SAT Scores For Colleges | What Is A Good SAT Score?

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When it comes to competitive college admissions, your standardized test scores will play a major part in whether you get accepted or get denied.  The two college admission tests that are the most widely used by colleges in their evaluation process are the ACT and SAT tests.  Today, we’re going to focus on SAT scores for colleges and what you need to get in order to maximize your chances of getting accepted to the college of your choice.

First, we really need to preface this with a “word to the wise”:  Not every college will require an SAT score for admission to their institution.  Generally speaking, schools that have tougher, more competitive admission standards will most likely require the SAT score.  The Ivy League colleges are a good example of this as they have very rigorous admission criteria and see literally thousands of application from the top students in the country.

Our recommendation to you is to do your research before registering to take the SAT test.  Make a list of schools you are interested, visit the “Admission” section of their website and make note of their requirements.  If an ACT score is sufficient, then you don’t really need SAT scores for colleges.  However, if an SAT score is “required” or “recommended”, then you should plan on registering and taking the SAT test.

That being said, lets talk about what the SAT is, how it’s broken down and scored, and how colleges use your scores to evaluate whether or not you are a good candidate for admission or not.

What Is The SAT Test?

Also known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (or Scholastic Assessment Test), the SAT is a widely accepted form of college entrance exam.  Other than the ACT, this is the second most popular option when applying to college and is required as part of many college applications.  As stated before, many (if not, all) of the Ivy League Colleges will require the SAT score as part of their admission criteria.

The SAT is made up of 3 sections that test a student’s college readiness:

  • Critical Reading (formerly “Verbal”)
  • Mathematics
  • Writing

Each section receives a score in multiples of 10 ranging from 200 to 800 points, and is then totaled to get your overall SAT score.  For instance, let’s say you score the following:

Critical Reading: 520
Math: 540
Writing: 500

Your total SAT score would be 1560/2400.

Total testing time is 3 hours and 45 minutes, not including instruction, breaks and test material distribution.  The cost for the SAT test is currently $49 (2012) and can be taken at any one of thousands of testing sites.  Please consult College Board for dates and locations that are best for you.

SAT II Subject Tests

Also worth noting are the SAT II Subject Tests as they are different from the regular SAT Test.  These tests are related directly to a specific subject that you choose and are supplemental to your SAT score to show a college your skills and knowledge in that given subject.  Here is a list of SAT II Subject Tests available, and also a link to a practice test for each!

SAT II Test List

SAT Scores For Colleges | What Do I Need To Get In?

When talking in terms of specific SAT scores for colleges, and what would be considered “acceptable”, is very difficult to do.  The reason being is that there is so much more to YOU as the student than just an SAT score.  Elite and highly selective colleges will be looking at a combination of your GPA, Class Rank, SAT/ACT scores, involvement and class rigor.  An SAT score by itself will not get you accepted or denied. 

Most colleges take a “holistic approach” to accepting students, which means they want to see the big picture.  Included in that “big picture” will be your SAT score along with your academics, involvement outside of school in clubs/activities, and the courses your were enrolled in during high school.

Generally speaking, the higher your GPA/Class Rank are, the lower the ACT or SAT score you can get away with and still be accepted.  At many schools, the reverse is true as well.  If you have a very high SAT or ACT score, you can afford to have a slightly lower GPA/Class Rank and still be considered for admission.  This is referred to as the “sliding scale” approach and is widely used by colleges.  However, the elite colleges will be less inclined to accept a student that doesn’t have both high standardized test scores, as well as GPA/Class Rank.  They see the very best applicants in the country, and can therefore afford to deny a very strong academic student.

What Is A Good SAT Score?

Now, you may be asking yourself  “So, what is a good SAT score?”.  Again, this is a tricky question as we really don’t know what colleges you will be looking at, and also what they would consider a “good” score for admission consideration.  If you are considering a college that has mediocre admission requirements and competition, you may be ok with an average to above average score.  If you’re talking Ivy League’s, you will need to be higher.

