17 on the ACT: Good Enough?

by Judge Josh on October 21, 2010

Christine is a high school senior who has a 3.7 GPA, but got a 17 on her ACT. What now?

I’m afraid of how strongly colleges will judge me off my ACT score.

Yep — it’s a valid concern, I’m afraid. A lot of the initial screening of college applicants involves a mathematical formula, a big portion of which is your standardized test scores.

So if your score is very low, you may be eliminated before a human being ever has the chance to evaluate you.

I’m a senior in high school and took my ACT last year but had no idea what to expect and ended up really stressed before the test and basically blew it off and got a 17.

17-act-score

When I see "golden flashes," I think of Bea Arthur and Betty White. Naked.

Ouch.

My family wasn’t able to pay for me to take it again this October so I’m scheduled to take it in December.

Take it again as soon as you can!

My problem is that all my applications will be out before that.

Hmm. Well, if that’s the case and you’re not willing to wait a semester to apply with a new and improved ACT score, then maybe there’s no point in taking it again.

I can’t help but feel I’m going to get all these rejections just because of my ACT score.

I’m sorry to be grim, but you’re probably right.

My GPA is around a 3.7. Colleges I’m considering applying to (that I know of) so far are: Unity in Maine, Ohio State University, Kent State (as a backup school) and some community colleges.

Kent might still admit you, and of course you have the community colleges (which, on the bright side, is actually a smart route that I constantly recommend around these parts. More on that in a second).

I know nothing about Unity College in Maine, so I can’t say much about it. Ohio State, I think there’s no way you’ll get in. Average ACT score is in the 26ish range.


I’m thinking of going to a community college for my first two years and then transfering to save money.

This is a wonderful idea, and I’d tell you this even if you weren’t having this low-ACT-score issue. The first two years of college are mostly about taking general courses. Freshman English, Psych 101, Sociology 101, Biology 101, Economics 101. That sort of thing.

Those classes don’t vary nearly as much by school as the upper-level courses do. However, the price of these courses at a community college vs. a university varies a great deal. You’ll pay a fraction of the cost at a community college for essentially the same courses.

Also, community college is a really cheap way to stick your toe in the waters of college, as it were, and see if it’s for you. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

My friend tells me if you transfer from another college they more than likely won’t reject you, so that’d work well with my plan if that’s true.

Your friends are right, it’s true. I like to call community college the “back door” into the school you really want to attend, but perhaps can’t get into right now. In your case, let’s say OSU.

They won’t admit you now with that 17, I’m pretty sure. But if you do two years at a community college in Ohio and keep up good grades, you should transfer in as a junior with no problems. In their eyes, you’ll have proven yourself as a worthy college student at that point.

Plus, you’ll have saved yourself about $20,000 in education costs, which is better than a sharp stick in the eye.

I’m planning on majoring in Wildlife Biology.

Good luck to you!

– OK, everyone. Any comments about what Christine should do? Any stories of success (or failure) with admissions boards with a 17 ACT? Let us know in the comments below.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily October 21, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I got an average score on my SAT and still got accepted into Mercer, Berry, and Kennesaw State (all the schools I applied to) .. so try anyway and just see what sort of response you get back. And if you have teachers/bosses who graduated from your school of choice who recommends you it goes a LONG way. Mercer offered me a 13,000 scholarship for financial reasons, but by the time my Mock Trial Attorney Coach wrote a recommendation to their Law School they nearly doubled it to 22,500. I still didn’t choose them because it was less expensive to go to Kennesaw State even with those numbers (and I’m doing ALL loans so I need as few as possible with a BA in English) — but my point is APPLY, APPLY, APPLY. You could be surprised. If you’re rejected, take the ACT and try again. And above all, recommendation letters from their former successful students go a long way. Good luck to you!

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Mercedes October 21, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I got an ACT score of 17 three times, but I was in the National Honors Society, a 3.8 GPA, and plenty of volunteer opportunities that outweighed my 17 score on the ACT. I would not worry about the ACT score because your GPA will say a lot more of your intellectual abilities, I AM a witness to that. Use your personal statement in your essays to tell about why you scored the way you did on the ACT. Please don’t give up or not follow your dreams just because of a 17 and don’t let others discourage you!

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Michael October 21, 2010 at 2:39 pm

My suggestions

(1) Extend your college search. Take a look at the common app/universal application and see which schools provide FREE applications. I’d also add a backup school or two (ESPECIALLY A SMALLER PRIVATE SCHOOL). With a 3.7, you may be able to get some academic money PLUS needs-based grants.

