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Thomas Broderick

What is the Minimum SAT Score I Need for College?

How low can you go? How low can you go?


What is the minimum SAT score I need for college? -Magoosh


Hello again, Magoosh readers! I was just pondering the intricacies of limbo dancing, a perfect metaphor for your question. So you want to know about minimums, eh? The answer is….well…how about this: in the next few paragraphs, give me the opportunity to get your mind out of the ‘minimum’ gutter. After all, I (and most likely every adult in your life) want you shooting for the stars, not the dirt.

SAT Minimums Are Tricky

Now, you’re right: each college has a minimum SAT score. The SAT score range for accepted students can be very wide or very narrow depending which schools you’re considering. HOWEVER, these numbers are extremely misleading.

Because the SAT changed in 2016, colleges currently report SAT ranges under the old scoring system. For my example, let’s use Harvard University’s ACT range: 22-36. So yes, there is currently a Harvard undergraduate who scored a 22, which is approximately a 1020 on the 2016 SAT. But that person, if I had to guess, probably has a life story that is very different from the average Harvard applicant. Imagine an orphan from a war-torn country who immigrated to the United States. He (or she) spent every night of his high school years washing dishes to pay for his sick adopted mother’s dialysis. The ‘22 guy’ probably went through something similar.

SAT Maximums Are Tricky, Too

For the new 2016 SAT, the maximum score is 1600. A few people will reach this lofty height, but it’s not the maximum for everyone. For the vast majority of students, the ceiling is a little lower. For your maximum (and minimum), take a look at your dream college’s middle 50% SAT range for accepted students. The bottom of that range is your minimum SAT score, and the top of the range is your maximum SAT score.

Working within the ‘middle 50%’ gives you some wiggle room and a solid goal to reach as you study to take or retake the SAT. “But,” you might ask, “won’t I have a higher chance of getting in if I score above the middle 50%?” Well yeah, but at that point, you’d fall victim to the law of diminishing returns. For example, if you had to study 20 hours to raise your score to somewhere in the middle 50%, it might take you another 30 hours to nudge your score just beyond that mark. In my humble opinion, those are 30 (or however many) hours better spent maintaining your grades, doing volunteer work, or just being the well-rounded person admissions counselors want to see when they read the innumerable amount of applications in their inboxes. After all, high test scores are a dime a dozen these days. Building a couple of houses for Habitat for Humanity (or something like that) will likely melt an admissions counselor’s heart faster than any 1600 on the SAT.

Final Thoughts

Don’t worry too much about minimum SAT score. As long as your SAT score is somewhere within your dream college’s middle 50% of accepted students, you’re free to spend time polishing the other parts of your application. And remember: your SAT score is important to college admissions success, but don’t get lost in the sea of numbers. Till next time, SAT scholars.

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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