Colleges with the Highest SAT Scores: Medians at the Top Schools

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Colleges with the Highest SAT Scores: Medians at the Top Schools

As the time draws closer for students to embark on their college search, many future applicants start by looking at the US News rankings for hints of where to apply. This quantifiable data serves as an easy-to-understand indicator of selectivity and competitiveness. As you look through the list, you’re probably thinking that the colleges with the highest SAT scores are the same as the schools with the highest ranking, right?


If you glance at the list of the colleges with the highest SAT scores, the number one ranked national university, Princeton, doesn’t even make it to the top 3! Harvard doesn’t even make the top 10! So, the question is, which colleges do expect you to bring the the most impressive standardized test results?

In this blog, we’ve provided the list of universities where students have the highest median numbers, along with explaining the relationship between SAT scores and rankings, followed by outlining the other factors which play a key – and perhaps even more important – role when it comes to your college application decision.

List of Colleges with the Highest SAT Scores

School Median SAT Score US News Ranking
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1530 12
Duke University 1530 10
Dartmouth College 1520 12
Princeton University 1515 1
Washington University in St. Louis 1515 19
Columbia University 1505 3
Yale University 1500 3
University of Pennsylvania 1505 6
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering 1501 3 (among engineering programs)
Stanford University 1495 6
Northwestern University 1495 9
University of Chicago 1490 6
Rice University 1490 17
Harvey Mudd College 1490 23 (among Liberal Arts Colleges)
Johns Hopkins University 1470 10
Swarthmore College 1470 3 (among Liberal Arts Colleges)
Harvard University 1460 2
Vanderbilt University 1460 15
Carnegie Mellon University 1450 25

Interestingly, the number one school on the list is a STEM-oriented university. It may come as a surprise, but the academic standards at top science schools such as Caltech and MIT are incredibly high, particularly in the math section of the SAT. This is why it also makes sense that Harvey Mudd is the one of the two liberal arts colleges on this list – because it’s also a STEM-focused school. The number one school, Princeton, has the same median SAT score as the number 19 school, Wash U. The University of Chicago on the other hand has been test optional for the last couple of years — students who submit their test scores mostly consist of those who are confident that their numbers are good enough to allow them admission into such a competitive university.

Why is This the Case?

The colleges with the highest SAT scores might shock you. Considering many top schools such as Brown, Williams, and Cornell didn’t make it to the list - and a college like Harvard is far lower than you might have expected – you could be a bit confused about how the ranking process works. The answer to all of this lies in the system used by US News and World Report. You may not have thought too deeply about it, but US News uses a fairly consistent method to rank colleges and universities. And because schools shouldn’t be judged by their test scores alone, this method employs dozens of variables, such as “faculty resources” or “alumni donation rate” - which comprise 20% and 5% of the rankings, respectively.

Nestled among these variables is - you guessed it - test scores and selectivity. It means that for schools with fewer financial resources to increase their rankings, they also need to increase their selectivity. By topping the list of colleges with the highest SAT scores, schools will actually improve their ranking as a national university or liberal arts college. And once the rankings increase, then the financial resources are almost sure to follow.

Take, for example, UChicago. About fifteen years ago, UChicago was not considered on the same level as any of the Ivy League schools. It was often a safety school for students interested in more “prestigious” schools like Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, Dartmouth, etc. But today? UChicago is ranked sixth - tied with UPenn!

There are several reasons for it, but among them is that it consistently accepts students with the highest SAT medians. By increasing its selectivity, UChicago has in turn experienced quite a rise in rankings since 2005.

Why Should You Care?

So, why should you care about the colleges with the highest SAT scores? First, if you are choosing between a school like UChicago, Johns Hopkins, or an Ivy League school, compare them on factors outside of their rankings. Why would you choose Vanderbilt over Stanford? Maybe it’s the location, maybe it’s the cost, maybe you want to be an educator and study at the Peabody College of Education. Same deal for picking a school like Caltech over Yale. Your personal academic interests should play into your decision. Choosing to attend a school only because of its rankings is never a good idea! Your individual fit at a college needs to be your biggest consideration.

Second, and obviously, if you are applying to colleges with the highest SAT scores, you will need higher scores to get admitted. They are deliberately keeping the median scores of their admitted students high, so if they have an opportunity to choose a student with higher test scores than you (without sacrificing other variables) they will do so. There are some spectacular schools (among them a couple of Ivy League schools) that are not on the list above. Consider applying there, as well, if your scores are not as high.

When you’re making your school list, these facts are just a few things to consider - because your test scores are never the end-all-be-all. The numbers from the table are simply medians, which means that if you have a 1460 on your SAT, you could still get into UChicago. Or Caltech. Or Stanford or Harvard or Vanderbilt or Rice. Nothing is guaranteed in college admissions and a lot of other components play into the decision alongside your standardized test scores.

Other Important Factors

What you can do to guarantee yourself the best chance, though, is to take these statistics, keep them in mind, but don’t pay too much attention to them. As long as you put together a comprehensive list of reach, fit, and safety schools, you should be in good shape going into the admissions process. However, it’s important to remember that your SAT score is the product of one day, as opposed to a component such as your GPA which is a reflection of your time throughout high school.

Additionally, since multiple students can (and do) bring a similar range of SAT scores to the table, you need to work on other elements of your application that showcase your perspective and how you can uniquely contribute to the campus. Don’t just rely on your SAT score to fall within the admitted students’ median range and call it a day. Just having a high standardized test result won’t guarantee you acceptance – even at one of the colleges with the highest SAT scores.

Alongside continuing to study for the SAT (and not taking it more than three times) you should work on strengthening your profile in other areas that factor in your admissions decision. This means diversifying your extracurriculars to ensure they are specific to you and help you stand out. Your personal statement will also be important in conveying who you are and what your story is. So, even though you might want to pay attention to rankings and the colleges with the highest SAT scores, remember that at the end of the day, there are other components which admissions officers use to evaluate your fit for a school.

Looking across the list of colleges with the highest SAT scores, you might find some overlap with the schools you had already planned to put on your list. Or, seeing these might have changed your mind due to your numbers meeting (or not meeting) the current medians. Regardless of whether you apply to these universities or not, remember that as much as the SAT matters, it’s also about how you can stand out from the competition. Don’t just rely on your score – make sure you make an impact. You’ve got this!

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