Many students and families rail against the importance of the SAT and the ACT as part of the college admissions process. They lament the stress the entrance exam process causes them and the disconnect between what is tested on the exam and what students learn in the classroom.
Yes, the SAT and ACT cover different concepts than most students learn in their high school math and English classes. Yes, the tests feature intense time pressures and include multiple-choice formats that may not be the norm for most students.
So why do admissions officers rely on them as part of the admissions process?
Because the SAT and ACT provide an invaluable measure of how students are likely to perform in college and beyond.
The SAT and ACT measure how well a student is able to learn a new set of material and apply it to the accompanying questions in a short amount of time. Your child may not have previously interpreted a temperature distribution graph in their high school science classes, for example, but figuring out how to answer the question correctly, even if it seems like it is “written in Greek”, is a life skill.
Encourage your children to treat the SAT and ACT as a challenge that can be overcome. Developing the discipline to learn the material and identify resources that can help them obtain their target score will serve them well for future challenges. Admissions officers are seeking the next generation of problem solvers for their incoming class.
The SAT or ACT may pose a problem at first, but it can definitely be solved through effective prep. The Wall Street Journal recently published a fantastic article that highlights the role testing plays in this process. To access it click here.
Wishing your child success in the test prep process. May the experience of obtaining a target score provide guidance for future frustrating challenges that can be overcome with strategy and determination.
March means many things: madness (basketball), showers, Spring Break and college visits, and for many high school students, picking classes for the next school year.
The transcript is one of the first things that admissions officers look at when making admissions decisions. Your child will want to capitalize on it to demonstrate that she challenged herself in subjects relevant to her intended major and did as well as she could have in those classes.
It has been widely reported that many of the most selective colleges in the country spend six to eight minutes reading applications before making decisions. This means they do not take the time to determine whether Your Fancy High School is any more challenging than Crosstown Rival High School. Said differently, colleges will not take the time to determine whether a ‘B’ at your high school is the equivalent to an ‘A’ at some other school. Do not let teachers, counselors, or administrators convince you otherwise. Admissions officers do not have the time to make heuristic adjustments to high school transcripts.
One of my top priorities with students is ensuring that they take the classes that demonstrate an interest in their intended field AND that they do as well as possible in the classes they take. This means that students interested in studying biology in college consider enrolling in an advanced biology class at their high school if it is offered. This also means that they do not take too many AP classes in other fields that make it impossible to juggle such a rigorous schedule. We want the relevant biology and math grades to be as strong as possible.
Another important consideration for high school is avoiding teachers that are notoriously difficult graders. Colleges do not know who the teacher is, and students must, at all costs, avoid teachers who do not understand the importance of earning the strongest grades possible. Much of this process involves obtaining GPAs and test scores that are competitive to earn admission relative to other high achieving applicants. Avoid landmines that crater a strong transcript.
The best offense for building a strong transcript is a solid defense. Avoid teachers and classes that are known to be too difficult to earn an ‘A’ or a ‘B’. Do not overload the schedule with AP/IB/honors/accelerated classes that make it miserable or just down-right impossible to do as well as possible.
Above all, create a schedule that will allow your child to explore her passions and enjoy high school. Obtaining strong grades in challenging classes is a lot of work. This hard work should be consistent with your child’s long-term goals.
Wishing you a spectacular school year for next year!
The news from Parkland, Florida, this past week is heartbreaking. The loss of life is tragic, unnecessary, and painful for another community afflicted by the scourge of gun violence.
However, it is worth highlighting that the response to this shooting is different. Instead of relying on elected leaders to send their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families, the survivors, high school students, are taking the lead to ensure that this massacre does not happen again: marching on the State Capitol in Tallahassee, staging walk outs across the country, confronting politicians, and circulating petitions to encourage companies to drop their ties to the gun lobby.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are doing what no adult in Washington DC has been able to do: demand meaningful legislation to curb gun violence.
Their courage is inspiration for us all, and especially for other high school students. From their example, our kids can learn that they can advocate for themselves and be the change they wish to see in the world. Whatever it is that they feel most strongly about, our students can bring about real change.
Part of the college admissions process calls on applicants to find their voices. They need to write about themselves, what inspires them, and how they can add value to a college. Colleges are looking for the next generation of leaders that propel their campuses and communities forward. Students who can show that they can make a difference are the ones that earn admission.
Whatever it is your child is passionate about—whether it is gun safety, the environment, or any other cause—encourage your child to take a stand for what she believes in. Let it guide how she spends her time engaged in the community. Encourage your child to become an advocate—for herself and for the future. This will benefit her application by providing her with relevant experiences that demonstrate an ability to make a difference in your community. However, far more important than the college applications, this will give your child the opportunity to find her voice and discover how to apply it to make the world a better place.