(2) Apply to them. What’s the worst thing they can say??? No. Getting rejected from a good school is not the end of the world. It’s happened to all of us. But, what I always told my students was, you have to pay to play; the admissions process is more than a numbers game but if you increase your chances of both getting in and getting a scholarship, you can get both.

(3) Re-Take the ACT and re-submit your scores. Call the admissions officers and let them know personally that you are taking the ACT in December and will get your scores to them ASAP.

(4) Take a few practices tests in a timed, test-like environment. The more comfortable you are with the test, the better you will do.

(5) Take a deep breath. With a 3.7, you’ll get in somewhere.

(6) Lastly, if you do go the community college route and want to save money, investigate whether a local community college has an HONORS program. Those programs typically give their students a tuition break if they achieve at a certain level. It’s a GREAT way to (1) save $ and (2) open up opportunities to schools that coming out of high school wouldn’t take you. (Example: I had a student participate in Miami-Dade College’s honors program who would have likely gotten into a few of the public univiersity; he’s at Cornell now.

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Michael October 21, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I’d say if you really want to get into one of the bigger schools on your list (read: Ohio State), you’re going to have to wait until you can re-take the ACT. A 3.7 GPA is nice, but the grading system is so diluted on a district to district level that it essentially means very little.

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Mike October 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I’m not sure how long it takes for those results to come out, but definitely have them forwarded to the schools you want. Its wise to keep your schools updated on any new things you’ve done between submitting your application and them making a decision, so if you get better scores and submit them, it might save you just in time

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Jane October 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Is the December test date really too late? When I was applying, I read everywhere (this may have changed since I entered school) that December was the LAST date that you could take it for it to make it into your application (if you indicate on the day of test day that you want it sent to the schools).

Also, I guess this is too late for you, but they have fee waivers for standardized tests if you can prove financial hardship.

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Yovanna October 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I agree with Judge Josh on the community college route. I decided against stressing over the SAT and ACT since I knew that I was going to start at the community college level and transfer to a 4-year university. I took them anyway and scored very good. But I had already decided that I would start at a community college since it was cheaper and I had been told that the first 2 years of a university-level education is equivalent to an AA degree at the community college level. Long story short: I was able to complete my B.S. degree in 2 years since I took the community college route. I saved thousands of dollars (I spent a total of about $10,000) compared to my fellow classmates. I went to their college graduations this year where I had already graduated 2 years ago. Overall, community college is the best way to go, especially if finances are an issue and you’re not too sure what you want to do.

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Cassidy October 21, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I’d say go to the community college, with a 17 it will be difficult to get into a good college- they will be judging you on your ability to take test, because they are often critical for excelling. I’d go with getting a AS at a community college and transferring, it will look better, especially since can seem to maintain good grades.

Why would you waste your money and apply for a college (since application fees are huge) if you couldn’t take the test again now? Wait until you have a better chance of getting in. Also, if you take that semester off you should be able to save up more money by getting a job. Just an idea

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lynne September 8, 2011 at 11:20 am

This is so not true. Colleges will work with you the ACT is not as important as you might think.

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tasha October 21, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Don’t worry!! I am a senior at the University of Illinois and I got a 17 on the ACT. I was accepted into every college I applied for. Trust me a score is going to be the last thing on your mind when you get into college. Do not worry, at all!!!

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Jennefer October 21, 2010 at 4:34 pm

I never took the ACT or SAT exams. My school didn’t offer them, and the closest town for me to take them was about 3 hrs away. If you’re not planning on going to a state school, which it looks as though those are your “dream” schools. I am enrolled in a private university and they didn’t require them, so I got lucky. I say go with your plan of community college and then transfering because you don’t want to settle for kent state which is your backup school.

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Chloe October 21, 2010 at 5:01 pm

If your heart isn’t already set on one of the schools you mentioned, do a little research and consider applying to some places that don’t require ACT/SAT scores for admission. There’s a good number of four year institutions that don’t require them, and if standardized tests aren’t something you’re consistently great at, you might benefit from attending a university with a philosophy that rejects the traditional importance of standardized testing in favor of a more subjective and personal treatment of students.

