What Is a Bad SAT Score — And Should I Worry About Mine?

What is a low SAT score? Find the bottom SAT scores for popular and competitive colleges. Plus, get expert tips to improve your score.
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Jane Nam is a staff writer for BestColleges' Data Center. Before her work on higher education data trends, Jane was a news writer and the managing editor for an academic journal. She has graduate degrees in social and political philosophy and women's...
Published on March 20, 2024
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
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Data Summary

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    The median total SAT score is 1030.Note Reference [1]
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    Scoring 870 puts you at the bottom 25% of test-takers.Note Reference [1]
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    Among popular colleges, New York University had the highest SAT scores in the 25th percentile, with enrollees in the bottom quartile scoring 1470.Note Reference [2]
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    Researchers found that SAT scores were strong predictors of academic success in college — even more so than high school GPAs.Note Reference [3]

You might not be aiming for a perfect SAT score, but understanding what constitutes a "bad" score can help you plan your college admissions journey. It's also important to remember that your standardized test score is just one factor that schools will consider in your overall application.

This piece delves into the lower SAT score percentiles of popular schools, including the Ivy Leagues and other highly selective private colleges. Plus, find advice from a test prep expert on strategies to improve your score.

What Is a Bad SAT Score Overall?

According to Ben Paris, former Kaplan curriculum director and test prep expert with over 25 years of experience, there are two important ways that an SAT or ACT score can be bad.

First, it can be too low to help you get into your target schools. To see if that's true for you, you look up the scores of admitted students at your target schools and see how your score compares, Paris said.

Paris added that a score can be bad if it's not your best.

To know what [score] you can reach, you need expert advice, feedback on how you're doing, and lots of practice, he said.


The median total SAT score is 1030.Note Reference [1] This score puts you in the 50th percentile, meaning half of students scored higher than you, and half scored lower. Scoring 870 puts you in the 25th percentile of test-takers, or the bottom 25%.

Total SAT Score Percentiles
Percentile Total SAT Score
75 1200
70 1160
66 1130
60 1090
55 1060
50 1030
45 1000
40 970
36 940
31 910
25 870
20 840
16 810
10 770
Source: College BoardNote Reference [1]
SAT Math Score Percentiles
Percentile SAT Math Score
76 600
71 580
66 560
60 540
57 530
49 510
44 490
38 470
35 460
30 440
24 420
19 400
Source: College BoardNote Reference [1]
SAT Reading and Writing Percentiles
Percentile SAT Reading and Writing Score
76 610
71 590
65 570
59 550
56 540
50 520
47 510
40 490
37 480
30 460
24 440
21 430
Source: College BoardNote Reference [1]

A Deeper Look

Behind the controversies of standardized testing in college admissions

On one hand, SAT scores correlate directly to demographic factors, like students' family incomes, parental level of education, race, and gender. Some researchers have connected test-optional policies to diversity gains for colleges — specifically, higher rates of application and enrollment for students of underrepresented races and ethnicities.

However, a recent study conducted by Harvard University-based research group Opportunity Insights has administrators rethinking their test-optional policies.

Researchers found that SAT scores were strong predictors of academic success in college. In fact, higher SAT scores correlated more strongly with higher college GPAs than higher high school GPAs did.Note Reference [3]

Further, the absence of standardized testing placed more weight on other factors, such as extracurriculars and personalized recommendation letters, that similarly advantage higher-income students.

During the pandemic, all of the Ivy-Plus schools implemented an optional standardized test score submission policy. The majority of schools have kept this policy in place. However, as of 2024, MIT, Yale, and Dartmouth have reinstated standardized test requirements.

Note: Ivy-Plus schools refer to the eight Ivy Leagues and four additional highly selective, private colleges, including the University of Chicago, Duke, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Stanford.

Lowest SAT Scores for Popular Colleges

In the table below, we see what the bottom 25% of enrolled students scored on their SATs at some popular colleges. New York University had the highest SAT scores in the 25th percentile — the bottom 25% of admitted students scored 1470. Northwestern University was second with a 25th percentile score of 1460.

Note that many schools have switched to a test-optional policy and no longer report test averages, such as the University of California system.

