Having a good SAT score doesn’t mean that you’re going to get into the school of your dreams. Yet, it can hardly hurt your chances. Even though college admission also depends on your grade point average and sending in a stellar application, SAT scores still matter — but to what extent?
As you can imagine, different colleges have different admission requirements. But what’s a good SAT score to aim for? The answer is more complicated than you might think. Indeed, first, you need to decide what kind of answer you’d prefer.
After all, there are two ways you can figure out your ideal SAT score. You could always look at the average SAT scores of students across the country. However, the number most people look for is the score that will get them into the school they want to go to.
By the end of this article, you will have both of those numbers — and you’ll even find out what to do if your score is a bit low. But first, you ought to know what the national average is.
What’s a Good SAT Score According to the National Average?
As you already know, the first section of the SAT consists of math questions, while the other tests Evidence-Based Reading and Writing skills. Some students also turn in an essay, but that is strictly optional.
Overall, the main two sections of the test can each bring you anywhere between 200 and 800 points. The better you do on the tests, the higher your score. So, the best score you can possibly have is 1600, while the worst is 400.
Clearly, there’s a lot of leeway between those two numbers. So what’s a good SAT score to aim for if you just want to go to a reasonably good school?
Well, according to a 2018 report by the College Board, the average composite score is about 1068. Of course, that number is the sum of the average math score and the average reading and writing score, which are 531 and 536, respectively. In general, students tend to have worse scores on the math portion of the test. Still, most people’s scores hang around the midway point.
Now, don’t worry — even if you score below 1000, you still did better than 40% of students. However, it’s safe to stay that most students fall somewhere in that 1050–1100 range. In fact, if you’re looking to get into a good school, you don’t want to have a below-average SAT score. And if you want to go to a prestigious school, you should ideally try to achieve a score that puts you closer to the top percentile.
Pretty much anything over a score of 1330 puts you in the top 10%. Nevertheless, if you want to be in the top 1%, you should score over 1500.
What’s a Good SAT Score for Your Dream School?
Thanks to the College Board, you now have an estimate of the scores your peers are getting. However, that doesn’t answer your main question: what’s a good SAT score for you?
If you want to get that answer, you’ll have to start comparing yourself — but not on a national level. Instead, you should compare your GPA and your SAT scores to others who are vying for positions at the same schools as you are.
Set Your SAT Score Goal
Most colleges only take people who score over a certain percentile. For example, getting a score of 1300 means that you’ve scored better than 87% of students. That should make it easy for you to get into the University of Cincinnati, Arizona State, or Temple University. The average student in those schools had a test score of around 1221–1233, so your 1300 would definitely get you in.
However, if you’re not sure that you can score that high, plenty of other schools accept lower scores. For example, Indiana University Northwest is one where most freshmen had a score of 1015. Alabama State University is similarly famous for its lax requirements. Most people who get in score between 850 and 1040 on their SATs. So you’d only need to score better than 15% of other students taking the test.
On the other hand, if you want to apply to more competitive colleges, you’ll need a much higher SAT score. Ivy League schools are notoriously selective, as are schools such as John Hopkins, Duke, MIT, Caltech, and similar colleges. So what’s a good SAT score to set your sights on if you want to get into your dream school? Well, to answer that question, you should check the average score of the students who usually get into those institutions.
Still, even if you want to go to a local college that has a great acceptance rate, you might want to overshoot your SAT score goal. A higher SAT score would make getting an acceptance letter a certainty. What’s more, it could lead to a scholarship — which is why most people tend to go over their goals.
For now, though, you just need to find a good target SAT score for the schools you want to attend.
Fill In an SAT Score Target Worksheet
There are certain tools that can help you figure out your ideal SAT score. But first, you’ll need to have a good idea of the schools you want to try for. If you’re not sure what you want to study, start by asking your friends and family for suggestions. You can even ask some of your teachers and school counselors where they’d place you.
Once you have your wishlist, you can add the schools into your SAT score target worksheet. You can either find one online or make it yourself — it’s simple enough. You just need three columns: one for the college name, and two more to write the SAT score range. One way to do it is to write the 25th percentile SAT score into the second column and the 75th percentile in the third. But how do you find these figures?
Well, there are plenty of websites that provide a general overview of the requirements you’ll need to meet to get into certain schools. Sites like CollegeSimply can tell you the average SAT and ACT scores you’ll need in order to get into a certain school. You can also find other information there, such as the date when those applications are due, and the percentage of applications the school usually accepts.
