Getting into some colleges is harder than getting into others. At elite colleges, you’ll need a resume of impressive extracurricular activities, stellar grades, an insightful admissions essay and, of course, top-tier test scores. If you’d like to increase your chances of getting into an elite school, you’ll have to score a 30 or higher on the ACT.
If you’ve already taken the test, and you didn’t score in the stratosphere, keep in mind that there are other colleges out there. Many state schools are happy to accept students whose impressive resume balances out their less than impressive ACT or SAT scores. There is even a growing number of schools, including New York University and the University of Texas, that don’t require standardized test scores to be submitted with your application package.
ACT Scores for Colleges in the Ivy League
Many students have their sights set on what they see as the holy grail of higher education – the Ivy League, a group of New England colleges that includes Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University. While these colleges all offer a top-rate education, they are not the only ones where students can learn and achieve.
However, if you do have your heart set on the Ivies, know that you’ll have to score near the top on the ACT or at least above 30 to be competitive. A perfect ACT score is a 36. The average ranges for all of the Ivy League colleges come pretty close to that.
These are the average ACT scores for colleges in the Ivy League:
- Brown University: 31-34 average ACT score range
- Columbia University: scores range from 32-35
- Cornell University: 31-34 average ACT score range
- Dartmouth College: scores range from 30-34
- Harvard University: 32-35 average ACT score range
- University of Pennsylvania: scores range from 32-35
- Princeton University: 31-35 average ACT score range
- Yale University: 32-35 on average
ACT Scores for Other Popular Colleges
The Ivies aren’t the only universities where you can earn an excellent education. Many students opt to attend college closer to home. However, just because you don’t plan to breathe the rarified air of the Ivies, it doesn’t mean you can slack off when it comes to preparing for the ACT.
For example, at the University of California – Los Angeles, you’ll need at least a 28 on the ACT to get in. You’ll need a 29 to get into the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and a 27 for the University of Florida.
These are the ACT scores for some colleges beyond the Ivy League:
- Stanford University: 31-35
- University of Southern California: 30-33
- Northeastern University: 31-34
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 33-35
- Rice University: 32-35
- Duke University: 31-34
- University of California – Berkeley: 31-34
- Boston College: 30-33
- Washington University in St. Louis: 32-34
- Penn State: 25-29
- Boston University: 28-32
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: 28-33
- University of Virginia: 29-33
- University of Georgia: 26-31
- Tulane University: 29-31
- Purdue University: 25-31
- University of Washington: 26-32
- University of Miami: 28-32
- Syracuse University: 25-29
Colleges That Don’t Require ACT or SAT Scores
Studies have shown that standardized tests are not a good estimator for future scholastic aptitude. In other words, they say nothing about your abilities as a student, just your abilities as a test taker. So, many colleges and universities around the country are joining the test-optional movement, which means that they will not require prospective students to submit test scores as part of their application package.
If you think the list of test-optional colleges will include only schools you’ve never heard of, you’re wrong. Many nationally and regionally recognized schools have opted out of the test-score frenzy. These schools include several state universities, such as:
- New York University
- University of Mississippi
- University of Arizona
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- University of Nevada – Reno
- Kansas State University
Some well-known liberal arts colleges also allow applications without test scores. These colleges include:
- Sewanee - The University of the South
- Bryn Mawr
- Bowdoin College
- Middlebury College
- Wesleyan University
- Hamilton College
- Smith College
What Kind of Score Do You Need on the ACT?
Even though you can get into numerous excellent colleges and universities without even taking the ACT, if you’re planning on applying to multiple schools that require test scores, you’ll be better off trying to earn the highest score you can. Colleges won’t turn you down if your score is higher than those of the other candidates they usually accept, and they may even give you scholarships. Colleges will, however, turn you down if your scores don’t meet their high standards.
When it comes to preparing for college, go all out to improve your score on the big tests. The best way to do this is to learn studying and test-taking skills. The good news about these skills is that once you have them, you’ll be able to use them in your college classes too.
So, try to get your highest score possible, but remember that there are plenty of schools that don’t require test scores. You don’t have anything to lose by trying your hardest.
