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34 on his first ACT; does taking it again hurt or help him?

121IllinoisDad121IllinoisDad 30 replies5 threads Junior Member
I'm fortunate to have a pretty amazing son. He's in STEM at a HS ranked in the top 25 in our state. Has a 4.5, is on varsity soccer and lifeguards. He has zero interest in Ivies. He wants to go to really good engineering program that is fairly large (>20K kids) with a good social/academic balance. Schools size alone rules out all the sub 10% admission rate schools. His top targets right now (in no order) are Georgia Tech, Illinois (#6 ranked engineering school and our home state), Cal Poly, Michigan and UCLA. All great schools but he is already well qualified for each. Lastly, we plan to apply Early Decision which should give him an additional admissions advantage.

He scored a 34 on his first ACT (98.5 percentile). We have another test scheduled for July but I'm not sure its necessary now. Would retaking the ACT help, hurt or be neutral?

Thank you,

35 replies
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Replies to: 34 on his first ACT; does taking it again hurt or help him?

  • ProfessorPlum168ProfessorPlum168 4184 replies92 threads Senior Member
    A 34 would put him below average for UCLA CS Engineering (average is 35), and if it’s CS that he’s after, the other schools outside of Cal Poly on the list might have averages close to 35 as well for that major. But it’s a very good score - do it if he’s up to doing it.
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  • allyphoeallyphoe 2556 replies61 threads Senior Member
    Has he taken or will he take the SAT? How much prep did he do for the 34, and how much time is he likely to devote to prep before the July test date? Was the 34 fairly balanced, or ridiculously unbalanced?
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  • milee30milee30 2919 replies19 threads Senior Member
    Are you OK with being full pay at out of state rates for most of those colleges? If so, that score might be enough to get him in but not enough to be competitive for merit scholarships.
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  • OctagonOctagon 339 replies7 threads Member
    What I have been told is that once 34 is reached, they look at other parts of the application.
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  • Eeyore123Eeyore123 2089 replies25 threads Senior Member
    I would say it is neutral. On a side note, I would not pay a dime more than the in state cost of UIUC for any of the other schools on your list. Unless you are eligible for need based aid at Michigan, getting the cost below UIUC isn’t going to happen at any of them.
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  • suzyQ7suzyQ7 4991 replies66 threads Senior Member
    I would be done, and would focus on other aspects of the application.
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  • privatebankerprivatebanker 6936 replies171 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2019
    Facts are stubborn things. Even here within the CC microcosm.

    The class averages are a bit misleading. There are more 35s reported here than actually possible. One sitting. There are another group superscoring to a 35 or 36. But UCLA is in Cali and the center of the CS universe. Competition is fierce for the most competitive majors at the two hottest UC schools.

    2mm rest takers. Avg 21. The number of

    34 had 21k. 1.14%.
    14k 35s and 3700 36s

    Perhaps take it again and focus and prep for the lowest number they achieved and supercore it higher. If you like.

    The admissions people know a single sitting score and they know the rest of the equation.

    Once you’ve achieved an academic 1 or 2 type rating unless it’s the one 36 and 1600 kid out of 2mm with the 4.0 - it’s all about the total package.

    “In the class of 2018, 1,914,817 students took the ACT. The average composite score was 20.8 out of 36 (for more on how the ACT is scored, read our article). This means that a score of 21 or higher puts you above average.

    But if we consider 21 and up good scores (since they’re above average), what would qualify as an amazing score?

    To find out, let's look at ACT percentiles—the rankings tied to composite scores. For example, a 90th percentile score means you scored higher than 90% of test takers.

    On the ACT, 34 and up is the 99th percentile. So if you score 34 or higher, you’re in the top 1% of test takers!

    But exactly how many students earned a 33, 34, 35, or 36 in 2018? And which score is the rarest? Let's take a look:

    Score # of Students Percentage of All Test Takers
    36 3,741 0.195%
    35 14,928 0.780%
    34 21,836 1.140%
    33 26,930 1.406%
    Source: ACT.org”

    edited June 2019
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  • kbennett20kbennett20 5 replies2 threads New Member
    If he really believes that he can improve from a 34, then I think he should definitely try. With the ACT, you apply to college with your highest score, so he really doesn't have anything to lose. Even if he doesn't score higher, he still has a 34.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 7635 replies36 threads Senior Member
    34 is like the sweet spot for most competitive schools and engineering . It's a great goal to achieve. Saying that OOS to Michigan and GT is a crapshoot. Especially from Illinois. Also Michigan uses unweighted scores. GT wait listed my son with similar scores and ACT and he went to the #1 ranked school in Illinois 3 years ago. Illinois might be giving some scholarships since we got a new Governor but most likely won't be much. This year will be telling since they are trying to stop the kids from going OOS to grab merit /money from other schools. I would have many safeties.
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  • bh2021bh2021 31 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Why not take it again? It won’t hurt your son to take it again, but I also wouldn’t stress over taking it again either. As someone else said, once a 34 is reached they start to look at other parts of the application.

    The only reason he shouldn’t take it again, is if taking it again stresses him out, or takes too much time away from working on other parts of his application.

