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Articles / Applying to College / Penn Admission with 30 ACT?

Penn Admission with 30 ACT?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | June 11, 2015

Question: Is it possible for me to get into a highly competitive school, like University of Penn, if I have an ACT score of a 30 (34 in math, 33 in English, 27 in reading, and 24 in science)?

It would be irresponsible for “The Dean” to assess your admission odds at the University of Pennsylvania (or anywhere else) without a lot more information. But, as you may already suspect, a 30 ACT is a notch below the median range at Penn.  Thus, in order to be admitted, you will probably have to bring a “hook” to the admission process.  For instance, are you the first in your family to go to college? A student of color? A recruited athlete? Do you have a unique story to tell (e.g., about growing up in a homeless shelter or on a houseboat?) Have you published a novel or won Teen Jeopardy?  Have five generations of family members gone to Penn (and donated generously thereafter)?

When an applicant’s test scores are at the lower end of the median range or below it entirely (as yours are), then admission odds are not good without other pluses on the application to balance out the deficiencies.

BUT … I see that your ACT Composite score is being dragged down by a 24 on the Science section. That’s actually great news!  The Science section is often called the hardest one on the ACT. That’s largely because many students cannot finish it in the allotted time, and even those who do manage to make it to the end often insist that they had to rush through the questions without checking their answers. Yet many of the answers to the Science questions can be found right within the test itself. My own son, who took the ACT last year, claims that even someone who knows as little about science as I do (which is very little!) could ace this section if given all the time in the world.

In order to prepare for the ACT, my son did not take a class or enlist a private tutor. Instead, I nagged him into sitting at the dining room table several times a week for a month or so, where he took practice tests from an ACT prep book.  He focused especially on the Science section in order to have the best possible understanding of how that section is set up and of how to identify the correct answers as swiftly as possible. When he took the actual test, he complained afterwards that the Science section was the hardest because, despite all the practice, he felt very rushed. But he did manage to finish the section, and he also earned a perfect score on it … which meant that “The Dean” (also “The Mother”) got a big “I told you so” out of the deal. 😉

You, too, should be able to improve your Science score with practice. Even if you don’t see yourself as the next Marie Curie or Enrico Fermi, you’ve got plenty of wiggle room to bring up that 24 which, in turn, will bump up your Composite, if you do roughly the same on your other sections when you retake the test.

Note, however, that the most sought-after colleges and universities—including Penn—routinely turn away hundreds of applicants each year with tip-top test scores. So, although a better ACT score will improve your admission chances, Penn should still be considered a “Reach” school for nearly everyone.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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