ACT Scores for Admission to Cal State

A Side-by-Side Comparison of College Admissions Data

California State University Los Angeles
California State University Los Angeles. Justefrain / Wikimedia Commons

If you're wondering if you have the ACT scores you'll need to get into one of the California State University schools, here's a side-by-side comparison table of scores for the middle 50% of enrolled students. If your scores fall within or above these ranges, you're on target for admission to one of these 23 public universities in the Cal State system.

Cal State ACT Score Comparison (mid 50%)
(Learn what these numbers mean)

Composite 25% Composite 75% English 25% English 75% Math 25% Math 75%
25% 75% 25% 75% 25% 75%
Cal Poly Pomona 20 27 19 26 19 27
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 26 31 25 33 26 32
Channel Islands - - - - - -
Chico 19 25 17 24 18 25
Fresno 16 22 15 22 16 23
Fullerton 19 24 18 24 18 25
Humboldt State 18 24 17 24 17 24
Long Beach 20 26 19 26 19 27
Los Angeles 15 20 14 20 16 21
Monterey Bay 18 24 17 24 17 24
Northridge 17 22 15 22 16 23
Sacramento 17 23 15 23 17 24
San Bernardino 16 21 15 20 16 22
San Diego State 23 28 22 28 22 28
San Francisco State 18 24 16 24 17 24
San Jose State 19 26 18 25 18 27
San Marcos 18 23 16 23 17 23
Sonoma State 19 24 18 24 17 24

View the SAT version of this table

*A Note on Cal State Test-Optional Campuses

Many of the Cal State campuses do not require ACT or SAT scores from all applicants. Because of this admission policy, the universities are not required to report their scores to the U.S. Department of Education. It's important to note, however, that the application process is not test-optional for all applicants. The universities have GPA and class rank cut-offs for applying without reporting test scores. Be sure to check with each school to which you will apply to see if you need to report ACT scores or not. Bakersfield, Cal Maritime, Dominguez Hills, East Bay, and Stanislaus all practice test-optional adm

Cal State Admissions Standards

The table presents score percentiles. The lower number indicates that 25 percent of enrolled students scored at or below this number. The higher number indicates that 25 percent of enrolled students scored at or above this number. To be competitive, you'll want a score above the lower number, but don't give up hope if your score is a little below that number. A strong academic record can help make up for less-than-ideal ACT scores.

An average ACT composite score is a 21, so you can see that the majority of Cal State campuses enroll students whose scores tend to be a little above or a little below the national average. San Diego State University and Cal Poly Pomona have a majority of above-average students. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is the most selective of all the Cal State campuses, and nearly all admitted students have test scores that are well above average. 

Realize, of course, that ACT scores are just one part of the application. The most important part of your application will be your academic record. Your grades represent several years of work, not a high-pressure exam on a Saturday morning, and they are the best predictor of college success. High grades in college preparatory classes will strengthen an application significantly. Success in AP, IB, Honors, and dual enrollment classes can all play a significant role in the admissions process.

Other Factors that Affect Cal State Admissions

Unlike the University of California system, the majority of Cal State campuses have admissions policies that are largely not holistic. Factors such as essays, letters of recommendation, and college interviews are not part of the admissions process. That said, a few of the Cal State campuses are interested in learning about your work experiences and extracurricular activities

To learn more about each university and what it takes get in, click on the school's name in the table above. 

More ACT Score Comparisons

If you're looking to attend college in California, it will be worth looking at the University of California campuses as well as the Cal State schools. If you compare of ACT scores for admission to the University of California campuses, you'll see that they tend to be much more selective than the California State University schools (with the exception of Cal Poly and San Diego State).

One of the attractive features of the Cal State schools is their relatively low cost. Tuition is about half what the University of California system charges, and a small fraction of the price tag of private institutions such as Pepperdine University and Stanford University. Keep in mind, however, that if you qualify for financial aid, a private institution may be less expensive than a public one. Stanford University, for example, meets 100% of student need without loans. The average grant aid package is over $50,000 a year.

It is worth taking the time to compare ACT scores for top California colleges without worrying about cost. If you're on target for admission to a school that interests you, apply. You can compare the actual costs after receiving your financial aid packages.

Finally, if you're not restricting your college search to California, be sure to compare ACT scores for the top public universities in the nation. You'll need to be a strong student—all are highly selective.

Data from National Center for Education Statistics

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Grove, Allen. "ACT Scores for Admission to Cal State." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2020, Grove, Allen. (2020, October 29). ACT Scores for Admission to Cal State. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "ACT Scores for Admission to Cal State." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).