If you're trying to get into any of the country's most competitive or most popular universities, you'll need a stellar application. While your grades and life experiences are vital in your college applications, an impressive SAT score remains a must-have credential. You should know how the exam's results work, what SAT score ranges mean and the ideal SAT scores for colleges you like before you apply.

How SAT Scores Work

The SAT has two main sections: mathematics and language. With each of these sections, you earn scores between 200 and 800 depending on how many correct answers you give. When you combine these two results, you get your cumulative SAT score.

When you receive your SAT score, you also get a percentile ranking. This number tells you how many people scored above or below you on the exam. For example, if you are in the 95th percentile, you did better than almost everyone else.

What Is a Good SAT Score Range?

You do not necessarily need a perfect SAT score of 1600 to get into your dream college. In fact, the score that you need depends largely on which school you want to attend. For example, you need at least a 1400 to have a chance at many Ivy League schools.

Some universities post their minimum SAT scores on their admissions websites. However, most institutions are more secretive about their requirements. If your prospective schools do this, look at the SAT score range of the applicants that they accept.

The average score for accepted candidates gives you an idea of what you need to gain admission. If your GPA, volunteer work and other aspects are particularly strong, you can fall a little below the average and remain competitive. However, if your application is a little light in another area, you want to make up for it with an SAT score above the college's average.

SAT Scores for Top Colleges

Instead of just one number for an average, it can help to look at the scores of the bottom and top quarters of applicants. The bottom number of these ranges represent the 25th percentile of scores that still gained admission to the university. The top number illustrates what some of the highest-scoring applicants got on the exam.

The ranges for some of the most competitive universities are:

  1. Princeton University: 1380 to 1540
  2. Harvard University: 1470 to 1570
  3. California Institute of Technology: 1540 to 1580
  4. Yale University: 1460 to 1600
  5. Columbia University: 1490 to 1580
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 1500 to 1570
  7. Stanford University: 1390 to 1540
  8. University of Chicago: 1460 to 1560
  9. Tufts University: 1410 to 1540
  10. Duke University: 1315 to 1570
  11. Dartmouth College: 1430 to 1560
  12. Johns Hopkins University: 1480 to 1560
  13. Northwestern University: 1440 to 1540
  14. Brown University: 1450 to 1570
  15. Cornell University: 1390 to 1530
  16. Rice University: 1440 to 1560
  17. Vanderbilt University: 1400 to 1550
  18. University of Notre Dame: 1390 to 1530
  19. New York University: 1360 to 1500
  20. Carnegie Mellon University: 1410 to 1540

Popular Universities for Lower SAT Scores

Generally, a score between 1400 and 1500 puts you square in the running for top-tier universities around the U.S. However, you can earn a perfectly respectable and worthwhile degree from institutions with lower SAT ranges. If your score falls between 1200 and 1340, you may consider:

  • University of Southern California
  • University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor Boston University University of Virginia Tulane University Emory University

If your score falls in the 1030 to 1200 range, you have solid options such as:

  • University of Texas

    Austin Virginia Tech Purdue University University of Washington Syracuse University Clemson University Texas A&M University

Students with scores between 830 and 1030 can safely apply to:

  • Michigan State University
  • Temple University
  • San Diego State University
  • University of Oregon
  • Quinnipiac University
  • University of New Hampshire 

Find the School for Your Score

There's no single perfect school that everyone should aspire to attend. Which university is right for you depends on your desired location, budget, intended major and personality. Make a list of the schools that best fit your needs and aim to earn the SAT scores for colleges you like.

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About the Author

Mackenzie attended Texas Tech University, where she worked in the residence halls for three years. She also volunteered for school event committees and move-in welcome teams. These experiences fueled her passion for higher education and helping college students. Today, she uses her writing to help prospective college students find the right institutions for their needs. She writes for sites like The Best Schools, Nursing.org, Best Colleges, Nurse Journal, and PublicHealth.org.