What SAT Score do You Need For the Ivy League?

Nobody needs a perfect 1600 SAT score to go to Harvard.

Nor do you need to score 36 on the ACT to go to Stanford.

However, you will need a near perfect SAT score to go to MIT. They’re different. Jokes. But not really.

Look, college admissions to elite US universities, also known as the Ivy League, can place a big emphasis on academics and to attend those institutions, you will need to perform well in the classroom.

But times, they are a changin’. What you don't need to do anymore is to mentally shatter yourself reaching for outrageously high marks that you think are necessary for your admission.

Here's proof:

A bunch of admission deans from top-ranked US colleges - places like Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Wake Forest, Purdue, University of Virginia (real heavy-hitters) - got together and had a chinwag about the state of play in the university admissions sphere and how the process can make your life hell.


They decided they were partially responsible (but mainly blamed parents and society as a whole) for students' unhealthy pursuit of individual achievement and wanted to change the college application's emphasis away from personal and self-indulgent success and toward ethical and meaningful contributions to the community.

The council’s report, called “Turning the Tide”, had a few really important recommendations but one in particular focused on the SAT/ACT, which was about reducing test pressure on students.

Participating universities could do this in a number of ways:

  • Making SAT/ACT scores optional

  • Reducing how much these scores ‘count’ toward acceptance

  • Discouraging students from taking these tests more than once

This is a massive leap forward for all you Ivy League dreamers out there. These schools should be - in theory - much more attainable without needing a ridiculous test score.

With this in mind, this blog is going to show you why you don't need to sweat the perfect SAT score because it won't guarantee you entry into your preferred school.

Additionally, we'll talk about what is a good SAT score and the minimum a bunch of top universities use to consider your application, where your SAT score ranks and why you need to stop stressing about your score being perfect.

SAT/ACT Score Guide - breakout box

What does the perfect SAT score mean?

The SAT is an unforgiving taskmistress. She gets harsher the further up the 'score ladder' you wish to climb.

To record the best possible score, you can only afford to miss maybe one or two questions in the reading/writing section and you need to get every question in the math section correct.

There is no room for error.

And the whole thing is timed - so no chances to relax.

And then to prepare, you’ll need to bust your chops with study, practice tests and tutoring.

You have to seriously, seriously want it.

And what does all of this mean if you get 1600?


Most top schools still won’t let you in.


Yep. Take a look at Shaan Patel, who landed the highest possible SAT score and was rejected by every Ivy League school he applied for.

Patel is living proof a perfect SAT score isn't a golden ticket to getting into the Ivy League schools.

Now let’s not get crazy.

Acing a standardised test will dramatically improve your chance of being accepted, but the point is - you don’t need the perfect SAT score to be admitted.

But why?

How many people get the perfect SAT score?

Well for a start, anywhere from 300 to 500 students who take the SAT score 1600. That’s out of the near two million who sit the test each year.

Considering Harvard alone accepts eight times that number in undergrads each year - I think you’ll be fine without a top score. They're obviously accepting people with inferior scores.

When you consider the shift away from test pressure mentioned above, a perfect SAT is now less relevant than ever. In fact...

Why SAT scores don’t matter

The SAT is just one of many aspects of your college admissions application. It’s just a barometer for your academic aptitude.

A standardised test allows colleges around the United States to comparatively assess students, but only a very elite few care about you scoring more than 1520.

(1520 is considered a pretty damn good score, by any US college's standards.)

You can still go to AMAZING colleges. Colleges that don't prioritise the SAT, nor use top scores as a prerequisite.

For example, Auburn University is ranked 99th in the US News National University rankings and 83rd in the High School Counselor Rankings.

The majority of their SAT scores fall between 1150 to 1350.

Apple CEO Tim Cook went to Auburn, so did Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. The college also produced two famous astronauts in James S. Voss and Jan Davis.

That's a world-class university that doesn’t weight SATs as harshly as MIT.

What if you don’t even want to submit an SAT score?

Then you don’t have to.

Seriously, some colleges leave submitting your SAT score up to you.

These aren’t bad institutions. These are top-100, world-renowned colleges.

In fact, here's a shopping list of top ranked colleges that leave SAT scores as optional:

Bates, Bowdoin, Pitzer, Sarah Lawrence, University of Iowa, Wake Forest, Washington University, and Wesleyan

There's also the University of Texas, which ranked 50th in the World University Rankings 2017.

Or what about Ithaca College - a top school for journalism, film and media. They don’t care much for SAT scores, either.

Nor does Connecticut College (96th) or Smith College (35th).

But keep in mind:

Not submitting an SAT score means the rest of your application is going to have to be killer.

You're going to need an outstanding GPA, amazing extracurriculars and a personal essay written by the Gods themselves.

Well maybe not that good, but you're going to need to nail it.

And just because some top colleges don't need an SAT doesn't mean you shouldn't sit the SAT.

In fact, not sitting the SAT only reduces your options for higher learning.

You can also sit the ACT test, or the American College Testing, which might be better suited to your skills.

Ivy League SAT Scores

Let’s say you do want to submit an SAT score, how do you know what score you should aim for? 

Aside from doing your best and trying to get a perfect SAT score, a great way to figure out what SAT score you need is to look at the average SAT scores of the universities you want to go to and then do better. 

Check out the SAT scores guide below!

