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MAR 16, 2020 • 10 min read
Nobody needs a perfect 1600 SAT score to go to Harvard.
Nor do you need to score 36 on the ACT to go to Stanford.
However, you will need a near perfect SAT score to go to MIT. They’re different. Jokes. But not really.
College admissions to elite US universities, also known as the Ivy League, can place a big emphasis on academics and to attend those institutions, you will need to perform well in the classroom.
But times, they are a changin’. What you don't need to do anymore is to mentally shatter yourself reaching for outrageously high marks that you think are necessary for your admission.
A bunch of admission deans from top-ranked US colleges - places like Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Wake Forest, Purdue, University of Virginia (real heavy-hitters) - got together and had a chinwag about the state of play in the university admissions sphere and how the process can make your life hell.
They decided they were partially responsible (but mainly blamed parents and society as a whole) for students' unhealthy pursuit of individual achievement and wanted to change the college application's emphasis away from personal and self-indulgent success and toward ethical and meaningful contributions to the community.
The council’s report, called “Turning the Tide”, had a few really important recommendations but one in particular focused on the SAT/ACT, which was about reducing test pressure on students.
Participating universities could do this in a number of ways:
This is a massive leap forward for all you Ivy League dreamers out there. These schools should be - in theory - much more attainable without needing a ridiculous test score.
With this in mind, this blog is going to show you why you don't need to sweat the perfect SAT score because it won't guarantee you entry into your preferred school.
Additionally, we'll talk about what is a good SAT score and the minimum a bunch of top universities use to consider your application, where your SAT score ranks and why you need to stop stressing about your score being perfect.
The SAT is an unforgiving taskmistress. She gets harsher the further up the 'score ladder' you wish to climb.
To record the best possible score, you can only afford to miss maybe one or two questions in the reading/writing section and you need to get every question in the math section correct.
There is no room for error.
And the whole thing is timed - so no chances to relax.
And then to prepare, you’ll need to bust your chops with study, practice tests and tutoring.
You have to seriously, seriously want it.
And what does all of this mean if you get 1600?
Most top schools still won’t let you in.
Yep. Take a look at Shaan Patel, who landed the highest possible SAT score and was rejected by every Ivy League school he applied for.
Patel is living proof a perfect SAT score isn't a golden ticket to getting into the Ivy League schools.
Now let’s not get crazy.
Acing a standardised test will dramatically improve your chance of being accepted, but the point is - you don’t need the perfect SAT score to be admitted.
Well for a start, anywhere from 300 to 500 students who take the SAT score 1600. That’s out of the near two million who sit the test each year.
Considering Harvard alone accepts eight times that number in undergrads each year - I think you’ll be fine without a top score. They're obviously accepting people with inferior scores.
When you consider the shift away from test pressure mentioned above, a perfect SAT is now less relevant than ever. In fact...
The SAT is just one of many aspects of your college admissions application. It’s just a barometer for your academic aptitude.
A standardised test allows colleges around the United States to comparatively assess students, but only a very elite few care about you scoring more than 1520.
(1520 is considered a pretty damn good score, by any US college's standards.)
You can still go to AMAZING colleges. Colleges that don't prioritise the SAT, nor use top scores as a prerequisite.
For example, Auburn University is ranked 99th in the US News National University rankings and 83rd in the High School Counselor Rankings.
The majority of their SAT scores fall between 1150 to 1350.
Apple CEO Tim Cook went to Auburn, so did Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. The college also produced two famous astronauts in James S. Voss and Jan Davis.
That's a world-class university that doesn’t weight SATs as harshly as MIT.
Then you don’t have to.
Seriously, some colleges leave submitting your SAT score up to you.
These aren’t bad institutions. These are top-100, world-renowned colleges.
In fact, here's a shopping list of top ranked colleges that leave SAT scores as optional:
Bates, Bowdoin, Pitzer, Sarah Lawrence, University of Iowa, Wake Forest, Washington University, and Wesleyan
There's also the University of Texas, which ranked 50th in the World University Rankings 2017.
Or what about Ithaca College - a top school for journalism, film and media. They don’t care much for SAT scores, either.
Nor does Connecticut College (96th) or Smith College (35th).
But keep in mind:
You're going to need an outstanding GPA, amazing extracurriculars and a personal essay written by the Gods themselves.
