Most Common Acronyms Used in the US, UK education system

Do you know the differences between ESL and ELA, IELTS and TOEFL, SAT and ACT? 

As you start navigating the special international education system, you might come across many abbreviations, acronyms and specialized terms such as IB, AP, IGCSE… which makes you feel as though you’re wading around in a bowl of alphabet soup, not to mention those acronyms of General English Qualification used by Cambridge Assessment English: KET, PET, CFA, CAE, CPE… and the list goes on. 

Acronyms are used a lot in international education systems, everything from descriptors for assessments and curriculum, to individual departments, and to educational legislation are referred to as acronyms.  And trying to understand them all is practically like learning a new language, it feels like swimming in a sea of information, legal terminology, curriculums and prerequisite.  But don’t let that discourage you, we believe parents should take time to learn the differences of these programs and courses, to decide a study pathway that fits perfectly with your child.  Go beyond the acronyms everyone knows, like SAT and GPA, to learn additional terms that are relevant and meaningful in international school culture today.

So, to get you started, this article will provide you a brief list of some of the most common terms acronyms used in the education system in the US and UK schools.


Let’s start with the easiest, and most common terms – IELTS and TOEFL!


IELTS is the International English Language Testing System, an exam for non-native speakers of English.  There is a general exam and an academic exam.  The general exam is often taken by people who want to immigrate to English-speaking countries, especially the UK and Australia.  The academic exam is for people who want to go to university in the English-speaking world. It’s more popular in countries outside of the US. 


The Test of English as a Foreign Language, the TOEFL, is for non-native English speakers who want to go to university in an English speaking country.  The TOEFL specifically tests academic English skills.  It’s particularly popular for people who want to study in the US, but universities in most countries accept the exam.


Both the TOEFL and IELTS are widely accepted at undergraduate and graduate schools around the world.  In general, TOEFL’s structure and language is more academically focused, while the IELTS has a more real-world communication feel.  The TOEFL is more commonly accepted by American institutions, while the IELTS is more commonly accepted overseas, but many schools accept scores from either exam.  However, a specific school may prefer one test over the other, so international students should make sure they research the preference of the schools they want to apply to.


If your child’s applying to a college abroad, she’s likely going to need to take the SAT or the ACT.  The SAT and the ACT are standardized tests that colleges and universities in the U.S. use to decide admittance, along with GPA, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, and essays.


The SAT, which stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test, is the older of the two.  It was first introduced in 1926.  The SAT is intended to forecast a student’s ability to perform in her freshman year at college.  The test consists of two portions, one measuring students’ mathematical skills and the other their verbal skills. 


The ACT, which stands for American College Testing, was introduced in 1959.  The ACT is a standardized test to determine a high school graduate’s preparation for college-level work.  It covers four areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning.  The ACT is a test based on courses you have studied; it is not an IQ test. 


While the exams have their differences, they are similarly multiple-choice tests that have reading, writing, and mathematical sections.  The SAT attempted to test a student’s aptitude – that is, a student’s ability to learn – while the ACT was much more pragmatic. The exam tested students on the information they actually learned in school. 

>> Check out the detailed differences between SAT and ACT in our older blog post: Key differences between the SAT and ACT: which test is right for you?


Hundreds of thousands of students around the world also take ESL, English as a Second Language, sometimes known as EFL, English as a Foreign Language, while native students still have to learn ELA.  So what do they mean?


ESL stands for English as a Second Language.  This acronym has been traditionally used to describe non-native English speaking students who are studying English in a country where the first language is English.  For example, if a Japanese student came to London to study English, this student could be referred to as an ESL student or someone who is studying ESL.  ESL students acquire English as a means to communicate in the dominant language spoken in the community where they reside.


EFL, shorts for English as a Foreign Language, is learning English in a non-English-speaking country.  For example, students in China who are learning English are considered EFL students because English is not the official language of the country.  But if those same students were in the U.S. learning English, they would be considered ESL students.


