To answer "What is a good ACT score?" you have to remember your main objective... to get into your top choice  school.  This article will review how ACT scores are calculated, how your scores compare to others (percentiles), and what average scores are for some top public and private universities.

In today’s increasingly competitive environment, the ACT is arguably one of the most, if not the most, important part of the application process for colleges and universities across the nation.

In simple terms, the ACT is a standardized test that challenges a student’s knowledge on four key subjects: English, Math, Reading, and Science. There is a fifth component that is optional: Writing. 

So, let’s say you accomplish the challenging task of completing the ACT in the nearly three hours allotted. How do you access this score and more importantly, what does your score actually mean? Throughout this article we will provide you a snapshot of what a good ACT score can mean and how that score will be relevant to the specific universities you are applying to.

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ACT SCORING - Understanding What Makes A Good ACT Score

The ACT is graded on a scale of 1 to 36 (36 being the perfect ACT score). Each section is graded on this scale based on the number of the correct answers and the average of these scores is your composite score. This composite score coincides to a percentile of how well you did in comparison to other students taking the ACT. The higher the percentile the better you did than the majority of the general population. For example, if you scored in the 75th percentile, you scored better than 75% of the people who took the ACT (wow!).

ACT Score Report

Sample ACT Score Report - Source: ACT.org

It is important to keep in mind that the ACT follows a normal distribution curve. In other words, it is going to be rarer to score much higher than the average or far lower.

That being said, the average ACT score as of 2018 was a 20.8. So, if you score a 21 you did better than half the people who took the ACT. Depending on your mind frame, that’s pretty good!

To see how your scores, compared to the overall population of test-takers please reference the snapshot below of ACT score percentiles as of 2018:

ACT Score Percentiles (2018)

ACT Scale Score Composite English Math Reading Science
1 1 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 1 1 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
6 1 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1 1 1
8 1 1 1 1 1
9 1 3 1 1 1
10 1 6 1 3 2
11 1 11 1 5 4
12 4 14 1 9 6
13 9 18 3 13 10
14 15 24 10 18 14
15 21 30 20 22 18
16 27 36 31 28 25
17 34 40 40 33 30
18 40 44 48 38 37
19 46 48 52 43 44
20 52 53 57 49 50
21 58 59 60 54 57
22 64 64 65 60 64
23 69 70 69 66 71
24 74 75 74 70 77
25 78 79 79 74 82
26 82 82 83 77 86
27 85 84 88 80 88
28 88 86 91 82 90
29 91 88 93 84 92
30 93 90 95 87 94
31 95 91 96 89 95
32 96 93 97 92 96
33 98 94 98 94 97
34 99 96 99 97 98
35 99 99 99 99 99
36 100 100 100 100 100
Avg 20.8 20.2 20.5 21.3 20.7

Source: ACT.org

A composite score of 16 would place you at having only performed better than 27% of of students, which is a poor score. A 20 places you at the average. A 24 places you having done better than about three quarters (75%) of the students taking the ACT (a good score!). Any score above 28 is very exceptional and any score above a 35 is absolutely phenomenal!

As previously referenced, this test follows a normal distribution curve. So, as you can see from 1 to 8 is all in the first percentile and 35 to 36 is all in the 99th percentile. Where it gets interesting is in the 18 to 24 composite score range. 

The ACT allows for an unlimited number of attempts. A couple point increase in the 18 through 24 range can make an impactful difference. Say you score an 18 on your first attempt (no worries) and by your third attempt you have now scored a 24… that’s a 20% increase and places you well over the average.

Summary of Average, Good, and Excellent ACT Scores

  • 16 or lower = poor (you are in the bottom 25% of test takers)
  • 21 = average (about half of test takers do worse than you)
  • 24 = good (you scored better than 75% of test takers)
  • 29+ = excellent (you scored better than 90 percent of the population)

What a Good ACT Score Should Mean for You

Throughout the article we’ve discussed what your score means in comparison to national averages but what does “good” mean for you? In other words, what score do YOU need to get into the college of YOUR dreams?