Princeton SAT Score

Princeton is extremely academically challenging so you better believe that the university is highly selective. You'll need to do very well on your SAT if you want to have a good chance of getting into Princeton and living out your Harry Potter fantasies! Yes, the campus looks a lot like Hogwarts. 

What you need  
25th Percentile:  1470
75th Percentile: 1590
Average:  1520

Harvard SAT Scores

If you dream of running around Cambridge, MA, learning from top professors (hey, Larry Summers) and mingling with future world leaders (i'm looking at you Malia Obama), you'll need to brush up on your SAT skills to ensure your score is as high as possible. Keep in mind that a top SAT score won't guarantee you a Harvard acceptance, but it won't hurt your chances either! 

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1470
75th Percentile: 1600
Average: 1540

Yale SAT Scores

Yale is competitive to the next level. What makes a good SAT score for these guys? Well - they want you to be top of your class and absolutely smashing your SAT to be considered. They are unlikely to look deep into your college admissions application without the required SAT and GPA.

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1490
75th Percentile: 1600
Average:   1540

Columbia SAT Scores

If you want to attend an Ivy League in the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan city, then Columbia is the university for you. However, you'll need to crush your SATs first before you get to enjoy all that New York City has to offer!

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1470
75th Percentile: 1590
Average:            1530

University of Pennsylvania SAT Scores

Just because UPenn is known as the "Social Ivy," doesn't mean you can slack on your SAT. UPenn is still extremely competitive so your SAT score needs to be up to par!

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1450
75th Percentile: 1570
Average:       1510

Dartmouth SAT Scores

Are you an avid outdoorsy person? Do you love the cold? Is the wilderness constantly calling your name?  If so, Dartmouth may be a good fit for you... if you can crush the SATs that is. 

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1450
75th Percentile: 1570
Average:  1500

Brown SAT Scores

Although Brown is notorious for its open curriculum, the university's flexibility doesn't equal a lack of academic rigor. You need to study hard and ace your SATs in order to take advantage of Brown's special curriculum. 

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1440
75th Percentile: 1580
Average:  1500

Cornell SAT Scores

Don't let Cornell's seemingly low SAT scores fool you, achieving a 1480 is still extremely difficult if you don't take the time to prepare for the exam. 

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1410
75th Percentile: 1570
Average: 1480

Other Top US College SAT Scores

UCLA SAT Scores (University of California - Los Angeles) 

Studying in LA - what’s not to like? Sunshine, beaches, movie stars, music. However, the unbeatable location, prestige and academic respect comes at a price (figuratively and literally): You need to kill your classes at high school to attend.

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1280
75th Percentile: 1500
Average: 1370

NYU SAT Scores (New York University) 

One of the world’s top "dream colleges", NYU is a part of one of the busiest and most influential boroughs of New York, Manhattan. The school has educated heads of state, royalty, inventors, mathematicians, Fortune 500 CEOs and more... so as you’d expect, it can be very selective.

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1320
75th Percentile: 1500
Average: 1410 

Stanford SAT Scores

Elon Musk, Larry Page, John F Kennedy - Stanford produces world-changers. The Ivy League college's alumni founded companies with a combined $2.7 trillion in annual revenue - business like Instagram and Snapchat. So as you’d expect, you’re going to need to be extremely impressive from an application standpoint.

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1390
75th Percentile: 1580
Average: 1520 

MIT SAT Scores (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

This research university was traditionally focused on engineering and the physical sciences, but has expanded into the field of economics, linguistics, management and biology in recent years. An extremely selective school with roughly 11,000 students at any one time - expect rejection letters unless you're a star performer.

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1500
75th Percentile: 1580
Average:  1520 (Top of Class)

MSU SAT Scores (Michigan State University)

Founded as an agricultural college, Michigan State University pioneered the study of packaging, hospitality business, supply chain management and communication sciences. It’s consistently a top 30 public school and a top 100 research institution. But it’s easier than you might think to get into from an academics viewpoint.

What you need  
25th Percentile: 1120
75th Percentile: 1290
Average: 1190

SAT/ACT Score Guide - breakout box

Now let’s talk average SAT scores

1450> - Top 3rd percentile (97+)

1250-1450 - Top 20% of all students (80+)

With a SAT score above 1250, you can apply for top-200 ranked universities around the USA.

The upper echelon schools are expecting at least a 1450, plus some impressive extracurriculars to get in.

Remember, a balanced application and knowing what these colleges want from their applicants is vital to getting in.

What did we learn?

Top US colleges are reducing admission’s emphasis on academics. Accordingly, a perfect SAT score is no longer a golden ticket to your dream university.

You shouldn't bust your gut overachieving on the SAT - unless you really, really want it or it's a personal life goal.

In fact, some excellent top-100 schools don’t require much more than an 1150 from your SAT score, some don’t even require you to submit one.

As such, your university admissions application no longer needs to center around academics. It needs to focus on who you are as a human being, your passions, skills and ethical contributions to the community.

Lastly, we showed you some SAT benchmarks and averages for popular colleges, so you can get a barometer of what those schools are most likely looking for from an academic perspective.

If you want to learn how to boost the non-academic part of your application, check out our extracurricular eBook

Alternatively, one of expert academic advisors are happy to talk to you - for free - about your international college aspirations.

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