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Peter Poer

What is a Good ACT Score?

Ah, the inevitable “What’s a good score?” question.

First, let me tell you right now: I’m not going to answer this question.

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But! I will give you some guidance for how to determine the answer yourself.


Many Good ACT Scores

First, let’s think about what we mean by “Good.” Does better than average count as good? Top quarter? Top 10%? All of these thresholds are meaningless without context.

In fact, there are about as many different “Good” ACT scores as there are ACT scores. And a good ACT score for someone else might not be a good ACT score for you. Furthermore, while most schools care about the composite score, some will look specifically for your subject area scores. So even a number isn’t just a single number.

A “Good” ACT Score Depends on Your Goals

The ultimate goal of taking the ACT is getting into college. Therefore, the ACT score you’ll need depends on the colleges you want to go to. Some of you may have your sights set on a top ten university, others a small liberal arts college, and others a large state school. If you’ve got aims to be a Yale University bulldog, you’re likely going to need a higher ACT score than if you want to join the University of Illinois’ Fighting Illini. Yale’s average ACT score is a stratospheric 34, while Illinois’ is a significantly lower (though still quite respectable!) 29.

So before you go settling on a number, you need to know where you’d like to go to college. Look up the average ACT scores for those schools, talk to students who are enrolled, or ask your counsellor what your target score should be for these schools. That will give you a good idea of a range.

A Good ACT Score Isn’t Enough

Once you know where you’d like to go and have a target score to shoot for, you can start studying to reach that score. But you also need to think about your entire college application. Remember that test scores, while important, are only a part of your profile. Scoring higher than average doesn’t guarantee you admission, and scoring lower than average doesn’t preclude it. Your goal on the ACT should be to get a score that makes you a competitive applicant.

Colleges — especially those at the top of the rankings — are looking for more than just test scores and GPA. They want interesting applicants who will make for a diverse, engaged, and dynamic class. So while it may be tempting to try to cram for a test, if your score is already competitive then you should considering spending your time volunteering, participating in extracurriculars, or pursuing a passion that will make for a compelling personal statement.

So What’s Your Good ACT Score?

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that there’s no one magic score that’s going to guarantee your admission. But hopefully I’ve also convinced you that, by doing some research, you can identify a target score that will help you as you prep. So do that research — and let us know what your target score is!

About Peter Poer

Peter helps make sure Magoosh students have the best possible content. A proud Arizona Wildcat and Teach for America alum, he worked as an instructional coach before getting an MBA at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is passionate about student achievement and educational equity. Also prime numbers. Peter enjoys cooking, running (slowly), and going to bed comically early.

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