ACT score range

ACT score range guide

When you receive your score report, you would see your average score as well as how well (or bad) you did for each subject. Your ACT score range is between 1 (lowest) and 36 (highest).

The composite score is your average score for all four subjects – Math, Science, English, and Reading –rounded to the nearest whole number.

While the subscores are your correct answers for each subject that are then converted into a score that ranges from 1 to 36.

Do subscores matter?

Admission officers will typically look at your composite score first. However, they would take note if they find any irregularities in your section scores.

For instance, if you are majoring in STEM and most of your section scores on STEM are not that high, then the admission officer would second look at your application.

Other colleges and universities also require students to meet certain scores for each subject, apart from the composite score requirement.

Regardless of what you want to major in, you need to meet a certain score for each subject in your ACT.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, for example, requires you to at least score 18 on English, 22 on Reading, 22 on Mathematics, and 23 on Science.

What are ACT percentiles?

Your ACT percentile is a comparison of your ACT score to other test-takers. It gives you an idea of how well you perform over the other students.

If your score percentile is 50th, then you scored better than half of all the test takers.

It is important to note that ACT percentiles are not like a grade out of 100.

Having an 80th percentile does not mean that you got 80% of the test questions correct. An 80th percentile means you scored the same as or higher than all those who took the ACT on the same test date as you.

Despite not being the first one to be assessed by the admission officer, ACT percentiles still matter.

It gives the admission officer an idea of how well you perform over other students. Apart from that, it would also give them an idea of what a good ACT score is during that year (or test date).

By looking at your ACT percentile, the admission officer would be able to determine how your score stacks up against other applicants.

What is a good ACT score?

A good ACT score would ultimately depend on your frame of reference.

Scoring above average (21 or higher) is already a good score for most students; but if you are planning on applying to ivy league universities, then you need to score way higher than the average (30 or above) to get a good score.

The higher your score is, the stronger your application becomes.

Since some universities and colleges are more selective than others, they sometimes have a minimum score requirement for you to be even considered.

The current average ACT score is 21 and the highest possible score you can get is 36.

If you score above the average (23 for example), then it would already make you a strong applicant at many colleges. However, for some elite universities, that score may not be enough.

So rather than looking at the average test score to determine what is a good test score, you should look into the range of scores that are usually accepted in the college or university of your choice.

For instance, let us say you are eyeing two schools at the moment, College of the Holy Cross and Harvard College. Both are great schools, but the scores of those accepted in both schools are different.

The average ACT score of those accepted in College of the Holy Cross is only 28 to 32, while accepted students in Harvard have an average ACT score of 33 to 35.

With that in mind, you should aim for an ACT score range of 28 to 35. That way, you would have a good score and a higher chance of getting accepted to both schools.

What is a bad ACT score?

While there is no such thing as a bad ACT score, your options would essentially narrow down if you score below the average.

To help you put it into perspective, let us say you only score 17 on your ACT. According to PrepScholar, your score is only competitive for 58 schools and you have low chances of getting into the other 1441 schools in the country. 

When you score even lower, let us say 16, for example, you are now only competitive for 33 schools and you are missing out on the other 1466.

Having that in mind, you should always aim for an ACT score range that is within or close to the average.

This way, you would have a more competitive score and you would have more school options to choose from.

For instance, if you improve your ACT score by four points from 17, you would increase your options and you would have a good shot of getting admitted into 411 more schools.

Just by hitting the average score of 21, you are already putting yourself into a better position of getting into your target school.

But, it is still worth noting that the higher your score is, the more options you have.

You should not just aim for 21 in your ACT score, try your best to score better so that you would have better chances of getting into your target school.

Even if your target school only has an average of 23, you should still try to aim for a higher ACT score range.

This way, the odds of you getting into that school is much higher and you can easily secure your slot for admission.  

What ACT score range should I target?

Ideally, you should target a score of 23 and above. This way, it would give a competitive edge over the other students and you would have more school options to choose from.

But if you really want to have a specific target score, then it would be best to start figuring out which college or university you want to get into.

The best starting point is to browse through different school websites and see the competitive ACT score range for that school.

Finding the score range of the majority of students who got admitted into that school would provide a frame of reference for what a good score should be.

It would also give you a clear picture of what score you should target for your upcoming ACT.

What ACT score is needed for Harvard?

The majority of students who got admitted to Harvard has an ACT score range of 33 to 35. The 25th percentile score a 33 and the 75th percentile score a 35 on their ACT.

