Colleges by ACT: Find the Best Colleges for Your ACT Score

Among the biggest standardized tests for college admissions, the ACT can play a big part in any college application. Sometimes the tide-turner, other times the finishing touch — it’s the key to acceptance for many who take it.

So, what is the ACT exactly? It’s a highly popular standardized test administered by a nonprofit organization of the same name (originally short for American College Test) and accepted by all four-year colleges and universities nationwide, as well as hundreds of institutions outside of the U.S. Lasting 3 hours and 30 minutes, the ACT comprises four sections — math, scientific reasoning, reading, and English — as well as an optional direct writing segment. 

Do you have to take the ACT? The short and sweet answer is no. However, the ACT is one of two standardized tests required by nearly all colleges in the U.S. The other test is the SAT — and while you only need to take one, you may find that you perform better on the ACT, so we suggest taking it at least once. 

In this guide, we provide a brief but detailed overview on ACT scores and how they influence college admissions. Below, we answer questions like: what is the average ACT score, what is a good ACT score, and why take the ACT? We also give you an opportunity to explore the ACT and college admissions further by signing up for a Appily account and searching colleges by ACT scores.


What is a Good ACT Score?

To understand what counts as a good ACT score, it’s first important to understand how the ACT is scored overall. The ACT is scored by the number of right answers you get (there are no penalties for wrong answers) in each section. That number is this converted to a corresponding number from 1 to 36. The four scores from each of the four sections are then added together. That number is divided by four to yield the composite ACT score. (The optional direct writing segment is scored slightly differently by two readers and is not factored into your composite ACT score.)

The best possible ACT score is 36. The worst possible score is 1. But in terms of college admissions, what is a good score on the ACT? According to recent data released by ACT, a score of 20.8 puts you ahead of roughly 50% of the field. A score of 24 puts you ahead of 74% of test takers. A 30 puts you above 93% of test-takers, and a 35 or above puts you in the 99th percentile. All of these scores can get you into college, but more exclusive schools will prefer higher scores


What is the Average ACT Score?

As mentioned above the national average ACT score is roughly 21. However, this score varies considerably on a state-by-state basis. Colleges also see different averages among their applicants, so don’t be dissuaded if your score is below the average. (Data from the ACT has the highest state average in Connecticut at 25.9, and the lowest in Nevada at 17.9. All states have different participation rates and total numbers of test takers.)

The best way to check if your ACT score is up to par for the college you want to attend is check scores for accepted students. Here at Appily, we give you the power to search colleges by ACT score and determine your target schools and scores with hard data. Worried that your current score won’t make the cut? First, it’s important to know that your ACT score isn’t the only determining factor on your application. Your grades, essays, and other admissions materials also matter. (Plus, you don’t have to list your ACT if you scored better on the SAT.) Second, you can take the ACT several times. This gives you a chance to improve your score as you go.


Do I Even Have to Take the ACT?

You may be asking: do I have to take the ACT? In nearly all instances, the answer is no. That’s because nearly all colleges accept either the ACT or the SAT as a standardized test submission. If you’re happy with your SAT, you do not need to take the ACT. So, why take the ACT? Many students find that they perform better on one of the two standardized tests. Some score better on the SAT, others perform better on the ACT. Put simply: you won’t know which one you’re better at until you try both. We recommend giving the ACT at least one try to see how you do. If you choose to take it a second or third time to improve your score, you won’t be penalized if your score is lower. You can submit only your highest score.


The ACT During COVID

Due to the unprecedented COVID pandemic, which has led to cancellations in nearly all large gatherings, many students have been unable to take the ACT and/or SAT for college. In response, over half the nation’s 2,330 bachelor’s degree-granting schools have waived their standardized test requirement for prospective fall 2021 applicants. For the other schools, and for students who wish to take the ACT, the ACT organization indicates that it is conducting limited-capacity testing with plans to roll out remote test proctoring in 2021.


Explore Colleges for Every ACT Score with Appily

Still have questions like what’s a good ACT score or do I need to take the ACT for college? We have your answers. We also have an extensive database to help you search colleges by ACT score and find the best fit for you. Check out the list of colleges by state and ACT score below, and sign up for a Appily account to supercharge your college search.