What ACT Score Is Needed to Get Into College?

by Linda Foley

Most colleges and universities use the American College Test (ACT) and/or the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to evaluate students applying for admission. There are four parts of the ACT and students receive a score on each part (English, reading, mathematics and science.) Scores for each part range from low (1) to high (36, the top score). Colleges average the four scores to obtain a composite score.

The Big Three

Most ACT data report the scores received as a range between the 25th percentile of students (25 percent of students received a lower score) and the 75th percentile of students (75 percent of students received a lower score); in other words, the scores of the mid 50 percent of students. The big three colleges (Harvard, Princeton and Yale) accepted students whose composite scores on the ACT ranged from 30 (25th percentile of students) to 35 (75th percentile of students) (See Reference 2). Scores for students were: Harvard, mean ACT 32.5, composite of 31-34; Princeton, mean ACT 33, composite of 31-35; and Yale, mean ACT 32, composite 30-34.

Ivy League Universities

The other five Ivy League universities accepted students whose composite scores on the ACT ranged from 29 (25th percentile of students) to 34 (75th percentile of students); For example, Brown, mean ACT 32, composite 29-34; Columbia, mean ACT 32.5, composite 31-34; Cornell, mean ACT 31, composite 29-33; Dartmouth. mean ACT 32, composite 30-34; and University of Pennsylvania, mean ACT 32, composite 30-33.

Top 25 Universities

Some of the top 25 universities and the scores of accepted students were: Boston College, mean ACT 31, composite 29-32; Cal Tech, mean ACT 34, composite 33-35; Carnegie Mellon, mean ACT 31 , composite 29-33; Duke, mean ACT 31.5, composite 29-34; Emory, mean ACT 31, composite 29-33; and Georgetown, mean ACT 29.5, composite 26-33.

The Top Liberal Arts Colleges

Some of the top liberal arts colleges and the scores of accepted students were (as of 2011): Amherst, mean ACT 32, composite 30-34; Bowdoin College, mean ACT 32, composite 30-33; Middlebury College, mean ACT 31.5, composite 30-33; Swarthmore College, mean ACT 30, composite 27-33; Wesleyan University, mean ACT 32, composite 30-34; and Williams College, mean ACT 32, composite 30-34.

State Colleges and Universities

More than 1 million students took the ACT in 2009, obtaining an average score of 21.1. Average scores vary by state, with the highest average test scores in 2009 in Massachusetts (23.6) and Connecticut (23.3) and the lowest scores in Florida (19.8) and Mississippi (18.9). The majority of high school students seek admission to public colleges and universities, most of which require a minimum score of 18 on the ACT. Exceptions to the minimum requirement are made for students with high grade-point averages and other accomplishments.

About the Author

Linda Foley has been writing about psychology and the justice system since 1974. Her articles have been published in the "Journal of Forensic Psychology," "Trial Lawyer" and the "Journal of Social Behavior and Personality." Foley holds a Doctor of Philosophy in social psychology from the University of Florida.

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