SAT and ACT Percentiles: What They Mean

By Huntington Learning Center

Your student’s SAT and ACT scores came back, and you’re trying to interpret how they did based on the college goals they have. You might be familiar with the range of SAT/ACT scores, but do you understand the score percentiles and what they mean? Do colleges even pay attention to percentile ranges?

First, a definition: A student’s percentile rank on the SAT or ACT represents the percentage of students whose score is equal to or lower than their score. So, if you see in the score report that your student’s composite score is in the 50th percentile, that means that 50% of test-takers scored at or below the same score.

On the SAT, students’ score reports include two types of percentile ranks. First is the nationally representative sample percentile. This is derived from a research study of U.S. juniors and seniors. It’s weighted to represent all U.S. students in those grades (even those who didn’t take the SAT). The score report also includes the SAT user percentile, which is based on actual scores of students in the past three graduating classes who took the SAT during high school.

On the ACT, students’ score reports also include two types of percentile ranks. First is U.S. rank, which tells the approximate percentage of recent high school graduates in the U.S. who took the ACT test and received scores the same or lower. The score report also includes a state rank comparing your student to high school graduates in your state.

How Can Your Student Use SAT Score Percentiles and ACT Score Percentiles?

The short answer is that your student can use percentile rank to determine their chances of acceptance at various schools on their list based on clear, objective data. Colleges publish class profile information every year to help students understand the type of candidates they generally admit.

Cornell University, for example, shares that the class of 2025 who submitted SAT/ACT scores had the following:



25th Percentile

75th Percentile

SAT Reading & Writing



SAT Math



ACT Composite



That means that 75% of admitted students scored at or below a 760 on the Reading & Writing section, at or below an 800 on the Math section, and at or below a 35 on the ACT.

The University of Georgia shares that their class of 2025 had the following score ranges:



50th Percentile (First-Year)

50th Percentile (Honors)







So, if your student was applying to both of these schools and earned a 30 and a 1340 on the ACT and SAT, respectively, they are far below the average of the typical Cornell admit but not far off the typical University of Georgia admit. Test prep could help them increase their score and strengthen their application, especially if their GPA and other important factors are not as strong.

SAT Score Percentiles and ACT Score Percentiles Can Help Your Student Make Important Decisions

When the time comes for your student to start researching colleges and applying to them, SAT/ACT score percentiles are one more piece of valuable information to help them rank their list of colleges from dream school to safety school.

Maybe your student has worked hard in high school, earned a high GPA and taken a challenging, college-preparatory curriculum. If they want to provide an additional piece of evidence that they are a great candidate for admission at a competitive university, you can help them research the typical score percentile of admitted students for the last few years. With that information in hand, your student will have a tangible goal to work toward.

Huntington Can Help

Test prep is much easier with a baseline and a detailed prep plan. Contact Huntington if your student is preparing to test for the SAT, the ACT or both. We’ll share more about how we give every student an initial practice test before beginning instruction in order to pinpoint your student’s strengths and weaknesses. From there, we develop a personalized tutoring plan that will help your student achieve their dreams. Call us today at 1-800 CAN LEARN.