Test Prep

Do Colleges Have A Minimum SAT or ACT Score?

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If you’re preparing for college, you’ve probably read all you can about the average GPA and test scores at the schools on your list, and you’ve pored over the data detailing which colleges may be a fit for you. But while it’s normal to fall outside of the averages in terms of grades and test scores, some students wonder whether their SAT or ACT scores might be too low – which begs the question of whether schools have minimum test score requirements that you must meet before applying.

There is no blanket yes or no answer to this question that covers all colleges – after all, some schools don’t require that you take the SAT or ACT at all. But certain schools do have a minimum ACT or SAT requirement, and some state university systems have minimums as well, which they stick to pretty strongly.


“I once had a student who was being recruited by a few schools for football,” says S.D. school counselor Ginny Abernathy. “There was no way (time-wise) to get his GPA up to the 2.6 required for him to apply to a state university, so his parents encouraged him to retake the ACT to try and get his composite score up to the minimum of 18,” she said. Because the S.D. system requires either the GPA threshold or the testing threshold, meeting the ACT of 18 would have allowed him to apply, she said.

When the student was unable to meet the minimum scoring requirements, the school could not recruit him. “He ended up playing football at a smaller, private college, and by all accounts he liked it,” Abernathy said. “But he was initially surprised that the state university system wouldn’t bend the ACT requirements by a few points for him.”

Check out These State University Minimums

If you add a school to your list, you should check with the college’s admission staff or review the school’s website to see if any minimum test score rules apply. For example, the University of Arkansas says on its site that in-state students must achieve at least a 20 on the ACT (or score the equivalent SAT score).

In other states, the entire university system falls under one policy. For instance, students in Florida who are home-schooled or who attend an alternative high school program need “an overall combined test score of 1060 on the 2016 Redesigned SAT or a minimum composite score of 21 on the ACT.”

The University of North Carolina System requires incoming freshmen to at least have a minimum “SAT of 880 on new or 800 on old version (Verbal and Math) or ACT composite of 17” to apply to any of its colleges.

Keep in mind that these are minimums, and some schools will have requirements that exceed these on a school-by-school basis.

For instance, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts falls under the UNC system, but its School of Filmmaking has a minimum ACT of 22 and/or minimum SAT of 1060 for applicants. Therefore, even though it is a UNC System college, it has stricter test score minimums than the overall regulations, and this can happen in other states as well, making it imperative for you to check each school’s rules.

Calif. Students Can Calculate Their Minimums

Not every state offers across-the-board minimum requirements, and some differ by school, while others will vary based on your specific situation. For example, schools within the California State University System don’t have a minimum SAT or ACT score as long as you achieve a 3.0 grade point average.

For those students with GPAs below 3.0, you can calculate exactly what test score you need by using the program’s online Eligibility Index. For example, if you tell the online platform that your GPA is a 2.5, it will likely say that you need an ACT of 20 or higher, or an SAT of 950 or above. Those with a GPA of 2.0 will typically need an ACT of 30 or higher, or an SAT of 1350 or more, based on current calculations.

The bottom line: When answering the tricky question of whether colleges have a minimum ACT or SAT score, the answer will vary based on where you’re applying — but in some cases, it will be a resounding “yes,” so pay attention to those thresholds when creating your college lists.