No college application is complete without test scores. But sending scores to colleges doesn't have to be a confusing and frustrating process! Read this article to understand all the options for sending out your ACT scores, to get help with the many decisions you will have to make, and to know what to do if you run into problems.
I'll describe the basic process of how to send ACT scores, how to take full advantage of the ACT's individual score reporting, when to send scores, and how to make sure your scores don't get lost. At the same time, I'll go through the pros and cons of every option and suggest a recommended course of action.
How to Send Your ACT Scores: 2 Methods
You can send your ACT scores either when you take the test or any time after you get your scores.
Method 1: Use Your Four Free Score Reports
From the time you register for the ACT until noon Central Time the Thursday after your test date, you have the option of sending out four free score reports to colleges or scholarship programs. However, this means you'll be sending your scores without having actually seen them.
Whether you should take this free reports offer really depends on your circumstances:
- Pros: These four reports are free, so you'll save some money.
- Cons: You won’t be able to take advantage of the ACT score choice policy (more on this later). In other words, instead of getting to pick and choose which of your scores colleges will see, your test results will be sent to colleges even if you do worse than you expect.
I recommend using the free reports to send scores to colleges that require you to send all your ACT scores.
Method 2: Order Additional Score Reports
You can also send your ACT scores any time after you receive them by logging into your ACT account or by sending in an order form for additional score reports. In your account, you can see your scores from all ACTs you've taken and create reports of these scores for colleges to see.
Here's our advice about whether you should send ACT scores after you've seen them:
- Pros: You can customize each score report to have only the test dates you want to send to colleges. This lets you take advantage of ACT score choice (again, I'll tell you all about this a little further down).
- Cons: Each score report costs $13 (even for students eligible for fee waivers), and each report can only have one test date and one college on it. For example, sending one test score to 10 schools costs $130, while sending four test scores to one school costs $52. Priority reports cost even more: $16.50 per report. These fees add up quickly, so think carefully about what you want to send where.
Here are some of our recommendations on when to send additional score reports:
- Send scores with your best section results to colleges that superscore the ACT. These schools will make a new composite score for you using your best English, Math, Reading, and Science scores from any ACTs you took.
- Send your single highest score to colleges that neither superscore nor require all your scores, to ACT scholarship programs, and to the NAIA if you are going to play college sports.
Can You Send Old ACT Scores?
To send ACT scores from any test taken before September 1, 2016, you have to request them from the ACT archives. Each regular archived report costs $38 (including a nonrefundable $25 archived scores fee), and each priority report costs $41.50.
Here are three options for ordering older ACT scores:
- Request your scores online by creating an ACT account.
- Send in a request form (if you can remember your approximate test year, ACT, Inc., can check a range of years in their records for you) or a letter of request (if you can't remember) to the following address:
- ACT Customer Care — Score Reports
- PO Box 451
- Iowa City, IA 52243-0451
- Call ACT, Inc., at (319) 337-1313. Note that you can only order regular reports this way—no priority reports. In addition, there is an extra $15 phone service fee.
Pro Tip: Some Q&A websites claim that you can print out your scores from the ACT website and mail or fax them to colleges as a way of sending scores for free. If only! Unfortunately, the vast majority of colleges only accept score reports sent by ACT, Inc. What's more, most colleges only accept electronic scores through ACT's special service.
It didn't work when you tried to mail your baby brother away when you were 4, and it won't work now for your ACT scores.
Can You Choose Which ACT Scores to Send?
Because of the way the ACT score ordering process is structured—you get to pick which score or scores to send to which colleges—their policy ends up being almost identical to the College Board's Score Choice policy for the SAT. (The ACT doesn’t call it Score Choice, but I will for the sake of simplicity.)
Let's say you took the ACT twice. The first time you took it you were getting over the flu and having a terrible day. The basic idea of ACT Score Choice is that you can send just your second test score to your target colleges and pretend your first test didn’t even happen.
Here are some of the major pros and cons of ACT Score Choice:Pros
- Score Choice is awesome for colleges that don’t want to see all your ACT scores.
- It's also perfect for colleges that superscore—you can send your schools just those test dates that have your highest section scores.
- It’s also the best way to send your highest score to scholarship programs and the NAIA.
- You have to be careful and read your target colleges' score submission policies carefully. Failing to send all your ACT scores to colleges that require all of them could jeopardize your application!
- Because each score report can only have one college and one score on it, sending out many reports can get really expensive fast.
The hot, new "make it rain" rap video montage accessory? A stack of envelopes from ACT, Inc.
When Should You Send Your ACT Scores?
Now, let's talk about the best times to send your ACT scores to schools.
Should You Send ACT Scores Early?
Some students have heard that sending ACT scores early (maybe even in your junior year!) shows colleges that you're a very interested applicant.
It’s true that there is such a thing as demonstrated interest—admissions committees sometimes want to see proof that an applicant sincerely wants to go to their school. But demonstrated interest only comes into play after your full application has been submitted, usually as a way to move someone up on a waitlist.
In any case, sending ACT scores early will not give you an edge or constitute demonstrated interest. Generally, if you send scores to a college but haven’t applied there yet, the admissions committee will simply save them under your name in a general file until your application shows up. They don’t keep track of whose scores get there first.