    But for fun? Sure, take the exam! Tell your son to relax and enjoy it. He already got a 34, so it’s all gravy after this :)
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  • chaphillmomchaphillmom 121 replies12 threads Junior Member
    We were in the same boat as you! We didn't plan on having DS take it again, but the choice was out of our hands when the entire school took the ACT plus writing in February. It ended up being a good thing. His composite stayed the same, but his math went up from 33 to 34. And, he decided to add a school to the application list that required the writing section. He didn't spend heaps of time prepping, but the extra semester of Calc helped. Anyway, he is also looking at engineering schools, and the small bump up in math was a good thing.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30509 replies59 threads Senior Member
    First of all, understand that the pendulum swings both ways. Someone with a 34 test score, yes has 2 points higher he can go up. He has heckuva a lot more points he can go down. If, practice test, show a true 34-36 range for someone, then that person underachieved for himself. That 34 was a lower range for him. But the chances are much higher that he has a 32-34, or even a 30-34 range on tests and hit his high spot.

    IMO, my son was in his high point with his 34. But he mulled about taking it again in hopes of getting higher which would have made his RD applications a bit stronger. But he got into an EA school that he really liked with a nice award m, and decided he was done. He still had his ED school, in wait, and it’s possible, had he been deferred from it, he might have retaken ACT in hopes of upping that store for RD consideration and for his other RD apps, but it was game over by then.

    So, a kid can send out apps with the best test scores at that date, retake after apps are submitted and only send in new test scores if they exceed the old ones.
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  • MAsecondtimerMAsecondtimer 168 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Please remember that just because he is "well qualified" for these schools that he will be accepted. Thousands of kids who are "well qualified" are rejected at selective schools. My D had identical stats to your son (with a 1520 SAT and 34 ACT) and did not get into Michigan...along with several other schools. I will add don't confuse Early Decision (binding) with Early Action.( early notification) Michigan has EA and not ED. I believe that is also true for UCLA. Can't speak to the other schools. And students do not necessarily get an admission boost from EA. Good luck to your son. I agree with other posters that he has nothing to lose by taking the ACT again and it will not hurt him.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 7635 replies36 threads Senior Member
    Agree with above post. My son's at Michigan for engineering and I remind him how lucky he is. He does realize it. Georgia Tech rejected him but first watlisted him so we consider that a win 😉.
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  • havenoideahavenoidea 413 replies17 threads Member
    I don’t think anyone can say if a 34 vs a 35 vs a 36 will help get into any competitive engineering school. We know a student with a 36, one sitting, who didn’t get in to their top choices. And, knowing this student very well, they are truly brilliant (and good ECs). We know another who had a very high SAT and the same ECs/grades as all their friends who had slightly lower SATs ((1580 vs 1530-1550) who got shut out of Mich, GT while the others got in. Maybe too high scores and these schools think you won’t matriculate?

    Anyway, we were searching for merit, and I thought a 35 coupled with an equivalent SAT would be the sweet spot. I know schools say they don’t care which you send, and that may be true, but I would send both if the scores are there.

    Given the competition for spots, it can’t hurt to try for the 35 or to send an equivalent SAT. I would have your S do targeted study for the sections he wants to raise though.
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  • OctagonOctagon 339 replies7 threads Member
    @havenoidea Any anecdotal observation about why it helps to send in both ACT and SAT scores?
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  • mountainmomof3mountainmomof3 653 replies16 threads Member
    My S19 had a 36 and the rest of the package. I would have been sweating an admit to those particular engineering schools as an OOS applicant. Not sure if sitting for another ACT is the answer just make sure he has a safety he loves.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30509 replies59 threads Senior Member
    I don’t “get” Michigan. The year my student applied, and this past year, a lot of top stat kids were deferred EA. No idea if they got in RD. But , given some who got in EA, made no rhyme or reason

    As for SATvs ACT, every year I get my doubts that the ACT alone will do it in selective school acceptances. I admit I have a bias towards the SAT myself. But one of mine just took the ACT alone as did a number of kids I’ve known over the years and they did get into top schools. Anything I heard or read from the schools outright says that they look at both equally. But, I’ve always kind of wondered myself. I’m glad I’m personally done with all of that.
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  • bluebayoubluebayou 28083 replies209 threads Senior Member
    The short answer to your question is, No, it will not hurt him; it can only help. The fact is that higher scores -- even superscored, for those that do superscore -- is to the benefit of the school. Even if a 35/36 does not help the kid get in, the school just loves to tout their higher scores -- to alums, to bond agencies to USNews.

    btw: California publics are rather pricey and not recommended. OTOH, if you do want to pay sticker (and help out California tax payers), why not add Cal Eng, which is ranked up there with Stanford and MIT? Also, don't understand the focus on OOS publics, vs. top privates? For similar money, to me, the value prop for the privates is much higher.
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  • 121IllinoisDad121IllinoisDad 30 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Boy, I couldn't agree with you more. We're visiting a number of programs but the savings of instate, especially with UIUC's engineering ranking, will be tough to pass up. For better or worse, his grandfather willed him a big chunk of money specifically toward college so we're in a fortunate situation where college is paid regardless of destination. But he also gets that money in trust if its not needed for college which would set him up for life. Unfortunately 17 year olds don't always think long-term.

    To the other posters, I did not realize the distinction between ED and EA. Good to know!
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