what is a good act score

What is a good ACT score?

A good ACT score would depend on your frame of reference and school of choice.

The highest score that you can get on your ACT is 36 and the lowest is 1.

For some, scoring slightly above the average is already a good score while some are still not happy with it because it would still not get them into their target school.

So rather than asking what is a good ACT score, find out instead the target score that you need to reach.

This way, you would be able to map out a more effective and productive study plan with an end goal (target score) in sight.

What ACT score should I try to aim for?

Your target ACT score should be in line with the school you want to apply to.

So with that, the first thing that you need to do is to find out which college you want to get into.

Since different schools have set their own standard for test scores, you need to do some research and find out the average ACT score of the students who got admitted.

This would give you an idea of the average ACT score range that you need to reach for your upcoming ACT.

If you are still undecided on the college that you want to apply to, the rule of thumb is to score above the average.

This way, your score would be competitive and you would have a better chance of getting admitted into several schools in the country.

To help you put this into perspective, let us say you score 22 (slightly above average) on your ACT. This would already make you competitive for 678 schools in the country.

But, if you up your score by 1 to 23, your score would now be competitive to 875 schools in the country.

As you can see, the higher your ACT score, the more college options you have.

So scoring above the average would obviously make your score competitive to more schools.

And who knows, by the time you got your ACT report card and you finally decided on the school you want to go to, you might already be qualified because of your above-average score.

Check out article on the ACT score release dates to find out your score!

What is a bad ACT score?

As much as we want to say that there is no such thing as a bad ACT score, we cannot because there is (realistically speaking) a bad ACT score.

Since the end goal for taking an ACT is to help you get into a good college, having a low score on the ACT would essentially lower your chances of getting in.

Your ACT score is relative to your chances of getting into a good college.

So if you only score 16 on your ACT, then it would be more difficult for you to find a college that would admit you.

If you look at the numbers from PrepScholar, a 16 on your ACT would only get you as far as 33 schools.

In turn, you would be missing out and you have low chances of getting into the other 1466 schools in the country.

But on a positive note, you can retake the ACT up to 12 times.

That means that if you rank in the bottom 25% and score only 16 in your ACT, you have 12 chances to up your score.

Many students end up retaking the test between 2-3 times, so do not be discouraged to try and try again.

If for example you took the ACT three times and score highest on the second one, then you can just send your score second score to your college of choice.

Retaking the ACT would not hurt your college application. Admissions counselors would not look down on you for retaking the ACT.

It might even make your college application stronger because retaking the test illustrates your determination and eagerness to get into college.

What is the hardest university to get into?

Since you are almost ready to graduate and you might already be preparing your best high school graduation gifts, it is now time to think of the next steps and your plans for college.

The hardest university to get into does not only look at your ACT score.

Even if you have a perfect ACT score, some universities might still not accept if you do not meet their criteria for qualification.

But for the sake of this article, we have listed the top 50 universities that usually admit students who score high on their ACT.

Please note that the ACT percentiles cited below are not the ones found in your report card. The score range that we have listed below are the 25th and 75th percentile for each school.

Score range data are from Compass.

SchoolACT Score of the 25th percentileACT Score of the 75th percentile
California Institute of Technology3536
Massachusetts Institute of Technology3436
Brown University3335
Carnegie Mellon University3335
Columbia University3335
Duke University3335
Harvard College3335
Harvey Mudd College3335
Johns Hopkins University3335
Northwestern University3335
Princeton University3335
Rice University3335
University of Chicago3335
University of Pennsylvania3335
Vanderbilt University3335
Yale University3335
Cornell University3235
Dartmouth College3235
Northeastern University3235
University of Notre Dame3235
Pomona College3235
Stanford University3235
Washington University in St. Louis3235
Williams College3235
Hamilton College3234
Haverford College3234
Middlebury College3234
Tufts University3234
Washington and Lee University3234
Georgetown University3135
Swarthmore College3135
Willamette University3135
Amherst College3134
Barnard College3134
Boston College3134
Bowdoin College3134
Carleton College3134
Claremont McKenna College3134
Colby College3134
Colgate University3134
Emory University3134
Grinnell College3134
Stevens Institute of Technology3134
University of Michigan—​Ann Arbor3134
University of Southern California3134
Vassar College3134
Villanova University3134
Wellesley College3134
Wesleyan University3134
Tulane University3133

Keep in mind that even if you have a high score on the ACT, it does not necessarily guarantee you a slot at these universities.

