What is a Good ACT Score?

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Standardized TestParents and students often wonder about what ACT score or SAT score is considered “good.”  The answer is, that depends.  Today, I am going to focus on ACT scores.  The answer to what is a good ACT score will vary based on the measurement you are attempting to make.

What is a good ACT score for my child?

That will depend on your student’s unique abilities.  If your school district uses the Explore test and Plan test, this will give you and your student a projection of the ACT score he or she is on target for.  The Explore test is typically taken in 8th or 9th grade.  It covers the same four subject areas as the ACT – Math, Science, Reading and English.  The Explore test results indicate the Plan test score the student is on target for.  The Plan test, typically taken in 10th grade, also covers the same four ACT subject areas.  The Plan test results indicate the ACT score the student is on target for.

Taking the Explore test and the Plan test can help identify areas that the student needs to study further in order to boost his or her ACT score.  I will cover that topic further later on.

If your school district does not offer the Explore test and the Plan test, you can find practice ACT tests and have your student take those.  This can be done at anytime, even middle school.

So I have told you how you can project your student’s likely ACT score and know what areas to study, but I haven’t told you how to know if those projections are “good.”

In order to know if your child is on target for a “good” ACT score, you will need to know what type of school he or she may want to attend.  A good ACT score for an ivy league school is going to differ a lot from a good ACT score at the closest public university in your state.

What is a good ACT score at the colleges my student is looking at?

Luckily, this information is very easy to find.  It is usually available on college search websites, like CollegeData and Big Future, as well as the college’s own websites.  The sites will provide the middle 50% of ACT scores for admitted freshmen based on a recent admission year.  This means that of all the freshmen admitted that year, 25% had scores below this range, 25% had scores above this range, and the other 50% fell into this range.  If your student’s score falls within or above this range, this will increase his or her chance of being admitted.

In addition, the higher your student’s ACT score falls compared to the middle 50%, the greater your student’s chance of being offered merit scholarships from the school will be.  In fact, some schools even offer full-tuition and full-ride scholarships for high ACT scores.  Typically, these would be scores in the high 20s and in the 30s.

Check out my Full Scholarship List to see the details on many schools that offer full-tuition and full-ride scholarships for high ACT scores.  You can even filter for a specific minimum ACT score.

Let’s look at an example.  

Let’s say our example student currently has a 27 ACT score.

Let’s say the student is comparing three schools – Pacific Lutheran University, Stanford University and University of Arizona.

The middle 50% of ACT scores at Pacific Lutheran is 22-29.

The middle 50% of ACT scores at Stanford is 31-34.

The middle 50% of ACT scores at Arizona is 21-27.

Based on the 27 ACT score alone, our example student has a pretty good chance of admittance at Pacific Lutheran and University of Arizona.  The student would not have a good chance at Stanford and should probably cross it off of his or her list.

In addition, the student’s merit aid chances are pretty good at Pacific Lutheran and Arizona, assuming these schools offer merit aid.  If I was the parent of this student, I would check both schools’ websites to see what they offer for merit scholarships.  Stanford does not offer merit scholarships because they do not need to.  They only offer need-based scholarships.

How Can My Student Boost His/Her ACT Score?

The best way to increase the ACT score is through ACT prep.  There are lots of different options for this – private tutors, ACT prep classes, online prep materials and ACT prep books.  The cost varies greatly between the $20-$30 range up to several thousand dollars.  I have not seen any definitive evidence that one method is more successful than another.  The most important thing for the ACT prep to include is full-length sample tests.  It is best when these tests include actual past ACT questions.  My free ACT Prep Resources spreadsheet will give you an idea of what type of prep resources are out there and how much they cost.

Bottom line – What is a good ACT score is going to vary both on your student’s abilities, the types of schools your student is interested in, and your hopes for merit-based aid.  Use Explore, Plan and practice ACT tests to gauge the ACT score your student is on target for and use ACT prep materials to help your student improve his or her score.