Information Brief 2012-11

ACT Scores and Postsecondary Degree Attainment: What’s the Connection?

Eighty-four percent of 2010 ACT-tested high school graduates who enrolled at a 4-year postsecondary institution in the fall of 2010 had a high school grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.00.1 ACT® test scores are particularly helpful in identifying those students who will obtain bachelor’s degrees in a timely way.

The following graphs show findings from one of three studies.2 Students are more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees as their ACT Composite score increases. This is true regardless of the level of high school GPA and time to degree completion.

Bachelor’s Degree Attainment within 4 Years

High School Grade Point AverageACT CompositeDegree Rates 4-year
Less than 3.001–166%
17–2013%
21–2418%
25–3626%
3.00–3.491–1614%
17–2023%
21–2433%
25–3642%
3.50–4.001–1619%
17–2029%
21–2443%
25–3658%

The ACT score differential was larger for students with higher high school GPAs. For students with a high school GPA below 3.00, the percentage point difference in 6-year degree attainment rates between the lowest and highest ACT score groups was 28% (23% versus 51%). In comparison, at the highest level of high school GPA, the percentage point difference in 6-year degree attainment rates between the lowest and highest ACT score groups was 39% (42% versus 81%).

Bachelor’s Degree Attainment within 6 Years

High School Grade Point AverageACT CompositeDegree Rates 4-year
Less than 3.001–1623%
17–2039%
21–2444%
25–3651%
3.00–3.491–1637%
17–2053%
21–2461%
25–3668%
3.50–4.001–1642%
17–2060%
21–2474%
25–3681%

1 Based on student-reported grades of ACT-tested 2010 high school graduates who enrolled at a 4-year institution in fall 2010.

2 This study is based on enrollment and degree attainment data from the National Student Clearinghouse. A large nationally representative sample (n=17,799) of ACT-tested high school graduates of 2003 were followed over seven years after enrolling at a 4-year institution in fall 2003. Two other studies, using different samples, also show that ACT scores and high school GPA are predictive of degree attainment.

3 Robbins, S., Lauver, K., Le, H., Langley, R., Davis, D., & Carlstrom, A. (2004). Do psychosocial and study skill factors predict college outcomes? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 261–288.

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