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College SAT Requirements: How to Find What SAT Score You Need


Maybe you already know your top college choice. Now you want to know what SAT score you need to get into your dream school. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. Generally, there is no SAT score requirement that guarantees you admission, especially for the most selective colleges. Conversely, there usually isn’t an SAT score that will automatically disqualify you from admission because schools use holistic admissions. Your application will be evaluated on your GPA, extracurricular activities, recommendations, personal essay, and SAT score.

However, your SAT score will significantly increase or decrease your likelihood of admission, and you can use available statistics to determine the SAT score you need to improve your chances of being able to attend a certain college. Colleges generally say that they don't have SAT requirements, but if you get an 800 and want to go to Harvard, statistically, you have nearly a 0% chance of gaining admission.

In this article, I will discuss SAT score requirements and how your SAT score impacts the college admissions process.


Will Your SAT Score Guarantee Your College Admission?

Alone, your SAT score can't guarantee your college acceptance. At the most selective schools, even students with perfect SAT scores are routinely rejected. Remember that your SAT score is only one component of your application, albeit a very important one.

An article from a 2013 edition of Stanford Magazine stated that 69% of Stanford applicants from the previous 5 years with perfect 2400 SAT scores (on the old pre-2016 SAT) were denied admission. And, since then, the overall acceptance rate to Stanford has dropped even lower.

While your SAT score alone can't guarantee your admission to a specific college, there are colleges where your SAT score combined with your GPA can guarantee admission.

For California students, at the University of California, if your grades and standardized test scores combined are in the top 9% of California high school graduates and you're not accepted to any of the UC campuses you apply to, you'll be offered a spot at another campus if space is available.

Additionally, other states have guaranteed admission at some or all of their public universities if you obtain a certain GPA and SAT score. Some of the states that offer guaranteed admission include Iowa, Nevada, Texas, and Missouri.

You should check the admissions requirements on a college's website to see if there is a similar program and to find out the GPA and SAT score requirements for automatic admission.




What Score Do You Need to Increase Your Chances of Admission?

The SAT score required to improve your odds of gaining admission to a school varies depending on the school. Generally, you should aim for at least the 75th percentile SAT score of that college for your score to positively influence your application. Most schools publish their 25th and 75th percentile scores.

The logic behind this strategy is that if your SAT score is well above the score of the majority of students at the school, then your SAT score will undoubtedly help you when your application is evaluated. Remember that if you score above the 75th percentile for a school, then you've scored higher than at least 75% of the students who go there. Your scores will compare favorably to those of current students and that will significantly improve your chances of getting in.

Even during the years when Stanford rejected 69% of applicants with perfect SAT scores, the 31% acceptance rate for students with perfect SAT scores was much, much higher than the overall acceptance rate. During that time, the acceptance rate was 6%-8%. Students who got perfect SAT scores gave themselves a dramatically better chance of being accepted than if they had gotten an average score for a Stanford applicant.

If your SAT score is closer to the 25th percentile, then another component of your application should be outstanding to have a realistic shot at admission. If your score is significantly lower than the 25th percentile, your odds of getting in are very slim.


How to Find a School's 25th/75th Percentile SAT Scores

To find a school's 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores, you can use the PrepScholar database. We've done the work for you. On your favorite search engine, you can plug in "(school name) SAT requirements prepscholar" and you'll get the answers you're looking for. For example, if you're searching for UCLA, just Google "UCLA SAT requirements prepscholar."

Here is all the information for Stanford University.

For another example, here is all the information for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Also, you should find out a school's policy regarding score choice and superscoring. PrepScholar college profiles provide that info to you as well.




How to Determine Your SAT Target Score

When preparing for your SAT, you should have a target score in mind. Your target score can influence your studying, test-taking strategies, and motivate you to keep improving your SAT skills. Here's how to determine your SAT target score.

Make a list of the schools you're interested in applying to. The average of their 75th percentile SAT scores will be your target score. To determine your section target scores, divide your SAT target score by 2.

If you're applying to an engineering or science program, your math score can be slightly higher. Similarly, if you're applying to a humanities program, your reading and writing score can be slightly higher. For more specific information about SAT target scores, check out the post on what's a good SAT score.


Will Getting a Low SAT Score Prevent You From Going to College?

Getting a low SAT score may prevent you from getting into the college of your dreams, but it shouldn't stop you from going to college. There are a number of schools that don't require SAT scores at all.

Also, most community colleges don't require SAT scores. You always have the option of going to a 2-year college and transferring to a 4-year university.

Keep in mind that if you do poorly on your SAT, high grades in college prep classes can compensate for low test scores. How well you do in four years of high school is more important to colleges than how well you do on one standardized test.

However, if you want to compete in NCAA sports, there are minimum SAT and ACT scores you need to be eligible to compete.



It's still possible to get into college if you have low SAT scores.


There may not be strict SAT requirements for specific colleges or college in general, but doing well on your SAT should give you more college options and increase your likelihood that you'll be admitted to the colleges you want to attend.


What's Next?

For those of you still hoping to reach your SAT target score, read these articles on how to improve your SAT score and how to get a perfect SAT score.

Also, learn how to build the most versatile college application.



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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.

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