ACT or SAT? 

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing which standardized test to take and submit with your college application.

If you’re looking for admission to a specific college (and perhaps a selective college), you might wonder, do colleges prefer the ACT or SAT? This blog explores that question and more as you make the decision about which test to take. 

Do Colleges Prefer the ACT or SAT?

This question has a short answer: No. All colleges in 2021 accept both the ACT and SAT for admissions and don’t discriminate based on which test applicants take.

The biggest factor that comes into play that makes people think a college prefers one test or the other is that a college typically receives more of one test than the other. This is usually due to the regionality of the tests. According to the 2018 American Freshman Survey, nearly 50% of college students went to school less than 100 miles from their home. 

This means that a college will largely receive test scores based on the popularity of either the ACT or SAT in their region. 

For example, students attending the University of Nebraska will largely submit ACT scores for admission. This is because the ACT is mandated in Nebraska and used primarily in the surrounding states. However, this doesn’t mean that the University of Nebraska will favor students who submit ACT scores compared to those who submit SAT scores. 

ACT & SAT by State

While it is becoming increasingly common for students to take either the ACT or SAT regardless of where they live, tests are often more popular in specific states and areas of the country. This is especially true in states where one of the tests is mandated as part of their state testing program. If your state mandates (and provides) one of the tests during the school day, that’s typically the test students use for college admissions.

Even in states where a test isn’t mandated, typically either the ACT or SAT is more popular.

The biggest outlier is Oregon. In 2018, 42% of students in Oregon took the ACT while 48% took the SAT. Texas is another instance where 41% of students took the ACT while 66% took the SAT. (The percentage is greater than 100% because it doesn’t exclude students who took both tests.) 

This chart shows an estimate of student test preference by ACT and SAT, from the most recent data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics


Which Test Is Right for You? 

Instead of thinking about which test a specific college prefers, the better question to ask is, “Which test do I prefer?” While the tests are equal in the eyes of colleges, they do have specific differences


The ACT consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The Science section is a big differentiator between the two tests as the SAT does not have a science section. On the ACT, you’re also required to memorize math formulas, and it emphasizes geometry more than the SAT. 


The SAT has fewer questions and more time than the ACT. However, the questions are typically more challenging. There isn’t a Science section, but instead there are two math sections. Because of this, Math on the SAT is 50% of your total score compared to only 25% on the ACT. 

For most students it makes sense to take both the ACT and SAT at least once. This gives you a chance to see which you prefer. Consider your skill set and, after taking both, decide where to invest your time. It’s best to take either test at least four times: twice junior spring and twice senior fall. Give yourself time to retake either test. Increasing your score even a few points can make a big difference in the scholarships you receive!

While colleges don’t prefer one test over the other, you might. Take either test multiple times and do what you can to jump your score!


SAT or ACT: Which Test Should You Take?  

This infographic compares the two tests to help you make an informed decision when it comes to the ACT vs SAT.