How many students submit scores? This number varies by school, but at Boston University, for example, just 38% of enrolled students submitted test scores for 2023.Note Reference [4]

Top and Bottom Percentiles of SAT Scores at Popular College
School 25th Percentile SAT Score 75th Percentile SAT Score
New York University 1470 1570
Northwestern University 1460 1540
University of Michigan 1350 1530
University of Florida 1330 1470
University of Georgia 1310 1470
Florida State University 1370 1480
Penn State University - University Park Campus 1290 1460
Clemson University 1240 1400
Boston University Test Optional N/A
California Institute of Technology Test Not Considered N/A
Syracuse University Test Optional N/A
Tufts University Test Optional N/A
University of California, Berkeley Test Optional N/A
University of California, Los Angeles Test Optional N/A
University of Notre Dame Test Optional N/A
University of San Francisco Test Optional N/A
University of Southern California Test Optional N/A
Vanderbilt University Test Optional N/A
Virginia Tech Test Optional N/A

What's a Bad SAT Score for Ivy-Plus Schools?

Since the implementation of test-optional policies, many of the schools stopped reporting their score averages altogether.

Harvard University, for example, announced that students could apply for admission without submitting standardized test scores starting during the 2023 application cycle.Note Reference [5] Prior to the new policy, Harvard's class of 2025 had an average SAT score of 1494 — a near-perfect score.Note Reference [6]

Cornell University's most recently reported scores were also for the class of 2025, and admitted students in the 25th percentile had an average SAT score of 1450.Note Reference [7]

The University of Chicago reported its total SAT score range of admitted students in the class of 2027, which was 1080-1600.Note Reference [8]

Yale University last reported its scores from the 2020 school year and gave the middle 80% of SAT scores (the 10th-90th percentiles). The scores of first-year students who enrolled in fall 2020 were 680-790 for the reading and writing section, and 690-800 for math.Note Reference [9]

Top and Bottom Percentiles of SAT Scores for Ivy-Plus Schools
School 25th Percentile SAT Score 75th Percentile SAT Score
Johns Hopkins University 1530 1560
Duke University 1520 1570
Brown University 1510 1570
Columbia University 1510 1560

Some schools don't report the total SAT score but provide scores broken down by section. Below, you will find the 25th percentile SAT scores for Ivy-Plus schools by section.

Note: Dartmouth University's scores are from the 2020 school year.

Bottom Percentile of SAT Scores for Ivy-Plus Schools by Section
School 25th Percentile SAT Math Score 25th Percentile SAT Reading and Writing Score
Princeton University 780 760
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 780 740
University of Pennsylvania 770 740
Dartmouth University 730 710
Stanford University Test Optional N/A

What's a Bad SAT Score for State Schools?

For many four-year public colleges, the SAT score you need in order to apply may depend on other factors, such as your high school GPA. For example, you may be able to score lower on the SAT if you graduated from high school with a higher GPA, or you may have to score higher if you ranked lower in your graduating class.

At the University of Houston, the minimum test score required to apply for its College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics depends on your high school rank. If you graduated in the top 25% of your class, you can apply with a minimum total SAT score of 1170.Note Reference [10] Those who graduated in the middle of their high school class or lower need a minimum total SAT score of 1220.

At Texas A&M University, applicants need to score a minimum of 530 on the SAT math section and 480 on the SAT reading and writing section.Note Reference [11] However, the school's website clarifies that there are exemptions, such as if you are from out of state, or were home-schooled.

Below are the top and bottom SAT scores of some of the largest colleges and universities in the U.S.

Top and Bottom Percentiles of SAT Scores for Large Public Universities
School 25th Percentile SAT Score 75th Percentile SAT Score
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 1400 1530
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 1340 1490
University of Florida 1330 1470
University of South Florida 1250 1390
Florida International University 1240 1370
Purdue University 1210 1450
Indiana University, Bloomington 1210 1420
University of Texas at Austin Test Optional N/A
The Ohio State University Test Optional N/A
University of Washington Test Optional N/A

Some schools solely report their average total SAT score. Below, you will find the average total SAT scores for other large, public universities.

