Parents often ask: “What SAT or ACT score does my child need to get?” And my initial answer to that question is…

That depends on which schools your child wants to attend.

Not the hard and fast answer you were looking for, right?

However…I do have a great rule of thumb to go by.

And that rule is…



For any college that your child wishes to attend, it’s ideal to have an SAT or ACT score in the 75th percentile or above. So what does that mean exactly?

To understand this rule, I’d like to make sure that you understand percentiles.



Colleges look at SAT or ACT scores in terms of percentiles.

For instance, if your child scores in the “90th percentile” on a test, this means that they scored better than 90% of all other test takers. Or to look at it another way,  this means that only 10% of test takers scored better than they did.



If you look at the official website for almost any college or university, you’ll find that each school publishes percentile statistics for the most recent incoming class.

Each school will usually tell you the scores of students in the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles.

These numbers will give you an idea of the range of SAT and ACT scores of high school students who were accepted to that particular college or university.

So you may be wondering…



A score can never guarantee admission. And here’s why…

The standardized test score is just one of the several important factors for college admissions, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

For example, your child may have a perfect SAT score, but a very low GPA and no extracurricular involvement. In this case, your child may not get accepted to a school even with that perfect SAT score.

On the flip side, your child may have a lower SAT score, but they may also have a stellar GPA, impressive leadership experience in the community, and glowing letters of recommendation. In this case, your child may get accepted to a school even with that low SAT score.



No score (not even a perfect one!) can ever guarantee that your child will get admitted to a school. Colleges look for students who have the whole package (a great GPA, high standardized test score, leadership, and extracurricular involvement…to name the most important factors). But as your child studies for and takes either the SAT or the ACT, it’s best to set a target goal to get a score in the 75th percentile or higher based on the statistics for the schools that they wish to attend. This will increase your child’s chances of getting accepted to their dream schools!


Just for reference, below are the 25th-7th percentile SAT scores for the top 30 colleges and universities in 2017:


Examples from top 30 schools

School 25th Percentile SAT Score 75th Percentile SAT Score
Princeton University 1390 1590
Harvard University 1400 1600
University of Chicago 1440 1600
Yale University 1430 1600
Columbia University 1400 1590
Stanford University 1390 1580
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1430 1580
Duke University 1360 1550
University of Pennsylvania 1380 1550
Johns Hopkins University 1400 1550
Dartmouth College 1330 1560
California Institute of Technology 1500 1600
Northwestern University 1400 1560
Brown University 1370 1560
Cornell University 1330 1530
Rice University 1390 1560
University of Notre Dame 1350 1530
Vanderbilt University 1430 1590
Washington University in St. Louis 1400 1550
Emory University 1270 1490
Georgetown University 1320 1500
University of California, Berkeley 1250 1500
University of Southern California 1270 1500
Carnegie Mellon University 1360 1540
University of California, Los Angeles 1190 1470
University of Virginia 1250 1460
Tufts University 1370 1520
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 1290 1500
Wake Forest University 1200 1410
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 1200 1390

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