How Important are the SAT and ACT for College Admissions?

Standardized testAlmost every day I get asked a question like “I got a 30 on my ACT, what colleges are good for me?”  There is no way for anyone to answer that question but let’s look at what impact test scores like the SAT and ACT do have on college admissions.

The most important thing to understand is that test scores alone will never guarantee admission to a selective college. You can have a 2400 SAT or a 36 ACT but if you don’t have the grades to go with that high score, you will have trouble getting admitted to a very selective college.

The problem with high test scores and low grades is you look like a bright slacker to the colleges. And no college wants to have a student that isn’t motivated and who may fail out for lack of trying.

Now, that is not to say that high test scores won’t help in admissions. But more important than test scores at every college are your grades and the classes you have taken to get those grades.

If you have good grades in challenging courses and good test scores you will be competitive for selective college admissions. That means that your grades and test scores will get your application a serious look by the admissions committee.  This is particularly true at public universities as they rely primarily on grades and test scores in making admissions decision.

But, there are many other factors that go into admissions at a selective private college.  What activities have you been involved with, have you shown leadership, how strong are your application essays and other factors also play an important part in admissions at private colleges.

While test scores on the SAT and ACT are very important for many colleges, there are also a number of colleges that are going test optional. In fact, at this point, there are over 800 colleges that do not require a student to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.

So, what do I say to students that ask what colleges are good for a particular test score? Figure out what you want from a college, including academic competitiveness, size of college, location and environment and then find colleges that meet your complete needs.

You can trust us to help you find the best college for your needs. We offer a FREE 1/2 hour consultation to discuss your needs for college admissions counseling. Give us a call now at 952-449-5245 or drop us an email.


  1. Todd Johnson says


    There is no set score that you need to have on the ACT for college admissions. Most colleges look at many factors in deciding who to accept and test scores are just one factor. Most important are your grades and the classes you took to get those grades.

    The average ACT score will differ a great deal depending on the college. Work on getting the best grades and then do the best you can on the ACT. Then find colleges with test scores similar to what you received.

  2. says

    When discussing test scores, we advise parents and students to avoid the terms “good and bad”. (Some students will say “I did really badly on my SAT”). We advise that test scores can really only be “judged” in relation to the schools to which a student applies. And, as stated earlier in this discussion, standardized testing is just one of many factors that a college considers.

    That said, it’s my understanding the test scores can be very important for financial aid and scholarship consideration.

  3. Todd Johnson says


    Thanks for the comment. Test scores can effect financial aid and scholarship consideration at some, but not all, colleges. In very general terms, the less academically competitive the college, the more likely they will have merit based scholarships and these may be based on test scores.

  4. Abhi says

    How many times do you recommend taking these tests? Why should it matter to universities if you take it a lot? Do they see? What Ivys request all your SAT/ACT scores? Which superscore your ACT? Which superscore your SAT?

  5. Todd Johnson says


    If a student has properly prepared I generally recommending taking a test two times. Which test depends on which test you are stronger on. Universities care if you take it too much because they are looking for interesting students. If a student spends all of their time on testing they don’t look interesting, they just look desperate. Futhermore, Universities know that after taking an exam 2 to 3 times, the chances of significant improvement are minimal. Score choice is available but many of the most selective colleges ask to see all of your test scores so they will see everything. For colleges that superscore the ACT, search for superscore on my website. I have a list of programs that I believe superscore the ACT. Almost all colleges superscore the SAT.

  6. Nate says

    I have a 30 ACT but I also have a 2.4 GPA will my test score compensate for my GPA, If im trying to go to a school like Ohio State? I have a bunch of EC’s a strong essay and im from Ohio, the only part of my application that is lacking is my GPA, which I realize is very imnportant, but is it enouph to be admitted?

  7. Todd Johnson says


    That is the kind of disparity that worries college admissions people. At most colleges grades and the classes you take to get those grades are the most important factor in admissions. I can tell you that 98% of the students at Ohio State were in the top 50% of their high school class and 89% were in the top 25%. It is possible that you will be admitted but I would make sure that you are also applying to other colleges where you chances for admittance are higher.

  8. Josh says

    I have a 2280 on my SAT and a 4.22 weighted 10-12 GPA. Are you familiar with the UC (University of California) system? How do you think my chances are for UC Berkeley or UCLA? How about privates such as Stanford, Brown, Duke, or Harvard? Also, how negatively will a B in english junior year affect me? Thanks

  9. Todd Johnson says


    No one can accurately predict admission to a selective college without much more information. Assuming you are a California resident and have taken a strong case load, you will probably be competitive at least from an academic standpoint to UC Berkeley and UCLA. The other colleges you mention are all looking not only for strong academics but also something special that will set you apart from other students. A single B in junior year will most likely not be a huge issue.

  10. Matt says

    I have a question on my chances of acceptance into UNC Chapel Hill. I have taken two SATs and have a total collective score of a 1640. I also have taken an ACT and scored low with a 21. However, my weighted GPA is a 4.72 but I have made a total of two B’s in my highschool career. One was in my sophmore honors Algebra 2 class, my final grade was a 92, as well as I made another B in my AP English 3 class my junior year that of which was another 92. Does anyone know how strong my chances of getting accepted into a college such as UNC Chapel Hill.

  11. Todd Johnson says


    There are too many factors involved to say what your chances are at a particular college. You have good grades which the colleges will like. However, state schools, like UNC Chapel Hill tend to rely heavily on test scores as well. Your test scores are low for admissions to that school. But if there is something about you that they want, such as an athlete, a minority student or a legacy student, you may still be competitive. I would also strongly advise looking at other college where your test scores are more in line with their typical test scores as UNC is probably a reach.

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