Important to understand - it’s all relative. 

A score of 29 places you in the top 10% (pretty amazing) and can be a strong score for universities such as New York University, Penn State, University of Texas A&M and many others but a score of 29 would unfortunately be very low for selective schools like Ivy Leagues or MIT.

In complete contrast, a score of 29 would be phenomenal at less selective schools like CSU Northridge (average score of 20) or Ohio University (average score of 24). It all depends on where you want to apply and what college you want to attend.

Important to note that the higher your test score the more opportunity for merit-based scholarships. Also, a higher test score will help if your GPA isn’t too high. Keep in mind that at selective schools this is not the case. They’re expecting near perfect scores and exceptional grade point averages across the board.

So, with all that being said, lets take a look at the most popular universities (as of 2018) and their average accepted ACT composite scores:

ACT Scores of Top 100 Public Universities

Institution name Enrollment ACT Composite 25th Percentile ACT Composite 75th Percentile
Texas A & M University-College Station 67,929 25 30
University of Central Florida 66,059 24 29
Ohio State University-Main Campus 59,837 27 31
Florida International University 56,718 22 27
University of Florida 52,669 28 32
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 51,848 26 31
The University of Texas at Austin 51,525 26 33
Arizona State University-Tempe 51,164 22 29
Michigan State University 50,019 23 28
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 48,216 26 32
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 47,119 25 30
The University of Texas at Arlington 46,497 20 27
University of Washington-Seattle Campus 46,166 27 32
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 46,002 30 33
University of Houston 45,364 23 27
University of California-Los Angeles 44,027 29 34
Indiana University-Bloomington 43,710 25 31
University of South Florida-Main Campus 43,540 24 29
University of Wisconsin-Madison 42,977 27 31
Purdue University-Main Campus 42,699 25 31
University of California-Berkeley 41,891 30 34
Florida State University 41,362 26 30
California State University-Northridge 41,319 17 22
California State University-Fullerton 40,905 19 24
University of Maryland-College Park 40,521 29 33
Texas State University 38,666 20 26
The University of Alabama 38,563 23 32
University of North Texas 38,276 21 27
California State University-Long Beach 37,622 20 26
University of Georgia 37,606 26 31
University of California-Davis 37,380 25 32
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 37,155 23 28
Texas Tech University 36,996 22 27
Iowa State University 36,158 22 28
George Mason University 35,984 24 30
Kennesaw State University 35,846 21 26
San Jose State University 35,835 19 26
University of California-San Diego 35,772 27 33
University of Colorado Boulder 35,338 25 30
University of California-Irvine 35,242 25 32
San Diego State University 35,158 23 28
University of South Carolina-Columbia 34,731 25 30
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 34,440 25 30
North Carolina State University at Raleigh 34,432 26 31
Colorado State University-Fort Collins 33,083 22 28
Georgia State University 32,816 19 26
University of Utah 32,800 22 29
University of Iowa 32,166 23 28
California State University-Sacramento 31,255 17 23
Oregon State University 30,896 22 28
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College 30,861 23 28
University of Missouri-Columbia 30,844 23 29
The University of Texas at San Antonio 30,768 20 25
Virginia Commonwealth University 30,675 21 27
University at Buffalo 30,648 24 28
Washington State University 30,614 20 26
University of Illinois at Chicago 30,539 20 26
University of Nevada-Las Vegas 30,471 19 24
University of Massachusetts-Amherst 30,340 26 31
Florida Atlantic University 30,208 21 26
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 29,911 28 33
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis 29,791 19 26
Auburn University 29,776 24 30
San Francisco State University 29,758 18 24
University of Kentucky 29,465 22 28
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus 29,376 30 34
Ohio University-Main Campus 29,369 22 26
University of North Carolina at Charlotte 29,317 22 26
East Carolina University 29,131 20 24
Kent State University at Kent 28,972 21 25
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus 28,642 27 32
California State University-Los Angeles 28,531 15 20
University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus 28,527 23 29
West Virginia University 28,406 21 27
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville 28,321 24 30
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 27,809 17 22
Utah State University 27,679 21 27
The University of Texas at Dallas 27,642 26 32
University of Kansas 27,625 23 28
University of Connecticut 27,578 26 31
University of Arkansas 27,558 23 29
Wayne State University 27,064 21 28
Portland State University 26,693 19 25
University of New Mexico-Main Campus 26,221 19 25
University of Nebraska-Lincoln 26,079 22 29
California State Polytechnic University-Pomona 26,053 20 27
Stony Brook University 25,989 26 31
California State University-Fresno 25,325 16 22
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus 25,295 22 28
The University of Texas at El Paso 25,078 16 22
University of California-Santa Barbara 25,057 28 33
Grand Valley State University 25,049 21 26
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 24,988 20 25
University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus 24,839 21 27
Clemson University 24,387 27 31
Old Dominion University 24,375 18 25
University of Virginia-Main Campus 24,360 29 33
Boise State University 24,121 21 26
University of Delaware 23,774 25 29
Missouri State University-Springfield 23,697 21 26
Average ACT Score of Top 100 Public Universities   22.9 28.4

