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What Is A Good SAT Score For Top Universities And How To Get It?

23 FEB 2023

Despite most universities going test optional, 40-50% of applicants to top universities submit an SAT score. Your SAT score can hold a lot of weight when it comes time to apply to leading universities. But what does a good score mean? How much should you aim for? And how do you prepare for them?


What is the SAT?

The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is a test given to high school students who plan to go to college. It measures their academic knowledge and skills to determine whether they are ready for higher learning.

Even though the SAT is a standardized test, it varies from year to year. That means your score depends on both your preparation and luck. There are two main types of questions on the exam: multiple choice and essay. Both require time management and writing skills, but only the essay requires critical thinking.

SAT Goes Digital!

After a few years of controversy, the College Board is rolling out a set of changes to the SAT to make it more equitable. And the first of that is that the exam is going digital for international students. From March 2023, students outside the United States will take the exam on a computer instead of on paper. A host of other changes are also coming into effect.

Along with going digital, there are several other changes to the new SAT. Scores will now be reported faster and the exam time will shrink from three to two hours. Being digitized, will also make the exam more secure with virtually no way for students to cheat.

How Important are SAT Scores for College Admission in 2023?

The new digital SAT will still be scored on a scale of 1600. While it's mostly true that no one cares about your SAT score after college, they certainly care about it before you get in.

Well, at least admissions officers do.

Your SAT score is just one part of your college application, but it plays a big role as it allows admissions officers to quickly and objectively compare you to the rest of the applicants, of which there are usually tens of thousands. Plus, as most schools publish the average SAT score of their admits on their website, having a student body with a high SAT average reflects well on their admissions standards.

Test-Optional College Options

Many colleges and universities in the U.S. have opted to make standardized test scores optional for applicants. However, many of the most prestigious schools in the nation have decidedly stated that they do not plan to adopt permanent test-optional policies and with a good SAT score, you can still boost your application above the competition. In fact, 40-50% of students applying to top universities submitted their SAT scores in the last application cycle. Test-optional school policies indicate that applicants will not be judged on the absence of test scores, but their presence will still be taken into account.

How is the SAT Scored?

The SAT is scored based on a 1600-point grading scale. It's broken down into two sections:

  1. Math
  2. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

SAT Grading Scale

Each of these sections is scored between 200 and 800. You can choose if you want to complete the optional essay portion of the test. This section is evaluated separately. There is no penalty for choosing the wrong answer on the SAT. Your raw score report is only based on the total of the questions you answered correctly.

In the new digital SAT, there will be a shorter reading section with more time per question.

Before you get your score report back, remember these numbers:

  • 1600 is the perfect score.
  • There are only two required sections.
  • There's no way to score a 0.

What is Considered a Good SAT Score?

According to data published in College Board’s 2020 SAT Annual Report, among the 2.2 million 2020 high school graduates who took the test, the average SAT composite score was 1051, with the average “Reading & Writing” score being 528 and the average “Mathematics” score is 523.

Once you know what the average SAT score is, you can deduce that any score higher than 1051 is an above-average score and any score below 1051 is a below-average score. Simple enough, right?

Not quite. There are two factors that can help you determine whether or not you have a good SAT score:

  • SAT Score Percentile
  • University Average SAT Score

SAT Percentile Score Explained

Your score percentile reveals how well you did on your exam in comparison to everyone else who took the exam on the same day. For example, if you're in the 15th percentile, you did better than 15% of the students who took the exam that day. If you're in the 90th percentile, you did better than 90% of the students and so on.

If you are in the 15th percentile, you are well below average – 85% of students did better than you. Generally speaking, anything below the 50th percentile is considered ‘bad’; anything in the 50th-70th percentile is ‘good’, and anything above the 90th percentile is great!

Check out the chart below to see what SAT scores line up with which percentiles. Keep in mind that these percentiles may change slightly depending on when you take the exam.

