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SAT Scores & How It Impacts Your Undergrad Admissions?

We all know that scoring high on your SAT could get you into a good undergraduate school. But why? And how far could you rely on your SAT score only?

These are some questions that we tend to forget in our pursuit of scoring our personal highest score on the exam. You’re competing with yourself, and neither of you is winning. I’ve seen students take the SAT again and again just to improve their score 10-points, but is it worth it? having a high SAT score will definitely make a difference in your undergraduate application, and I can guarantee that.

But when should you stop trying to get that high score? or is just a difference of 10-or-so points good enough to make a difference? Let’s find out.

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How is the SAT scored?

The SAT underwent a series of changes in 2016 resulting in a major revamping of the scoring structure of the test. The SAT also consists of subscores and cross-test scores, which are a more complicated scoring structure followed within the test and aren’t calculated based on a single section.

Let’s start light with the basic structure of the SAT. Here is how the SAT is scored currently.

Subject Sub-sections Duration Questions Sub-scores Score Range
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) Reading Writing Reading: 65 minutes Writing: 35 minutes Total: 100 minutes Reading: 52 (Multiple Choice) Writing: 44 (Multiple Choice) Total: 96 Command of Evidence Words in Context Expression of Ideas Standard English Conventions 200-800
Math Calculator No Calculator Calculator: 55 minutes No Calculator: 25 minutes Total: 80 minutes Calculator: 37 (Multiple Choice) No Calculator: 20 (Answer Grid) Total: 57 Heart of Algebra Problem Solving and Data Analysis Passport to Advanced Math 200-800
ssay (optional) 50 minutes 1 8-8-8
Total EBRW Math (Optional) Essay 3 hours + (Optional) 50 minutes 153 + (Optional) 1 EBRW: 3 Math: 4 400-1600 + 8-8-8

For a more detailed breakdown of the SAT scores, refer to our blog, “How is an SAT scored?”

How much does the SAT score matter during undergrad admissions?

Your SAT scores are used as an elimination criterion during the admissions process at a college. Admissions committee members screen the applicant pool for applicants with really low SAT scores, and they are then removed from prospective students.

Don’t fret; applicants aren’t removed simply on the basis of the low SAT score initially. The admissions committee members do look at profiles with low SAT scores and remove those that show exceptional performance in no other criteria.

One of the best ways to offset a low SAT score in this early stage, according to admissions committee members at top universities, is the GPA. The SAT and the GPA of an applicant is used to determine their “college readiness”. Simply put, they test whether an applicant would handle the rigor of an undergraduate program well, or crumble under the pressure.

While a really high GPA never fails to off-set a low SAT score, a very high SAT score might not be able to produce the same results for a low GPA.

The second time your Sat sores come into play is during the final decision-making process. It still won’t be the most important criterion, but if two applicants have a similar profile, the one with a higher SAT score has a higher chance of getting in.

The third, time an applicant’s SAT score comes into play is during the evaluation of profiles for scholarships, but that is a topic of its own!

SAT Merit Scholarships

High SAT scores aren’t simply used to get accepted to your undergraduate school of choice.

It also helps applicants apply to scholarships, both need-based and merit-based. While every university has its own criteria for scholarships and would have an independent SAT merit scholarship, the College Board also provides need-based scholarships to students.

The latest initiative that the College Board had commenced, The College Board Opportunity Scholarships program, is a $5 million scholarship program with $2 million of scholarships reserved for students whose family income per year is less than $ 60,000.

However, that is not our focus here. Our focus is the merit-based scholarships that schools dole out every year, to students with a high SAT score.

Here are a few full-ride scholarships based on the applicant’s SAT score.