ACT Scores of Top 100 Private Universities

Institution name Enrollment ACT Composite 25th Percentile ACT Composite 75th Percentile
Liberty University 75,044 21 27
Brigham Young University-Idaho 51,881 20 25
New York University 51,123 29 33
University of Southern California 45,687 30 34
Brigham Young University-Provo 34,334 27 32
Boston University 33,355 29 32
Harvard University 31,120 32 35
Columbia University in the City of New York 30,454 31 34
George Washington University 27,973 29 32
University of Pennsylvania 25,367 32 35
Johns Hopkins University 25,151 33 35
Drexel University 24,190 24 30
Cornell University 23,016 31 34
Syracuse University 22,484 25 30
Northwestern University 22,008 32 34
Northeastern University 21,489 32 34
St John's University-New York 21,340 22 29
Nova Southeastern University 20,793 23 28
Georgetown University 19,005 30 34
Stanford University 17,534 32 35
Baylor University 17,059 26 31
University of Miami 17,003 28 32
Loyola University Chicago 16,673 24 29
Rochester Institute of Technology 16,584 26 32
University of Chicago 16,227 32 35
Duke University 16,130 31 35
Fordham University 16,037 27 31
Washington University in St Louis 15,303 32 34
Boston College 14,628 31 33
Saint Louis University 14,581 25 31
Emory University 14,263 30 33
Carnegie Mellon University 13,869 32 35
American University 13,858 26 30
Savannah College of Art and Design 13,163 21 27
Saint Leo University 13,099 20 25
Pace University-New York 12,986 21 27
Yale University 12,974 32 35
Webster University 12,736 21 26
Vanderbilt University 12,592 32 35
University of Notre Dame 12,467 32 34
Tulane University of Louisiana 12,384 30 33
Case Western Reserve University 11,824 30 33
Southern Methodist University 11,789 28 32
University of Rochester 11,648 29 33
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 11,466 33 35
Tufts University 11,449 31 34
University of Denver 11,434 25 30
Marquette University 11,426 24 29
Hofstra University 11,131 24 29
University of San Francisco 11,063 22 28
Villanova University 10,967 30 33
University of Dayton 10,882 24 29
Texas Christian University 10,489 25 30
The New School 10,389 24 28
Quinnipiac University 10,200 23 27
University of the Cumberlands 10,097 19 25
Brown University 10,095 31 35
Lindenwood University 10,025 20 25
California Baptist University 9,941 19 25
Azusa Pacific University 9,926 21 27
University of St Thomas 9,878 24 29
Seton Hall University 9,801 24 28
Loyola Marymount University 9,618 26 31
Regent University 9,488 19 27
Chapman University 9,392 25 30
Howard University 9,392 22 28
Duquesne University 9,190 24 29
University of San Diego 8,905 26 30
The University of Tampa 8,895 22 27
Creighton University 8,654 25 30
Mercer University 8,653 25 30
Santa Clara University 8,629 28 32
University of the Incarnate Word 8,603 17 23
LIU Post 8,499 21 26
Regis University 8,341 20 26
University of New England 8,281 21 26
Princeton University 8,273 31 35
University of La Verne 8,159 19 25
Saint Joseph's University 8,085 23 28
Belmont University 8,012 24 29
Adelphi University 7,978 22 27
Indiana Institute of Technology 7,871 17 23
Fairleigh Dickinson University-Metropolitan Campus 7,846 20 25
Pepperdine University 7,710 26 31
Maryville University of Saint Louis 7,689 21 27
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 7,592 28 32
Gonzaga University 7,506 26 30
New York Institute of Technology 7,403 21 27
Barry University 7,358 17 20
Concordia University-Wisconsin 7,288 20 26
Seattle University 7,278 24 29
MCPHS University 7,208 22 28
Campbellsville University 7,207 18 24
Suffolk University 7,201 21 26
Illinois Institute of Technology 7,164 25 31
Southeastern University 7,163 18 24
Rice University 7,022 33 35
Lehigh University 7,017 29 32
University of New Haven 6,984 21 27
LIU Brooklyn 6,982 19 27
Average ACT Scores of Top 100 Private Universities   25.4 29.9