SAT Composite Score vs. Percentile Score
SAT Composite ScorePercentile Score
1550-160099-99+%
1500-155098-99%
1450-150096-98%
1400-145094-96%
1350-140090-94%
1300-135086-90%
1250-130081-86%
1200-125074-81%
1150-120067-74%
1100-115059-67%
1050-110050-59%
1000-105041-50%
950-100033-41%
900-95025-33%
850-90018-25%
800-85011-18%
750-8006-11%
700-7503-6%
650-7001-3%
600-650 or lower1% or lower

The Average SAT Score by University

Although less objective, the best way to define whether or not you have a good SAT score is knowing whether or not it aligns with the standards of the universities you're applying to. The SAT score range you should be aiming for depends on which college you want to go to! In general, selective colleges like Stanford University or Princeton University require much higher SAT scores than lower-ranked schools.

Despite the last year being test optional, many universities received applications with high SAT scores. US News revealed the 31 universities with the highest combined average SAT reading and math scores for fall 2021 entrants. While the average SAT score for the class of 2021 was 1060, per the College Board, applicants admitted to schools on this list earned much higher marks. The average score for these 31 universities was 1494.

To help you understand what SAT scores are required for the top 20 universities in the US, including Columbia University, Yale University, and Harvard University, you can use our free college admissions calculator to find out your chances of admissions! Alternatively, we've compiled a list of the average SAT scores of their accepted students.

US Top 20 Universities Average SAT Scores
UniversityAverage Composite SAT Score
Princeton University1515
Harvard University1530
Columbia University1520
Massachusetts Institute of Technology1545
Yale University1530
Stanford University1520
University of Chicago1545
University of Pennsylvania1525
California Institute of Technology1555
Johns Hopkins University1515
Northwestern University1520
Duke University1505
Dartmouth College1500
Brown University1515
Vanderbilt University1525
Rice University1530
Washington University1530
Cornell University1505
University of Notre Dame1480
University of California, Los Angeles1405

So, overall what's a good SAT score goal? It depends.

For the Ivy League, competitive scores range between 1500-1550. For other highly competitive schools, it's above 1400. 1300 and above will make you a competitive applicant for most other public universities and private universities.

3 Tips to Help Improve your SAT Score

Now that you know roughly what SAT score to aim for, you may be wondering how to get there.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

And here are some steps to take in the right direction:

1. Study harder and re-sit the exam

Luckily, you can take the SAT as many times as you'd like (although try to keep it under three, as anything more doesn't look great on your application)!

However, simply sitting the exam over and over again won't necessarily improve your score. In order to actually make a change, you'll need to improve your study habits, come up with a proper SAT prep plan and perhaps even get some tutoring!

Pro tip: Some colleges will ‘superscore' your SAT.

A superscore is a combination of your highest score on each section across every SAT you take. Therefore, instead of using your scores from only one date, certain schools combine your highest section score across all dates and create your highest possible composite score!

2. Re-evaluate your College List

If retaking the SAT after planning, studying and tutoring still doesn't get you close to the score you'll need to compete at your target schools, it's a good indication that the schools on your college list may not be the best fit for you. Ultra-competitive universities accept applicants with near-perfect SAT scores because those applicants have demonstrated their eagerness to take on highly demanding and rigorous coursework. In general (though this certainly doesn't apply to every student), if the SAT score for your dream school's average is far out of reach, their academics may also be too difficult and demanding for you to get the most out of studying there. And that's okay! Your college experience is the sum of many parts, only one of which is the classwork.

3. Stay Optimistic and On Track

On the flip side, don't be discouraged if you don't quite get the score you need to get into your dream uni. If you're off by a relatively small margin, you can make up for a lower SAT score by having incredible grades, writing fantastic essays, and getting involved in unique extracurricular activities! Thanks to the holistic U.S. application system, admissions officers look at the complete picture, meaning they often look past sub-par test scores if the rest of the application shines.

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Final Thoughts

Now that you know the ins and outs of SAT scores and what makes a good SAT score for you personally, check out some of Crimson's blog for a deeper dive into acing your SATs:

Visit Crimson's online tutoring page to learn more about how our world-class teachers and tutors help students reach their high school and university admissions goals. Now that you've got the tips you need, let's help you put them into practice! Book a free consultation with our expert admission advisors to learn more about how to improve your SAT score today!

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