ELA stands for English Language Arts, is the type of English taught in English-speaking countries.  ELA focuses on all areas of language development (including listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar, and pronunciation), and ELA classes cover all manner of things related to the English language, from literature to grammar to how to write a punchy essay. You can imagine native students learn ELA just like Vietnamese students learn Literature at schools – even though Vietnamese is our mother tongue, students still have to learn “Vietnamese Language Arts” in order to make meaning, use language effectively in a variety of content areas and succeed in college, career and life.

Most families don’t understand that there are different “Englishes”They mistakenly believe that studying at any of the numerous learning centers for conversational English, IELTS, and TOEFL is good enough.  

In Vietnam, we have found that “English Language Arts” remains a new concept to most parents.  ESL is somewhat similar to an ELA class, because students learn reading and writing in English.  However, the focus is more on the building blocks of the English language – the foundations that will make it possible for students to succeed in international professional areas of study and in life beyond school.

As soon as your child can use everyday conversational English, challenge her to learn just like a native American student with English Language Arts.

General English Qualification by Cambridge Assessment English: KET, PET, FCE, CAE, and CPE

KET, PET, FCE refer to Cambridge exams for teenagers, after they finish Cambridge Young Learners English (YLE), including Starters, Movers and Flyers – normally for children from 6 to 12 years old.


KET is also known as the Key English Test (KET) or Key English Test for Schools (KETfs).  This qualification shows that you can communicate in basic English in everyday situations.  This is an Elementary level exam that tests the ability to use basic linguistic constructs in conversation and writing. If you understand simple texts, short phrases and can communicate in situations that are familiar to you- the KET exam is for you.

The Cambridge A2 Key certificate enables you to work abroad in some countries (for example, Denmark and the Netherlands) in areas that do not require advanced language skills.


PET is known as the Preliminary English Test (PET) or Preliminary English Test for Schools (PETfs).  This is an Intermediate level exam that shows that you can communicate in English in practical, everyday situations.  It will give you a good foundation if you want to study for a professional English qualification.  If you can read simple books and articles, write simple letters, and communicate on common topics, then this exam is for you.

  • Level of qualification: Intermediate = B1 on the Common European Framework (~IELTS 4 – 4.5 or TOEFL iBT 57 – 86)

B1 Preliminary (PET) will suit you if you plan to work or study abroad. Also, this exam can become an important experience and preparation stage for higher-level examinations.


FCE is also called the First Certificate in English or First Certificate in English for Schools (FCEfS).  This is an Upper-Intermediate level exam to prove that you can speak and write English well enough to work or study in an English-speaking environment.  If your English level is good enough for use in daily communication, business, and education, then B2 First (FCE) is an exam for you. 

  • Level of qualification: Upper-intermediate = B2 on the Common European Framework (~IELTS 5 – 6.5 or TOEFL iBT 87 – 109)

FCE is the perfect choice for those who want to work in an English-speaking business, live in an English-speaking country, or study a foundation-level or pre-university course taught in English.


CAE is also known as the Cambridge Advanced Certificate in English.  This general English qualification shows that your English is of a standard expected of a professional business person or an undergraduate university student.

  • Level of qualification: Advanced = C1 on the Common European Framework (~IELTS 7 – 8 or TOEFL iBT 110 – 120)

CAE is for students or adults who want to prove to employers or universities that you can communicate confidently in English in professional and high-level academic situations. 


CPE is also known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English  This qualification shows that you have mastered English and can use it fluently in demanding research, academic and professional situations.  This is the highest Cambridge English qualification.

  • Level of qualification: Proficient = C2 on the Common European Framework (~IELTS 8.5 – 9)

You should take the CPE if you want to prove to employers that you can use English at a senior management level, or if you want to study at postgraduate or Ph.D. level at an English-speaking university.

While both the Cambridge exams and the IELTS test all four major English skills – reading, writing, listening, and speaking, there are quite a few differences between them.

The main difference between the Cambridge tests and the IELTS is that while there is only one IELTS for every level, the Cambridge tests are level-oriented.  The CAE is aimed only at advanced English speakers, those falling into the B2 to C2 range. IELTS and TOEFL scores, on the other hand, will place your English ability anywhere among the A1-C2 range. Therefore, beginners or intermediate English speakers should not attempt the CAE.

Another point worth considering is that while IELTS or TOEFL score will be valid for just two years after the test date, Cambridge certifications do not have the expiry date, therefore you will have unlimited time to pursue your study and employment goals. 

