College & Workforce Readiness

ACT Scores and College Choices Go Hand in Hand

By Caralee J. Adams — July 20, 2012 2 min read
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Deciding on a college can be a long and complicated process. But new research indicates many students follow their early preferences and are guided by their college-admission test scores.

The recently released ACT Enrollment Management Trends Report found that as ACT scores increase, students are more likely to enroll in four-year institutions and attend out-of-state schools or those farther away from home. Also, students who took the ACT as juniors generally had higher scores that those who tested in 12th grade.

When students take the ACT, they indicate their top college choices. The ACT research discovered that those early preferences are good predictors of where students ultimately go. Those who scored between 20 and 23, enroll at one of their top four choices more than 77 percent of the time. (A perfect ACT score is 36.) The higher the composite of their ACT number, the more likely they were to enroll at their first-choice school.

Performance on the ACT also was linked to the likelihood that students would go to school near home. Of those ACT-tested high school graduates who enrolled in college, the median distance between home and college was 51 miles. For students with ACT scores between 20 and 23, the median distance between home and college was 45 miles, while those scoring between 33 and 36, the median distance was 172 miles.

The trends differ for those who take the ACT versus the SAT. In states where most high school graduates take the ACT, 18 percent of ACT test-takers enroll in out-of-state colleges. In states where a large majority of high school graduates take the SAT, 51 percent of ACT-takers end up at out-of-state colleges.

Last year, 70 percent of the ACT-tested graduating class of 2011 first tested in 11th grade, whereas 30 percent first tested in 12th grade. While scores for seniors who took the exam were generally lower than for juniors who took the ACT, about two-thirds of them went on to enroll at colleges and most at four-year institutions. The reports says that it’s a missed opportunity to overlook recruiting seniors who take the ACT.

ACT researchers also found a student’s likelihood of having a good fit between personal interests and their planned major increased with ACT composite score. Slightly less than half of all students with a score between 33 and 36 selected a major that was well aligned with their interests, compared with only 27 percent of students with a score of 15 or lower.

Of the ACT-tested class of 2011, 53 percent of students enrolled in a four-year college, 18 percent enrolled in a two-year college, and 29 percent did not enroll in college, according to the ACT report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.