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Thomas Broderick

ACT Score Ranges

So you’ve made a list of potential colleges. In said list there’s a few ‘reaches,’ a few ‘probably,’ and a few ‘safety,’ schools. You may (or may not) have already taken the ACT for the first time. That’s okay. For today’s article, you don’t need to have ACT scores. What I want to discuss are the ACT score ranges for your college picks.

    (Just to back up for a minute to cover the essentials, ACT scores range from 1-36 on each subject: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Your composite score is an average of these numbers, and thus also ranges from 1-36. The optional essay is also separately scored from 1-36. Got it? Ok, let’s move on.)


In a nutshell, a college’s ACT score range is the range of ACT scores earned by admitted students for a specific academic year. If you have ACT scores, you can see if you are a competitive candidate at any college.


What You’ll Find

Let’s say you’re researching online, or bought one of those telephone book-sized monstrosities that discuss the ins and outs of hundreds of colleges. Either way, ACT score ranges won’t be hard to find.

Something you’ll notice between results on the internet and an old college guide from your local library is that ACT score ranges have been going up the last few years. Even ‘safety’ schools are suddenly getting competitive when it comes to scores. I could write a whole article about why this is the case, but you should know that competitive college have ‘test score fever’: they love collecting students with the highest scores.


act score ranges -magoosh

Like pretty butterflies, the higher your score, the more a college will want to catch you.

Photo by Peter Cristofono


How ACT Score Ranges Can Be Deceiving

“Wow, the ACT score range for Harvard is 22-36. I have a 29. I’m in!” Hold on, there, buddy. Yeah, Harvard isn’t lying when it tells you that someone with a 22 got it. Yet he (or she) was an exception to the rule.

When you’re looking at ACT Score Ranges, be sure that the range is of the ‘Middle 50%.’ This term, which you’ll see quite often in researching colleges, means that one-half of all accepted applicants’ scores were in a certain range. By the way, the middle 50% of ACT scores for Harvard University is 32-35.


How They Help

The ACT, like its cousin the SAT, is a standardized test meant to measure both knowledge gained in high school and potential to succeed in a college setting. The higher the score, the more likely a student will excel in college. Though not the only piece in the college application puzzle, it’s the first one most admissions counselors see. If you don’t score in the same range as most of the current students, it is going to be VERY HARD to convince them that you would be the perfect fit.

I’m not saying that falling below an ACT score range means that there is a 0% chance you won’t get into your dream school. Some people do, or there wouldn’t be a range. What I’m saying is is that if you’re in (or above) the range, that’s one big hurdle taken down between you and the ‘fat envelope.

Even if it seems impossible, apply to your dream school. No regrets!


Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!

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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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