The ACT test has four sections, English, Math, Reading, and Science, each scored on a scare of 1 to 36. The ACT also calculates a composite score which is an average of all four test. The single composite score is generally used when discussing ACT scores. However, the total of all four scores, 144, is used by organizations such as the NCAA.
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How do you compare to other students who took the ACT?
There are two ways to determine how “good” your ACT score is. The first is how does your score rank compared to all the other people who took the ACT. The ACT releases a percentile ranking that lets you look up your score and see what percentile your score ranked. You can see the latest report by searching for “ACT Profile Report.” There are also summaries for each state so you can see how you would rank compared to just students in your state. The table below is a summary of scores from the ACT National Distributions for 2015-2017.
How do you compare to other students who took the ACT and are attending the college you want to go to?
The second way to determine if you have a good score is by comparing it to the profile of students who attend the colleges you’re interested in. Colleges generally report the 25th and 75th percentile scores for their entering freshman class. This shows that 50% of the students attending had scores between those two points. You can look up the ACT scores for colleges at website like College Navigator.
For example, the mid-50th Percentile for the University of Texas at Austin was 26 and 33. For Cal Tech, the scores were 34 and 36. The definition of a good ACT score is much more limited at Cal Tech than UT Austin.
Number of Colleges by Average ACT Score for Each State
The table below shows the numbers of four-year colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates by the average ACT compost scores by state. To get the average ACT composite scores, I just averaged the 25th and 75th percentile scores. I know, you’re not really supposed to do that but I think it helps students get an idea of the number of schools where their ACT scores would be “good.” It won’t assure admissions but it does indicate they may be competitive.
There are only 2 states with scores in the highest category, 34 plus, California and Massachusetts. These two states lead the next highest category with California having 9 schools followed by Massachusetts with 8 and New York and Pennsylvania tying with 7 each.
There are more colleges where the average ACT is 22 or lower than all the colleges combined with scores higher than 22. This is not surprising since 63% of ACT test takers had scores of 22 or lower. There were also almost as many colleges not reporting any ACT test scores.
Why you need to pay attention to more than averages
Remember, these numbers are averages. Of the 66 schools in the 30-33 category, the 25th% score ranged from 27 to 32. The 75th% score had a low of 32 to a high of 35. The broadest middle 50th% was 6 points. Most were between 3 and 4 points. The smallest difference was only 2 points at six universities. Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that your average may be more competitive at some colleges than others depending on the distribution of the scores.
There’s something else you need to pay attention to as you look at the college’s ACT scores. Make you sure you check to see what percentage of students submitted their scores. The problem is that if only a small percentage of students submitted their scores, the numbers you’re seeing may not be very representative, especially at small schools.
If there aren’t many people submitting ACT scores at a school, than take a look at the SAT scores. You can use a concordance table to convert your ACT scores into SAT equivalents to get an idea of where you might stand. You can also just enter you ACT score and get the equivalent at the ACT website.
Is your ACT score good enough for scholarships?
If you’re looking for generous merit aid, you should be paying attention to the college’s 75th% scores. Students who are in the top quarter of the admitted class in terms of academic qualifications are more likely to receive merit aid.
Of course, this assumes that the college provides merit aid. There are colleges that provide only need based aid and these are some of the most competitive colleges in the country. So if you’re looking to use your high ACT score to generate merit aid, you’ll need to look elsewhere. You can get a list of colleges listed by 75th % ACT score here.
Another way to search for colleges offering scholarships based on your ACT score is to just do a web search on “scholarship xx ACT” You’ll have to get past the first page of searches but then you should start seeing a list of colleges offering scholarships. Often, you’ll find a scholarship grid or table that will show how much you might qualify for based on your scores and GPA. Who knows, what you find may provide incentive to take the test again and improve your good ACT score to great.
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