Is Your Low ACT Score Enough to Pass Admission Requirements?

Most college admissions policies take standardized tests into account.

Of course, institutions that stick to traditional measures of academic excellence in the review process are notorious for making admission decisions based on them.

Various schools with a holistic admissions policy also factor them in alongside non-academic criteria.

As a college-bound teen, you should get your act together by getting an impressive ACT score.

There are passing exam scores, and there are failing exam scores.

Fantastic news for those about to take the ACT: there is no such thing as a failing ACT score!

The lowest ACT score you can get (out of a possible perfect score of 36) is 1.

Technically, that’s still a passing ACT score!

However, a low ACT score may indicate you may not be ready yet to work on an undergraduate degree, thus potentially keeping you from getting into a college that looks into an applicant’s standardized test scores.

ACT Math and Science

A Good ACT Score: How Good is Good Enough for Colleges

Whether or not your ACT score is good is on a case-to-case basis.

It will depend on which college you are applying to.

Examining the academic profile of first-time, first-year students lets you determine if your ACT score can cause your application to make a good impression on the postsecondary school’s admissions officers.

Middle 50% What?

One of the things that often come out of the mouths of college admissions experts is the middle 50% range.

It’s not as simple as getting the 50% of your ACT score.

Eliminating the bottom 25% and top 25% of all ACT scores results in the middle 50% — it’s the range of ACT scores between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile for the incoming class.

Let me try to simplify it further.

For your ACT score to be good enough for admission to a particular college, it should outscore 25% of the lowest scores and come close to 25% of the highest scores.

Of course, it won’t hurt if your ACT score is one of the top 25% scores of admitted students.

Surpassing the middle 50% range makes your test score superior!

Many colleges that are proud of the ACT scores of their fresh admits usually brag about the middle 50% on their websites to get a reputation boost and attract more students to apply.

In some instances, you have to check out a school’s latest Common Data Set (CDS) to get an idea.

You will find the range of the 25th percentile and 75th percentile of ACT scores in section C9 of a CDS report, together with the percentages of admitted first-years who submitted their ACT (and SAT) scores.

Superscoring Supercharges Your Application

Did you take the ACT more than once?

Immediately check whether or not the college you wish to apply to superscores test scores — some institutions say so directly, while others recommend that applicants submit all their test scores.

Simply put, it means that college admissions officers consider only the highest scores for each section.

It doesn’t matter when and where applicants obtained them.

Suppose that you took the ACT thrice and you got the following section and composite scores:

ACT SectionFirst TakeSecond TakeThird Take
Composite Score303232

If you submitted only your third ACT scores, then the school’s admissions officers will see you as someone who got a composite ACT score of 32.

However, it’s a different thing if you submitted all your ACT scores across all test dates for superscoring purposes.

Just take a look at this table:

ACT SectionHighest Score
English33 (third take)
Reading31 (third take)
Math34 (second take)
Science32 (second take)

Your ACT superscore would then be higher by just a single point, alright.

However, it could be a complete game-changer when applying to a competitive institution!

Test-Optional: What Option is Best?

Applying to a test-optional college can be relieving yet disconcerting.

Is it an opportunity to increase my admission chances by not submitting my ACT scores?

Or is it an opportunity for college admissions officers to determine which applicants are self-assured?

Indeed, your decision can make or break your college application.

It’s when the importance of checking the middle 50% range of admitted students, which we discussed earlier, comes in — the closer your ACT score to the higher end of the range, the better your chances of getting in.

Some test-optional colleges recommend the submission of test scores.

Almost always, they superscore test scores — applicants should grab the opportunity if they sat for the ACT multiple times and attained good scores in previous tests.

What to Do If You Have Low ACT Scores

A low ACT score may be a roadblock to attending your top-choice school.

However, it’s not always bad news — it may serve as a motivation for you to prepare for the college experience better or explore your other options college-wise and find a better-fit school.

Take the ACT One More Time

You can do nothing about a bad ACT score — what’s done is done.

However, you have the power to improve your subsequent ACT score.

Sources after sources agree that retaking the ACT can lead to better scores — on average, ACT, Inc. (the creator of the ACT) says that a test-taker’s second composite score increases by one point.

However, I found a website saying that retaking the ACT can boost your score by up to 2.9 points!

But before you retake the ACT, keep in mind the following:

  • You should review to get a better score
  • Retaking it costs money (unless you are eligible for a fee waiver)

Submit ACT Scores From All Test Dates

The minute you learn that you have a low ACT score, immediately check whether or not your dream college superscores test scores because it serves as some form of hope and peace of mind.

Again, superscoring means that admissions officers consider only the highest section scores.

The test date doesn’t matter — if it’s the highest, it’s the one that matters.

Of course, you can take advantage of the perks of superscoring only if you took the ACT more than once.

Improve Other Components of Your College Application

What’s great about a holistic review policy is it considers your application from top to bottom.

It means that traditional measures of academic excellence such as GPA, class rank, AP courses, and standardized tests are not the only ones that college admissions officers base their verdict on.

Grab the opportunity to wow them with other parts of your application, including non-academic ones.

For instance, you can participate in an extracurricular related to your intended major.

Going for something that builds skills that college admissions officers love is wise, too — spend time doing an activity that imparts leadership, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.

Giving back to the community by doing volunteer work is also a huge plus!

Apply to a Test-Optional or Test-Blind College

Test-required colleges — avoid these at all costs if you are unhappy with your ACT score.

Their admissions officers will not review your application without your bad ACT score.

But they might send you a rejection letter if you include your low ACT score.

Indeed, it’s a lose-lose situation!

Your best bet is to send your application to a test-optional college where you can apply without a standardized test score — it will not disadvantage you in the admissions process, and it will not require you to explain your side.

Applying to a test-blind college where ACT scores do not matter is also an option.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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