What is considered a good SAT score?

You might be asking this question if:

  1. You are preparing to take the SAT exam
  2. You are waiting for your SAT results
  3. You want to make sense of the score you just received
In this post, we’ll break down how to understand your SAT scores, how they compare against national averages, and most importantly, what your SAT scores mean for your college prospects.

Understanding Your SAT Score

There are two sections to the SAT (Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math ) and you can score anywhere from 200 to 800 on each section. A perfect score (composite) would be 1600.

SAT scores are ranked by percentile. This is a benchmark that tells you how well you did against all test takers in the U.S. Thus, a composite score of 1200 is in the 81st percentile (see table below). This means that 81% of the people taking the SAT scored the same or lower than you did.

The College Board which administers the SAT prepares yearly percentile rankings. Here are some of the most recent figures (2018).

Score Percentile
1600 99+
1500 99
1400 97
1350 94
1300 91
1250 86
1200 81
1150 74
1100 67

Your SAT Scores vs. Average of Your College / University

Percentile scores by themselves don’t tell you very much (except maybe how smart you are relative to the rest of the field). So the right question is not, “what is considered a good SAT score” but rather “what score do I need to receive to be a competitive applicant to my chosen school?”

In other words, a good SAT score depends on the type of college you want to attend. Also, it’s important to remember that there are many factors in the college admissions process so even having a perfect score isn’t a guarantee of acceptance.

A great resource is published by Compass Group and lists the SAT score ranges for 360 of the most popular colleges and universities in the U.S.

The table below provides a sample of their data:

Schools Average SAT Scores
Harvard, M.I.T., Princeton, Columbia 1460 – 1590
Carnegie Mellon 1450-1550
Northeastern, University of Rochester 1340-1520
Brandeis, Boston University 1280-1500
Fordham, N.C. State, Wheaton College 1230-1430
Colorado State, Drew University 1100-1300

 Top Universities by SAT Score Range

Another great resources is Niche.com’s most popular colleges / universities based on your SAT score range. The image below is a partial chart of the 15 most popular colleges if your SAT score is above 1340. These are obviously very prestigious schools (and hence very competitive).

However, the Niche.com website provides a breakdown of top schools in several SAT score ranges:

SAT Scores Outside of the Top 15 Schools

If you are interested in the SAT score ranges outside of the top 15 schools, then you’ll want to head over to the Big Future site (which is administered by the College Board). You can type in your SAT score and the site will return every college or university where the average SAT score matches yours.

SAT test scores and selectivity

 Above you can see that I have entered sample SAT scores of 730 for Math and 660 for Reading. In addition, I have checked off the box for “Most Selective” <25% admitted.

This gives me four pages of results with all of the schools that match my criteria. I can click on any one of these schools and drill down into the SAT score range for each school.

 The Big Future site also allows you to filter your schools by other criteria apart from your SAT score.

Finding schools by SAT Test scores

 This includes:

  1. Test Scores and Selectivity
  2. Type of school
  3. Location – Based on your zip code, a region of the U.S., a state or outside of the U.S.
  4. Campus Housing – This filter contains an important selection: whether cars are allowed for freshmen.
  5. Major and Learning Environment – Study abroad, double major, teacher certification
  6. Sports and Activities
  7. Academic Credit – Includes whether a school offers credit for AP courses
  8. Paying – Percent of financial need the college can meet, cost of tuition and fees
  9. Additional Services – Hearing and learning impaired, minority student services
  10. Diversity – Percentage of minority students

 SAT Scores of Particular Schools

Finally, if you already have a list of colleges prepared, the big Big Future site allows you to search by school and compare your SAT score to the SAT score of the average applicant.

SAT Scores by Individual School

 Below you can see I’ve drilled down into the SAT scores section for Boston University. I’ve entered a reading score of 660 which is in the lower end for all applicants for this school. A math score of 730 is in the middle. The overall score of 1390 is below the median for all applicants.

Putting Everything Into Perspective

We began with an important question, “What is considered a good SAT score?”

In answering that question, we determined that a “good score” ACTUALLY depends on the school to which you are applying. A better question might be, “what is the average score for all applicants to the school of my choice?”

Beyond this, however, it is important that you keep your SAT scores in the proper perspective. What does this mean?

First, your SAT scores are only a part of your overall college application. Some schools have even moved away from requiring their applicants to submit their SAT scores. This includes prestigious schools like Bowdoin College and the University of Chicago.

Thus, you should see your SAT scores as a complement to other criteria which schools use to admit their applicants including:

  1. GPA (including the strength of the courses you have taken)
  2. College essays
  3. Letters of recommendation
  4. Extracurricular activities
  5. Leadership experience
  6. Need for diversity

An often overlooked criteria is demonstrated interest. If you have your heart set on a particular school, then make that known to your college through the application process. You can demonstrate interest via:

  •  College visits (multiple times since some colleges keep track of that)
  • Interviews and not just with the admissions staff but with other students, alumni and professors
  • Early decision application .
A second perspective with respect to your scores is that no matter where you fall in a range, they may still qualify as good SAT scores. This is because after the most competitive schools (SAT scores of 1340 or higher), there are literally dozens upon dozens of great schools where your SAT scores are more than adequate.

What If You Are Still Not Satisfied?

Receiving your scores with a lower than expected average can be disappointing. This is especially true if you were shooting for a particular school of your choice.

But all is not lost if you get a poor score. You always have the option of taking the test again. Naturally you will want to put in some time to prepare. You can do this in several ways:

Self-study resources

There are many printed and digital test preparation resources published by the Princeton Review and College Board including Khan Academy which has a partnership with the College Board.

Khan Academy is a free resource, while the printed books are very affordable. The biggest drawback is that you must be a very disciplined person to work your way through the books. I have seen many students start with enthusiasm only to procrastinate because studying alone is very difficult.

SAT Test Prep Courses

Both Princeton Review as well as Kaplan offer online SAT Test prep courses. These can be instructor led or self-guided. Princeton Review even has a course that guarantees an SAT score of 1400+ thought it’s best to read the guarantee policy before making a purchase.

These options can range anywhere from $250 (for self-study) to $1,500 for the guaranteed course. Being accountable to a professor and a deadline are great strengths of this approach.

Residential SAT Test Prep

If you are the type of person who does best in a physical environment, then a great option to consider is a residential SAT Test Prep program. This is precisely what we offer here at Lexington Prep School, located in Lexington, Massachusetts.

We offer both Thanksgiving and Summer Intensive Programs that allow you to maximize the time you have during your school break. If you are a boarding school student, this is a great option instead of flying home for a short period of time.

You get personalized attention, a program that is customized to improve your weakest areas (reading comprehension, math, or writing), small classroom sizes, and the ability to meet people from different parts of the world. Plus you are only 25 minutes away from one of the best cities in the world, Boston.

Be sure to check out our website which lists test preparation options for SAT, SSAT, TOEFL, English Intensive and even Spanish Immersion.

Conclusion

Taking the SAT and working through the implications of your scores is a stressful series of events. We hope this post has helped bring some perspective to the ever important question, “What is considered a good SAT score?”

In the end, your scores are a small part of your overall college application. In addition, whether a score is good depends largely on the college to which you are applying. Finally, if you really need to improve your score, you have many options to choose from.

On behalf of the folks here at Lexington Prep School, we wish you all the best during this important time in your life. Let us know if we can help you in any way.

Resources Listed in the Post

Here is a list of the resources and websites utilized in this post: