Bonus Material: ACT score ranges at 499 schools

Every day, students and families ask us to help them understand ACT scores. 

In this post, we’ll do a deep dive into the data to answer all of your questions about average ACT scores. 

We’ll answer what’s the average ACT score in the US for this year—but also the average ACT score for the Ivy League, the average ACT score at the best universities and liberal arts colleges in the US, and average ACT score at the top public universities

We’ll find out how common is a perfect score, which states have the highest average ACT scores, and how ACT scores have changed over time.

Finally, we’ll show how to use this data to help navigate the college admissions process more successfully.

We did exhaustive original research to get the latest data that’s not easily available, from dozens of separate sources (including working directly with admissions offices at universities throughout the country). As Princeton grads who love data, we did all the hard work so you don’t have to!

In this post we’ll cover:

Download ACT ranges for 499 schools

Bonus Material: ACT score ranges at 499 schools


How to use average ACT scores to improve your college admissions strategy

Average ACT scores can be a powerful tool in crafting your admissions strategy.

They’re obviously not the entirety of a college application—all the other elements matter, especially your high school academic record.

For example, though, imagine you had a 29 composite score for your ACT. That’s a great score! It’s the 90th percentile for the US, which means your score would be higher than 90% of other students!

However, if you had a 29 ACT score, that would be a very low score at the nation’s top schools:

composite ACT scores at top US universities

Checking out the distribution of ACT scores at the top schools, we see that only about 5% of students (a few dozen students) at these top schools had scores in the 20s . . . and we can assume that those people had something REALLY amazing about them—they are probably Olympic athletes or published scientists or students who fought exceptional circumstances (refugees from war zones, etc).

We can see that at these top schools, roughly 95% of students scored in the 30s in English, 85% scored in the 30s for Math, and 95% of students have composite ACT scores in the 30s.

What does this mean for students hoping to apply to the Ivy League and other top schools?

garden at Stanford
Stanford University

Uncovering the data for the distribution of ACT scores at colleges and universities throughout the US allows us to get a better sense of an applicant’s chances at a given school. A good general rule is that your ACT score should fall within the 25th and 75th percentile at your target schools. 

(Percentile means the percentage of students compared to whom your score would be higher. So 15th percentile means that your score would be higher than that of 15% of other students, but that 85% of students would have a higher score than yours. Or 80th percentile means that you scored higher than 80% of other students. We use percentiles to talk about where an individual student falls within a given distribution.)

It’s okay to apply to a few schools where your ACT score would be below the 25th percentile, but those are “reach” schools for you, and you should expect that your chances of admission are low at those schools, especially if you don’t have exceptional grades, extracurriculars, and essays.

On the other hand, schools where your ACT scores are above the 75th percentile—assuming your grades are okay—are probably “safe” schools where you are more likely to be admitted.

We also like for “safety” schools to have an acceptance rate higher than about 30%, since even for an amazing applicant there’s a significant element of chance at the most competitive schools.

target range for ACT score

In this way, you can use your ACT scores to craft a balanced college application list, with at least two safety schools, two target schools, and two reach schools.

(By the end of your junior year, it’s hard to change your GPA or your extracurriculars—but it’s definitely possible to improve your ACT scores and your college essays. Want to boost your ACT scores so that they’ll be within range for your dream school? Check out our one-on-one ACT tutoring.)

A note about test-optional: although many schools have temporarily implemented test-optional policies to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic, we can see from the data that at the top schools the vast majority of admitted students did submit ACT or SAT scores. Looking at detailed information from the admissions offices, ACT and SAT scores will still be used for admissions purposes if they’re submitted, so good scores can still be part of a compelling application. It’s also unclear how long the test-optional policies will last, so we still advise students to take the ACT and/or SAT and try to get the best scores possible.


What’s a good ACT score?

It depends! We answer this question in more detail in another post. But generally speaking, a “good” ACT score for you will be in the range between the 25th and 75th percentiles for your target schools, and it should be above the 75th percentile for your safety schools.

Your score can be below the 25th percentile for your reach schools, but know that they’re exactly that—a reach—and your chances of admittance are low, especially if you don’t have some other aspect in which you’re exceptional (or at least above-average for that particular school).

Read on below to see if your score is above-average for the US or for your state!


National average ACT score

What’s the average ACT score in the US for 2022? The short answer is 19.9 for English, 20.2 for Math, 21.1 for Reading, 20.5 for Science, and 20.6 for the composite ACT.

But we have a lot more useful data than just these numbers!

For starters, we learn a lot more when we look at a histogram showing the distribution of scores on a national level. 

Below are the score distributions for all students taking the ACT during the the 2021–2022 reporting year:

distribution of ACT scores in the US

Each bar on the graphs represents the percentage of students who earned that particular score in the 2021 testing year. For example, the most common score on the Math section of the ACT in 2021 was a 16, and approximately 155,440 students across the US earned this score. 

Looking at the shape of the graphs, we see that more students across the US score very highly in English and Reading than in Math or Science.

If we look at how many students scored very highly (in the 34–36 range), we see that 78,299 students scored in this range for English and 87,571 students for Reading, compared to 30,005 students for Math and 37,056 students for Science—so very high scores are more than twice as common for English and Reading than for Math and Science.

In total, 31,913 students in 2021 had composite scores in the 34–36 range. Broadening slightly, we learn that 123,183 students in 2021 had composite ACT scores in the 30s.

As we’ll see below, nearly all of the students at the Ivy League and other top-tier schools came from among this group of 123,183 students (or the analogous group of high SAT scorers). 

University of Chicago quad
University of Chicago

In general, English and Reading scores are more spread out—more students with quite low or quite high scores—compared to Math and Science scores. (For anyone wanting the stats, the standard deviation is 7.2 for English, 5.7 for Math, 7.0 for Reading, and 5.9 for Science.)

Digging into the data, we can learn that in 2021, 4,055 students across the US got a perfect 36 composite ACT score. (Note that, because the ACT composite score is an average of all four sections, it’s possible to get a “perfect” composite score while scoring 35 on two of the sections.)

Interestingly, there’s been an increase in the number of students getting perfect scores over the past two and a half decades, especially since 2012. Check out this graph showing the percentage of students who got a perfect composite score of 36 on the ACT between the years 1996 and 2021:

Percentage of students taking the ACT with a with 36

These are still very low numbers—in 2021, only 4,055 students taking the ACT earned a perfect score. However, the percentage of students getting a 36 on the ACT has gone from less than 0.01% to 0.34% in 2020! (There’s a small dip for 2021, which we can likely attribute to the Covid-19 pandemic.)

The makers of the ACT have assured us that this isn’t because the test is getting easier!

Rather, our hypothesis is that the rise in students getting perfect scores is because more high-achieving SAT “superstars” are now also taking the ACT, whereas before they would have only taken the SAT.

(Wondering about the difference between the SAT and the ACT, and why it makes sense to take both? Check out our discussion of whether to take the SAT or the ACT.

In fact, the average ACT score has been pretty consistent between 1990 (when the test format and scoring scale was changed) and 2017. Reading has always had the highest average nationally, while since 1997 English has had the lowest average nationally.

Historical average ACT scores

If anything, the average ACT scores have fallen since 2017, and took an especially sharp drop in the past two years (since 2020). We can assume that the drop from 2020 has likely been due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Which schools have the highest average ACT scores?

Wondering which schools in the US have the highest ACT scores? Number one is not Harvard or Stanford! Here’s the scoop. 

We focused on the middle 50% of students at each school—the range between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile—because that gives us a much clearer picture of the distribution of scores than a single number. Using this 25/75 range, we get a good sense of the “average” student at one of these schools.

Here are the schools with the highest composite ACT scores in the US:

ACT score ranges for the schools with the highest ACT scores

Students at CalTech have the highest ACT scores in the country! At least 25% of students at CalTech scored a 35 on the ACT. Impressive!

LA skyline

The schools with the highest ACT scores tend to be STEM-focused schools, since fewer students nationwide earn a 36 in Math and Science.

We can also look at the breakdown for the individual ACT Math and English sections. (Data for the Reading and Science sections isn’t commonly reported, so we’ve been unable to include it here.)

Here’s a visualization of the schools with the highest ACT English scores:

ACT scores ranges for schools with the highest English ACT scores

The schools with the highest ACT English scores are CalTech, MIT, Duke, UChicago, and Harvard.

We can see that the English scores at the top schools are a little higher than the Math scores.

This makes sense in light of the distribution of scores nationally—significantly fewer students have top scores in Math and Science compared to English and Reading.

Here’s a visualization of the schools with the highest ACT Math scores:

ACT ranges for the schools with the highest Math scores

The school with the highest ACT Math scores is CalTech, followed by MIT and Harvey Mudd, then Carnegie Mellon, Rice, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Bowdoin.

Unsurprisingly, these are mostly STEM-focused schools!

What percentage of students at these top schools have a perfect 36?

We can’t tell this exactly from the published data, but for some schools we know that at least 25% of the students have a perfect 36: Caltech, MIT, Rice, and Johns Hopkins.

We also know that at the top schools roughly 90% of students have scores in the 30s.

This is perhaps a good reminder that a great ACT score alone doesn’t guarantee admission to the most competitive schools, since (unfortunately) it’s not particularly exceptional at those schools.

Check out the average ACT scores at your dream school with this list of scores of 499 US colleges and universities:


What is the average ACT score for the Ivy League?

What’s the Ivy League, and what is the average ACT score for the Ivy League schools? 

average ACT scores at the Ivy League

Technically the Ivy League is actually an athletic league!

The term was coined in the 1930s and made official in 1954, when Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Penn, Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell formed an agreement to balance competition in football with high academic standards.

From the 1950s, these eight schools organized athletic competitions in many sports, and they gradually also added committees to develop intercollegiate policies for admissions and financial aid. 

The Ivy League represents some of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the country. Here’s the complete list:

  • Harvard University, founded 1636, in Cambridge, MA
  • Yale University, founded 1701, in New Haven, CT
  • University of Pennsylvania, founded 1740, in Philadelphia, PA
  • Princeton University, founded 1746, in Princeton, NJ
  • Columbia University, founded 1754, in New York City, NY
  • Brown University, founded 1764, in Providence, RI
  • Dartmouth College, founded 1769, in Hanover, NH
  • Cornell University, founded 1865, in Ithaca, NY

Here is the range between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile for composite ACT scores at the eight Ivy League schools:

ranges of composite ACT scores at the Ivy League

We can see that the range is very consistent across the Ivies and very narrow, between 32/33 and 35. We get a fuller picture when we look at the ranges for the individual sections:

range of ACT scores at the Ivy League

Splitting apart the section scores reveals that most students at the Ivies have a perfect or near-perfect score for English.

At least a quarter of the students in the Ivy League scored a perfect 36 on the English section, and 75% of them scored at least a 34. (At Harvard, 75% of students scored either a 35 or a 36.)

The ranges are a bit broader when it comes to the Math section, which is more difficult on the ACT.

At least 75% of students at all of the Ivies still scored in the 30s, but the ranges are definitely lower than for English.

(Data for the Reading and Science sections isn’t commonly reported, so we haven’t included them here. Looking at the national data, we can extrapolate that ranges for Reading are similar to English, and ranges for Science are similar to Math.)

The average ACT scores for the entire Ivy League are 31–35 for Math, 34–36 for English, and 33–35 for the composite ACT.

That means that if your dream is to attend an Ivy-League school, you should work to get your ACT scores into the 30s, ideally in the super-high 34–36 range, especially for English and Reading.

Princeton University
Princeton University

We can take a look at the numbers here:

College NameAdmit %English 25thEnglish 75thMath 25thMath 75thComposite 25thComposite 75th
Harvard University5.0%353631353335
Princeton University5.6%343631353235
Yale University6.5%343631353335
Columbia University6.7%343631353335
Brown University7.7%343630353335
University of Pennsylvania9.0%343631353335
Dartmouth College9.2%333630353235
Cornell University10.7%343530353235
source: IPEDS 2020 and CDS 2021–22


Average ACT scores for the top research universities in the US (Ivies+)

The Ivies are certainly some of the best universities in the US, but not all of the top universities are in the Ivy League, since the Ivy League schools are only on the East Coast.

There are a few other top universities that rank among the Ivies—or, in some cases, higher than some of the less-competitive Ivies (like Cornell and Dartmouth).

