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Thomas Broderick

What Should My ACT Score Goal Be?

Okay, Magooshers, so you’re taking the ACT. Maybe test day is in a year. Maybe test day is next month. Maybe, just maybe, the ACT is tomorrow. You might feel fine about doing well. You might be a little nervous. Maybe, just maybe, you might be in full-blown panic mode.

But no matter when the test is, or how you feel about it, there is one thing that you have in common with every other test taker: you’re taking the ACT to get into college and possibly apply for a few scholarships. Thus comes the question: what should my act score goal be?

Is there an answer to that question? Sure. Do I know it? Sort of. If I knew you, we would sit down and talk about your interests, grades in school, plans for the future – all that stuff. We would create a custom score goal that would help you on your path to ACT success.


What Should My ACT Score Goal Be? -Magoosh

You would also pay me $50-$75 an hour for my time.


But since I don’t know you, and lots of people are reading this, my answer has to be a bit more flexible. So instead of finding a score just for you, I’ll tell you what you can do with different ACT scores. If you’re ready, let’s discover your ACT score goal.

1-18: Needs Improvement

None of these scores should be your ACT score goal. Even if you earn an 18, it likely means there are areas on the ACT where you can improve your score with some moderate effort. Now let’s see how higher scores can help you in both college admissions and earning scholarship dollars.

19: Foot in the Door

19 is the ‘floor’ score goal for just about everyone. Why? Well, 19 is the minimum score required by many community colleges around the country. Some community colleges don’t require standardized test scores, so make sure to check your local community college’s admissions policies.

21: Free Money!

For states with lottery scholarships, a 21 is the necessary hurdle students must meet to earn some free money. This is a great ACT score goal for students considering both community college (which a lottery scholarship will cover 100%) or a public college/university (which a lottery scholarship will cover at least 50%). No matter which college you end up attending, free money won’t hurt one bit.

Another plus of earning a 21 is that it might make you eligible to skip remedial college courses, especially if you attend a community college. High English or Math scores will automatically place you into more advanced classes, helping you save time and money. Also, the ACT is a much more valid predictor of student success than the placement tests community colleges usually use to place students.

26: A Step Above

ACT has crunched the numbers, and a 26 sets you apart from the majority (75%) of ACT test takers. Though there are a lot of points between 26 and 36, a 26 will get you noticed by more college admissions counselors. If your state’s public university system is notoriously competitive (ex: California), a 26 is a solid score when applying to mid-level public colleges/universities.

28: More Free Money!

For high school students looking to apply to America’s top colleges/universities, a 28 puts you at the lower end of many colleges’ ACT middle 50%. What this means is that if a college has an ACT middle 50% of 28-34, only 25% of accepted students earned below a 28 on the ACT. A 28 means that you have a shot at acceptance, but you’re going to need many other positive attributes to earn the ‘fat envelope’ of your dreams.


What Should My ACT Score Goal Be? -Magoosh


If you’re thinking of going to the state college/university route, a 28 on the ACT might make you eligible for a merit scholarship. Most of these scholarships require no separate application and are automatically awarded upon acceptance. In short, a 28 can save you a lot of headaches when it comes to paying for college.

30: A Special League

For admissions counselors around the country, crossing the ’30 barrier’ is a big plus. There are only a handful of students in any testing sessions who can achieve a 30+ score on the ACT. Though most of them apply to the colleges you probably want to go to, making 30+ keeps you in the ‘maybe’ pile long enough for college admissions counselors to get to know you through your transcripts, essays, and teacher recommendations.

32: Highly Competitive

First of all, if you make a 32, that’s one point higher than I was able to achieve on the ACT. Good for you! A 32 also means that you did better than 98% of all test takers. Wooooo!

But yeah, a 32 (or above) makes you a highly competitive candidate to any college or university in the United States. Just about every scholarship opportunity is open to you, too.

35: Might as Well Be Perfection

I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t write ‘36’. Well, even though 36 is a perfect ACT score, it is such a rare occurrence (7/1000 test takers) that 35 has about the same impact on your college/scholarship odds.

So anyway, if you earn a 35 YOU….ARE….DONE with the ACT. Take a moment to let that feeling wash over you. As far as standardized tests go, you are the master.


What Should My ACT Score Goal Be? -Magoosh


Time to get serious and turn this great score into some college acceptance letters and scholarships. After all, Harvard ain’t cheap. Instead of focusing on the ACT, turn your energy to academics and extracurriculars. The latter is especially important, as admissions counselors see a sea of As and high standardized test scores when they review transcripts. Explore your passions, go outside your comfort zone, and even make mistakes! And if you still have some time left over, don’t forget to volunteer.

Final Thoughts on Your ACT Score Goal

Before you start preparing to take (or retake) the ACT, take time to consider what exactly you want to do with your score. Having a plan, or at least the beginnings of one, should make your journey to ACT success a much smoother ride.

Till next time, Magooshers.

About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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