For example, the average University of Alabama freshman had an SAT score between 1130 and 1340 and a GPA of 3.6. However, you’d be able to get in with a slightly lower SAT score and a better GPA too. If you score 1280 on the SATs, that means that you have scored higher than 75% of students who got into the University of Alabama.
Calculating Your Final SAT Score Goal
Making a list should help you understand the range of SAT scores that will get you into the school of your choice. But what do you do once you have that list? What’s a good SAT score to have as your goal if you want to get into all of those schools?
Well, the best strategy would be to set the highest number in the third column as your goal — and aim higher. That should ensure that you’ll be able to apply to all of the schools on the list. Of course, your GPA is a big part of the puzzle, so you shouldn’t let your grades slip while you’re studying for the SATs. However, even if you fall short of that goal, this list will allow you to see at a glance which schools you will be able to apply to.
Keep Your Eye on the Finish Line
Having goals doesn’t mean much unless you can strive to reach them. But if you’re someone who doesn’t stay motivated easily, you may need some additional support.
First, you should share your new goal with the people in your life. Tell your friends and family what you’re trying to achieve so that they can help keep you on track.
Moreover, you should keep reminders and inspirational notes somewhere you’ll see them every day. If you often check your phone, you can make a wallpaper with your target score and a motivational phrase. Alternatively, you can simply write it down on a post-it note and keep it next to your bed or desk.
What to Do if Your Scores Are Too Low
So what’s a good SAT score to aim for? As you now know, the answer varies depending on the schools you want to attend. However, it never hurts to try for a higher score.
But what if this information has reached you too late? What if you’ve already taken your SATs, and the results weren’t what you’d hoped for?
Basically, there are three strategies you can choose from: doing nothing, adjusting your expectations, and retaking the SATs. Before you choose the route you want to go, you should understand what each of them entails.
How can you do nothing if you have failed to reach your goal? Well, to be fair, this option will only work if you just barely missed your SAT score goal. If your score is pretty close to your original goal, you can just leave it as is.
After all, there was a reason you were shooting for the highest SAT score on your list. Even if you missed by 100 points, you should be able to get into some of the other schools. Besides, if you were shooting for a score of 1500 but got 1480, you can still get into your top school.
Either way, if your SAT score is within 50 points of your original goal, the best thing to do would be nothing. There are other things you should worry about in your final year of high school anyway. Just focus on your GPA and making great college applications instead.
Retake the SATs
If you can’t leave your score as it is, you can simply retake the test. You’ll probably need to invest more time into studying, so this isn’t really a good strategy if you’re in a time crunch.
In general, you’ll need about 10 hours of studying to make up for every 30-point difference. So if you need to make up for a greater difference, such as a 300-point one, you may have to set aside four whole days to prepare. If you can’t see yourself making peace with a less than stellar SAT score, this might be the right choice for you.
Adjust Your Expectations
Finally, you ought to consider the third possible strategy. If you’re not going to retake your test, and your current SAT score isn’t good enough for any of the schools on your list, you may need to adjust your expectations. Namely, you can always slightly change your list of schools and add to it.
Many students have already chosen the colleges they want to apply to based on their grades and SAT results. Of course, you don’t have to create a completely new list, even if you don’t have the ideal SAT score. If some of the schools from your original list are just barely out of reach, you can still apply to them. However, even those schools shouldn’t be too difficult to get into.
Let’s use the University of Alabama as an example again. In order to get in, your SAT score will have to be between 1130 and 1340. But what if you were aiming for 1350 but got a score of 1200? Well, that’s cutting it a bit close, but you might as well add it to the list.
If you scored 1100, that’s another story altogether. Basically, if you fell short of your goal, you could edit your wishlist to reflect your actual score. You may be able to keep some of the schools you were aiming for as reach schools. Furthermore, the schools that were previously safe schools can now become your match schools.
But don’t stop there — make sure to also apply to a few more schools, just to be on the safe side. Overall, you should apply to anywhere between 7 and 10 schools.
Final Thoughts on Setting Your SAT Score Goals
So what’s a good SAT score goal to consider? As you have seen, that depends on whether you want to perform well on a national level or just get into your dream school. According to 2018 reports, the national average seems to be around 1070 points out of 1600. However, those numbers don’t mean much when it comes to choosing schools to apply to.
Ultimately, a good SAT score is the one that will get you into the school of your choice. Yet, even if you don’t have a plan for college when you’re taking your SATs, you should try to make a list of acceptable colleges to apply to. Establishing an SAT score goal will make it much easier to study for the test.
However, there’s nothing wrong with shooting for the moon, either. Just do your best, no matter which schools you decide to apply to.