This list of top-tier universities is sometimes known as the “Ivies Plus,” or “Ivies+.” This isn’t a fixed list, but typically it includes at least Stanford, MIT, and UChicago, and sometimes up to the top twenty or so universities in the US, adding Caltech, Northwestern, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Rice, WashU, UCLA, and Notre Dame.

average ACT scores at top US universities

Here, we show the range between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile at the top 20 US universities for ACT composite scores:

ACT score ranges at the top 20 universities

We can also zoom in a bit more and look at the section scores for English and Math:

average ACT scores at the top 20 universities

Looking at the graphs, we can see that average ACT scores are consistently very high at all of the top 20 universities. The middle 50% of students scored in the 30s for Math, English, and the composite ACT at all of these top-tier schools.

For example, at Harvard, a 35 for English would be in the 25th percentile, so 75% of students have above a 35! A 31 Math would be in the 25th percentile, so 75% of students have above a 31 Math.

Widener library at Harvard
Harvard University

A perfect 36 is very common at CalTech, MIT, Rice, and Johns Hopkins, where at least 25% of students have a 36 composite score on the ACT.

More students at these schools have perfect 36s than at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton because it’s less common to earn a 36 on the Math and Science sections of the ACT.

At least 25% of students at most of these top schools have a perfect 36 in English, but only at CalTech and MIT do at least 25% of students have a perfect 36 in Math.

So when it comes to the schools with the highest overall ACT scores, it’s the STEM-focused schools that come out on top!

We can dig into the data a little more to see the distribution of scores at each of these top-tier schools.

Generally speaking, about 95% of students at the top 20 universities scored in the 30s on the ACT. (This drops to about 85% of students for schools at the bottom of the top-20 list like Notre Dame.)

distributions of ACT scores at top US universities

The graphs show us that there were only a handful of students in each class year with Math or English scores lower than 30. We can assume that these students were exceptional in other ways!

distribution of ACT scores at top 20 universities

As a whole, the average ACT scores for the top 20 universities in the US are 34–36 for English, 31–35 for Math, and 33–35 for composite ACT scores.

This means that if you hope to apply to the top-tier universities in the US, you should aim for ACT scores in the 30s, ideally in the 34–36 range.

Duke University
Duke University

Check out the numbers here:

College NameAdmit %English 25thEnglish 75thMath 25thMath 75thComposite 25thComposite 75th
Harvard University5.0%353631353335
Stanford University5.2%333630353135
Princeton University5.6%343631353235
Yale University6.5%343631353335
Columbia University in the City of New York6.7%343631353335
California Institute of Technology6.7%353635363536
Massachusetts Institute of Technology7.3%353634363436
University of Chicago7.3%353631353435
Brown University7.7%343630353335
Duke University7.7%353632353435
University of Pennsylvania9.0%343631353335
Dartmouth College9.2%333630353235
Northwestern University9.3%343631353335
Cornell University10.7%343530353235
Rice University10.9%343632353436
Johns Hopkins University11.1%343632353436
Vanderbilt University11.6%343631353335
University of California-Los Angeles14.3%293527342934
Washington University in St Louis16.0%343530353335
University of Notre Dame19.0%3235
source: IPEDS 2020 and CDS 2021–22


Average ACT scores for top-ranked liberal arts colleges

You’re probably heard the phrase “liberal arts college” before, but what is it exactly and how is it different from a university?

In a nutshell, liberal arts colleges are smaller and more focused on undergraduate students compared to research universities. In fact, many liberal arts colleges do not offer any graduate degree programs.

Liberal arts colleges are also more likely to be focused on broader multi-disciplinary studies, and less likely to be focused on preparing students for specific vocations.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t support students’ career goals, but they tend to offer more flexibility to explore different areas of study.

These schools may be smaller, but their academics aren’t any less stellar.

Here we can see the ACT score ranges at the top 30 schools on the US News and World Report ranking, ordered by admissions rate:

ACT score ranges at top liberal arts colleges

As we can see, the average ACT scores at the top liberal arts colleges in the US are quite high.

In fact, average ACT scores at Pomona, Williams, Harvey Mudd, Haverford, Hamilton, Washington & Lee, and Vassar are comparable to the scores at the Ivy League and other top-tier universities.

As a whole, the average ACT scores for the top 30 liberal arts colleges in the US are 31–35 for English, 27–32 for Math, and 30–33 for composite ACT scores.

