Do Colleges Prefer the SAT or the ACT?

Millions of students take the ACT or SAT globally each year. Hundreds of articles detail the similarities and differences between the two tests. But do colleges prefer the SAT or the ACT? Does an SAT or an ACT score look better on your college application?

Do Colleges Prefer the SAT or the ACT?

Here’s the good news: all universities in the US accept the SAT and ACT and show no preference for one test over the other. 

ACT vs SAT: Which Should You Take?

Which Test Should I Take?

The tests are nearly identical in content tested and popularity, and colleges show no preference for one test over the other. This means you’re free to pick a test based on your skillset.

Colleges show no preference for one test over the other. You’re free to pick a test based on your skillset.

Do you have a penchant towards science, are a quick reader, and like things concise and direct? The ACT may be your test. 

Or maybe you thrive on word problems and like a little more time per question? In that case, the SAT may be for you.

The best way to decide which test to take is to take a timed practice test for each and see how you do. What test did you feel most comfortable taking? On which test did you score higher?

For more on which to take, read this blog post comparing the SAT and the ACT in detail (including a little quiz to help you decide which test to take).

Do Ivy League Schools Prefer the SAT?

What about that rumor that Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale prefer the SAT? 

This myth is largely based on the SAT’s history and popularity on the east coast.

Created in the 1920s and implemented as an aptitude test to find students for Harvard’s scholarship program, the SAT’s association with Ivy Leagues gave it establishment credibility before the ACT entered the testing field in 1959. Because the SAT was more established in the northeast, students tended to take the SAT rather than the ACT and apply to northeastern schools with their SAT scores.

As of the mid-2000s, more students submitted SAT scores than ACT scores to Ivy League schools. But as early as 2005, Harvard’s director of admissions verified that Harvard accepts ACT and SAT scores on an “absolutely equal basis,” and the percent difference between test submissions continues to drop each year as the ACT increases in popularity.  

ivy league act sat score submissions

Via The New York Times

Another reason students tend to submit SAT scores to Ivy Leagues in higher numbers?

SAT subject tests. Many Ivy League schools require additional subject tests for the admissions that only the SAT offers. For some students, it’s simpler to stick to the format and timing of one test, the SAT, and not branch out to the ACT.

Is the ACT or SAT More Popular Today?

In 2012, the ACT’s market share surpassed the SAT’s – more students were taking the ACT test. As of 2019, the SAT is again more popular than the ACT with 55% of the market share. 

sat vs act market share

But the two tests are neck and neck; about 2.2 million students in the class of 2019 took the SAT compared to about 1.8 million students who took the ACT. 

Is the ACT or the SAT More Popular?

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Colleges don’t prefer the SAT over the ACT or vice versa – so pick what test is best for you, study well with materials that really work, and you’ll be on your way to a great test score (and a great college)! 

Get a better score. Get into a better school.

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