A Complete First-Year College Checklist

A Complete First-Year College Checklist

  • Getting a high ACT score can increase your chances of getting into selective colleges.
  • In general, a good ACT score is any score in or above the 75th percentile — at least a 24.
  • Students should aim to hit or exceed the middle 50% of ACT scores at their chosen colleges.
  • The ACT Writing section is optional and uses a separate scoring scale.

In addition to a stellar personal statement, a high GPA, and strong letters of recommendation, an impressive standardized test score can help you get into a good college.

One of two major college entrance exams in the U.S., the ACT assesses students’ math, science, and verbal skills. While there’s no passing score, earning a high score can aid in securing you acceptance to more selective colleges.

Not all colleges require standardized test scores for admission. Recently, many institutions have adopted test-optional policies due to COVID-19. Be sure to confirm whether your schools require ACT/SAT scores for admission before you register for a test.

All test-takers should spend some time figuring out what score to aim for. What’s a good ACT score? More importantly, what score will you need to get into your dream college?

What Is a Good ACT Score Overall?

A good ACT score ranks you higher than the majority of test-takers. As such, any composite score above the 50th percentile, or 19-20, can be considered a solid score.

That said, a 20 won’t cut it at many competitive colleges. This is why it’s better to aim even higher, ideally for the top 25% — or a composite score of around 24.

The ACT consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Each subject is scored on a scale of 1-36. Your total ACT score is the average of your four section scores. To get a good ACT score, then, you’ll need to aim for around 24 on each section.

Students can use percentiles to get a sense of how their ACT scores compare with those of other test-takers. The following table presents a common range of good ACT scores based on percentiles. Note that percentiles may change slightly each year.

PercentileCompositeEnglishMathReadingScience
1003636363636
9934-353534-3535-3635
953133-3430-3133-3431
902930-312831-3228
852727-282629-3026
8025-2625252725
75 (good)2424242524
50 (median)19-2019182020

Source: ACT Inc.

What Is a Good ACT Score Based on Your Colleges?

Colleges and universities have different score expectations, making the notion of a good ACT score relative. Ultimately, whether a score can be considered good depends on what your schools are looking for and how competitive their applicant pools are. A good score for you will be one that’s comparable to that of the average first-year student at the schools you’re applying to.

Many colleges report the middle 50% of incoming students, which is a range that spans the 25th to 75th percentile ACT scores. Ideally, you’ll get a score close to or higher than your school’s 75th percentile. If that’s too difficult, however, you can aim for somewhere closer to the bottom of that range.

To find a school’s middle 50%, look for a first-year class profile page or a facts and figures page on its website. Alternatively, you can search for the school’s name with the phrase “ACT score range.”

For example, say you want to apply to Emory University. Emory reports enrolled students’ ACT scores on its first-year profile page. According to this data, the middle 50% is 33-35. This means you’ll have a solid shot at getting into Emory if you earn at least a 35 on the ACT (assuming the rest of your application is just as impressive).

Schools vary considerably in the kinds of ACT scores they look for in applicants. Less selective institutions tend to accept scores closer to the national average (21), whereas more competitive universities often prefer scores in the 32-36 range.

Good ACT Scores for 20 Popular Colleges

The table below lists the middle 50% of first-year students’ ACT scores at 20 popular colleges and universities across the U.S. All data is for the class of 2025.

School25th Percentile ACT Score75th Percentile ACT Score
Boston University3335
Bowdoin College3234
Colgate University3134
Colorado College2933
Columbia University3435
Indiana University Bloomington2732
Miami University2531
Pennsylvania State University2933
Rice University3435
Tulane University3134
University of Connecticut2833
University of Georgia3134
University of Maryland, College Park3134
University of Minnesota Twin Cities2833
University of Pennsylvania3536
University of Pittsburgh2833
University of Richmond3235
Villanova University3234
Washington University in St. Louis3335
Wesleyan University3335

What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

The ACT offers an optional Writing section, which requires students to write an essay describing their perspective on an issue. You only need to complete this section if at least one of the schools you’re applying to requires the essay. Be aware that the ACT with Writing costs more than the ACT without Writing ($85 vs. $60).

Unlike the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections, the ACT Writing section is scored on a scale of 2-12. This score does not count toward your composite score and is reported separately.

Two readers each assign your essay a grade on a scale of 1-6 in four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. These domain scores are then combined and averaged to give you a final Writing score out of 12.

PercentileACT Writing Score
10012
9911
9910
969
90 (good)8
667
51 (median)6

Source: ACT Inc.

Like the other ACT sections, the strength of your essay score depends on what percentile you place in. The higher your score is above the 50th percentile, the more impressive your ACT Writing performance will look to colleges. Generally, a score of 8 or higher on the essay can be considered strong.

Feature Image: Phil Boorman / Cultura / Getty Images

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