Broadly speaking, if you’re hoping to attend a top-tier liberals arts college, you want your total ACT score to be in the 30s, though it’s okay if your Math or Science section score is in the high 20s.

average ACT scores at top liberal arts colleges

Check out the numbers here: 

College NameAdmit %English 25thEnglish 75thMath 25thMath 75thComposite 25thComposite 75th
Pomona College8.6%333629353235
US Military Academy8.6%283527322833
Swarthmore College9.1%333629343134
US Naval Academy9.1%263526322833
Bowdoin College9.2%283432353034
Colby College10.3%323527323134
Amherst College11.8%333629343235
Claremont McKenna College13.3%333528333134
US Air Force Academy13.4%273527332933
Colorado College13.6%303526312933
Barnard College13.6%333527323134
Bates College14.1%2733
Williams College15.1%3335
Harvey Mudd College18.0%343633363435
Haverford College18.2%333529353235
Hamilton College18.4%3234
Grinnell College19.2%303527333034
Davidson College20.0%3033
Wellesley College20.4%333528333134
Wesleyan University20.9%333528333134
Carleton College21.2%323527343034
Middlebury College22.0%3134
Washington and Lee University24.5%333529323234
Vassar College24.5%343528323234
Colgate University27.5%313527323033
Berea College33.0%212721272127
Scripps College35.1%313527322933
Smith College36.5%33*3227323134
Kenyon College36.9%303527313033
Bryn Mawr College38.4%263524302632
Macalester College38.7%303526312933
Mount Holyoke College52.5%313423282730
source: IPEDS 2020 and CDS 2021–22


Average ACT scores for top-ranked public universities

Of course, there are some fantastic public universities throughout the US, many of which are nearly as competitive as the Ivy League and other top-tier private schools. (In recent years, one public university, UCLA, has even broken into the ranks of the top 20 schools in the US.)

For specific programs or majors, these schools might even offer more opportunities than private colleges and universities.

University of Washington library
University of Washington (Seattle)

In fact, back in 1985 a Yale Admissions officer coined the phrase “public Ivies” to describe the best of the public universities, in his book Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities.

A more recent list was published by Howard and Matthew Greene’s 2001 book The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities. According to this book, the top 30 public universities in the US are the following:

Northeastern

  • Pennsylvania State University (University Park)
  • Rutgers University (New Brunswick)
  • State University of New York at Binghamton 
  • University of Connecticut (Storrs)

Mid-Atlantic

  • College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia)
  • University of Delaware (Newark)
  • University of Maryland (College Park)
  • University of Virginia (Charlottesville)

Southern

  • University of Florida (Gainesville)
  • University of Georgia (Athens)
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin

Great Lakes & Midwest

  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing)
  • Ohio State University (Columbus)
  • University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
  • University of Iowa (Iowa City)
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison

Western

  • University of Arizona (Tucson)
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, San Diego
  • University of California, Santa Barbara
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Washington (Seattle)

We expanded this list of the “public Ivies” to show you the average ACT scores at the top 50 public universities in the US, ordered according to the US News and World Report rankings. A dot indicates schools on the list of “public Ivies”:

ACT score ranges at top public universities

We can notice that, as with the top-tier universities and liberal arts colleges, the average ACT scores at most top public universities are higher for Math than for English, likely because the top students study hard to raise their ACT Math scores, but it’s harder to raise ACT English scores.

We can also notice a few schools with especially high ACT Math scores compared to their ACT English, like the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and Purdue. These happen to be universities with particularly strong programs in math and engineering.

At Indiana University and University of Iowa, on the other hand, the average ACT English scores are higher than the average ACT Math scores. This might reflect the fact that Indiana University is one of the top schools in the country for music, while the University of Iowa is well-known for its writing programs.

As a whole, the average ACT scores for the 50 best public universities in the US are 25–33 for English, 25–31 for Math, and 27–32 for composite ACT scores.

Roughly speaking, this means that if you hope to attend one of the top large public universities, you should aim for a composite ACT score in the 30s or high 20s.