Average SAT Scores for Large Public Universities
School Average SAT Score
University of Central Florida 1332
Indiana University, Bloomington 1310
University of Arizona 1265
Michigan State University 1210
Ben Paris

Expert Advice: How to Improve SAT Scores Q&A

Test prep expert Ben Paris answers some of the most pressing questions regarding standardized testing, including strategies on how to improve your score.

Q: What's Your Advice to Students Who Want to Improve Their SAT Scores?

A: You can prepare for standardized tests because they measure the same skills in pretty much the same ways every time. If you know what's coming and know what to do, you have an edge over everyone who doesn't, and that's a lot of people.

Self-study, classes, and private tutors are all good options, but they may not fit your needs. Self-study is cheaper, but you don't get personal attention. Classes give you a lot of time with someone who could be an expert, but you're in a class with a lot of other people. Private tutoring is the most expensive per hour, but it's all about you and can be very efficient.

Keep in mind that there's not a lot of quality control when it comes to private tutors. Lots of them claim to be experts but aren't. The best you can do is to go with the recommendations of people you trust.

Q: Are Standardized Tests a Good Measure of Student Ability?

A: Standardized tests measure some of the skills that go into college readiness, such as reading comprehension, grammar skills, and math. But they're designed to measure the skills that were taught in high school, so they're not great at measuring creativity, critical thinking, or knowledge about the world. But colleges use these tests because they need ways to compare people with very different academic experiences.

Graduate school is different. The GRE has a weak track record of predicting success, and the skills tested often have nothing to do with the field to which you're applying.

Q: Will Standardized Tests Continue to Be Relevant?

A: Admissions officers need to make decisions, and that's hard when everyone has flawless GPAs and long lists of APs and activities. Applicants go to different schools and take different classes, and standardized tests are the only common measure in the application.

Still, colleges tend to be test optional because they're trapped in a policy adopted during the pandemic. Back then, you couldn't expect applicants to take the test. Now, they can, but requiring tests is unpopular and would likely reduce the number of applications they get, which is bad for their numbers.

What's a Bad SAT Score? Final Takeaways

A score above 1030 puts you in the top half of test-takers. Competitive colleges tend to admit students with higher scores. But the bottom line is that colleges that consider standardized test scores do so in the context of many factors, such as your grades, personal essay, and other qualifications.

So, when you're preparing to apply to schools, keep the following in mind.

  • Research the typical standardized test scores for your target schools.
  • Don't necessarily opt out of testing just because you can. A higher score may help you, even at test-optional schools.
  • Remember, not all tutors are the experts they claim to be — rely on trusted recommendations if you go this route.


  1. SAT Nationally Representative and User Percentiles. College Board. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 1 in content ⤶)
  2. Academic Profile. NYU Facts. New York University. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 2 in content ⤶)
  3. Friedman, J., Sacerdote, B., and Tine, M., Standardized Test Scores and Academic Performance at Ivy-Plus Colleges (PDF). Opportunity Insights. January 2024. (back to footnote 3 in content ⤶)
  4. Boston University: Who Applied and Who Enrolled: Class of 2027 Profile. Boston University Admissions. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 4 in content ⤶)
  5. Harvard Admissions Update for the 2023-2026 Application Cycles. Harvard College. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 5 in content ⤶)
  6. Griffin, Kelsey J., Soshi, Mayesha R. Freshman Recruited Athletes Less Ethnically Diverse than Previous Years, Survey Reports. Meet the Class of 2025. The Crimson. Harvard University. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 6 in content ⤶)
  7. Cornell Undergraduate Admissions Profiles. Institutional Research and Planning. Cornell University. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 7 in content ⤶)
  8. University of Chicago Class of 2027 Profile. University of Chicago. Accessed March 2024. (back to footnote 8 in content ⤶)
  9. Yale Standardized Testing Requirements and Policies. Yale University. Accessed March 2024. (back to footnote 9 in content ⤶)
  10. University of Houston Freshman Admission Requirements. College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. University of Houston. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 10 in content ⤶)
  11. State of Texas Uniform Admission Policy. Texas A&M University. Accessed February 2024. (back to footnote 11 in content ⤶)