What is the Minimum ACT Score I Need for College?

Hello Magoosh readers! So, are you a high school junior with some ACT scores, and want to know if they’re good enough for your dream school? Or are you a precocious eighth grader interested in what lies ahead? No matter the reason, you’ve come to the right place.

We will focus on two tasks in order to answer your question. The first is to understand all the statistics colleges throw out about ACT scores. The second is use this information to your advantage when planning to take the ACT.


The Information

Every university that accepts the ACT publishes data regarding the scores of accepted students. Understanding this information is crucial if you’re going to make a target ACT score for yourself.

For example, we’ll use my alma mater, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Let’s say I’m a high school junior thinking about applying to Vanderbilt in the fall. To see what ACT score I need, I check their admissions website. On this page we find a term that you’ll find on just about any college admissions website:

ACT Middle 50%: 32-35

This range of scores tells us that 50% of accepted students who submitted ACT scores to Vanderbilt scored between a 32 and 35. 25% of scores were below 32, and 25% were a perfect 36! For me, this range indicates that if I want to go to to Vanderbilt, I need at least a 32 on the ACT to be competitive. Note to self: the 2003 version of me would never get into the 2016 version of Vanderbilt.


Planning Ahead

If it’s still early in your high school career, researching colleges’ ACT Middle 50% ranges can have positive results later on. If you know what score you need on the ACT, you can work towards that during your test preparation.


What is the Minimum ACT Score I Need for College? -Magoosh


This exercise has multiple benefits. If you’re unsure about success on the ACT, having a goal score will cause you to focus during the complicated process of preparing for the ACT. There are also a variety of online guides tailored to achieving  certain scores, as well.

This plan also has benefits for high achieving students that already test well. For these students, the pressure to perform causes them to shoot for a 36 on the ACT. With so few people actually achieving this score, anything less can seem like failure. If high-achieving students study the ACT Middle 50%, they will understand that plenty of successful students did not apply with perfect scores. And though a very high score may still be necessary, it’s not perfection or bust.

That’s all for now, Magoosh readers. Knowing where you want an ACT score to take you is the first step to ACT success!


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  • 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.

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

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