*Note that through 2025, the University of California schools aren’t accepting ACT or SAT scores. (They’re not just test-optional, they’re test-blind, so they won’t look at scores if submitted.) However, as we discussed above, looking at historic ACT data can still give a good idea about the competitiveness of the schools and your general chances of admission.

average ACT scores at top public universities

Check out the numbers here: 

College NameAdmit %English 25thEnglish 75thMath 25thMath 75thComposite 25thComposite 75th
University of California-Los Angeles14.3%293527342934
University of California-Berkeley17.5%273527343035
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus21.3%313529353135
University of Virginia-Main Campus22.6%323528343034
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill25.0%283526322833
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor26.1%323529343134
University of California-Irvine29.9%253326312633
University of Florida31.1%283526312933
The University of Texas at Austin32.0%253525322633
Florida State University32.5%263325292731
University of Miami33.1%293426302832
University of California-San Diego36.6%263527332834
University of California-Santa Barbara36.7%263426312834
William & Mary42.2%313527323034
Binghamton University43.0%2932
North Carolina State University at Raleigh46.2%253325312732
University of California-Davis46.4%233223292533
University of Georgia48.4%313527322933
Stony Brook University48.9%253425322632
University of South Florida49.2%243123282530
University of Maryland-College Park51.0%303527333034
Colorado School of Mines55.0%263427332833
University of Washington-Seattle Campus55.9%263526322733
University of Connecticut56.1%263425312732
University of Wisconsin-Madison57.2%253326312732
Pennsylvania State-University Park57.6%253325302632
Clemson University61.9%263425302732
Texas A & M University-College Station63.3%243325302632
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign63.3%263426332733
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus63.9%263426312832
University of Minnesota-Morris64.7%202720272128
University of Massachusetts-Amherst65.3%253325312732
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University65.8%243224302531
University of California-Riverside65.8%202619262231
University of Delaware66.0%243223292530
New Jersey Institute of Technology66.0%233325322531
Rutgers University-New Brunswick66.9%253425312532
University at Buffalo67.0%222924292329
Purdue University-Main Campus67.2%243426332533
Indiana University-East67.3%162417241824
Ohio State University-Main Campus68.5%263426312632
Auburn University71.2%233222282430
Temple University72.3%243223302431
University of Tennessee Knoxville74.9%243324292531
University of Illinois Chicago78.8%223322292331
Michigan State University83.3%223022282329
University of Utah84.0%213121292230
University of Colorado-Boulder84.2%243324302531
University of California-Merced84.8%1722
University of Iowa86.2%212921282229
University of Arizona-Tucson87.1%202920282129
University of Oregon93.4%213021282230
source: IPEDS 2020 and CDS 2021–22


Average ACT scores for Big Ten universities

What is the Big Ten? Like the Ivy League, it’s also an athletic league first and foremost.

But in the Midwest, the Big Ten is shorthand for many of the top large universities: the Universities of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, along with Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Rutgers.

(For many decades, the conference had ten schools, hence the name, though currently it has fourteen.)

football stadium at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)

The schools of the Big Ten conference are known for combining academic achievement with athletic success. Most are public universities, but Northwestern is a top-tier private university. 

We can see that the average ACT scores at the Big Ten universities are high:

ACT score ranges at Big 10 universities

As a whole, the average ACT scores for the Big Ten conference are 25–32 for English, 24–30 for Math, and 25–31 for composite ACT scores.

This means that, broadly speaking, if you want to go to a Big Ten university, you’ll want your composite ACT score to be in the 30s or high 20s.

average ACT scores at the Big 10

Check out the numbers here:

College NameAdmit %English 25thEnglish 75thMath 25thMath 75thComposite 25thComposite 75th
Northwestern University9.3%343631353335
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor26.1%323529343134
University of Maryland-College Park51.0%303527333034
University of Wisconsin-Madison57.2%253326312732
Pennsylvania State-University Park57.6%253325302632
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign63.3%263426332733
University of Minnesota-Morris64.7%202720272128
Rutgers University-New Brunswick66.9%253425312532
Purdue University-Main Campus67.2%243426332533
Indiana University-East67.3%162417241824
Ohio State University-Main Campus68.5%263426312632
Michigan State University83.3%223022282329
University of Iowa86.2%212921282229
University of Nebraska88.3%212821272228
source: IPEDS 2020 and CDS 2021–22


Average ACT scores for the top 50 colleges and universities in the US

So far we’ve been looking at schools divided by category—Ivies, research universities, liberal arts colleges, and public universities.

Wondering what the average ACT scores are for all of the top 50 schools combined in the US?

Here’s the ranges of the middle 50% of students at the top 50 schools (determined by admissions rate) in the US:

ACT score ranges for the top 50 schools in the US

As a whole, the average ACT scores for the top 50 colleges and universities in the US are 32–35 for English, 30–34 for Math, and 32–35 for composite ACT scores.