For more detailed information, you can go onto the Cambridge exams website:


Education News – Jun 29, 2020

Education News – Jun 29, 2020

Partial Undergraduate Scholarship from Schule Schloss Salem, Germany 2020

Schule Schloss Salem, one of the most renowned boarding schools in Salem and Überlingen, Germany, is offering scholarships for international students following the International Baccalaureate program. The base amount per scholarship is €6,000 per year, or €500 per month, regardless of the family’s income and financial circumstances. The school will provide up to 50 studentships for students this year. The applicant must have a very strong academic performance, have civil engagement in the community, and outstanding talent in music/sports/arts.
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Half Undergraduate Scholarships from the University of Newcastle, Australia 2020 ($20,000)

The University of Newcastle, Australia is offering scholarships for international students in the subject area of Engineering and Built Environment. The scholarship value is a limit of $AUD 2,500 per semester, distributed according to study load for the length of an undergraduate program and subject to the conditions of the scholarship being met by the scholar. Scholarship payment will be made directly into the tuition fee account of the scholar in the form of a tuition fee waiver, thus reducing the liability for the tuition fees. The University of Newcastle is an Australian public university. It is a member of Universities Australia and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The university offers online, face-to-face, or a mix of the two, with campuses in Callaghan, Ourimbah, Port Macquarie, Singapore, and Sydney CBD.
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Full government scholarships from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japanese 2020

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU), Japan is opening  MEXT APU Scholarship – awarded to outstanding international students who are recommended by APU. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) provides this scholarship with the aim of enhancing international competitiveness and promoting the active exchange of international students in Japanese universities. MEXT APU University offers study courses for undergraduate, masters & Ph.D. levels. The scholarship will cover most of the expenses, including 100% of Tuition, 144,000 JPY per month for living expenses (amount subject to change), and economy class air travel between the home country and APU at the beginning and end of the program.
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Key differences between the SAT and ACT: which test is right for you?

Key differences between the SAT and ACT: which test is right for you?

If you’re or having a child preparing for college admissions, you might have heard of the SAT and ACT tests, and might be curious about their differences.   The SATs and the ACTs are the two different tests that students are required to take for admittance to a US university.  When it comes to the SAT vs. the ACT, both exams are widely accepted by U.S. colleges, which often prompts students to ask: Which test should I take?

The answer to that question lies in understanding the differences between the two tests.  While both are standardized tests that colleges and universities use as a benchmark when making admissions decisions, there are some differences. 

This article will provide you with a brief overview of the basic structural and logistical differences between the ACT and SAT, to help you pick the right one as you get ready to apply to college.

The SAT vs. the ACT

At a glance, the two tests aren’t that different.  Both the ACT and SAT are nationally recognized standardized tests and common admission requirements for US schools.  Catering primarily to high school juniors and seniors, each test measures students’ proficiency in various critical skill areas – such as problem-solving and reading comprehension – that are necessary for college success.

Because all US colleges and universities accept scores from either the ACT or SAT, there’s no advantage in taking one test over the other.  This means you can apply to the same schools, regardless of which test you decide to take.

Despite all these similarities, there are still many ways in which the ACT and SAT differ from each other.  For one, the SAT is overall slightly longer than the ACT.  What’s more, the number of questions and time limits are different for corresponding sections.

Need a quick side-by-side comparison of the tests?  Check out this ACT vs. SAT Comparison Chart.




Content-based test

Type of Test

Content-based test
Reading: 1, 65-min section; Math: 1, 25-min section (no calculator) & 1, 55-min section (w/ calculator); Writing & Language: 1, 35-min section; Essay: 1, 50-min section (optional)

Test Format

English: 1, 45-min section; Math: 1, 60-min section; Reading: 1, 35-min section; Science: 1, 35-min section; Writing: 1, 40-min essay (optional)
Reading, relevant words in context, math, grammar & usage, analytical writing (optional)

Content Covered

Grammar & usage, math, reading, science reasoning, and writing (optional)
Questions are evidence and context-based in an effort to focus on real-world situations and multi-step problem-solving

Test Style

Straightforward, questions may be long but are usually less difficult to decipher
Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing are each scored on a scale of 200-800. Composite SAT score is the sum of the two section scores and ranges from 400-1600


English, Math, Reading, and Science scores range from 1-36. Composite ACT score is the average of your scores on the four sections; ranges from 1-36
No – you do not lose points for incorrect answers

Penalty for Wrong Answers?

