Do Colleges Prefer the SAT or ACT? | Test Prep FAQ

Test Prep FAQ: Do colleges prefer the SAT or ACT?

One of the most common questions we get from students and parents is whether colleges prefer the SAT or the ACT.  The short answer to this question is: almost* all colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT equally for admission.

The common misconception (especially in the Bay Area) is that colleges prefer the SAT, with the ACT being a “second-best” test.  This was actually the case a few decades ago.  For a long time, the SAT and ACT were regional tests, with students on the East Coast and West Coast taking the SAT, and students in the South and Midwest taking the ACT.  Many of the more prestigious colleges on the East Coast had a clear preference for SAT scores.

Now, colleges across the country accept both the SAT and ACT equally for admissions purposes.  In fact, the ACT has recently eclipsed the SAT as the most popular college admissions test in the US: in 2013, 1,666,017 students took the ACT, while 1,664,479 students took the SAT.  This increase in ACT test-takers is likely due to more students choosing to take both tests in order to maximize their chances of a stellar score.

We at AJ Tutoring believe that’s the right move for most students.  Since colleges accept the SAT and ACT equally, students should try both tests to see which one will be a better fit.  To be clear, we don’t recommend taking both the SAT and the ACT multiple times.  Rather, students should try each test once, compare scores using a concordance chart, and retake whichever test is stronger (if needed).

If your student is interested in seeing how he’d perform on the SAT or ACT, AJ Tutoring offers proctored diagnostic tests at our Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and San Jose offices on the weekends.  To sign up for a free practice SAT or ACT, please email

For more information comparing the SAT and ACT, take a look at our SAT vs. ACT page.


*To our knowledge, Cal Poly is the only school that prefers a specific test.  From Cal Poly’s admissions website: “ACT and/or SAT-I test scores are used in the test score field in the freshman admission selection process.  ACT is the preferred test for Cal Poly.” (emphasis added)

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