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Students applying to US colleges usually start preparing for the SAT way in advance. A common & important question to ask is: What is a good SAT score that I should aim for?

The short answer is: it depends.

Each section of the SAT is scored out of 800, forming a total SAT score out of 1600.

Here are some factors to consider when thinking about your target SAT score:

What is a good SAT score at your dream colleges?

When looking at SAT results, it is not enough to be just above the college cutoff.

Different colleges have different SAT score averages based on their applicant pool. You should aim to be:

  • At least in the 75th percentile for reach colleges
  • In the 25th percentile for target and safety choices.

For more competitive program or the Ivy League, you will likely need scores of 1500 and above. However, other top 30 colleges tend to have slightly lower SAT averages. For example, Cornell’s average SAT is 1480, NYU’s is 1440, and UCLA’s is 1400.

Depends on where you apply, you might not need to score higher than 1500.

How low can my SAT score be?

As an international applicant, you will need above-average SAT scores to be competitive.

According to the College Board, the average SAT score for the class of 2020 was 1051. However, the average SAT score for international applicants tends to be much higher.

In general, depending on your colleges of choice, you should aim for your score to be at least in the 25th percentile.

In terms of numbers, this means:

  • If you are aiming for colleges in the top 100, your SAT score should be in the range of 1300-1350.
  • If you are aiming for colleges in the top 30, your SAT score should be 1500+ to remain competitive.

Note that you are encouraged to take the SAT more than once. Start taking the SAT in your first year of junior college or IB Year 1 to get the best result possible. Moreover, some colleges allow for superscoring, which lets you to combine your best section scores from different SAT sittings. You can read more about superscoring and find a list of colleges that allow it here.

Your application is more important than a good SAT score

US colleges exercise holistic admissions, which means you are examined on:

  • Grades
  • Standardized Test Score (SAT score)
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Other relevant experiences.

Since US colleges look for well-rounded candidates, you can balance out lower test scores with an outstanding profile. For example: being a national-level athlete, a volunteer or student council leadership, etc.

However, if the rest of your application is not outstanding, an impressive SAT score might be the boost you need.

While US colleges look for candidates that would be the best fit for the school, they also consider whether candidates would be able to maintain high academic standing.

According to the College Board, SAT scores are a better predictor of performance in college than school grades!

Some US colleges have become test-optional for the time being. The University of California, for example, would not consider SAT scores unless the candidate does not otherwise meet the minimum entry requirements.

If you are interested in applying to test-optional colleges, you can read more on the top 5 test-optional US colleges here.

To sum up, a good SAT score is one that corresponds to your colleges of choice, helps make you competitive against other candidates, and complements your profile.

For more specific information regarding the SAT and each of its sections, check out our SAT blog and our SAT score guide.

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