Undergraduate School Scholarship
University of Southern California Mork Family Scholarship
Stamps Scholarship
Trustee Scholarship
SUNY Alfred College Distinguished Scholars Program: Excellence in Education
University at Buffalo Millonzi Distinguished Honors Scholarship
Drake University National Alumni Scholarship
Miami University University Merit Scholarship
The Ohio State University Eminence Fellows Scholarship
Hendrix College Hays Memorial Scholarship
Louisiana State University Stamps Scholarship
North Carolina A&T State University National Alumni Scholarship
Lewis and Elizabeth Dowdy Scholarship
Saint Louis University Presidential Scholarship
Southern Methodist University President’s Scholars Program
Texas Christian University Chancellor’s Scholarship
The Catholic University of America Archdiocesan Scholarship
University of Alabama Academic Elite Scholarship
University of Georgia Foundation Fellowship
Ramsey Honors Scholarship
University of Hawai’i Regents Scholarship
University of Kentucky Otis A. Singletary Scholarship
Presidential Scholarship
University of Louisville Brown Fellows Program
University of Texas at Dallas Eugene McDermott Scholars Program
Washington University in St. Louis Annika Rodriguez Scholars Program

How much should your SAT score be?

It’s important to know the SAT scores of your target schools before you actually know what your score on the SAT or your goal score should be. Setting a goal score is very simple.

1. Look at the 25th percentile and 75th percentile SAT scores of your target schools. The reason we aren’t looking at the average SAT score is to have a competitive advantage over the applicant pool of the school.

I would also like to clear that scoring over the 75th percentile at your target school would be great, but that wouldn’t suddenly make your profile the most attractive thing an adcom has ever seen. Scoring higher than the 75th percentile will however increase your chances at merit scholarships at your desired school.

2. List down the 75th percentile score of your target schools and pick the highest one. This goal score ensures that even if you score a few points lower, you could still have a score above the 75th percentile of your target school with the lowest 75th percentile score.

The following table is to show you that good schools exist in all SAT scores range from 830-1600 and to give you an idea of the target scores one needs to set for schools in said SAT score ranges.

Score Range College Name Sat 25th Percentile Sat 75th Percentile
Stanford University 1380 1580
Harvard University 1430 1600
University of Pennsylvania 1380 1570
Rice University 1410 1570
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1460 1590
University of Southern California 1280 1500
New York University 1250 1480
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor 1310 1500
Northeastern University 1330 1510
Cornell University 1330 1530
University of California – Los Angeles 1160 1470
University of Texas – Austin 1140 1410
Penn State 1090 1300
Penn State 1090 1300
Virginia Tech 1100 1320
University of Florida 1180 1370
Temple University 1010 1230
Michigan State University 990 1260
San Diego State University 1000 1220
Arizona State University 1020 1280
California State University – Long Beach 930 1160

Quick tips to score well on the SAT?

The strategies to score well on your SAT are numerous. If I started listing them, this blog would keep going on for at least 20 pages.

To avoid that, I have compiled a simpler list, consider it a travel size version of “How to score well on your SAT”. For more comprehensive and section-wise advice on the same, visit our SAT resources.

Here are some quick tips to improve your SAT score.

  • Be well versed in grammar rules. Read online guides and resources: you may discover that what “sounds right” may not always be the right answer. This is an important tip to remember for the reading and writing sections.
  • In the reading section, carefully read all the options for each question; keep an eye out for even the tiniest detail that may be wrong. Pick the answer that seems entirely accurate.
  • Often in the math section, the solution lies in the problem itself. Try to analyze the question well before automatically reaching out for the calculator.
  • In all the sections, look at the question in a holistic manner: often the answers offer clues already. If a question seems very difficult or tricky, try looking at it or approaching the problem in a different way: you may just grasp the solution.
  • One of the most effective ways to learn something is to teach someone else: this requires you to delve deeper into the material and look for ways to find solutions. This also helps to retain the information for a longer time.
  • If you get a low score, you can always try again. Statistically, it is almost certain that not only will you score higher after the first time, the overall stress of taking the test may also become easier to handle.
  • Develop a “can-do” attitude toward the test. Remember that this test is doable and you have what it takes to do well on it. If you let fear drive you, your effort will always be half-hearted. The belief that you can conquer it is half the battle won.
  • Remember that the SAT is just a test. If getting into an ivy league or any highly reputable college is your ambition, you will need to build an impressive portfolio that includes extracurricular activities, community participation, and leadership development activities and showcase qualities that make you unique. The test score is only one of the criteria and not the most important one.