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Steve October 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Just about everyone you speak with will make conclusions as if the ACT is some kind of hard test of ability that puts you in your proper place. If you ask people randomly, Joe average will tell you that you dont belong in college. Dont let people make this conclusion for you. I scored an 8 on my math score with a 13 average and I still got into college. A low score won’t lock you out of college, you just have to be a little more strategic:

If its just a low score, you can petition the admissions office, the dean of students, and many universities will provide an admission on a conditional basis. Even if the dean says no, you can still set your goals with an academic advisor at a four year unviersity, determine the prerequisites required for admission, and take those courses at a community college. It does not seem that appealing but that can be a better option.

I made a mistake by demanding admission to a four year university starting with tenth grade skills. I needed to take about 45 remedial credits which didnt seem like much, but that coursework consumed my 180 credit federal student aid allowances and I lost financial aid in my junior year.

My decision to take all that remedial work at the four year university limited my choice of major. Those 45 remedial credits made it impossible to fund an engineering or business major with financial aid. I had to pick sociology. After I worked so hard to get into college, I found that I locked myself out of the science majors–all because I wanted to get in the 4 year school first.

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Leeja October 21, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I think that I would go a semester to a community college, but if you can avoid it, don’t take science & math. My boyfriend is a chemical engineering professor at a major university, and we were out to dinner with his boss (the department chair) and his wife a couple weeks ago when the discussion came around to the cost-saving trend of going to community college for two years, then transferring to a major university. My boyfriend has been in charge of recruiting this year, and they both said the same thing: the ability level of students who took science and math classes at a community college and then transferred into their program is much lower than those who take those classes at the university.

Before you assume that he’s just saying that to get people there, I’ll tell you a little about him. He started out in community college because his standardized test scores weren’t quite good enough before transferring to Mizzou to finish his bachelors, then he went to Notre Dame for his PhD. When he transferred to Mizzou, he found that he even had a catch-up period in these areas, and now they are also seeing it in their department. Not to mention that not all of the classes will transfer to that school (which you should check on with any school).

So my advice to you is this: stick with the community college for a semester and what you can outside your major, but make sure that the classes you plan to take will transfer. Retake that ACT, then maybe you’ll get a scholarship & it won’t matter about the tuition.

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ednasilem October 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I received a higher quality education at my community college than I did at Cal State…the professors were considerably more engaged at community. I’m glad I was forced to go through the “back door” as it were, or I would have missed the great classes I was able to take at community. I recommend it to all students — save money and actually learn something, what a deal!

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Anonymous October 21, 2010 at 7:15 pm

CANCEL YOUR SCORES!!! If you took the SAT and did well, you don’t need the ACT scores sent out, so don’t. But you have to do it quickly.

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Anna October 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm

The college I go to would likely accept someone with a 17 on the ACT but a high GPA as a conditional admit. Plus, we have a Wildlife Biology program that I think is good. I go to the University of Minnesota, Crookston so it’s part of the large U of M system, though it’s not as selective as the larger U of M campuses, but is still a great school.

On another note, a community college may be a good place to start out as well. It is much easier to get in as a transfer to any school than it is to get in as a high school student. You could certainly apply to back up colleges as well, or colleges that you would still like but are not as selective. You can always transfer from those later if needed.

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Just Yesterday, The Wannabe Counselor October 21, 2010 at 10:28 pm

You’d be surprised at what colleges choose to accept sometimes. Either way, the community college sounds like a good option (maybe I should have tried?)….

If you still feel guilty, however, and feel as though you need to explain yourself to admissions officials, go ahead. No, really, go ahead. Get their card, send them a couple of emails–BUT if you have the chance to meet your favs at a college fair or something, in my mind you’ve hit the ‘jackpot.’ Connect with them–or try.
Explain the fact that you got nervous; they should understand. (Some schools allow you to write an essay about anything; DO NOT WHINE but maybe you could include a little bit about how you got nervous but happen to be taking proactive steps toward scoring better the next time) Should.
(I don’t really understand why you’d choose to apply to a school which you know little about…advice on that: find out more about it; speak to your HS counselor and various college representatives. THEY should be excited to have YOU on board–remember that.)
I hope that made sense. Rushing, sorry.

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Sara October 22, 2010 at 6:08 pm

I’m pretty sure Kent will still take you with a 17, and I know it’s your backup school but I know plenty of people who LOVE going to Kent (Main Campus). They have a lot of great programs, and there are a variety of different students (those who were very academically successful in HS and those who were not) who do well there.