This means that a good rule of thumb for anyone who wants to apply to a top-50 school is to aim for an ACT score in the 30s.

Average ACT scores for the top 50 schools

Check out the numbers here: 

College NameAdmit %English 25thEnglish 75thMath 25thMath 75thComposite 25thComposite 75th
Harvard University5.0%353631353335
Stanford University5.2%333630353135
Princeton University5.6%343631353235
Yale University6.5%343631353335
Columbia University in the City of New York6.7%343631353335
California Institute of Technology6.7%353635363536
Massachusetts Institute of Technology7.3%353634363436
University of Chicago7.3%353631353435
Brown University7.7%343630353335
Duke University7.7%353632353435
Pomona College8.6%333629353235
United States Military Academy8.6%283527322833
University of Pennsylvania9.0%343631353335
Swarthmore College9.1%333629343134
United States Naval Academy9.1%263526322833
Bowdoin College9.2%283432353034
Dartmouth College9.2%333630353235
Northwestern University9.3%343631353335
Colby College10.3%323527323134
Cornell University10.7%343530353235
Rice University10.9%343632353436
Johns Hopkins University11.1%343632353436
Tulane University of Louisiana11.1%323527323033
Vanderbilt University11.6%343631353335
Amherst College11.8%333629343235
Claremont McKenna College13.3%333528333134
United States Air Force Academy13.4%273527332933
Colorado College13.6%303526312933
Barnard College13.6%333527323134
Bates College14.1%2733
University of California-Los Angeles14.3%293527342934
Williams College15.1%3335
Washington University in St Louis16.0%343530353335
University of Southern California16.1%323528343034
Tufts University16.3%3235
Pitzer College16.6%333528313133
Georgetown University16.8%333629343135
Carnegie Mellon University17.3%333633353335
University of California-Berkeley17.5%273527343035
Harvey Mudd College18.0%343633363435
Haverford College18.2%333529353235
Hamilton College18.4%3234
University of Notre Dame19.0%3235
Emory University19.2%3134
Grinnell College19.2%303527333034
Davidson College20.0%3033
Boston University20.1%303527333034
Wellesley College20.4%333528333134
Northeastern University20.5%333530353335
Wesleyan University20.9%333528333134
source: IPEDS 2020, CDS 2020–21, and CDS 2021–22

Don’t see your dream school on this list? Wondering what the average ACT scores are for the rest of the colleges and universities?

Check out this list of ACT score ranges at 499 colleges and universities across the country:


Average ACT scores by state

Wondering which state has the highest ACT score?

One answer might be Massachusetts, where the average ACT score in 2021 was 27.6 total—7 points higher than the national average of 20.6! Connecticut wasn’t far behind, with an average ACT score of 27.2.

Massachusetts

This map shows the average total ACT scores by state. At first glance, it looks like the Northeast states and California are at the top:

map of average ACT scores by state

But before we wonder what those Northeastern states are doing right. . . it’s actually a bit more complicated!

Some states have very low participation rates for the ACT, meaning that not very many students take the test. (Note that participation rates have been affected in recent years by the Covid-19 pandemic, and some states that normally have nearly 100% participation are down.)

So in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where the scores are quite high, only 7% and 9% of students in the state actually took the test. Participation numbers are similarly low for the entire Northeast, which the SAT has traditionally dominated. We can assume that the students who go out of their way to take the ACT in these states tend to be more prepared than average, skewing the scores higher. 

If we first map the participation rates across the US, it looks like this:

map of ACT participation rates

We can see that the ACT is most commonly used in the Midwest and in the South. The states with the highest participation rates are those where all high school students are required to take the SAT, like Nevada.

With that in mind, let’s look again at the average ACT scores in each states—but this time, let’s only show states with a participation rate greater than 10%:

map of average ACT scores by state, only states with participation over 10%

Without those SAT-dominant states, the map looks quite different!

Now the highest-scoring states are the District of Columbia, with an average ACT score of 25.6 and a participation rate of 19%; Illinois, with an average ACT score of 25.2 and a participation rate of 19%; and New Jersey, with an average ACT score of 25.1 and a participation rate of 12%. 

All of these participation rates are still pretty low, though. If we look at only the states where 30% or more of graduating seniors took the ACT, our map looks like this:

map of state average ACT scores, only states with participation rates over 30%

Of these high-participation states, the winners are Minnesota (average 21.6 ACT), South Dakota (average 21.6 ACT), and Iowa (21.6). All of these are higher than, but much closer to, the national average of 20.6. 

