What is a good score on the SAT or ACT?

I get asked this question a lot. The difficult answer is that there is no “good” score in the sense of doing well on, say, a high school history test; rather, the value of the score really depends on the schools one is interested in. A quick Google search will reveal scores accepted by various institutions within the past few years. Particularly useful for exploring score ranges is About.com. For example, I simply typed “sat stony brook” into my browser’s search field, and the first result was the About.com entry giving recent scores of accepted students, among other admissions data. These scores can give one a target to shoot for, which is much more effective than simply trying to get a “high score.”

goodBut, how do I know what schools I want to go to without knowing my score?

It seems a bit circular: To know what schools to look at, you need to know your score; to know whether your score is good or not, you need to know what schools you want to go to. First off, GPA is the most important component of most college admissions (followed by SAT/ACT scores), so that gives you a starting place. You can do a Google search for schools and GPA just like you would for SAT/ACT scores. Additionally, if you’ve taken the PSAT (SAT) or PLAN (ACT), you may have some idea of the range your scores are likely to fall into. However, keep in mind that these are just preliminary scores, which you are capable of improving upon.

Don’t forget financial aid.

Also relevant to assessing the value of an SAT/ACT score are any scholarships or other forms of financial aid you could qualify for. A certain target score may not only facilitate acceptance to a desired school but may also unlock assistance towards funding your education. Any amount of aid you qualify for can help alleviate some of the financial stress of college. Check with your school’s guidance office regarding these opportunities and the methods for researching and attaining them.

Other considerations.

GPA and test scores are not the only pieces in determining admissions acceptance or financial aid. Schools will also want to look at out-of-school interests and extracurricular activities, such as sports, as well as “fit,” to which personal and/or supplementary essays often contribute. As you research schools you are potentially interested in be sure to look at their admissions pages to see what their requirements are as these may vary from school to school.

The long run.

Mentally transitioning from the regularity of high school to the open-ended-ness of the college application process is not an easy task. The reality is that you will not settle on a selection of schools overnight. The good news is that, as you hone your GPA, accumulate actual test scores, and narrow down the type of school you would like to attend, you will begin to realistically estimate which schools are both possible and desirable. Moreover, you will moderate at any feelings of uncertainty you may have about the college process or your future aspirations. In a sense, the college preparation process becomes a first step towards what you may want to achieve in life, and, difficult though it may be, the exercise will also serve to prepare you for future transitions.

Your road to self-determination and personal success begins now. With due diligence, you too will join the ranks of freshmen who have landed a satisfying spot in a school that matches their desires. It is a fearful, exciting, liberatory time, and I wish you the best of luck!

As an additional aid, I have linked to a document here demonstrating national averages and scores from a sample of New York schools. (Note that the SAT scores are in the old format.)