ACT or SAT? 

Consider several factors 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 one), you might wonder which test colleges prefer.

Do Colleges Prefer the ACT or SAT?

The short answer: No. All colleges that consider test scores in 2023 accept both the ACT and SAT for admissions and don’t discriminate based on which test applicants take.

The biggest reason why you might think a college prefers one test is that a college typically receives more of one test than the other. This is usually due to geography. According to the 2019 American Freshman Survey, 56% 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 usually submit ACT scores because the ACT is mandated and commonly taken in Nebraska. However, the University of Nebraska will not favor students who submit ACT scores over those who submit SAT scores.

ACT & SAT by State

If your state mandates (and provides) either of the tests during the school day for its high school juniors, that’s typically the test students use for college admissions. Even in states where a test isn’t mandated, the ACT or SAT is typically more popular. In Oregon, 66% of students took the ACT while 14% took the SAT in 2022. In Texas, 22% of students took the ACT while 64% took the SAT.  

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

Four sections make up the ACT: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The ACT emphasizes geometry more than the SAT does: approximately 30% of the ACT math questions cover geometry while at most 10% of the SAT math questions involve geometry.

The SAT

The SAT allows more time per question than the ACT. However, SAT questions on average are typically more challenging than ACT questions. The SAT has no separate Science section. Reading & Writing and Math are the two sections. Thus, Math on the SAT is 50% of your total score compared to only 25% on the ACT. 

While colleges don’t prefer one test over the other, you might!

Take both the ACT and SAT at least once, then see which you prefer. Then take your chosen test four times total: twice junior spring and twice senior fall. Increasing your score even by a few points can make a big difference in the scholarships you receive!

Learn more about the differences between the tests.

 

INFOGRAPHIC

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.