The ACT is one of two college admissions tests. Some students take both the ACT and SAT, while others choose one of the two. In the 2019-2020 school year, over 1.67 million students took the ACT, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The national average composite score was 20.6. You don't have to have an ACT score to apply for college. You can take the SAT instead or, in some cases, you may be able to avoid standardized tests altogether.
SAT vs. ACT
In 2020, nearly 2.2 million students took the SAT exceededing the number who took the ACT, according to the College Board, but this doesn't mean you have to take the ACT to apply to college. Per the College Board, more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. and 85 other countries consider SAT scores. Likewise the ACT will be considered.Colleges allow students to choose between the SAT and ACT, so if taking the ACT seems too stressful or if you've already taken the SAT and don't want to take another test, you can steer clear of the ACT without necessarily affecting your chances of getting into school.
Avoiding the Test
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that 1000 accredited bachelor’s-degree-granting higher education institutions now allow students to attend college without taking standardized tests. These schools include well-known colleges such as American University, Columbia College, George Mason University and Saint Lawrence University. If you're already enrolled in college and planning to transfer, your new school might not ask for standardized test scores if you've already completed your first year of school.
It might seem like a hassle to take the ACT, but some students do better on this test than on the SAT. Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a science section. The test is designed to be an achievement test rather than an aptitude test like the SAT, which means that students who have excelled in high school are particularly likely to do well. Similarly, if you have low SAT scores, you might get a higher score on the ACT, boosting your chances of getting into college.
How to Decide
If you haven't taken any standardized tests, you'll need to consider whether the college you're interested in will admit you without taking the ACT or SAT. Students who have stellar grades and outstanding college recommendations might not need standardized test scores to boost their college admission chances. If you've already taken the SAT, look at your scores. If they're good enough to get you into the school of your choice, taking the ACT could be little more than a source of stress.
- Georgia Southern University: Transfer Students
- The ACT: Description of the ACT
- National Center for Education Statistics: Number of Students Who Took the ACT and Percentage of ACT Test-Taking Population Meeting College Readiness Benchmark Scores, By Subject
- College Board: SAT Report -- Only 43 Percent of 2012 College-Bound Seniors Are Ready
- The Princeton Review: The SAT vs. the ACT
- FairTest: SAT/ACT Optional 4-Year Universities Test Optional List
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.