When I was in high school, I remember university representatives responding to a question about their “ideal candidate.” Each delegate proclaimed their fluffy answer about motivation and coloring abilities, until the Princeton representative leaned to the microphone and simply stated, “Four point three.” Although everyone laughed, they understood the harsh reality of Ivy League competition.

College counselors and other idealists repeatedly nurture the hope that an ACT or SAT score will not differentiate one student from another. They promote that even with a poor score, the dream university is still possible. The cold truth, however, is scores matter just as much as everyone fears.

Although the acceptance committee will consider someone’s impressive participation in the chess club or theatre troupe, scores distinguish those creative achievements. After-school accomplishments suddenly fold in light of that person’s perfect score. Of course, scores do not exclusively determine a student’s acceptance, but an obvious statistical trend persists among the scores of the admitted.


The Scores of the Best

Whether your dream school is Harvard, Cornell, or Arizona State, you need a good score. The Ivy League’s Harvard, Yale, and Princeton each demonstrate the universal competition among applicants, as illustrated by this scary chart:

  Harvard Yale Princeton National
Average Reading SAT 750 755 740 497
Average Math SAT 750 750 760 513
Average Writing SAT 755 760 750 487
Average Composite SAT 2260 2265 2250 1497
Average ACT 34 33 33 21
Average GPA 4.04 4.19 3.9 N/A
Admissions Rate 6% 7% 7% N/A

The average student at these universities scored significantly above the national average in every category (about 1/3 higher.) These intentionally intimidating numbers allow acceptance committees to swiftly reduce their massive pile of applicants.

The Bottom Line

Study, study, study.

Take a break.

Then keep studying. Your essay, background, and extracurricular activities matter—they really do—but for strictly academic programs, they won’t mean anything without the scores to back them up. Whether you need a leap or a push, you can enlist the help of various tutoring and test prep programs. The acceptance committees want to see that they are bringing in a passionate student who cares about learning and embracing life. Let your scores push you to the place where they can see the individual behind the numbers.