SAT/ACT Scores and College Admissions

How much is your score really worth?

SAT and ACT scores do not determine college admission. That’s the word from Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions for Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Admissions officers rely on all the elements of your application to paint a picture of you. The biggest factor is your high school record, particularly your willingness to take and ability to succeed in demanding courses.

Standardized tests aren’t the be-all and end-all of college admission, but they do play a role. Why else would families shell out thousands of dollars for private test-prep tutoring? Universities realize that not every student is a champion test-taker, but so far these exams are their best way of putting your application into perspective.

“Because they’re a test taken by a large pool of people, they provide some external reality,” Lewis says. “In general, they help us understand the rest of the academic credentials.”

They also help admissions officers predict your likelihood of succeeding in college. Each university assigns its own degree of importance to standardized test scores, but a 36 on the ACT rarely makes up for a 2.0 GPA.

Most colleges don’t have a cutoff score, but spaces are limited each year. Thus, the qualifications of other applicants can affect your chances of admittance.

But don’t rule out schools whose average scores you don’t meet.

“A student who has an A or B record might get some extra attention, assuming that everything else in the folder pushed us in the same direction,” Lewis says. Colleges aim for a well-rounded student body, so criteria such as minority affiliations, geographic residency, and alumni connections might work in your favor.

The bottom line is, your score won’t get you in, but it could possibly keep you out of super-selective schools. If you’ve been losing sleep over your scores, then retake the test. If possible, arrange for an in-person college interview so you can emphasize why you’re a good candidate.


This article was written by Dalia Wheatt

Dalia Wheatt is from Cleveland, Ohio. She has worked as an editor, freelance writer, and Spanish teacher.


  1. tom

    My son who is an IEP student had an 2.59 GPA and scored a 18 on the ACT and was accepted to a smaller but great little college so don’t let the ACT deter you from going to college but I often wonder if him being an exceptional athlete has some to do with being be accepted hmmmm

  2. Marianne Lane

    My daughter registered to take ACT Test in June 2013 there was a problem with her photo not going through she wil not be taking the test in June and will have to wait to take the Act Test on the next scheduled date which will be in September. Will she be allowed to apply for early admissions for a State school?

  3. Bright Ntambara

    Well this is nice to hear. Atleast you have now motivated me to apply to your school since you even consider other credentials other than SAT score alone. I love Harvard so much because it produces great leaders. I will never relax untill i get in.

  4. Nathalie Ballou

    My son took the SAT in June 2013 while he was in 10th grade, then the whole family moved to France where he did his 11th grade as an exchange student.
    We are almost ready to get back to the States where he will be doing his senior year.
    How do I acces his SAT scores from last year? Can I send those to universities in the States? How?
    Thank you.
    Nathalie Ballou.

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