Minnesota

Check out the average score for your state here:

US StateComposite mean ACTParticipation %
Alabama18.7100%
Alaska20.616%
Arizona19.835%
Arkansas1999%
California26.15%
Colorado23.616%
Connecticut27.29%
Delaware25.75%
District of Columbia25.619%
Florida20.434%
Georgia22.624%
Hawaii18.267%
Idaho2316%
Illinois25.219%
Indiana23.114%
Iowa21.547%
Kansas19.979%
Kentucky19.2100%
Louisiana18.498%
Maine25.62%
Maryland25.58%
Massachusetts27.67%
Michigan25.19%
Minnesota21.660%
Mississippi18.1100%
Missouri20.663%
Montana20.470%
Nebraska2086%
Nevada17.8100%
New Hampshire26.64%
New Jersey25.112%
New Mexico20.723%
New York26.39%
North Carolina18.992%
North Dakota19.6100%
Ohio19.685%
Oklahoma19.758%
Oregon20.620%
Pennsylvania257%
Rhode Island25.84%
South Carolina18.650%
South Dakota21.655%
Tennessee19.1100%
Texas20.123%
Utah20.686%
Vermont24.74%
Virginia25.59%
Washington23.67%
West Virginia20.830%
Wisconsin2096%
Wyoming19.891%
source: ACT National Profile Report 2021


How to improve your ACT score

Wondering what to do next?

If you’ve never taken the ACT before, try doing a full official ACT practice test at home (check out our instructions) to get an idea of your score. This tells you where your starting place is.

You can then use our formula to estimate how much you can reasonably expect to increase your ACT scores.

If your scores are lower, it’s easier to increase your score by a bigger amount. If your scores are already in the 30s, then it’s harder to get those final gains.

With your estimated scores, you can already get a sense of where you’d be a competitive candidate—these are schools where your ACT score would be more or less “average,” falling within the middle 50% of students.

Taking into account the other aspects of your application, like GPA and extracurriculars, you can start to build your college list.

Next . . . it’s time to raise those ACT scores! Boosting your test scores is one of the easiest ways to increase your admissions chances. Smart, targeted practice can make a big difference. 

In some cases, you might also want to learn or review math or grammar concepts that you either didn’t cover in high school or have forgotten. (Since the ACT covers material that some students will have covered in their middle school math classes, it’s not uncommon for students to have forgotten how to graph a polynomial function or find the measure of an angle inscribed in a circle.) 

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the format of the test overall, and there are many test-taking strategies that one can use to take the test more efficiently and avoid trick answers.

Finally, consider whether there are any other factors that affect your test-taking abilities. Do you get nervous on test days? Do you tend to run out of time on a particular section? Do you tend to lose focus after too long trying to read long passages? There are techniques for mitigating all of these and more.

student practicing the ACT

Not sure how to study more effectively, struggling with certain concepts, or just generally want some help?

We’ve helped thousands of students boost their ACT scores with our one-on-one ACT tutoring. We’re happy to chat about your particular challenges.

You also might want to check out the SAT and see which test is a better fit for your strengths. You can read our comparison of the two tests and take a look at our deep dive into average SAT score data.

Once you’ve studied, it’s time to take the test!

Ideally, be strategic about when you schedule your tests.

Many students take the ACT multiple times, with between two to four times being the most common. In between each test date, learn from your experience with the previous test to study more effectively and target problem areas.

Once you know your final ACT score, revise your college list to make sure you have at least two “target” schools (where you’re in the middle 50%) and at least two “safety” schools (where you’re in the top 25%).

Make sure to pay attention to the other components of your college applications, too—your GPA, college essays, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, and interview matter too.

Submit your applications your senior year of high school and relax!


Download ACT score ranges for 499 US colleges and universities

Here’s what you’ll get with this handy resource:

  • Middle 50 ACT composite scores for the top 499 U.S. colleges and universities
  • Middle 50 ACT sectional scores for English and Math
  • Admit rate for each college
  • All based on the most recent available data (2020)

Download ACT ranges for 499 schools

Bonus Material: ACT score ranges at 499 schools


Emily

Emily graduated summa cum laude of Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.