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.
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!).
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|
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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|St John's University-New York||21,340||22||29|
|Nova Southeastern University||20,793||23||28|
|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|
|Washington University in St Louis||15,303||32||34|
|Saint Louis University||14,581||25||31|
|Carnegie Mellon University||13,869||32||35|
|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|
|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|
|University of Denver||11,434||25||30|
|University of San Francisco||11,063||22||28|
|University of Dayton||10,882||24||29|
|Texas Christian University||10,489||25||30|
|The New School||10,389||24||28|
|University of the Cumberlands||10,097||19||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|
|University of San Diego||8,905||26||30|
|The University of Tampa||8,895||22||27|
|Santa Clara University||8,629||28||32|
|University of the Incarnate Word||8,603||17||23|
|University of New England||8,281||21||26|
|University of La Verne||8,159||19||25|
|Saint Joseph's University||8,085||23||28|
|Indiana Institute of Technology||7,871||17||23|
|Fairleigh Dickinson University-Metropolitan Campus||7,846||20||25|
|Maryville University of Saint Louis||7,689||21||27|
|Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||7,592||28||32|
|New York Institute of Technology||7,403||21||27|
|Illinois Institute of Technology||7,164||25||31|
|University of New Haven||6,984||21||27|
|Average ACT Scores of Top 100 Private Universities||25.4||29.9|
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:
Clicking on the Student Profile link will lead to:
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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.