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Rita Kreig

SAT Scores for Top Colleges

If you’re like most students, you’ll probably come up with a list of colleges to apply to in one of two ways:

  • You already know (and maybe have always known) two or three colleges that you’d love to attend. You do your research before taking the SAT, and know what score you will need in order to have a chance at admission to your dream school. You will take the SAT until you get that score, and then you’ll apply to your dream schools.
  • You will take the SAT knowing that you want to go to college … somewhere awesome! Your score will determine which colleges you apply to. You hope it’ll be good enough to give you a chance at a top school.

To be perfectly honest, both methods are fine, and one isn’t necessarily easier than the other. Either way, you will likely end up taking the SAT twice to get within the score range that you need. (Thank you, superscore!) But if you really want to attend a top public or private university, you should probably understand a bit more about how the SAT fits into their application requirements.


Is my SAT score good enough for a top university?

We get a lot of Magooshers writing us with questions like: “This is my GPA and this is my SAT score, can you recommend a college that I should apply to?” This is such a tough question!! Picking the right college is a very personal decision. But hopefully this post will provide some good guidance. 🙂

The reality is that a good score on the SAT means something different to everyone. Even to top schools.

A ‘good’ SAT score, by Harvard’s standards (average SAT score 2255), is different than a ‘good’ score by UC Berkeley’s standards (average SAT score 2050) – and both are excellent universities. For help interpreting all the gibberish on your SAT score report, take a look at our useful Interpreting Your SAT Score infographic.

Check this out for updated information on SAT Score Ranges for 100 Top Colleges and Universities!

Average SAT Scores for Public and Private Universities

Take a look at the interactive scatter plots below. The graphs rank popular colleges by the average SAT score of their admitted students and their “smart rating” (a rank assigned to colleges based on admission selectivity, academic excellence, expert opinions, financial affordability, and career readiness of graduating students. The closer to 100, the more competitive the school.)

Colleges in the upper right hand corner of the graph are the most competitive (Hello again, Harvard and UC Berkeley!), because they have both a high smart rating and a high average SAT score. Use your cursor to hover over the individual dots to see which schools they represent.



Props to you if you found my college, UC San Diego (Go Tritons!), somewhere in the sea of green dots. I’m still looking.


The Takeaway

Whether you’ve always known which college you want to attend, or you’re still in the research phase, remember: your SAT score is just a small piece of your college application.

All universities – public and private – take into account the academic rigor of the classes you took in high school, your GPA, your extracurricular activities, your campus involvement, your AP scores, your personal statement, your recommendation letters, and dozens of other small criteria when deciding whether or not you’re a good fit for their campus.

So, when looking at the graphs above, make sure that you’re not only applying to dream schools in the top right corners of the graphs. Apply to some target schools and some safety schools too. A good college is about more than just its rank, it’s also about its student culture. If you get a chance to visit a school you’re applying to, and you feel happy on campus, that’s a good sign. 🙂

Good luck Magooshers! And let me know if you have any questions or comments – don’t be shy!


PS. Are you an international student who also has to take the TOEFL? Learn more about TOEFL scores.


About Rita Kreig

Rita helps high schoolers find Magoosh, improve their SAT/ACT scores, and get into their dream schools. She earned both her BA and Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego, where she also studied Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Rita loves education and marketing, just as much as she loves vinyasa yoga and baking chocolate chip cookies.

2 Responses to “SAT Scores for Top Colleges”

  1. Kristen says:

    Hi Rita,

    Great article- thank you! I was wondering: how much do students, on average, improve from one test to another? In one of Lucas’ Q&A sessions, he had said there is a 50 point average margin between one score to the next (or at least that’s what I believe I understood). As a tutor, I just wanted to have an idea of what is realistic to give students an idea.


    • Rita Kreig Rita Kreig says:

      Hi Kristen,

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you like the post. 🙂

      In my experience tutoring the SAT, it’s really challenging to provide a number for average score improvement, because it really depends on so many factors – how much the student studied, his/her mental state on test day, the questions on the specific test, etc. However, the College Board estimates that, on average, juniors repeating the SAT as seniors improve their scores by 40 points. There’s actually a really nice breakdown on the College Board’s website.

      I hope that helps! Thank you so much for writing in, and please let me know if I can answer any other questions for you. 🙂


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