So when asking, “what is a good SAT score”, let’s consider this:  The average SAT score is approximately 1500, or 500 scored on each of the 3 sections.  If you are at, or around a 1500 score then it’s pretty safe to assume that you’d land right around the 50th percentile nationally.  Not bad, but not great either.  Knowing this, below a couple examples of what you’d need to score to get into a specific percentile.  These are national scores and are based on the total, or composite, score from the SAT.

  • Top 90th Percentile – 1930/2400 or higher
  • Top 75th Percentile – 1720/2400
  • Top 50th Percentile – 1490/2400


When colleges are looking at numbers such as SAT scores or Class Rank, they generally want to know at what percentile you fall.  Knowing this, we can assume that landing in the top 25% (75th percentile) will significantly increase your chances of getting accepted to some of the top tier colleges.  If we take that a step further and get up into the top 10% (or 90th percentile), you can be pretty sure that you’ll have a good chance of getting accepted to the more elite institutions. 

But REMEMBER….the SAT is just a number and is not the only thing they will be looking at!  Colleges want to see the total package, so make sure you focus on more than just academics and the SAT/ACT tests.  Things like extra-curricular involvement and leadership-type activities will also help as well!

How Can I Get The Highest SAT Score Possible?

SAT scores for colleges can range anywhere from the middle 50th percentile, all the way up to a perfect 2400 score!  The only way you can guarantee yourself the highest score possible is to prepare yourself well.  Just like the ACT, you can take the SAT’s as many times as you can fit in before you apply to college and many students take them more than once.  But the bottom line is this:  You only have one time in your life to do as well as possible on the SAT test.  So it stands to reason that you’d want to do everything in your power to maximize your preparation.

Your classes that you take in high school will have the greatest impact on your SAT scores.  Enrolling in Honors and/or Advanced Placement level course will greatly improve your scores, as well as going that extra mile to attend study sessions or purchasing a “self-help” book on the SAT’s…such as “SAT’s For Dummies

One resource we found to be very convenient for students looking to gain an edge on the SAT’s is Bench Prep.  Bench Prep offers an online service for test preparation which includes General SAT Prep, as well as more specific SAT Math Prep.  The coolest part about Bench Prep is that they offer an app for the iPad, iPhone and Android phones!  Let’s face it, students use their smart phones for everything these days.  So, to be able to brush up on your SAT prep while you’re filling your gas tank up is a pretty innovative thing!

First, go to and click on “Choose Your Course”  Scroll down To “College Admissions” and you’ll see sections for General SAT Prep and also SAT Math Prep.  For those of you who don’t need the SAT test, they also offer ACT test preparation as well.




We also have a great deal for our readers here at CollegePrepU.  If you want to get any of these test prep programs or apps, enter BPREP40 and you will get 40% off! 

Hurry, because this discount ends in March so take advantage now!

When thinking about your SAT scores for colleges, remember that standardized test scores are just a number.  What you score on the SAT and ACT will be important, but only when combined with your overall GPA, Class Rank and a number of other factors that colleges are looking at.

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2 Responses to “SAT Scores For Colleges | What Is A Good SAT Score?”
  1. Rachel says:

    For what it’s worth, any college or university that accepts or requires the SAT (some schools are test-optional) also accepts the ACT. There is a common misconception that the SAT is somehow “better.” THIS IS NOT TRUE. Many students do better on the ACT, and it is worth it for students to take a practice test for each one to determine which one to take.

    The ACT can even be an advantage sometimes, because at schools that require SAT Subject Tests, the ACT can sometimes be a stand-in for them.

    I am a private SAT/ACT tutor in the Boston area, and it is so frustrating seeing students who might do better on the ACT get pressured into taking the SAT, all because of a regional bias that has no basis in fact.

  2. Admin says:

    Thanks for the input and reinforcing our point that, regardless of which test, it’s not all about SCORES! We just did an article outlining entitled: What Is A Good ACT Score? Take a look if you get a minute…we’d love to hear your feedback!

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