Well maybe not that good, but you're going to need to nail it.
And just because some top colleges don't need an SAT doesn't mean you shouldn't sit the SAT.
In fact, not sitting the SAT only reduces your options for higher learning.
You can also sit the ACT test, or the American College Testing, which might be better suited to your skills.
So let’s say you do want to submit an SAT score and your dream US college favours the SAT.
Let’s take a look at some prominent colleges and their SAT score requirements.
NB: The required scores show what kind of score will keep admissions officers interested, while the bare minimum is what you need to stay in the hunt for consideration.
Yale is competitive to the next level. What makes a good SAT score for these guys? Well - they want you to be top of your class and absolutely smashing your SAT to be considered. They are unlikely to look deep into your college admissions application without the required SAT and GPA.
What you needScoreRequired1550Bare Minimum1490GPA expectation4.0+ (Top of Class)
A proud college from Waco, Texas that has national respect in both academics and sport. The university is competitive - it’s no walk in the park - but you’ve got a solid shot if you’re decent at school and can apply yourself.
What you needScoreRequired1350Bare Minimum1190GPA expectation3.6+ (As and Bs)
UNC is a sporting college, producing superstars like Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, but it’s a highly competitive academic institution, too. They really like students with 4.0+ GPAs. If you don’t have that kind of average - then you’ll need a stronger SAT score to compensate.
What you needScoreRequired1480Bare Minimum1300GPA expectation4.0+ (Top of Class)
Studying in LA - what’s not to like? Sunshine, beaches, movie stars, music. However, the unbeatable location, prestige and academic respect comes at a price (figuratively and literally): You need to kill your classes at high school to attend.
What you needScoreRequired1400Bare Minimum1250GPA expectation4.0+ (Top of Class)
One of the world’s top "dream colleges", NYU is a part of one of the busiest and most influential boroughs of New York, Manhattan. The school has educated heads of state, royalty, inventors, mathematicians, Fortune 500 CEOs and more... so as you’d expect, it can be very selective.
What you needScoreRequired1450Bare Minimum1350GPA expectation3.6+ (As and Bs)
Elon Musk, Larry Page, John F Kennedy - Stanford produces world-changers. The Ivy League college's alumni founded companies with a combined $2.7 trillion in annual revenue - business like Instagram and Snapchat. So as you’d expect, you’re going to need to be extremely impressive from an application standpoint.
What you needScoreRequired1550Bare Minimum1450GPA expectation4.0+ (Top of Class)
This research university was traditionally focused on engineering and the physical sciences, but has expanded into the field of economics, linguistics, management and biology in recent years. An extremely selective school with roughly 11,000 students at any one time - expect rejection letters unless you're a star performer.
What you needScoreRequired1560Bare Minimum1500GPA expectation4.0+ (Top of Class)
Founded as an agricultural college, Michigan State University pioneered the study of packaging, hospitality business, supply chain management and communication sciences. It’s consistently a top 30 public school and a top 100 research institution. But it’s easier than you might think to get into from an academics viewpoint.
What you needScoreRequired1190Bare Minimum1050GPA expectation3.6+ (As and Bs)
1450> - Top 3rd percentile (97+)
1250-1450 - Top 20% of all students (80+)
With a SAT score above 1250, you can apply for top-200 ranked universities around the USA.
The upper echelon schools are expecting at least a 1450, plus some impressive extracurriculars to get in.
Remember, a balanced application and knowing what these colleges want from their applicants is vital to getting in.
Top US colleges are reducing admission’s emphasis on academics. Accordingly, a perfect SAT score is no longer a golden ticket to your dream university.
You shouldn't bust your gut overachieving on the SAT - unless you really, really want it or it's a personal life goal.
In fact, some excellent top-100 schools don’t require much more than an 1150 from your SAT score, some don’t even require you to submit one.
As such, your university admissions application no longer needs to center around academics. It needs to focus on who you are as a human being, your passions, skills and ethical contributions to the community.
Lastly, we showed you some SAT benchmarks and averages for popular colleges, so you can get a barometer of what those schools are most likely looking for from an academic perspective.
Want to see how to beef out your application without academics? Download our free eBook.
Alternatively, one of expert academic advisors are happy to talk to you - for free - about your international college aspirations.