But here is my advice for you: If you really want to go to Ohio State, still apply with the 17. 99% sure you won’t get into Main Campus, but you could still get into one of the other campuses, like Mansfield. Spend two years there and work really hard, do really well, and apply to spend your Junior/Senior years at main campus. Tons of people do it that way.

Good luck!

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Erin October 23, 2010 at 11:35 pm

What about schools which don’t require you to submit tests? For example, Lawrence University is a really good school–they make lists all the time and were in colleges that change lives–and they don’t require you to submit tests.

More schools which don’t require SAT/ACT exams: http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional

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Dick Ryder November 3, 2010 at 3:45 pm

What? No SAT scores?

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Jacqueline December 2, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Hey, im a senior in your same shoes. I took the ACT in April of this year for the first. I really didn’t kno what to expect, so i did NO preperations at all. I ended up squeezing a 16 out of it and with that score I’ve managed to get excepted into 5 universities. I’m from Mississippi and just about any school will almost take any student with a 16+. Unfortunately, I don’t plan on goin to any school that has already accepted me. Although my dream school, NC A&T, will take a 16, I would like a better score to have an even greater chance of getting in. My advice would be to keep applying. Hey, you’ll never what you can achieve until you atleast attempt.
*I will also re-take in December as well. So good luck and know that in the end everything will happen to benefit you!! :)

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Max January 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I just got my ACT results back and scored a cumulative of 28, but I’ve never really had anything above a 3.5 in all of my highschool years, and last semester of sophomore year I ended with a 2.92 GPA, with an average of 3.2-3.4, and a highschool GPA of 3.24. I told a friend about my ACT, and he said because of the ACT I could get a decent scholarship to Ohio State without having to take the test again. Are there any scholarships for me?

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Morina January 18, 2011 at 12:42 am

Calling the financial aid office and letting them know you’re taking the ACT once more can prove beneficial to you. I know I’ve forgotten a third recommendation letter during my application process and my school let me send that in later.

If you establish good relations and talk with the financial aid office, then they can be understanding.

Of course this case varies depending on the type of school you apply for and the competition.

As for a low score, I believe anything can happen. I was determined to get into Grinnell College and their average ACT score ranges between 29 – 33. I took the ACT a few times and received low 20′s and eventually a 24. However, during the application process, I did an interview and showed the college what I had to offer as a student and that I was more than the test score I received. Some colleges that offer interview really wanna look at you individually and not just one test score.

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Michelle Vered April 11, 2011 at 5:35 pm

First of all, many colleges will look at the scores from your December test, even if it’s after the application deadline. You may want to call them to verify which ones do. They won’t give you a decision until later in the spring partly because they are interested in later test scores and mid year grades.

Second, try looking into some colleges with later deadlines, like ones in January, February, or schools with rolling admission.

Third, for future reference, the College Board (the organization that does the SAT) provides fee waivers for low income students. I took the SAT twice and didn’t have to pay anything. I would assume there are similar programs for the ACT. Just because your family doesn’t have the money to pay for standardized testing doesn’t mean you’re doomed.

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Aisha Farah April 25, 2011 at 10:13 pm

OMG!!.. Don’t be discouraged!
I got a 13 on my ACT, and didn’t retake it again. I just didn’t feel like it. Although, i’m going to a community college and then transferring for sure. but if you feel the need to take it, and know you’ll score a better number, I would say “GOOO For IT!!!”

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Joe June 26, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Christine,
I received a 16 composite score on the ACT the first time I took it. I applied to the 1st college of my choice and I was admitted last fall. After I retook my ACT in December, I scored an 18 I was admitted into my 2nd and 3rd choices after that. My advisers at my high school told me the ACT isn’t the only thing that college admissions officers look at. There is so much more to take into consideration than just a student’s ACT scores.
I wish you the best of luck and I hope wherever you end up that you will be successful and happy.

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Probhabati Roy. October 12, 2011 at 5:20 am

Dear sir,
With best regards.Good afternoon.Actually when i completed high school in our country we haven’t GPA provision.then were 1st division/2nd division/3rd division.When completed B sc in nursing.then university wrote pass and failed.In 210 when i compled Master of public health then i got GPA2.85/4.
SO, i think ,A student can everything if he/she want.Gpa is nt factor.
Thank you sir.

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Jason October 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I play baseball for my high school is a 17 on ACT with a 3.12 GPA scholarship avaiable.?

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