Can My SAT/ACT Score Help Get Money For College?

Did you know your SAT and ACT test scores may help you get money for college? It’s natural to wonder if your test scores can make you eligible for a scholarship and if practicing a little more to get a better score will make a difference. It’s a question you should explore early on. There are many scholarships awarded based on academic achievement, with test scores sometimes being part of the requirement. You may find if you put extra effort into test prep to get a more desirable score, you may indeed be eligible for some academic scholarships.


Private Scholarships vs. Merit Scholarships

Before starting your scholarship search, it’s important to understand the different categories of scholarships available for academic achievement (under which test scores would fall).  Private scholarships are scholarships that are awarded by private companies, foundations and service groups. There are thousands of private scholarships, awarded based on many factors, such as cultural background, athletic ability, future professional interest, artistic talent, geographic location, family income and more. Some of these private scholarships use test scores as a sole factor or in combination with another non-academic factor.


Finding Private Scholarships

There are many scholarship search sites you can use to find private scholarships. Some are easier to use than others. To get an overview of which scholarship search sites to use and other scholarship resources, download our Scholarship ToolKit report, which includes:

  • an extensive review and comparison of the top 16 scholarship search sites
  • an overview of 7 websites with lists of scholarships
  • listing of resources to organize and track scholarship applications
  • 46 often overlooked state websites for scholarships
  • Many of the scholarship search sites tend to have the same list of scholarships, mainly because they are using similar scholarship databases to deliver their results. Because of this, there is a lot of competition for national scholarships. If a scholarship is easy to find, it tends to also be harder to win since many other students can find and apply to the same scholarship, which increases the competition. That’s why it’s important to look for less popular scholarships.

    My suggestion for finding less popular private scholarships is to look for local scholarships and scholarships with smaller award amounts ($1000 or less).  Your school’s guidance department is a great place to start looking for local scholarships. Local scholarship sponsors tend to not want their scholarships listed in the national scholarship databases, so they usually give their information to the local high schools and libraries. It also can’t hurt to Google local charities or foundations to see if they are offering scholarships.

    Finding and applying to private scholarships can be time consuming; so many students tend to not apply for scholarships with smaller award amounts. This could leave you with less competition and a better chance of wining.


    What Are Merit Scholarships

    In addition to private scholarships, colleges themselves award scholarships based on academic performance and other non-academic criteria (like geography, demonstrated interest, major, community service, and more).  Scholarships that colleges award that are not based on a student’s financial need, are called merit scholarships.

    In recent years, colleges are awarding more merit scholarships as a means to attract quality students that can help improve a college’s average test scores and rankings. The reality is more money is awarded as merit scholarships compared to private scholarships. According to the College Board, 22% of undergraduate aid comes from institutional grants (college scholarships), with only 6% coming from private scholarships1.

    The best strategy for finding a school where you’re likely to receive a merit scholarship is to find schools where your test scores are in the top quartile of the school’s applicant pool.  Schools tend to offer the most aid to prospects that can improve their student profile.

    So what type of test score would you need to place yourself in the top quartile of schools that offer merit scholarships? We analyzed some data to give you a sense of the test results needed to put you in the top quartile and the number of schools that might give you merit scholarships.

    SAT Range (M+V)2# of Colleges w/ Scores in Top 25%3# of Colleges Offering Merit Aid4
    1000 – 1100302122
    1101 – 1200324151
    1201 – 1300208125
    1301 – 14009372
    1401 – 15004732
    1501 - 16002913

    Composite ACT# of Colleges w/Scores in Top 25%3# of Colleges Offering Merit Aid4


    The information in the above charts is directional, meaning it should give you a sense that there are many colleges willing to award scholarship money for being in their top quartile and your score doesn’t have to be in the top percentile of test takers. Also consider looking at schools in the category of schools below where your score falls in the top quartile. For example, if your M+V SAT score is a 1450, you should also look at schools where the top quartile range is 1301 – 1400.

    Bottom line is, do the best you can preparing for the ACT and SAT. Then spend some time researching scholarships to see if your test score can help get you money for college.


    1Total Undergraduate Student Aid by Source and Type Over Time

    2 SAT scores are based on results from pre-March 2016 tests.

    3 Data is based on information from Jan 2016 IPEDS/DIYCollegeRankings Spreadsheet

    4 Colleges offering merit aid is based on information collected from public Common Data set information. Not all schools supply this information and/or make their information public.


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    • Debbie Schwartz

      Debbie Schwartz is the founder of Road2College, a website with unbiased information on college admissions and financing. She likes to focus on helping families understand how to use data to better research and target colleges that are more affordable. Debbie has an MBA and worked in financial services before turning her attention to the college admissions process. Besides college admissions and numbers, she’s a longtime yogini and loves tennis!

    By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!