First, let's make sure we're all talking about the same schools. These are the US News and World Report's top 50.
Ok, now, let's talk about the numbers.
I converted the reported SAT and ACT average scores of the top 320 colleges in both the 25th and 75th percentiles into percentages. (It's necessary to convert them to percentages so that we can compare apples to apples.)
I compared the percentages and came up with some interesting data. First, it showed that the SAT is favored overall, or put more clearly; the percentages reported for the SAT were significantly lower than those reported for the ACT. This means that if you were to take the SAT and ACT and get the same percentile ranking, the college would look more favorably on your SAT score than they would on your ACT score.
But before you completely ditch the ACT, read on.
What about top 50 schools? Do they also favor the SAT?
Yes, but really only in the 25th percentile and significantly less.
In the chart below you can see the differences. These numbers represent the averages of the differences of the ACT percentile minus the SAT percentiles in both the 25th and 75th percentile for all 320 school and for the top 50.
What percentile should we be looking at? And what does this mean?
You should look at the 75th percentile when applying to colleges. There are always exceptions in the admissions process--great athletes, artists, etc. These scores influence the averages. Therefore, to be safe, always look at the 75th percentile and make sure you're competitive on that level.
What this means is that if you're scoring in the 25th percentile range, your SAT score can be 3.535% less than your ACT score's and you'll still be considered.
So the top 50 only really favor the SAT in the 25th percentile?
Yes, when it comes to the 75th percentile, there's a slight preference toward the SAT, but not one that's significant mathematically or one that should influence your decision as to what test to take.
So, what does this say about my taking the ACT or the SAT?
It means that if you're scoring equally, in terms of percentiles, on the ACT and the SAT, go with the SAT. However, if you're applying to the top 50 and your ACT scores return higher percentiles, by even one or two percent, go with the ACT. And, of course, if your SAT percentile is higher, then, by all means go with the SAT.
But remember, and this is important, getting into a top 50 school is about a lot more than test scores.
Put simply, test scores will get the school to look at your application. Your essay, your extracurriculars, your grades, your interview, etc. will get you accepted. Test scores are a hoop to jump through. They are not, by any means, a guarantee of admission.
The top 50 have higher hoops. They want higher test scores. That's all. And this data shows that the SAT hoop may be a little bigger than the ACT hoop and consequently may be easier to jump through.
So, when you consider which test to take, if it's neck and neck between ACT and SAT, take the SAT.
I thank Steve Voigt, Fritz Stewart, Dan Edmonds and Brendan Mernin for their help and ideas on this blog.