Admission counselors still have to look at several factors before you even get considered for the slot.

We have also written an article on the colleges that superscore ACT that you might want to check out.

What other factors do admission counselors have to consider?

Your GPA

One of the ways to predict your likelihood of success in college is through your GPA in high school. 

Even if you do not have the highest GPA in your class, it would be a great indicator of how consistent and persistent you are during high school. 

Sometimes, your GPA might even be more representative of your academic growth and intellectual curiosity.

Since your GPA represent your academic performance throughout high school, it is safe to assume that it is more representative than the ACT that you took on one Saturday morning.

Application Letter

Given that admission counselors do not have any background information on you other than your academic records, an admission letter lets them get to know you even better. 

 Since your academic record is not the only thing that makes up who you are, an admission letter would let you showcase your skills, talents, personalities, hobbies, and among other things that you think would best represent who you are.  

Recommendation Letter

Anecdotal letters from your teachers, coach, or supervisor reinforces all the information you included in all your application requirements.

It rounds out your application profile and gives admission counselors a different perspective as to who you truly are.

Apart from that, a recommendation letter also gives admission counselors insights into your past experiences and other activities that you joined in when you were in high school.

All in all, you should not just aim for a good ACT score.

You should also look at the different factors that might affect your chances of getting into your dream school.

How to get a good ACT score?

Download the free test prep from ACT

One of the surefire ways to familiarize yourself with the exam is to download and read the test prep from ACT.

Since it is from the makers of the actual ACT exam, this test prep is the closest practice test you can get for the real exam.

Aside from the ACT practice tests, this booklet would also give you an overview of the ACT, some test-taking tips, and even the dos and don’ts on testing day.

If you do not have any idea of what to expect for the ACT, then this test prep might be a great place to start.

It is really helpful for first-time test takers and you can even use it as one of your core prep materials.

You can click on this link for the 2020 version of this booklet.

Do test runs 

When you simulate the testing environment and do several test runs before the ACT, you would not be too overwhelmed on the actual testing day.

It would be helpful and it would tone down your anxiety for the exam.

Since the test is 3-hours long and it is timed accordingly, doing several timed test runs would increase your stamina and keep your focus during the actual exam.

Some students find it hard to concentrate for 3-hours long because they did not do enough test runs before the ACT.

So as much as possible, try to do 2-3 test runs every month, answer practice tests for all sections, and practice with an ACT calculator before you take the ACT.

Develop good study habits

Given that students have different study habits and learning styles, you should carefully map out a study plan that would work best for you.

Rather than copying other student’s study plans, create your own instead.

This way, it would be much easier to stay consistent and stick to your schedule.

A good study habit does not necessarily mean that you have to study every day. It just means that you need to study smart.

There are several ways on how to study for the ACT; you just need to find the right one that would work well on your schedule and would not take up too much of your time.

Read more often

A study shows that students who read more often tend to score higher on the exam.

There are several ACT prep books that can easily be bought online.

However, this does not necessarily mean that you need to read textbooks every day as part of your test prep.

Since reading is also a leisure activity, simply reading any books you like and at your own pace is already helpful enough.

By doing this, you would ultimately have better comprehension, and even writing skills. 

Practice reading several materials would also increase your vocabulary and reading rate, which are skills that would come in handy especially in the Reading and English section of the exam.

Avoid cramming

One of the big reasons to avoid cramming is it would help lower your stress levels during the exam.

Cramming chunks of information the night or few days before the exam would not do you any good.

It might even just increase your stress and anxiety during the exam, making it difficult for you to concentrate.

Apart from that, since the main essence of the ACT is to assess your growth academically, the information you tried to cram might not be too representative of that.

Rather than being evaluated for how far you have come academically, you would instead be graded and assessed based on how much information you can remember the night before your ACT.

You would not want that, would you?

That being said, the best advice that we could give you is to plan ahead and study several months before you take the ACT.

 This way, you can answer all the questions with ease and confidence.


To recap, we have discussed what is a good ACT score and answer some of your questions like

In the end, you should always try to aim for a higher score in the ACT so that you would have a better chance of getting admitted into your dream school.

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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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