No – you do not lose points for incorrect answers
Yes – you can choose which set(s) of SAT scores to submit to colleges. However, some colleges require or recommend that students submit all scores. Students should review the score-reporting policy of each college to which they plan to apply.

Score Choice?

Yes – you can choose which set(s) of ACT scores to submit to colleges.  However, some colleges require or recommend that students submit all scores. Students should review the score-reporting policy of each college to which they plan to apply.
Math questions generally increase in difficulty level as you move through that question type in a section. Reading passage questions generally progress chronologically through the passage, not by difficulty level. Writing & Language passage questions do not progress by difficulty level. 

Difficulty Levels

For the English and Reading sections, the difficulty level of the questions is random. For the Math section, questions generally increase in difficulty as you progress through the section. For the Science section, passages generally increase in difficulty as you progress through the test, and questions generally become more difficult as you progress through a passage. 
Arithmetic, problem-solving & data analysis, Heart of algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and trigonometry; formulas provided

Math Levels

Arithmetic, algebra I and II, functions, geometry, trigonometry; no formulas are provided
Seven times per year: March or April, May, June, August, October, November, December 

Offered when?

Seven times per year: February, April, June, July, September, October, December 
Typically about four weeks before the test date

Registration deadline?

Typically about five to six weeks before the test date

More Information

Neither the SAT nor the ACT is harder than the other – but each test benefits a different type of student.  It’s essential that you figure out which test is best suited for you, so that you can achieve the highest scores possible.

ACT vs SAT: Which Test Is Right for You?

The best way to decide if taking the SAT, ACT, or both tests is right for you is to take a timed full-length practice test of each type.  Since the content and style of the SAT and ACT are very similar, factors like how you handle time pressure and what types of questions you find most challenging can help you determine which test is a better fit. 

Another quicker way you can determine which test is right for you is to take a short quiz. In the chart below, check whether you agree or disagree with each statement.

Statement     Agree    Disagree
I struggle with geometry and trigonometry.    
I am good at solving math problems without a calculator.    
Science is not my forte.    
It’s easier for me to analyze something than to explain my opinion.    
I normally do well on math tests.    
I can’t recall math formulas easily.    
I like coming up with my own answers for math questions.    
Tight time constraints stress me out.    
I can easily find evidence to back up my answers.    
Chronologically arranged questions are easier to follow.    

Now, count up your check marks in each column to find out what your score means.

Mostly Agrees — The SAT is your match!
If you agreed with most or all of the above statements, the SAT is what you’ve been looking for. With the SAT, you’ll have more time for each question and won’t need to deal with a pesky science section or a ton of geometry questions.

Mostly Disagrees — The ACT’s the one for you!
If you disagreed with most or all of the statements, you’ll most likely prefer the ACT over the SAT. On the ACT, you’ll never have to come up with your own answers to math problems, and you get to let your opinion shine in your writing.

Equal Agrees and Disagrees — Either test will work!
If you checked “Agree” and “Disagree” an equal number of times, either the ACT or SAT will suit you.  Unless you decide to take both, which does sound like a good option considering money and time constraints, try to take the official ACT and SAT practice tests to see which test’s format you’re ultimately more comfortable with.

All colleges require students to take either the SAT or the ACT and submit their scores to their prospective universities.  Despite the fact that many U.S. schools are going test-optional, an ACT, or SAT certification is still great-to-have for international students, as this is a concrete data point to compare you among thousands of applicants, and is what makes your application stand out more.  There is no advantage of taking one test over another, so it is important to choose the test that is best for you, whether you are a domestic US student or an international student. 


