Test Prep

Will An Admissions Decision Hinge on the Difference Between A 35 Or 36 ACT?

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Trying to guess what a college admissions officer will think about your application, your grades and your test scores is no easy task. In fact, one of our readers submitted this question about ACT scores:

“Do colleges make admissions decisions based on the difference between a 35 and a 36 ACT? I got a 35, and my parents think I should keep trying to get the perfect score. I don't think that difference matters so much."


Although one point doesn't sound like a big deal, it could be important to some colleges. But even with top-tier schools, a perfect score is not a guarantee of admission, especially if other parts of your application are perceived to be weak according to the school's highly selective criteria. A 36 might be able to help if you are aiming for a full-ride scholarship or other high value, merit-based scholarships.

Consider These Factors

However, there are a couple of factors to consider before retaking the test. First, will you have enough time to retake the test before college application deadlines? If yes, that's great. If not, then you should apply with your almost-perfect score.

Assuming there's time left to retake the test, the other question you need to ask yourself is this: Will you have enough time for focused study that will strengthen the skills you need to close that small score gap? From your score report, you already know which section and skills you'll have to work on, so the key is to dedicate time in your schedule to a sufficient number of concentrated study sessions. During these sessions, you can go over practice questions or ask a teacher for help. If you have the budget, hire a tutor to help guide you through any questions or doubts you have left.

To get some perspective from someone who has been in the admissions world, we asked Jamie Brown Kennedy – who previously served as assistant director of admissions for University of New Hampshire and now runs Brown Kennedy Consulting– for her thoughts on this matter.

"A 35 composite is an excellent score," Kennedy says. "If there is room for improvement and the student can devote time to focused studying on the lower-scored sections, then it is recommended that the student retake the exam. This suggestion is especially true for the top-tier and highly-selective colleges. Earning a perfect score may also open up scholarship opportunities and potentially sway an admission decision, she adds."

The other point to keep in mind is the topic of superscoring. Some colleges elect to superscore a student’s exam results. This means they take the highest individual section scores across multiple tests and combine these scores to create what’s known as the “superscore.” By retaking the exam, this student could potentially raise his/her superscore, Kennedy notes.

"That being said, students should recognize that test scores alone are not typically considered as the only reason for an admission or denial letter," Kennedy adds. "I have seen students who have earned a perfect 36 not accepted to selective universities."

Besides submitting meaningful essays, students should have an impressive resume that demonstrates work both inside and outside the classroom, she notes. Some colleges also require additional standardized exams, such as SAT Subject Tests. Many factors go into submitting an impressive college application. "Students should practice time management to ensure they are strategically approaching this process."

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