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What's a Bad SAT Score? Nationally and by College

Posted by Halle Edwards | Jun 15, 2017 3:00:00 PM

SAT General Info



Have you taken the SAT recently? Are you wondering if your score is bad? Or do you just want to know the score to beat before you take the SAT for the first time?

In this post, we'll explain what a bad SAT score is, both in terms of the national averages and colleges you might be interested in.


Nationally, What's Considered a “Bad” SAT Score?

Looking at the national SAT score percentiles for the SAT, any composite score below a 1080 (or a 540 on each section) is below average. (Learn more about SAT percentile rankings here.)

That means that if you want to be above average nationally, you need to beat a 1080 total score.

Any composite score of 930 or lower is in the bottom 25%. If you score at or below that, your score is definitely in the low range.


What Do Colleges Think?

Your national rank is important, but it’s more important to think about what your score means in terms of the colleges you want to attend. After all, you take the SAT to get admitted to colleges, so their opinion is ultimately the most important.

If you’re above a college’s average SAT score range, even if your score seems low nationally, then your admissions chances won’t be compromised.

Conversely, you could have a score that looks good nationally—say in the 90th percentile (a 1340)—but is far below the ranges of selective colleges like the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, and MIT.

So it’s much more important to consider scores in context of your target colleges. We will explore some score ranges below, and see what constitutes a "bad" SAT score at various colleges.


What’s a Bad SAT Score for the Most Selective Schools?

If you’re aiming for the most selective schools in the country—think Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, MIT—pretty much any scores that aren’t considered excellent nationally will be seen as low.

For example, at Harvard, the SAT middle 50% ranges are 730-800 for Math and 740-800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.




Additionally, since highly competitive colleges routinely turn away applicants with scores within their average ranges, it’s safest to aim for an SAT score in the top 50% of admitted student scores, not just to be within the middle 50% range.

In fact, being in the lower half of a very selective college’s score ranges can dramatically lower your chances of admission. For example, if the school’s normal admission rate is 10% but your SAT score is in the 25th percentile for that school, your chances of admission are really just 5% or lower.

Your SAT composite should be 1500 or higher (about 750 or higher per section) if you want to be competitive at highly selective schools. Anything below that will significantly lower your chances. Anything below 1400 (about 700 per section) is decidedly low, and makes your admission more unlikely. (Read more about SAT scores for the Ivy League here.)


What’s a Bad SAT Score for Selective Schools?

Once you’re out of the top 15, a “bad” SAT score for a school is anything below their middle 50% range. We say “bad” not because the score is necessarily bad on a national scale, but because it could lower your chances of admission.

To take one example, let’s look at Boston University. BU is a selective school, ranked in the top 50 nationwide. Their SAT middle 50% score ranges are  640-760 on Math and 650-710 on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.

A bad score would be anything below those section scores, or roughly anything lower than a 1290 composite on the redesigned SAT. So even though a 1290 is a strong SAT score nationally (in the top 15% of test-takers!), you need to get at least that score to be competitive at BU.

What constitutes a “bad” score at a selective school will vary by college, so look up the ranges of schools you are interested in using our guide below.


What’s a Bad SAT Score for a Local State School?

If you’re looking to get into a local university or less competitive school, the SAT averages are much more forgiving.

For example, let’s look at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Their middle 50% ranges are 510-610 for Math and 520-620 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.

For University of Massachusetts, Boston, a composite score around the national average of 1080 on the redesigned SAT is definitely within range for admission.

In other words, there are many universities that are much more forgiving of an average or just below average SAT score. Look up your local schools below using our guide to figure out what their score ranges are.




How To Find a College’s Score Ranges

Here at PrepScholar, we have compiled the SAT score ranges for hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide, as well as average GPA and other admissions data.

To find a college’s SAT score ranges for admission, search for “[Name of College/University] SAT Scores” using any search website.






The SAT score ranges page should be the first or second result. Click on it to get not just the SAT score ranges, but the average GPA and admission rate for the school you're looking for. We even have a tool that allows you to plug in your GPA and SAT scores to estimate your chance of admission.


Next Steps

So now that you know what a bad SAT score looks like, what should you do to avoid getting one yourself?

First, look up the middle 50% SAT ranges of all colleges you are interested in. By doing that, you can figure out the kind of SAT score you need to be aiming for to be competitive at your target schools.

If you want, you can fill out the table below as you search with the 25th and 75th percentile scores for each school.

Name of College/ University

SAT Reading 25th 

SAT Reading 75th 

SAT Math 25th 

SAT Math 75th

SAT Composite 25th

SAT Composite 75th



If you haven't take the SAT yet or are planning to retake it, set your target score at the upper bound of the middle 50% range of the most competitive school on your list. If you make that score, you'll be competitive wherever you apply. But if you miss it by a bit, you'll likely be well within range for most colleges on your list.

Finally, if you haven't take the SAT yet or are planning to retake it, check out the resources below to help kick start your studying.


What’s Next?

We’re covered what a bad SAT score might look like. So what’s a good SAT score? An excellent one? Find out here.

So how do you improve a low SAT score? Get tips for bringing up a low math score.

Read our guide to getting a perfect SAT score by our resident full scorer. Even if you’re not going for 1600, following these principles will help you reach your score goal.

Not sure you can study alone? Consider using our PrepScholar program. We take the hard part out of the studying process by analyzing your weak spots for you and giving you targeted practice questions.

Learn more about the redesigned SAT by reading our complete guide to the new exam.


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Halle Edwards
About the Author

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.

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