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Finding What a Good ACT Score is for Your School 

To find the average ACT scores for schools you are interested in,  try searching on Google for: your school choice freshman profile

For example, if you Google: University of Michigan freshmen profile, you will get the following results:

search for ACT scores

Clicking on the Student Profile link will lead to:

ACT scores by school

which will show you the ACT score ranges (25th to 75th percentiles) for the incoming freshman class.

How to Improve Yourself if Your ACT Score Falls “Short”

First, don’t freak out! University Admissions take into consideration many different things (GPA, extracurriculars, volunteering, etc.). Also, as previously mentioned, you can take the ACT as many times as you please before college application deadlines are due. This is why it is recommended to really get ahead and take the test at least once before reaching your junior year of high school (you don’t even have to study for this attempt!).

Let’s discuss some possible strategies.

  1. Re-take the test! Say you are two or three points below what you need. Analyze your weakest sections of the test and really hone in on these sections and prep, prep, prep. Time is your friend here – more hours put in equals a higher chance of improving your score:
    • 1-2 ACT Point Improvement: 20 hours
    • 2-4 ACT Point Improvement: 40 hours
    • Fortunately, there are countless services available to you: ACT practice tests, ACT test prep books, tutors, classes, etc. Click this link to see what some of your options might be: ACT Test Prep
  2. Don’t waste time re-taking! If you missed your goal score by only one point retaking the entire test may not be worth your time. It may be in your best interest to instead spend the time you would’ve spent prepping by working on improving other parts of your application. For example, asking for recommendation letters from teachers or joining an extracurricular activity. Colleges want well-rounded students.
  3. Adjust your list of schools.  While you should always shoot for the stars and apply to your dream school it is important to be realistic. If you are 4 points short, with no opportunity to re-take the exam or are unable to gain that many points, you should consider other options. Add some safety schools to the mix!

Review & Key Takeaways: 

  • The composite scale ranges from 1 to 36.
  • The national composite ACT score is a 20.8
  • A 21 would place you at an average score.
  • A 24 is a good score.
  • A 28 is excellent.
  • A 35+ is absolutely phenomenal.

Its all relative. Your score is “good” if meets the criteria for getting into the list of colleges you are applying to. There is always room for improvement when utilizing the right tools. 

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