What To Do If You Don’t Have a Perfect ACT Score

A perfect ACT score of 36 is elusive, but that shouldn't stop you from getting into your dream school.

Source: Flickr user duncan.

The highest possible and perfect ACT score is a 36.

However, the ACT Profile Report for last year’s graduating class (2017), indicates that of the 2,030,038 students who took the ACT, only 2,760 earned a perfect ACT score.

So for the vast majority of us, that 36 will remain elusive. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get into your dream school. Over 5 times as many students score a 35 and not quite 10 times as many score a 34. To see the breakdown of all last year’s graduates’ scores, check out the link above.

If you can’t hit that 36, but still want to send in a stellar application, here are a few ideas.

Supplement YOUR Score

You could take the ACT, study with ACT test prep resources everyday for an entire year, retake the test, and only move your score 1 or 2 points. But, you can supplement those scores with a number of different things.


Stay on top of you grade point average (GPA) throughout high school. If you mess up freshman year it will impact your future GPA, but if you stay on top of things with good study habits after that you’ll be okay. Just don’t wait until second semester, senior year to change your ways.

AP/IB/Honors Courses

Taking higher level advanced placement courses while in high school will show colleges and universities that you have what it takes to be successful in their classes. If you can get a few college credits with dual-enrollment courses while you’re still in high school, that might help knock out a few general education classes and save you a bit of money down the road too.

Extracurricular Activities

Getting involved while you’re in high school is a great way to build your resume. It shows colleges that you can balance school work and other things on your schedule. Something as simple as being in a sustainability club or the marching band can get you a long way.

Leadership Experience

Colleges love an applicant that has leadership experience. There’s an interview question that goes something like, “what can you do for college?” or “why should we admit you, what can you do for us?” and having something to respond with could be a game changer.

Even if you don’t have a 4.0 or a super high ACT score, if the school will benefit by having you there, they’ll admit you. This is especially important to remember when you’re doing interviews or writing personal statements.

Compare Your Scores to Admitted Class Averages

As I said earlier, it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t get a perfect score on the ACT. Do yourself a favor, and say it out loud right now, “I’ll still get in to college, even if I don’t score a 36 on the ACT”. Good.

You know, better than anyone else, what you are capable of. If you already know there are a few schools that you’re interested in, check out their statistics for last year’s freshman class. (Hint: you can find all that information by searching for the school on our website)

See how your scores stand up against the average for last year’s admitted class. A good way to do this is by looking at the interquartile range or the middle 50% of students scores. Keep in mind that these are a range. An average is not a cut off–there are still students above and below that number.

Talk to Someone in Admissions

This is such a simple step, but many often overlook it. If you’re trying to get a better picture of your odds of admission, go straight to the source. They might even have a few extra pointers for you.

If you’re serious about attending a specific school, do your research. What do they have to offer? What do you have to offer them? How is it that your goals align with their mission? Score a few brownie points by discussing these things with your admission counselor.

For most students, getting a perfect score on the ACT is not a realistic goal. Be honest with yourself about what you think you can reach and where you might get in. Have a few reach schools and a few safe schools.

If you just don’t know where to start, or you need a bit of a pep talk, set up an appointment with your school counselor. They’re available to help you navigate your scores and college planning checklist.