And it's not only that: if you send your scores early but are still planning to retake the ACT, you won't get the full benefit of Score Choice since you won't be able to choose between that early score and ones from later tests.
Sending scores early enough for Neanderthals to receive them won't give you a leg up.
When Should ACT Scores Get to Colleges?
It'll be no surprise to hear that official score reports should be received by each university's respective application deadline. In order to figure out what this means in terms of when to send your ACT scores, let’s go through the timing of everything that happens after you take the test.
Step 1: ACT, Inc., Scores Your Test
- This usually takes two weeks for multiple-choice scores (but can take up to eight).
- It takes an extra two weeks for Writing scores (if you took the ACT with Writing).
- It also takes an extra one to two weeks if you took the test outside the US or Canada (on top of the extra two weeks for Writing).
Step 2: Score Reports Are Posted Online and Processed for Sending
- Scores are posted online as soon as multiple-choice results are ready (and Writing results are added two weeks later when they are finished). However, if you tested through State and District, School, or DANTES Testing, you’ll only see your scores online after getting your printed score report in the mail.
- If you registered for the four free score reports, these are sent out as soon as your full score report (multiple choice plus Writing, if you took the latter as well) is ready.
- Any score reports ordered through the ACT website take about one week of processing before being sent to colleges.
Step 3: Colleges Receive ACT Scores
- Most colleges get ACT scores electronically. The schools themselves determine how often they receive scores. The least frequent possibility is once every two weeks, though most schools choose to receive scores far more often (for example, UVA gets them daily).
- A small number of colleges receive paper score reports sent by first-class mail. These are usually delivered within a few days.
- Remember that there will be a lag between when a college gets your scores and when it adds them to your application file.
In most circumstances, the math for ordering the test goes like this:
1 week for ordering scores + 1 week for colleges to get and file scores = you need to order at least 2 weeks before the application deadline
Just in case, however, it's best to send ACT scores as soon as you're done testing and are sure which schools you're applying to.
Your last possible test-date math looks like this:
2 weeks for scoring multiple choice + 2 weeks for scoring Writing + 3 weeks for ordering tests = take your last test no later than 7 weeks before the application deadline
Sending your scores is the synchronized swimming of college applications: to do it well, you have to master perfect timing.
Should You Order ACT Priority Score Reports?
If you’re running short on time, you can send colleges your scores through ACT’s rush service. Here are the pros and cons of doing this:
- Instead of taking up to one week to send your scores, ACT, Inc., guarantees that scores will be processed within two business days of your request and delivered three to four days later.
- This service does not speed up how long it takes to score your test.
- This service also does not speed up how long it takes for colleges to receive your scores—colleges choose the timing themselves, which can take up to two weeks. In other words, while scores are sent sooner, they aren't necessarily going to be seen sooner.
- Colleges that receive ACT score reports electronically might not view priority reports at all.
- The cost is $16.50 per report.
Here are our recommendations: if every moment counts because the deadline is fast approaching, it might make sense to pay extra to buy yourself a little more time. Just keep in mind that colleges might not see your scores any faster if their delivery preferences aren’t set up for priority reports.
What If Your ACT Scores Arrive After the Application Deadline?
What happens to applications when ACT scores are received late ultimately depends on each college’s individual policy.
Some schools have a hard-and-fast rule that late application materials disqualify applicants. For example, the University of Texas’s policy even overrides the guaranteed admission this state school offers to any in-states students in the top 10% of their class.
At some schools, late ACT scores are a gamble—you’re betting that your application won’t be considered until further into the process, so your scores might have a chance to get there.
For example, here's what Stanford’s admissions site warns in regard to late scores:
“We cannot delay the review of an application in anticipation of scores that will arrive after the deadline nor can we guarantee that late [ACT] scores will be reviewed."
“There is a chance that we will have already started the [sic] review your file before those scores arrive. You should still send those scores. ... There's a chance that the scores will be seen at some point in the process.”
Finally, some schools judge each application on a case-by-case basis. This means that an otherwise excellent application might be put aside until ACT scores arrive, while an application that's clearly not a good fit for the school might be rejected even before scores arrive.
Still better than being late for the Queen of Hearts and her "off with your head" policy.
How Can You Make Sure Your ACT Scores Don’t Get Lost?
The top reasons colleges can’t find your ACT scores are as follows:
- You entered the wrong ACT college code
- You forgot to send your scores to that particular college
If you registered for the four free score reports, you can check your own score report for the code numbers you put in and confirm they're correct. If you ordered reports from the ACT website, go to your account and double-check the college codes there.
A good rule of thumb is to wait three weeks after your sending date to check whether your scores have been received. Usually, this info will be available on the college’s application site. In other cases, colleges might contact you to let you know which application materials have not yet arrived.
If you get a notice from the college that your ACT scores are missing, don’t panic: it can take a few weeks for received application materials to be logged. Chances are, the school has indeed received your scores but simply hasn’t filed them yet. Feel free to call the admissions office and calmly and respectfully ask them to check whether your scores have arrived.
If your ACT scores don't turn up—whether because they got lost in the mail, were somehow electronically derailed, or were simply misfiled—you can still resend your scores by ordering new reports from the ACT website.
If she's facing away from Lost, does that mean she's going to Found? Deep thoughts.
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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.