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Articles / Applying to College / What SAT II Scores Are Needed for Cornell, Princeton, & Penn?

What SAT II Scores Are Needed for Cornell, Princeton, & Penn?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 6, 2014

Question: How important are SAT II scores for the Ivy league application process? (specifically Cornell, Princeton, and Penn). I have a 4.0, am second in my class, and am president of honor society and leader of several other clubs. My ACT composite was a 28. I got a 550 and 570 on my first two subject tests. I'm taking them again in December….what’s a good score? And if I do not meet that score, would taking the test again in January hurt my chances?
Congratulations on your excellent academic career. You have clearly done very well … but so have the majority of students who, like you, are aiming for Ivy League institutions. So test scores–including SAT Subject Tests–often can become a “tie-breaker,” helping admission officials to distinguish among otherwise similarly qualified candidates.Your Subject Test scores, as well as your ACT score, are low by Ivy standards. (The median-range Composite ACT scores for Penn and Cornell are 30-34 and for Princeton 31-35). So you would need to make up for your score deficiency by being especially outstanding in some other area … and it can be tough to be “outstanding” in the hyper-competitive Ivy applicant pools.

If you are a first-generation-to-college applicant and/or come from a disadvantaged or highly unusual background–or if you have surmounted significant obstacles on your road to college–admission officials will give you some wiggle room when it comes to test scores. But, even so, the admission folks will probably be looking for some otherdistinction besides your impressive academic record. Typically, leadership in school organizations doesn’t stand out at the Ivies as such a distinction. But it is truly impossible for me–an Internet “dean” (who is not actually a dean of anything) to responsibly assess your admission odds based on the little information I have here.

Note, however, that the majority of successful Ivy applicants submit more than the two required Subject Tests, with most of their scores well into the 700s, but –again–a student’s background can play a role in test results and, thus in their admission verdicts.

It won’t hurt you  in the eyes of admission offiicials to retake the tests in January if you’re shooting for your best-ever scores, but–given that you’re re-testing this month already–it sounds as if a January re-re-test will be overkill and probably won’t produce the significant gains you may need.

I wish you well with your outcomes at Cornell, Princeton, and Penn. But also keep in mind that there are lots of great colleges that will welcome a student with your record, so make sure that your list includes places that fit you well but that also offer “Realistic” (as well as “Safe”) chances of acceptance. The Ivies must be considered “Reach” schools for 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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