Did you know that the ACT is accepted by all 4-year colleges? And that more students now end up taking the ACT than the SAT? With the test growing more and more popular each year, it’s smart to get a handle on what schools are toughest when it comes to applicants’ ACT scores.
I’ve compiled a list of colleges with the highest average ACT scores for admitted students. You’ll be able to compare your own ACT scores (or goal scores) with those of top colleges and universities. I’ll also talk about what these rankings actually mean: are these schools the best schools you can attend? Are they the most competitive? What if your ACT scores are below the listed averages?
Read on to find out the answers to these questions (and more)!
Below you'll find a chart of schools with students who have the highest average ACT scores.
|Average Composite Score||School|
|34||Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering|
|33.5||University of Chicago|
|33.5||University of Pennsylvania|
|33||Washington University in St Louis|
Note: With the exception of those for Dartmouth, Tufts, Wellesley, and Williams, the averages listed above are median ACT scores, rather than mean ACT scores.
If you want more information about your own chances of getting into any of the schools listed above, you can check out PrepScholar's admissions pages — just click on the name.
How Should You Interpret These Rankings?
The ACT is scored, in total, out of 36 points. As you can see, the scores ranked above are pretty close to that maximum score.
The average ACT score (when considering every single student who takes the exam) is 21 out of 36. A student's score is generally considered high if it's 25 or above—this puts a student in the top 25% of scorers. A student's score is generally considered low if it's 16 or below—this puts a student in the bottom 25% of scorers.
You can read more about what's considered a "good" or "bad" score by checking out our guide to ACT scores.
Are These Really the Top Schools?
Now that you have an idea of where your own ACT scores (or goal scores) fit in terms of these rankings, you might be wondering how important this list is when it comes to determining top schools.
It's a bit of a complicated question. Most of these schools are ranked very highly on things like the US News & World Report lists. These rankings take many factors into consideration when ranking schools, not just ACT scores; even though the rankings may not be perfect, they give a pretty good general idea of top US schools.
The institutions that rank on this list do tend to have a better reputation than others and are generally more competitive—that is, acceptance rates are lower (in some cases much lower) than average. You'll notice, for example, that all of the Ivy League schools are on the list above. Because these schools are more competitive, the students who attend them are typically stronger academically.
The schools who won a spot on this list tend to be ranked highly by education experts, have high graduation rates, and a strong student body.
Of course, it's important to consider not only a school's reputation or ranking but also what it can offer you personally. The top school for you will be the school that best matches with your own personal preferences, interests, passions, and future career path. Schools with very specialized programs or unique offerings may be better fits for some students—not everyone will know or care about the Curtis Institute of Music, for example, but any musician in the making will know it’s one of the top schools in the country (even though it doesn’t make lists for top ACT scores).
To sum up, the schools on the list above do tend to rank very highly, and for good reason. Ultimately, however, what makes a school "good" is whether it's a good fit for you.
Are These Schools the Most Competitive Schools?
For the reasons discussed above, the schools on the list above are some of the most competitive schools in the country—that is, they have some of the lowest acceptance rates (some report acceptance rates of less than 10%).
However, there are also niche institutions with incredibly low acceptance rates that don’t necessarily weight ACT scores as heavily as the schools above. Some of the most competitive schools in the US are military and naval academies, top conservatories, and schools that guarantee a minimum financial aid amount. Many of these institutions don't rank on this list.
What If Your ACT Scores Are Below the Listed Averages? Do You Still Have a Chance of Getting In?
Admissions officers consider a student applicant as a whole—they don't just look at your ACT score when determining whether you're a good fit for the school. If your ACT scores are less than stellar, you may be able to make up for it with other strengths.
The bottom line is that if you’re applying to a school with extremely competitive ACT scores and yours are below average, you’ll have to stand out as an exceptional applicant in other parts of your application. You can do this with an impressive GPA, a long-standing commitment to community service, a discussion of extraordinary personal circumstances or obstacles, athletic ability … the list goes on!
Find a way to stand out as a strong applicant in ways that don't involve your ACT score.
Now, keep in mind that the scores posted are averages - about half of all students attending a particular school will have ACT scores that are lower than the scores listed. What that means is your application won’t necessarily be tossed to the side just because your ACT score is lower than the average.
You can also access information on the “middle 50” for each school—that is, the score at the 25th percentile and 75th percentile for admitted students. This will tell you the range of scores that the median 50% of accepted students have. You’re generally a stronger applicant if you fall in this middle 50% than if you’re in the bottom 25% of students. If you want to calculate your chances of getting into a particular school, you should use our admissions pages—just google "[school name] PrepScholar admissions."
Finally, if the ACT just doesn’t seem to be your thing, consider taking the SAT. All 4-year colleges accept SAT scores, and some students tend to perform better on the SAT than the ACT.
If you haven't already taken the ACT, perhaps this list of top schools has given you a goal to shoot for. If so, you should check out our guide to getting a perfect ACT score. If you don't have a ton of time to prep, you should learn more about tips and strategies to increase your score on test day.
Is the ACT not your thing, but you still want to get into a top school? Learn about how to get a perfect score on your SAT.
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.
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.