SAT and ACT Scores by University Popularity

The true popularity of a university can be tough to gauge, especially when there are so many university rankings available, with each using different data sets and weights to determine its list.

Some weigh selectivity, test scores, GPA, etc., but all of these components can be doctored to a certain extent depending on how they’re reported, i.e. “all full-pay non-athletic-scholarship students.”

A school’s Draw Rate (yield rate/admit rate), however, is a more realistic view of a school’s popularity based on the decisions of students who are actually applying, receiving admission, and choosing whether to enroll or not.

The draw rate also rewards outliers with high admit rates and high yield rates (low selectivity but high yield) and diminishes outliers with low admit rates but low yield rates (think of a school that recently changed something like going test optional and received a greater number of applicants, lowering its overall selectivity, but if their yield lowers as well, the draw rate will expose it).

In this data sat, Stanford had the highest draw rate, and its value was set to a standard of 100.

The draw rate was then mapped out compared to mean ACT & SAT composite scores, colored by region, and can be filtered by state, region, public/private, the draw rate, ACT composite, SAT composite, and institutions can be searched by name as well.

  • In the first pane, all of the universities that report their SAT & ACT scores (test optional schools have been left off) are compared to draw rate on a scale of 0-100, with the draw rate axis smoothed out with a logarithmic view.

  • The second pane shows the same view but without the draw rate axis set to logarithmic, and shows the real popularity gap between the most elite top 10 schools, and all the rest.

  • The third pane shows the same data as the first pane, but with test scores colored by quintile and reference lines of (roughly) the 90th percentile of test scores (green line), 80th percentile (orange line), and national average 50th percentile (blue line).

  • The fourth pane shows the popularity of the school on the y-axis, and compares it to the percent of students submitting either the SAT or ACT on the x-axis. The current visualization is colored by region, and demonstrates how students in the Great Lakes, Plains, and Southeast still prefer the ACT, and how the Far West and New England still prefer the SAT.

The mean SAT & ACT scores were determined by averaging the 25th and 75th percentile reported scores from the 2016 IPEDS data set, and the yield and admit rates were pulled from the same set.

The visualizations are entirely interactive, and please do toggle the settings to create your own view into the data. If you get stuck, just click the arrow pointing left on the bottom right of the screen.

Any of the visualizations can be downloaded by PDF by clicking the button on the bottom far right of the screen

Thanks for stopping by, and please send any comments, criticisms, or future data set suggestions to

Eric Rath