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When I first start working with a student, one of the first questions I like to answer is “what SAT score do you need to get?”
First of all, every student should be able to answer this question right away, but many cannot.
If you can’t answer when I ask you what SAT score you need, then you haven’t done the necessary goal-setting research required to structure your SAT prep studying.
Makes sense, right? SAT prep is about setting and reaching goals, but it’s pretty hard to reach goals when you don’t actually know what they are.
Because, at the end of the day, you don’t want to be studying SAT prep and vocabulary flashcards any more than you have to. You want to get your target score and then quit studying and focus on more interesting and impressive activities like violin, soccer, or AP Chemistry.
That’s why I say that a good SAT score is above the score you need. A bad SAT score is below the score you need.
I’m not just going to leave you hanging with that info, though – let’s look at the details and get some specific numbers.
SAT scores can’t get you into a college, but they can keep you out:
First of all, keep the proper perspective.
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At most good colleges, universities, and scholarships, your SAT is worth between 10% and 30% of your application. I’m just estimating these percentages, but they’re not important to understand the spirit of what I’m saying here.
Schools are more interested in you as a person than you as an SAT score or vocabulary word-list.
They want to know you meet a minimum level of academic preparation, but past that, the focus shifts to who you are and what special talents and perspectives you would bring to the campus.
That’s why I say an SAT score can keep you out of college. That would happen if your score is too low to pass standards for minimum level of academic preparation.
But, SAT scores alone can’t get you into a college. They can strengthen your application, but not carry it single-handed. The college is admitting a student, not a test score.
The higher your SAT score is, the better (duh):
Obviously, the higher your score, the better.
You’ll have more options for colleges that you can realistically apply to and be accepted by, and you’ll also have a little more leverage when applying to “safety” schools.
There’s also the “wow” factor of a very high SAT score that never hurts.
However, remember that past a certain point, a higher SAT score doesn’t make that much of a difference.
Your SAT score is being compared to the competition:
Ultimately, the SAT is a comparing test. It’s all about what “percentile” you fall into – essentially, how many other students did you beat?
Not to put the pressure on, but the SAT is all about ranking you compared to the competition.
Equally as logically, you might be in a bit of trouble if your SAT scores are low by the standards of the school you’re applying to.
A good SAT score will make you look good when compared to your main competition.
The national average SAT score is a 1500:
A good benchmark for whether your SAT score is good or not: the national average is 500 points per section, or a 1500.
Obviously, not everyone can be “above average.” The statistics simply won’t work out – there has to be a bottom 50%.
However, the mere fact that you’re reading my SAT prep website right now indicates to me that you’re a cut above the average student. You really care about your academic career.
So, I’m going to recommend to you that you aim to be above average at a bare minimum. Shoot for above a 1500 and you’ll at least know you’re in the top half of SAT scores.
An SAT score below 1500 might be considered “bad” by some people:
Ok, I’m going to break with SAT tutoring tradition and just be honest.
I think a score below 1500 can accurately be considered “bad” if your goal is to apply to a good or well-known or popular college.
Below a 1500 means colleges will immediately rank you “below average,” and that’s definitely not where you want to be.
I’m not saying you’re dumb, I’m not saying you’re a failure, and I’m not saying you can’t improve – in fact, I’m positive you can improve.
It’s just that I feel the need to be honest – if your SAT score is currently below a 1500, then you need to work on it. It’s not good enough to get the attention of most colleges.
Getting started with some SAT Vocabulary is a great place to get started!
An SAT score above 1800 is very good:
On the flip side, once your score goes above 1800, you’re flying high.
This range of scores will enable you to confidently apply to many excellent, famous, and “brand-name” schools.
Sure, you won’t blow the competition away, but you will absolutely be a solid contender. Remember, past a certain point, colleges and scholarships are more interested in your personal achievements and GPA than in your SAT score.
An SAT score above 2100 is extremely good:
Scoring above a 2100 will put you into “elite” territory and the Ivy League starts to become a realistic option.
There are virtually no colleges in the world with an average accepted SAT score above 2100, but you could always shoot for the holy grail…
An SAT score above 2200 is incredible:
The best-of-the-best will hit above 2200 for their combined SAT score.
MIT, Caltech, Harvard, Stanford, et al., will all consider a 2200+ on the SAT as more than enough to be admitted.
At this point, the focus shifts to the applicant as a person, not just as an SAT score.
Until you get a perfect score, there’s always room for improvement:
As tempted as you might be to (give up/do something more fun/say “good enough”), you have to admit that there’s always room for improvement on your SAT score.
Of course, this website is filled with specific actions you can take to improve your SAT score (the number one thing to do is sign up for the free SAT prep mailing list).
In my experience, anyone is capable of raising their SAT score significantly (200 points or more) with dedicated practice and study. Get a tutor if you are able to.
A good SAT score is the score you need to get into the colleges you like best:
To bring it full circle – a “good” SAT score is simply the score you need.
To know what score you need, you have to do the research.
I’m going to help you out with that and start you off with a list of well-known colleges and their average accepted SAT scores.
Find your top 3 or 4 schools on these lists and compare your current scores to your competition.
Now you’ve got a real benchmark for the actual SAT score targets you need to hit!
- List of average SAT scores by college (Research Universities)
- List of average SAT scores by college (Liberal Arts colleges)
So get to studying!
(More on…) What is a Good SAT Score?
Secrets of the Official SAT Study Guide
Why You Must Study an SAT Vocab Word List
Is SAT Prep Actually Important?
Why Your Activities Can Make or Break Your College Applications
How to Get Into College: The Complete Guide
Did you learn something from this article that will help you get into the college of your dreams? Want to learn more and get the best SAT prep resources I have to offer? Sign up for my FREE SAT prep e-mail list and get other subscriber-only bonuses as well!