• 5 months ago •
Admissions Advice

School is a reach if you apply with ACT

With an ACT score of 36, why would the tool say a school was a reach if you apply with this ACT score?

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Accepted Answer
• 5 months ago

They are also looking at your GPA. If you do not have a 4.0 or a weighted GPA of even more it takes a lot to get into higher schools

• 5 months ago[edited]

Since all Ivys and Elites use a holistic admissions process, standardized tests are only 1 of many criteria used to evaluate a candidate. Therefore, while getting a 36 is impressive in isolation compared to the rest of the candidate pool, it may not make the candidate impressive compared to their peers. If standardized tests had significant weight on the college admissions process, there should be some colleges that have an auto-admit for having a high test score but I couldn't find a single one.

In the history of college admissions, the gold standard has always been Harvard College. They have been the hardest college to get admitted to and during this current cycle broke the 4% barrier with 3.43%, followed by Columbia 3.66% and Princeton 3.98%.

During the Harvard lawsuit, their admissions criteria were fully revealed including their philosophy on admissions and how they use a scorecard to mark applicants prior to granting them admission after a final committee review.

At Harvard, they use over 200 data points to evaluate a candidate. Some data points are simple like "Parent Attended Harvard". Others require the admissions officer to use a scorecard and give a 1-6 rating from 1 being the best to 6 being the worst for data points like "Athletic Rating" or "Intellectual Curiosity". While other data points are the results of complex formulae like "Normalized Academic Index Quadratic multiplied by indicator for either "positive" or "negative" normalized academic index.


Stanford uses a similar scorecard system with very similar criteria.

From the Harvard Lawsuit Filings.

The academic rating reflects the applicant’s academic strength and potential based on grades, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, academic prizes, any submitted academic work, and the strength of the applicant’s high school. See [id. at 209:16–210:14; Oct.19 Tr. 55:4–9; Oct. 24 Tr. 113:5–12]. An academic rating of 1 indicates summa cum laude potential, a genuine scholar, and near-perfect scores and grades (in most cases) combined with unusual creativity and possible evidence of original scholarship; an academic rating of 2 indicates magna cum laude potential, superb grades, and mid to high-700 SAT scores or a score above 33 on the ACT; an academic rating of 3 indicates cum laude potential, excellent grades, and mid-600 to low-700 SAT scores or an ACT score of 29 to 32; and an academic 4 indicates adequate preparation, respectable grades, and low- to mid-600 SAT scores or an ACT score of 26 to 29. [PX1 at 5–6].

The takeaway is that even at the hardest college to get into in America, they do not look at standardized tests in isolation but as a collection of data points that make up an academic rating between 1 to 5. Why this is important to your question is that even if you have a perfect test score, that doesn't mean Harvard or Stanford would give you an academic rating of 1 even if you have a 4.0 UWGPA. They are also looking for genius-level creativity and evidence of original scholarship. So if you are applying to either school, say with the intent of doing neuro-engineering, they might want to read your submitted research paper on how you created a medical brain implant to improve the lives of neuro-divergent patients suffering from a specific type of ailment. I read in my findings that only 1% of admits have an academic rating of 1. So for the current class of 1968 admits that would be around 20 students. This means that the majority of the other 1948 students had an academic rating of 2. I would be fair to say that due to Harvard's admissions policies, those admitted with academic ratings of 3 might fall into the categories of 1.) recruited athletes, 2.) development candidates, 3.) legacies, 4.) or other VIP candidates

You can infer from Harvard's rating system that they use standardized test scores to bucket applicants into groups. So if you have a 33+ ACT or a 36 ACT, unless you meet the other academic thresholds for the rating of "1", you will always be rated a "2" regardless of having a 33, 34, 35, or 36. What they are saying is the relative intelligence between someone with a 98% test score and a 99.7% percentile test score is marginal because a.) this is only a snapshot of how well one performs over a 3.5-hour test on 1 given day. b.) and the test itself is not an intelligence test but a proxy for how well the student prepared for the exam given the know variables of a.) material covered, b.) types of questions, c.) a number of questions. d.) time allowance per question. Most academicians know that standardized tests are also a proxy for social status as well because very few test-takers from marginalized backgrounds can afford to purchase the preparation materials, pay for tutors, pay for afterschool test prep or online test prep or have the budget to take the ACT/SAT multiple times. So a Hispanic or Black student who gets a 1600/36 score on their first attempt should be exponentially rewarded for submitting those scores versus an Asian or White student who uses private tutors and took the test 3+ times and got 1600/36 using a super score. By deliberately diminishing the relative value of the test score, Harvard can make the admissions process more equitable. It's easy to see how different races of applicants with different test scores still get treated as a rating of 2 even if their test scores vary from the 1400s-1600 and 33-36. (Not that this is important but they also give out +s and -s so the 2 range is actually 2+, 2, 2- on the scorecard)

In another article about past admissions, I read that there were enough applicants to fill an entire class of Freshmen who had been rejected even though they had perfect test scores. And about 20% of any admissions pool have a perfect 4.0 UWGPA as well.

I have written this long piece because there are many CV members who think that standardized tests are the main deciding factor. They are important but your sum of the parts is what's important in your admission file.

The last thing which is not obvious to many CV applicants is that the toughest schools often do not have the highest SAT/ACT middle 50% scores. For instance, the average SAT at NYU this cycle was 1540, clearly, a 99% score but the admit rate was 12.8% for 4 times less difficult than Harvard or Columbia. Another example is Boston College that had a 1495 SAT, 34 ACT average score but admitted 18.9%. So BC is 5 times easier to get into than Harvard but the test score averages are still Ivy League scores. This means that 2nd tier schools like to admit applicants with high test scores because it makes them look good. So if you have a high test score but say are lacking in significant ECs, or have maybe a 3.7-3.9 GPA, schools like NYU/BC are better fits than thinking that the Ivys will take you.

Good luck to everyone.

• 5 months ago

I agree with @kimberlyascencio-cerna! And if you're looking at very selective schools like Ivy Leagues, they're almost always going to be a "Reach" bc of that low acceptance rate and bc the chancer can't factor in things like your essay (which could be the deciding factor when you're competing against people that all have high statistics like you.) Something like an ACT score can never guarantee acceptance, no matter how high it is, although it will definitely help.

• 5 months ago

Hello, and great job with the ACT, that is a great score! The tool might say that a school was a reach if you apply with the ACT score because the ACT score is not the only thing that school looks for. They also look at your extracurriculars, grades, and much more and see how it compares to students that are admitted to that school! It may also have to do with how competitive the school is. I hope this helps!


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