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SAT Score Range: How Colleges Look at SAT & ACT Scores

By now, your student has likely taken the SAT or ACT and has some idea of where he or she wishes to apply next fall. As college application time approaches, it may be a good idea to take a look at your student's scores and consider how they'll influence his or her college choices next fall.

SAT Score Ranges for Reach, Match, and Safety Schools

Most students will apply to schools that can be classified into three categories-reach schools, match schools and safety schools. Simply put, a reach school is one whose expectations a student may not meet in some categories but may meet or exceed in others, making acceptance a possibility; a likely school is one whose expectations are fairly equal to a student's accomplishments making acceptance likely; and finally, a safety school is one whose expectations a student will easily exceed for an almost-certain acceptance. Most students will apply to one or two reach schools, two or three likely schools and one or two safety schools.

One easy way to determine whether a school falls into a reach, match, or safely category for your child is to compare your child's SAT or ACT scores against those of prospective schools. Most schools publish the scores of the middle 50% of their current freshman class, so this information is easily available school's website and on the CollegeBoard website. Comparing your child's scores to this middle 50% group can help you determine whether the school should be classified as a reach, match, or safety school for your child. Let's take a look at an example.

Susie Student
Susie Student is a rising senior who took the SAT twice in her junior year, and scored a 1400 both times. Susie has always dreamed of attending Brown, but is also interested in Boston University and Bentley University. Let's see how Susie's scores compare to those of the current freshman class at each school.

  Middle 50% Score Range Susie's Match Type
Brown University 1420-1550 The middle 50% of Brown's current first year students scored between a 1420 and a 1550. This means that 25% of its students scored below a 1420, and 25% of its students scored above a 1550. Susie's scores match those of the lower 25% scores, but her score is very close to the middle 50%. Admissions at Brown is certainly not an impossibility for her, particularly if she has a high GPA and or an impressive student resume. Brown is a good reach school for Susie.
Boston University 1330-1500 The middle 50% of Boston University's current first year students scored between a 1330 and a 1500, meaning that 25% of its students scored below a 1330 and 25% scored above a 1500. Susie's 1420 places her squarely in the middle 50% group which means that, based upon SAT scores alone, Boston University is a good match school for Susie.
Bentley University 1240-1410 The middle 50% of Bentley University's current first year students scored between a 1240 and 1410. Susie's 1420 aligns her with the 25% of the first year class who scored above a 1410. This means that, based solely upon Susie's scores, there is a good likelihood that she would be admitted to Bentley, making it a good safety school for her.

What if your child's scores don't match?

One sure way for a student to increase his or her chances of admissions is to increase his or her SAT or ACT score and move into the next tier of testers. For example, if Susie were to increase her SAT score up to around 1480, placing her comfortably within the middle 50% of Brown students, it's likely that she would substantially improve her admissions odds. Both the CollegeBoard and the ACT offer advice on whether to retake the test, but consider these points as well:
  • Consider investing in test prep. If your student does decide to retake a test, you may want to consider investing the time and money in a test prep program. Guided instruction in the strategies and content tested on the SAT & ACT is the best way for your child to achieve a substantial score increase before test day.
  • Try the other test. If your student has already prepped for and taken the ACT or SAT and can't reach the score goal for a particular school, it may be helpful to take the other test. A student who has trouble getting a high SAT score may do well on the ACT, making him or her a more attractive candidate to potential schools.
  • Be realistic. Set achievable goals and be realistic about your expectations. If your child is scoring in the 1000 range but has his or her sights set on Harvard, he or she may need to adjust expectations. It's unlikely that any amount of test prep will bring his her scores into a competitive range for Harvard admissions. There's a school out there that is perfect for your child-it's only up to him or her to find it.

When It Comes to Choosing Schools. . .

Try not to get too hung up on scores. Don't forget - while test scores are important, they're not the only indicator of whether a student will be accepted. Grades, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and many other factors are considered. Any of these factors can easily boost a lower-scoring student up into a more competitive tier. So while it's a good idea to apply other places, if your student has his or her hopes set on a particular institution, remember that it can never hurt to apply.

Don't discount the match and safety schools. Not every student is meant to attend an Ivy League school. The admissions process at these schools is highly competitive, and the academic routine is rigorous. If your student has taken the SAT and ACT a number of times and simply can't get the scores his or her school of choice is looking for, it may be a good time to start looking into other possible institutions.

Just as schools look at the whole student when deciding who to admit, the student should consider many factors when applying to colleges, such as student life, available activities, proximity to home, scholarships, etc. The college experience is about more than academics, so students should explore all aspects of it while considering where to apply. There are literally thousands of schools in the U.S, and one of them is the perfect fit for your child. Take time, research your options, and keep your head up-your child is almost there!


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