How to deal with a low SAT score?

What if you’ve already given your SAT? those tips in the previous section might not be of too much use if that’s the case right?

You teach someone how to sail after the boat has capsized, right? This is why you get a whole section to give you options. Options of steps that can be taken after scoring low n your SAT. We will only talk about the damage repair now.

Take the SAT again

You might think this is a contradictory option to what this section started off as, but the best way to deal with a low SAT score is by taking the test again and with at least a couple of months in between the two attempts. This gap would ensure that you have enough time to prepare and analyze the errors from your previous test.

For example, if time management was the reason you scored low, you can pick up some strategies for the same and learn to implement them over the duration of a couple of weeks.

In case you were wondering, undergraduate schools do not frown upon retaking the SAT, and will generally only look at the score you report to them.

Take the ACT instead

The SAT and the ACT, although used for the same purposes, are two very different tests.

While the SAT measures the test taker’s reasoning and verbal abilities, the ACT scores the test-takers on what they’ve learned in school. this means that is you’ve scored low on the SAT; you might still have a chance to score high on the ACT.

Fortunately, almost all undergraduate schools abroad have started accepting both the tests, thus, you won’t face a problem while applying to your target college with an ACT score instead of an SAT score.

However, do check your target school’s website for the same to avoid any possible discrepancies.

Write the optional essay

Moving on from the possibility of having a better score on a standardized test, the undergrad application becomes your priority in case you’re dealing with a low SAT score. While you should try to produce your personal best application for every school you apply to, irrespective of your SAT score, you need to put in the extra effort now.

While you would know to use the letters of recommendation, and extracurriculars to jazz up your application, do not forget to answer the optional essay.

With a low SAT score, you want to give the school as much insight into your candidature as possible. Use the optional essay to inform the admissions committee about the reason behind your low score, and how other things in your profile off-set it.

Apply to more schools

This is common sense, but I’ll still say it. Apply to a school where your low score is considered average or high.

While you might have a target school in your heart, apply to a safety school as well. This school will give you the option to start your education if you did not get selected to your target schools. Whether you take that option of not would be your decision, but you would at least have the choice.

Do not take the application to a safety school lightly though. Put in effort for it because you will be competing with students who are targeting this school and have created amazing applications in hopes to get an admit.


If you have a low SAT score you probably need to hear this. The SAT score or the college you get into isn’t the epilogue of your life. You can peak at any moment and the choice is only in your own hands. While a particular school name on your degree can provide you with a smoother pathway to your dreams, you can always figure another way out if you don’t have that.

If after multiple SAT attempts, you still have a low SAT score, forget about it completely and just focus on your profile. If schools had no SAT, what things about you and your life would have convinced them that you are the perfect applicant for their undergraduate program? Answering this question honestly and authentically could be the difference between you being rejected for a low SAT score or being accepted despite one.


Also Read:

  1. How to score 1600 on SAT?

For over 15+ years as an Entrepreneur, and India’s Top Educationist, Jatin has led a range of initiatives in the Education Industry. In this role, he has created many successful educational services and products geared towards generating success for professionals aspiring to join IVY League and global Top Tier Universities for MBA Programs, Masters Programs, and undergraduate courses. He is the Founder and CEO of PythaGURUS Education, and has been recognized as a thought leader in the Higher education sector. Economic Times, Hindustan Times, Times of India, India Today, Business Today, Tribune, and many other national newspapers have recognized his work, and have given him numerous opportunities to be a regular columnist. He has also served as a panelist for NDTV, and other national news channels.

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