ACT Percentiles and Rankings: What’s a “Good” ACT Score?

Answering the question, “What is a good ACT score?” isn’t quite easy as there is no real answer. The consensus is a 24 is the minimum for a good ACT score, but that number won’t get you into some of the more competitive colleges. It actually may be a bit more helpful to look at your “ACT percentile.” So, here’s a look at what your scores mean, how ACT percentiles come into play, goals you may want to set yourself, and how your score can affect your education.

A student holding a stack of books with both hands.

First, How is the ACT Scored?

The ACT covers four different categories: English, math, reading, and science. Your score on each of these sections will range between 1 and 36. Your ACT Composite is the average of the four section’s scores. The higher the number, the better you performed.

So, What is a “Good” Score?

As we stated in the intro, it really isn’t easy to answer this question. While a 24 is a great number to shoot for, especially early on, it may not be enough to get into your reach schools or maybe even your dream school.

A “good” score depends entirely on you and your goals. If you’re struggling on the ACT, for example, a 20 may be an amazing number for you to reach and that’s perfectly fine! However, if you’re aiming to apply to competitive colleges, you’re going to have to shoot a bit higher.

You should actually be understanding ACT percentiles and researching the test scores schools are looking for in their students.

What are ACT Percentiles?

ACT percentiles are percentages that show you how well you did compared to other students who also took the exam. If your composite score was a 31, for instance, you would be in the 95th percentile, meaning you did better on the entire ACT than 95% of the other students.

 This table and breakdown of ACT percentiles and scores for 2021 can help you visualize how you stack up against other students:

ScoreEnglishMathReadingScienceComposite
36100100100100100
359999989999
349699969899
339498949798
329297919696
319196899595
308994869393
298893849090
288691829088
278488808885
268284778582
257979748278
247574717774
237170667170
226565616464
216061555859
205558505153
194954444547
184549393941
174142343235
163733292628
153221241922
142511191416
13194141010
121511075
11111542
1071331
931111
821111
711111
611111
511111
411111
311111
211111
11111

Using the table, you can also see how many students scored the same as you. If you had a composite score of 20, you’d be in the 55th ACT percentile. To figure out how many other students scored a 20, you take the next highest percentile and then subtract 55, so 60 – 55 = 5. 5% of students earned a 20 composite score.

The 50th percentile would represent the median ACT score, which can be used to estimate an “average” score—so approximately 19-20 on the composite and for each of the section’s scores.

The distribution of ACT percentiles will change from year to year, but not by much. You can always find an updated table on the ACT website.

How Can You Find Your ACT Percentile?

 Since ACT percentiles are only out for the previous year, you may be wondering how you actually find out your percentile now. After all, once you’re attending college next year, you likely won’t care as much about your score! Well, your test results will actually tell you! Next to your score there will also be additional information about your ACT percentile and how you stacked up against other students.

ACT Percentiles and Scores for College Applications

Very few colleges have published ACT score requirements or “minimums” for their applicants. However, there are ways to find out what schools are looking for in a student. Almost every college on College Raptor, for instance, has information about the ACT scores for accepted students.

Here’s an example from the University of California — Davis admissions page from College Raptor:

Here's a graph of student ACT score from UC Davis

This chart shows that most students that were accepted to University of California – Davis had an ACT Composite score of 24 to 32, an ACT Math score of 24 to 32, and an ACT English score of 23 to 30.

It also shows the 25th and 75th percentiles. This means that 25% of accepted students actually scored below a 24 on their ACT composite and 25% of students scored above a 32. If you scored a 32, you’re above the 75th percentile. If your score falls directly in between 24 and 32, you are in the 50th ACT percentile.

Scoring above the 75th percentile doesn’t automatically win you an acceptance letter. Other factors play into your applications including your intended major, GPA, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and more can impact those odds. And having a lower  than average ACT score doesn’t necessarily rule you out either!

Can Your ACT Percentile and Score Affect Financial Aid?

ACT percentiles affect more than just your admission chances – they can impact your ability to win financial aid based on merit. Some grants and scholarships are awarded based on the student’s academic profile. If you’re in a higher ACT percentile bracket or scored higher than average compared to other students or scholarship applicants, it could boost your chances of winning thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Colleges and universities often have information about their merit-based grants and scholarships right on their website under financial aid. However, if you can’t find it, make sure to reach out to the school ahead of time about ACT percentiles and financial assistance.

Can You Improve Your ACT Percentile?

You can absolutely improve your ACT percentile, but it will take work! Study is essential to scoring well on the ACT (and SAT). So, if you want to score better than the other students, you’re going to have to put in the hours. This means taking practice tests, acknowledging your weaker areas, and using study methods to improve them.

You can always take the ACT more than once.  Especially if you didn’t score as well as you would have liked the first time around. There are no penalties for sitting for the exam more than once. So if your ACT percentile was a bit lower than you’d like, we wholly recommend retaking it until you’re happy.

It’s important to keep in mind that your ACT score is just one factor that is used in college admissions decisions. Many times, students are able to make up for less-than-great ACT scores by having an exceptional application in other ways that don’t involve their GPA and test scores. This can include community service, internships, extracurriculars, and more. So even if you find yourself in the lower ACT percentiles, don’t count yourself out of an acceptance letter just yet! And you can always work to improve your score – you’re more than welcome to take the test more than once!

Already sat for the exam? It’s possible to learn more about your admission chances to a particular school by knowing your ACT scores. College Raptor’s College Match tool is FREE and helps you determine your admission chances based on your ACT percentile and results, GPA, extracurriculars, and more!

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