Education News – Jun 22, 2020

Education News – Jun 22, 2020

Undergraduate and Postgraduate Scholarships from Luiss University, 2020 

Luiss University, Italy is giving scholarships in the Bachelor degree Program & Master’s Degree Program to International students. Scholarships are offered by the admission board upon admission to the most outstanding candidates. For the 2020/2021 academic year, Luiss will award both general tuition fee waivers and other room and stipend scholarships to international students.  This scholarship will cover the full tuition fee for the entire duration of scholarships in Italy if students show good performance on academics in the first year.  Currently, Luiss University scholarship is open in Political Science and Management, Business & Management, Law, Economics & in Finance Degree. Scholarship program by Luiss University is one of the top-ranked Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree programs as well as Ph.D. & summer programs offered to national and international students. 
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Full and Half Scholarships for Undergraduates from SUNY Korea University 2020

SUNY Korea University, South Korea, is offering full and half scholarships for undergraduate levels.  This funding scheme will provide both partial and full tuition waivers to students, and cover other expenses such as program fees, and room and board.  Established in March 2012 as the first American university in Korea’s beautiful city, Incheon, SUNY Korea is a leading public institution for higher learning.  It carries the aim to provide world-class education across the globe.  It provides an undergraduate and graduate-level program in a variety of academic fields.  To make students’ university-journey as smooth as possible, the institution provides affordable on-campus housing, a wide variety of scholarships, and diverse student activities. 
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Undergraduate and Postgraduate Scholarships from Leiden University, Netherlands 2020

Leiden University is offering fully funded scholarships to international students, sponsored by Minerva Foundation to help them pursue Bachelor & Master Degree Programs at the school.  The Minerva Scholarship Fund Foundation is a registered charity based organization under Dutch Ministry.  All students from any country are welcome to apply for this scholarship.  Successful applicants will get a monthly stipend varying from €900 to €2000, and receive free research costs, living and international travel expenses.   The application process is entirely online.  Professors from Leiden University will evaluate your application for selection.  All Majors are available at Leiden University.
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Updates on changed SAT requirements in 2020 and 5 common FAQ

Updates on changed SAT requirements in 2020 and 5 common FAQ

As dozens of U.S. schools dropped their ACT and SAT requirements, and many more are in the pipeline, is it the time for us to say goodbye to the SAT prep books?  What are the major changes to the SAT this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic?  What are the SAT score percentiles? And what is the good SAT score to apply to top colleges? 

These are the common questions that we often receive from our families and students. So here you are, in this article, we put together an SAT FAQ section to have all your SAT questions answered.  If you can’t find your questions here, let us know by commenting below!

Q: Some colleges are going to stop requiring SAT test scores for admissions. Is it true that the SAT is falling out of favor, and students don’t need to take SAT to get into college?

A: According to a list by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization working to end the misuse of standardized testing, about 51 universities, and colleges have dropped the ACT/SAT requirement for at least Fall 2021 in recent months.  Critics say the tests put less wealthy students at a disadvantage.  They acknowledge that SAT and ACT results follow a pattern of all standardized test scores: Kids from poor families do worse than kids with more money.  Wealthy parents can provide benefits that many poor families can’t, such as tutors, learning opportunities, the best schools with ample resources.  This comes on top of repeated SAT and ACT cheating scandals in the U.S. and abroad. The SAT in recent years has become the target of a sophisticated cheating system in Asia made possible in part because the College Board reuses questions.  Now, a growing list of colleges has announced they’re going test-optional for the class of 2021, meaning the SAT or ACT will not be required for admission.

Does it mean that students don’t have to worry about SAT/ ACT from now on?  When it comes to college admissions, we believe that the SAT/ ACT scores are still, not very inaccurate though, good indicators to compare students across disparate countries.  To compare students from totally different high schools, college admission committees can’t just choose the top students at each school; they need some way to compare students from across the nation and around the world, and that’s the history of SAT and why SAT scores are still important.  Therefore, even though more and more schools are going test-optional, we recommend students sitting the exam, especially if you are an international student and want to apply to competitive colleges, as this is a concrete data point to compare you among thousands of applicants, and is what makes your application stand out more.

That said, the fact that many schools are going test-optional has opened more options for applicants, and leveled the academic playing field.  SAT scores are not everything you need to apply to colleges – numbers can not tell the whole story.  If you think your scores are an accurate representation of your ability, submit them. If you feel they are not, don’t.  Instead, try to show your special-self in some other ways – which can come across in letters of recommendation, talent, extracurriculars, and college essays.