Apart from Harvard, we have also listed the score range that you need to achieve for other colleges and universities.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology 34 – 36
  • Johns Hopkins University 33 – 35
  • University of Pennsylvania 33 – 35
  • Yale University 33 – 35
  • Brown University 33 – 35
  • Princeton University 32-36
  • Stanford University 32 – 35
  • Cornell University 32 – 35
  • New York University 30 – 34
  • University of California, Berkeley 28 – 34
  • University of Washington 27 – 33
  • University of Minnesota–Twin Cities 26 – 31

It is worth noting, however, that aside from your ACT scores, admission officers would also take into consideration your GPA or educational background.

Your ACT might be a huge component of your application, but your GPA would still help you tip the scales to your favor.

If an admission officer ever finds you in a spot where you have a similar ACT score with another student, your GPA would then help you gain a competitive edge over other students.

Together with your ACT score, your GPA would show your intellectual growth and improvement during high school.

Getting into the school of your choice

The admission officer would not only look at your ACT score. They would also evaluate several factors like your high school grades, recommendations, essays, extra-curricular activities, and so on.

With that in mind, we discuss a few tips on how to study for the ACT and get a better chance of getting admitted to your target school.

Mock exams

As much as possible, try to answer the official ACT practice test or the ACT prep book. This way, you would be familiar would the format of the exam.

If you search the internet enough, you would find several practice tests released by ACT that are freely available. Some of which are even from the previous years that are archived and still available for download.

Through these mock exams, you practice with your ACT calculator, enhance your vocabulary, and even improve your comprehension.

Study smart and practice more

I know it might be tempting, but try to avoid pulling an all-nighter. Rather than studying big chunks of information in one sitting, break it down into smaller pieces instead.

By doing so, you can spread and allocate your studying time more efficiently.

Do also try to test yourself at the end of every study session. This way, you can absorb the information better and you can practice answering tests more frequently.

Work on your weakness

Rather than answering tests on a subject where you are good at, try to drill on your weak points instead.

Some students might not notice this, but sometimes, they waste an unnecessary amount of time studying subjects where they are already good at.

Since their weak points are sometimes uncomfortable and difficult to deal with, they just turn to answering and studying subjects they already know.

So with that, you have to determine your weak and strong points so that you would know which subjects or areas need a lot of work and improvement.

Get a head start

In order to have a better chance of getting into a good university, you need to plan as early as freshman year.

Planning does not necessarily mean finding the rights major and college during freshman year.

Getting a head start means completing all your requirements on time and getting good grades throughout high school.

Since GPA has a big part to play in your college admission, you need to maintain good grades as much as possible.

Ask for help

You might not be aware of this, but your school counselor can help you prepare for your college admission.

If you ever need any help in writing your college essay, picking the right school, retaking your ACT, and so on, you can ask for help and get advice from your school’s counselor.

Since they have already gone through this process, they would be able to guide you and even share their previous experience with you so that you can have a better idea of what college is like.

Take advantage of all the resources around you and utilize all the help that you can get.

Keep in mind that even if you did not get your target score on the first try, you can just retake the exam. There are even colleges that superscore ACT, so it would not hurt your college application if you retake the ACT.

Do colleges still look at ACT scores?

Yes, colleges and universities still look at ACT scores. SAT and ACT have the same bearing in college admission so you can take either of them.

One of the common misconceptions is that universities like Harvard, Yale, or any other elite schools prefer the SAT over the ACT.

In reality, all colleges and universities consider both results equally. Admission counselors have openly announced that they do not favor one over the other.

Aside from that, if you look at the website of these universities, you would find a suggested SAT and ACT score range that you have to meet in order to have a better chance of getting admitted.

Interestingly and based on data from CollegeRaptor, preference over the other is only a matter of where you live.

Some states require students to take the ACT as part of statewide assessments; while others use the SAT for their statewide mandatory testing.

Taking the ACT is more popular in the Midwest while the SAT still dominates the East and West Coast as the test of choice. The best internet professional paper writing services are those which provide personalized attention to every facet of your academic jobs. These solutions deliver different sorts of writing such as term papers, essays, investigative studies, case studies, research studies, lab reports, literary works, and much more. They have specialists in their staffs who can meet all of your paper writing needs, whether it’s online or in person. They also give first-rate finishing solutions to make your work flawless and result-oriented.

States like Wisconsin, Kansas, and North Dakota are mostly ACT takers while states like California, Washington, and New York are most likely SAT takers.

In short, bias all comes down to the location.


All in all, you should target a score that falls in the ACT score range of your chosen school. 

To recap some of the important points that we discussed, we answered some of your basic questions and gave you a few tips on how you can score higher on your ACT.

If you have taken the ACT and are just relaxing, looking at the best high school graduation gifts, then you can read our article about the ACT score release dates to find out when will you receive your score.

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!

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