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November 29, 2018
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January 12, 2019

What is a Good SAT Score? Is Yours Good Enough?


You’ve probably heard it at least a hundred times at this point: to get into your target school, you have to get a “good” score on the SAT, among other things. But what exactly is a good SAT score for 2019? Is it at least a 1400? Will it make you a highly competitive applicant if you get a score over 1500? At what point can you relax and trust that your results are going to get you to where you want to go?


The shortest answer is, it varies.


This is one of the most common concerns plaguing students when it comes to the business of college applications. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by thoughts about your SAT performance. So, what score will merit you that one-way ticket to your target college?


Should you consider a retake? Or are you simply wasting precious energy worrying about nothing?

For the longer answer, read on to find out.



Before anything else, consider where you want to go

Quantifying what counts as a good SAT score for 2019 is tricky for one obvious reason: different colleges have different standards. What qualifies as “good” for one university may fall short for another. Therefore, we recommend that you apply to different schools from each of these categories:

    1. Dream schools: These are the colleges where your academic and extra-curricular profile fall in the lower end of the accepted range. Realistically, you know that getting into them might be a long shot, but it should still be possible provided that your application strategy is strong.
    2. Target schools: Your target schools will have admission qualifications that fit well with your own academic and extracurricular credentials. Your GPA and SAT score should closely match the school’s range for the average freshman. Although admission is never guaranteed, you know that you have a fair chance of getting accepted.
    3. Safety schools: Safety schools, from the name itself, serve as safety nets for college. For these schools, your acceptance may be considered reasonably certain because your academic credentials surpass the average range that they usually accept.

Next, determine how competitive your chosen schools are. For example, if some of them belong to the Top 20 colleges nationwide, you’re certainly going to need to score higher to feel secure about your chances. But getting a perfect score is not a guarantee that you will be accepted instantly by the most selective institutions. The competitiveness of a specific school’s admissions process will heavily influence if your results will qualify to be considered as a good SAT score.


If you’re gunning for one of the Top 20 colleges:

If you’re planning to get into the most competitive universities in the country—the Ivy Leagues, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, and so on—how do you know if you performed well enough on the SAT/ACT?

We believe that a good benchmark here is scoring at least a 700 on each section—equivalent to a minimum composite score of 1400. If you managed to meet this minimum, then you’re definitely still in the ball game.

If you got at least a 750 on each section, then there’s absolutely no need to retake—and we say this with confidence. Aiming to get admitted into the best universities doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to get a perfect (or close to perfect) score. There’s simply no use obsessing over getting a 1600 at this point.

Instead, we recommend that you try your very best to relax and let your SAT-related anxieties go. Focus on other things, such as building on your profile of extra-curricular activities . The country’s top schools turn down hundreds of students with perfect 1600s year after year. This goes to show that your GPA and overall body of work are just as crucial, and that the SAT is not the be-all and end-all of your admissions journey.

However, if you’re really set on retaking the test and are confident that you can improve your score significantly, then we suggest that you schedule it as soon as possible. This gives you ample time to iron out an improved strategy, revisit some of the topics that you don’t feel as confident in, and put in more prep work.


If you’re targeting selective schools outside of the Top 20:

If you’re aiming at selective schools (but not the top 20), the best way to find out if your SAT score is good enough is to look at each institution’s individual data. Specifically, we recommend that you research the following metrics concerning the students that each school admits:

  1. Mean SAT score
  2. Target schools 75th Percentile score
  3. 25th Percentile score

You can easily find all these on the admissions website of each university. Even a simple Google search will usually yield quick results. For the purpose of better discussion, we’ve compiled information for some popular universities in the tables below.


Admissions SAT data for the top 10 universities


Mean SAT score

25th percentile

75th percentile

Princeton University 1520 1470 1590
Harvard University 1540 1470 1600
Yale University 1540 1490 1600
University of Chicago 1540 1490 1590
Stanford University 1520 1450 1590
MIT 1520 1480 1590
Columbia University 1530 1470 1590
University of Pennsylvania 1510 1450 1570
Duke University 1540 1480 1590
Caltech 1560 1530 1600


Admissions SAT data for some popular medium-competitive universities


Mean SAT score

25th percentile

75th percentile

UC Berkeley 1440 1330 1540
UCLA 1370 1250 1500
University of Virginia 1410 1330 1510
Georgia Tech 1450 1380 1530
University of Florida 1330 1220 1390
Boston College 1440 1350 1510
UT Austin 1350 1240 1450
NYU 1410 1380 1520
University of Washington 1300 1190 1420
Pennsylvania State University 1270 1160 1340


First, make a list of your top choices and then compare your SAT score with the given data. Scoring somewhere in the middle of the range—specifically, between the 25th and 75th percentile scores—is a good benchmark to keep in mind. If this isn’t specific enough for you, gathering a bit more data about each school’s 40th percentile score can simplify things. If your SAT results turned out higher than the said score, then you can rest assured that you still have a clear shot of getting in—provided that the rest of your profile is polished.

Take note: Do NOT worry too much about these scores (ie. thinking that you need at least a 90th percentile score to get admitted). Your grade history and body of extra-curricular work actually matter MUCH more than having a sky-high SAT score. A student who has, say, a 40th percentile SAT score, as well as impressive grades and activities throughout high school, has a better chance of getting in than someone with a 90th percentile score, barely any extra-curricular work, and a mediocre high school transcript.


What’s a good SAT score for your safety schools?

If we’re talking about universities outside the Top 75, the procedure should remain roughly the same. Looking at each school’s admissions data would be your best move. Of course, these schools will probably have lower SAT score requirements, which means that you’ll have a bit more room to relax about your SAT results than if you were targeting a school from the Top 75.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should sit back, relax, and call it a day. Nothing beats the feeling that comes with doing your absolute best. If this doesn’t sound rewarding enough for you, then you should take note that students with higher-than-usual SAT scores get to enjoy extra programs. Many universities award scholarship money and other types of grants to admitted students who possess SAT scores that are higher than what they usually accept.



Basically, the big message we’re trying to deliver here at Big Brains Education is that unnecessarily worrying about your SAT scores will do you no good. You have to tackle this matter in a calm, collected, and data-focused manner.

Know where you stand objectively by quantifying the scores that your target schools usually accept. If you got somewhere around a 1500, there’s no need to get fixated on getting a perfect score if the data shows that your dream university accepts hundreds of students with a 1430.

If you haven’t taken the SAT yet, we have a simple-yet-smart solution for you: divert your energy and focus into preparing for the test and improving your body of work, such that you won’t have energy left for nitpicking on your score later on. Control what is in your control, so that you don’t have to worry about what is not. For more information on test prep and polishing your application, you should definitely check out our pages for top-notch SAT preparation and college applications strategy counseling.

No one can deny the importance of doing well on the SAT. It’s a hallmark event for most high school students for a reason. And while we view SAT scores as more of a checkmark than an absolute free pass, downplaying the significance of doing well is never a good move.

As a parting note, remember this:

A great SAT score will not get you in, but a bad SAT score will keep you out.