful conversation around your personal goals and how you want to achieve your target ACT score.
  2. Tape it to your wall. This will keep your goal in mind so that you can guide your studying powerfully.

What to Do Next:

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? Read to learn the details.

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Allen Cheng
About the Author

As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT. You can also find Allen on his personal website, Shortform, or the Shortform blog.

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