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Good GPA, Not Great ACT


I have a senior with a good GPA, but he did not do well on ACT.  He is extremely stressed about retaking it.  How do we sell "him" to a school if the ACT score isn't great or not the score the school wants?


First of all, I want to reassure you and your son that he’s not alone. I meet so many students on a daily basis who face this same struggle. It’s much more common than they realize.

Retaking the ACT can be a really stressful thing to consider doing. But retaking it is actually a very common situation. I tell the students I work with that colleges anticipate anywhere from 4 to 6 scores per applying student. Your son doesn’t need to submit that many scores! It’s just worth mentioning how common it is for students to re-take the ACT.

I have two different suggestions for you and your son to consider.

The first suggestion is to have him re-take the ACT after he works with a top-scoring tutor. Part of your son’s anxiety towards this test could actually be a sign that he doesn’t feel prepared enough and is afraid of doing worse the second time around. It’s a completely legitimate fear, but it’s also one that can be alleviated with solid prep work. If he submits another score that’s better than the first, most colleges will use that score when deciding whether or not admit him.

But let’s say you don’t want to put your son through that stress.

That brings me to my second suggestion, which is to make sure every other aspect of his application is as strong as possible. This means his GPA, class schedule, list of extra-curriculars, essays, and letters of recommendation have to support the idea that your son would be an amazing asset to any school who accepts him. What does this do? It creates the narrative that standardized tests are not your son’s strong point.

So how do you pick between the two options?

My advice is to look over the schools your son is applying to. Are they extremely competitive schools like MIT and Stanford? Or are they moderately competitive like some state schools are?

If your son is aiming for the very selective schools, then I strongly encourage you to go for option number one. I understand that it’s stressful, but all aspects of his application need to be in top form for him to be seriously considered by those elite schools.

If he’s opting for more moderate or slightly competitive schools, then I encourage the second option. With schools like this, they will look at his entire application and if the test scores are his only weak section, they’re more than likely to overlook it in favor of accepting him. In which case, as long as his score meets the admissions requirements, he should be okay.


For schools that aren’t as picky about the ACT scores for their students, you can check out this list and even sort it by the state your son wants to go to school in. You can also take a look at these schools that don’t use the ACT as a determining factor for admissions.

We offer an amazing ACT prep program that I think could help your son improve his score and help him feel more prepared going in for his re-take. All of our tutors are top scorers and your son’s tutor will work one on one with him to help make sure he gets the best score he possibly can.

If your son does decide to re-take the ACT here are some tips for beating test-day anxiety and some advice for re-taking the test in general. Here are some benefits for re-taking the test in case he needs some encouragement and some tips for raising his score.