Do Colleges Prefer ACT or SAT? Which is More Popular?

If you’re hoping to apply to college, you may be trying to decide which standardized test to take: the ACT vs. SAT. It will please you to hear that colleges do not prefer the SAT over the ACT or vice versa. We’ll cover the myth that the SAT is preferred over the ACT, as well as which exam is more popular, and which should you take.

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Do Colleges Prefer the ACT or the SAT?

The short answer is: colleges do not have a preference when it comes to the ACT or SAT

A common myth is that elite colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT. Or that the ACT is preferred by colleges in your state. In reality, all colleges and universities that require standardized testing accept both the ACT and SAT. And college admissions counselors have openly stated they do not prefer one test over the other.

It is also sometimes argued that, while colleges don’t admit to preferring the SAT, the fact that many more students accepted to competitive colleges submit the SAT than the ACT seems to indicate there is a bias.

The bias comes down to location and region due to the popularity of the test in that specific region – something we’ll dive a bit more into shortly.

Which is More Popular – The ACT or the SAT?

Nationally, the SAT and ACT have been about equally popular for several years. Since the SAT is older, people considered it the tried-and-true standard. However, in 2012, a few thousand more students took the ACT than the SAT (1,666,017 vs 1,664,479). The popularity contest has been a tight race over the years, but in 2019, the SAT saw 55% of the market. Over 2.2 million students took the SAT compared to the 1.8 million ACT takers.

Popularity though actually depends on location and state! The ACT is much more popular in the Midwest compared to the SAT. This is largely because many states in the area require each student to take the ACT as part of statewide assessments. On the other hand, on the East and West coasts, the SAT still dominates as the test of choice. However, it’s worth noting that the ACT has gained a footing in those areas as well in recent years.

What Does ACT and SAT Popularity Have to do with “College Preference?”

The bias that the ACT or SAT is preferred by colleges is related to the region. The idea that the SAT is preferred by Northeast colleges, for example, comes from the fact that, in the past, it was the test of choice for students in those states.

Since students are likely to attend colleges within 170 miles of their homes, it makes sense that students admitted to a certain school would have been more likely to take the test popular in the region of their college.

However, that bias started to change as the popularity contest got closer. For instance, in the past, Harvard saw 83% of students submit SAT scores and 35% submit ACT results. In Fall 2021, though 54% percent of students took the SAT vs the 31% who took the ACT according to College Navigator. The bias will likely remain for years to come, but the stats clearly show things are starting to change.

Colleges and universities have also recently began to make these entrance exams optional, which is further changing perceptions of the SAT and ACT and affecting submission statistics.

Should You Take the ACT or the SAT?

Don’t let the popularity of either test, nationally or in your region, determine which test you choose to take. Your decision, instead, should be based on your strengths and weaknesses. There are similarities between the SAT and ACT, but they are also vastly different, enough that it could greatly impact your score.

Taking practice tests and identifying your strong points is a great way to help you make the decision. Some students even decide to sit for both exams. Whichever you decide to sit for, preparation is key!

No matter which you decide to take, the ACT or SAT, it should not be based on the popularity of the exam or bias that may remain in your region. The stats are showing that there’s little gap between the two exams. It’s more important to focus on your strengths, weaknesses, and abilities rather than the results of your local popularity contest.

Colleges are looking for specific scores from their applicants. Do you know what your dream college is looking for students to achieve on the SAT or ACT? Use our College Match tool to see how you stack up against recently admitted students.

6 thoughts on “Do Colleges Prefer ACT or SAT? Which is More Popular?”

  1. Adwitiya S.J. says:

    I am an aspirant outside of USA …namely India …which exam should I chose…ACT or SAT?

    1. Allison Wignall says:

      Hello, Adwitiya! Which test you should take really depends on what kind of student you are. Colleges don’t prefer one over the other, so you should select the test that works best for you. We talked about this differences between the test in this post: Should I Take the ACT or the SAT? Hope this helps! Good luck!

    2. Lohit G says:

      Take Both. If you have to choose one, I should suggest ACT for engineering majors and the SAT for others. But I’m just a 15 year old in one of America’s many high school.

    3. DocBeasley says:

      Either – take both and see which one is better for you.

    4. Sriram Mudireddy says:

      It really shouldn’t matter that much, but I’d recommend SAT

  2. Helen says:

    Should you send both ACT and SAT scores to colleges if you got 36 and 1590 respectively or just the ACT score will do?

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