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High GPA, low SAT score – What To Do?

Every year, despite their best efforts, countless students earn an SAT score that is lower than they anticipated.

Even when these students have high GPAs, oftentimes they worry that their low scores will keep them from being considered for acceptance into their dream colleges. This typically leads them to either a.) panic, b.) lower their expectations when applying to and hearing back from different schools, or c.) blame themselves and feel inadequate for not reaching their target score.

However, what these students need to realize is that none of the above options are necessary because students are so much more than a test score, and there are plenty of productive options for students to take if they get a low SAT score, especially if they have good grades.

If you find yourself in this boat where you have a high GPA and a low SAT score, here are a few options for you to consider:

Demonstrating you are well-rounded

While a low SAT score is not ideal, it will not automatically disqualify you from attending college.

For one, admissions officers look at more than just SAT scores when considering applicants. If you have an impressive GPA, deep involvement in extracurricular activities or volunteer work, and stellar recommendation letters, your SAT score will not be weighed as heavily when they are reviewing your application. 

Demonstrate to admissions officers that you can provide value to their institution by stepping up your resume so that they can see that they have a lot more to offer than a single test score.

When should you choose this option?


Whether or not you have a low SAT score, it is essential that you are able to submit great grades, positive recommendation letters, and a list of extracurricular activities to make your application more desirable.

Consider your percentile score

That SAT score you are so devastated about receiving might not be as bad as you think it is. To determine whether or not your score is “good enough,” it is important for you to consider where your score falls in relation to other applicants at the schools on your list.

If your score is at the 75th percentile or above for any school you want to attend, then you won’t need to worry about it influencing your chances of getting accepted.

A score of 1300 might seem low on its own, but if the top 25% of students who attend your dream school earned a 1250 or above, then your score is actually pretty good!

When should you choose this option?

You should consider your percentile score and allow yourself to feel satisfied with the test score you received if:

  • Your current score puts you in the top 25% of applicants for your desired school.
  • Your current score still allows you to qualify for scholarships:

Explain your low score in your application

Many applications provide a space for applicants to explain extenuating circumstances or any less than desirable aspects of their applications.

If you have a low SAT score, consider mentioning the reasons why you believe other parts of your application, like your grades, should be weighed more heavily. Write about how you’ve maintained a high GPA while participating in extracurricular activities, and explain how you were able to get good grades in challenging courses like AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses.

This will show admissions officers the specific reasons why your grades and other aspects of your application should outweigh your SAT score.

When should you choose this option?

Explaining your SAT scores on your application is a good option if:

  • Your SAT score is significantly below the 75th percentile score for the schools on your list.
  • You have earned impressive grades in traditionally difficult courses.
  • You have a strong list of extracurricular and volunteer activities.

Retaking the test

If you believe that your SAT score is low enough that it is going to limit your opportunities, and you have time to dedicate to studying for the test, you should consider retaking the test.

Research shows that on average, students who retake the SAT increase their score by roughly 40 points.

If you are able to devote hours to studying for the test while working with a private tutor or taking an SAT prep course, especially a course that comes with a score guarantee like the ones offered through Prep Expert, you could improve by even more points.

When should you choose this option?

Retaking the SAT is the best course of action to take if:

  • Your SAT score is below the 50th percentile of accepted students for the school you want to attend
  • You have 3-6 months to study and review for the test
  • You are able to take an SAT prep course or work with a tutor that will help you achieve better results

If you earn a low SAT score, it is not the end of the world. Find out how Prep Expert can help you improve your score when you visit our website.

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

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