Q: When is the best time to take the SAT?

A: The SAT can be taken any time starting your freshman year.  We strongly recommend that all but the very strongest students do not take the first SAT exam until at least the spring of Grade 9, as this ensures you have covered the required academic content in school.  We also strongly recommend that all students should take their first SAT exam in either the spring of Grade 10 or fall of Grade 11. 

Doing so will give you enough time to take the test twice, which is highly recommended, as 67 percent of students improve their score the second time around. This also helps to unlock the power of Superscoring, which is a tremendous advantage for those who take the SAT multiple times.  

Once you receive your initial test results, you’ll know your weak points and can prepare to retake the test. 

The SAT exam is offered internationally every year in October, November, December, March, May, and June.  View SAT Test Dates and Deadlines here.

COVID 19 Update from SAT: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the College Board has canceled the May 2, 2020, and June 6, 2020 SAT and SAT Subject Test administrations.   College Board has announced that they plan to provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of the calendar year, beginning in August.  This includes a new administration on September 26, along with the previously scheduled tests for Fall 2020.  Learn more here.


Q: What Are SAT Score Percentiles? A: In addition to the composite score you get on the SAT (i.e., that number between 400 and 1600), you’ll get a percentile ranking, ranging from 1 to 99.  The SAT gives you a percentile ranking for your overall composite score as well as for each of the two-section scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. Your percentile tells you how you did on the SAT compared with everyone else who took the test. 


Your percentile score is not like a grade out of 100.  For instance, if you get a percentile of 90, this doesn’t mean you got exactly 90% of the questions right.  It just means that compared with everyone who took the SAT, you scored higher than 90% of them.  

Colleges use percentiles to compare you with other students.  If you got, say, an SAT score in the 90th percentile, this would make you competitive for many schools since you scored better than 90% of students nationwide.

Q: What is an SAT superscore and which colleges superscore

A: Superscoring is when a college chooses to consider your highest section score from multiple sittings of the same examination.  For instance, imagine you’ve taken the SAT two times, once in the spring and once in the fall. The second time around, your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score increased 80 points, but your Math score came out 10 points lower. Colleges that superscore the SAT use your best section-level scores, even if they were from different tests. Many colleges that follow a superscore policy encourage students to submit all test scores, and some require it. This allows them to see and consider the highest section scores consistently and fairly across all applicants.

If you’re planning to take the SAT more than once, then superscoring is a beneficial policy.  You may incorporate this policy into your test prep strategy: If they superscore, then you can take the SAT on various dates throughout high school with a very specific section target score in mind each time.  In this way, you can use SAT superscoring to maximize your composite score and present a stellar SAT score on your college applications.  Make sure you research the standardized test policies of your colleges well in advance of applications.

Most colleges, but not all, consider your SAT superscores.  It’s always a good idea to review the SAT score-use policy for each college on your list so that you can come up with the best application strategy.  You can usually find this policy on the admissions website, usually in an “application requirements” section. Also, refer to this complete list of colleges that superscore the SAT

Q: What is a good score on the SAT?

A: Now, let’s look at the 25th and 75th percentile SAT/ACT scores for MIT, Stanford and all Ivy League schools:

If you’re scoring lower than the 25th percentile on either the SAT, you’ll have a really tough time getting accepted to an Ivy League school.  Unfortunately, you just won’t measure up to all the other highly qualified applicants who have extremely impressive SAT scores.

Clearly, these are very high standards.  In fact, all 75th percentile scores for Ivy League schools are in the 99th percentile nationwide.  To be at the top of the Ivy League application pool, you will need to be one of the top 1% of test-takers in the country!

While these SAT scores for the Ivy League can be used as standard guidelines, everyone has a different target score.  This means that you’ll need to know the SAT/ACT score target that’s right for you.  But how do you figure this out?

Your target SAT score will be based on the colleges you’re applying to.  You’ll need to find the average SAT scores of admitted students for all the schools you’re interested in attending, specifically their 75th percentile scores.  Aiming for the 75th percentile will give you the best chance of getting into all the schools on your list.