How to Get a Higher Score on the ACT
To get a higher score on the ACT, you’ll have to devote a considerable amount of time to studying. The best way you can study is to take ACT practice tests. When you’re looking for ACT tests to use for practice, make sure they’re high quality. Practice tests that include actual questions and answers that were used on the real ACT are best.
Take these practice tests using the same amount of time you would be given on the real ACT. If you find that you aren’t finishing the tests in that amount of time, try to pick up the pace by increasing your reading speed.
Study smarter by using these practice tests to target your areas of weakness. Once you figure out your problem areas, you can focus on those more and spend less time in the areas you’re acing. If you don’t see improvement in your scores, attend a study group at your school or local public library. You can also ask your guidance counselor for help finding a tutor.
More Study Strategies for the ACT
Even though practicing with real ACT materials is the best thing you can do to boost your ACT score, if you don’t add in some outside knowledge, you might continue repeating the same mistakes. After you’ve found your areas of weakness by taking practice tests, seek out study guides to help you in those areas.
Every part of the ACT has common topics and problems that come up again and again over the years. You can find articles that dig deeper into each section of the ACT, giving you a breakdown of the types of questions you will see and how best to solve them.
You already know that knowledge is power. So knowing what kind of problems to expect on each section of the ACT will be a powerful tool for helping you achieve a higher score. Take advantage of the wisdom of those who took the test before you and learn the patterns that recur on the test.
Quick Test-Taking Tips for Improving Your ACT Score
If you’ve already taken the ACT, but you don’t have the score you want, one of the easiest ways to improve is to learn better test-taking strategies. Above all, when it comes to test taking, the most important thing you can do when facing a test is to relax. If you’re stressed out, you won’t be able to focus, and you might make careless mistakes. Avoid that mentality by doing some deep-breathing exercises and reminding yourself that you’re prepared and the test is nothing to be scared of.
Many test takers get stuck on questions they can’t figure out. This can waste a lot of time. Instead of getting stuck, learn to take the test out of order and leave the most difficult questions for last. Just don’t forget to answer them.
You can also use the process of elimination to help with sticky questions. Eliminating answers that you know aren’t correct will make the questions seem easier. Finally, you can also save a significant amount of time by bubbling in your answer sheet after answering all the questions in your answer book first.
What Is ACT Score Choice?
If you still don’t have the scores you want, you can take the ACT multiple times. ACT Score Choice is a policy that says you can choose which scores to send to schools instead of sending all of them. ACT Score Choice is perfect for students who had a bad test day and came out with scores that are much lower than the other times they have taken the test. Check with your prospective colleges, as some schools require applicants to send all of their test scores, not just a select few.
The ACT charges for each test date you choose to send. By using ACT Score Choice, you can send all of them, a few of them or just one, but if you choose to send just one, your chosen schools won’t be able to use a superscore.
To choose which scores your prospective colleges will see, use a score report request form. On the form, list the test dates you would like to send and each college to which you would like to send them. Be careful because the price of these reports ($12 per report) can add up fast. Sending three different test dates to 10 schools would cost a whopping $360.
What Is an ACT Superscore?
Some colleges will superscore your ACT, meaning they will use your best section scores from different test dates and add them up to a higher score than any of your individual test dates. Isn’t that super? However, not all colleges will accept superscores, and some colleges can see all of your scores on all of your tests when you send your scores for a superscore, which may affect their decision regardless of what they say.
Which colleges accept superscores? Most of the Ivy League schools do not accept superscores, but they will accept your highest individual test date. However, other elite colleges like Duke, Johns Hopkins and MIT will consider superscores. Contact your prospective colleges for more information on their policies.
As with other test-retest strategies, superscoring is something with which you need to be careful. Retaking the ACT too many times can reflect badly on you as a test taker. It’s better to take it once and then study hard to improve your scores for a second round rather than using the real ACT like it’s a practice test.
- The Washington Post: A List of 180+ Ranked Schools That Don’t Require ACT or SAT Scores for Admissions
- Niche: The Most Popular Colleges for Every ACT Score Range
- PrepScholar: Colleges That Superscore ACT: Complete List
- CollegeVine: 10 Tips to Improve Your ACT Score
- PrepScholar: How to Get a Perfect ACT Score, by a 36 Full Scorer
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.