With Spring Break around the corner, the second half of the school year is in full swing and flying by. Students currently enrolled in AP/IB/Advanced should consider signing up for SAT Subject Tests if there is a Subject Test that overlaps with their advanced class. I know what you are thinking, not another test, but these ones are different and can help your child build her application theme by demonstrating mastery of core high school subjects relevant to her intended path.
What are the Subject Tests?
The Subject Tests are administered by the College Board, the same organization that offers the SAT. These are one-hour-long multiple-choice tests that are designed to test knowledge of content from core high school classes. A student can take up to three tests on test day, and the Subject Tests are offered at the same date and test centers as the SAT I Reasoning Test. Unlike the SAT which tests verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities, these specialized tests are offered in Literature (English), Math (testing up to precalculus), History (world and US), Science (biology, chemistry, and physics), and foreign languages (i.e. Spanish, Chinese, French, etc.).
These tests are scored on a curve, and students currently enrolled in an AP/IB class that overlaps with the subject tend to score the highest on these. Like the SAT I, each test is scored from 200 to 800.
Are the Subject Tests Required?
These tests are optional for all but a few colleges and specific programs, so it is critical to understand your dream school’s policy.
For families that are feeling test-fatigued with the SAT/ACT and AP/IB testing, many students find these tests far easier to prepare for since they are multiple choice and test content, not reasoning. There is a lot of overlap with AP tests, so students may just need to study a few concepts that were not part of their in-class AP prep.
Which Tests Should My Child Take?
It is worth mentioning that on the Common Application, which most students use to apply to college, there is no place to input AP scores. However, for a student wishing to demonstrate mastery of a particular subject relevant to their intended path, there is the opportunity to report SAT Subject Test Scores. These tests are an excellent opportunity for students to build their application theme.
Your child should consider taking a Subject Test if enrolled in the most advanced class in the field that is offered. For example, if your child is an aspiring engineer, and currently enrolled in AP Chemistry, consider taking the Chemistry Subject Test in June after the AP exam (before the knowledge goes stale). Any student currently enrolled in precalculus or Calculus has the curriculum background to take the Math Level 2 exam as well.
Do not wait until Senior Year to take them all. By then, your child will have forgotten concepts she learned as a sophomore or junior, making prep much more difficult.
While an added layer of testing, take comfort knowing that these tests are easier to prepare for because they test concepts your child has learned in class. Use them to your advantage as another easy to understand data point. If you have specific questions about which tests to take based on your child’s intended major or class schedule, please contact us to discuss further.
It should come as little surprise that great readers become great writers.
This is good news for students preparing for the competitive college admissions process, because essays matter. There are enough students with perfect SAT/ACT scores and GPAs to fill every spot at highly selective colleges many times over. Once a student has demonstrated that she is qualified to be admitted to a college, admissions officers turn to an applicant’s extracurricular activities and essays to make decisions as to who adds the most value to their campus, and earns a coveted spot at their school.
Application essays cause some students anxiety because they know how much is riding on them. Regardless of the school or the AP/IB/honors program, students feel more comfortable discussing an author’s tone or the significance of a work of fiction than their own perspective or ability to add to their dream college.
This is why I suggest to all of my students to read for fun outside of class. Yes, I know how busy students are, but even if it is just a few pages a night instead of a never-ending Snap Chat conversation with a friend, I want my students to gain exposure to books that inspire them and prepare them to write great essays when applying. By also reading books of their own choice, students are more likely to get away from ‘rote answers’ and will be able to write and talk spontaneously about something that has truly captivated their interest.
More importantly, reading consistently throughout high school will help students prepare for the reading comprehension sections of the SAT and ACT. The iGen’s eyes are different than their parents’ due to so much screen time. Reading printed paper (aka a book) prepares them for the test.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for what students should read. Many schools ask applicants to list the books they read for fun in the last few years. By recognizing now that a college may ask your child this question, she can avoid the discomfort of not being able to answer because she did not read anything outside the curriculum. Consider books that showcase academic passions or interest in other parts of the world. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what a student should read. If the book is celebrated for its contribution to society or showcases who your child is, then it will add to her application.
Feel free to email us for specific recommendations based on your child’s interests.
Wishing you fun reads that make your child a better test taker and writer!
In Orange County, California, we were rocked by the suicide of a middle school and high school student in the same week. It is horrifying and makes the statistics about the dramatic rise in teen suicide hit very close to home.
Being a teenager can be uncomfortable and at times stressful. The pressure to fit in, please parents, and stay true to oneself can create conflicts and turmoil when coping mechanisms are not fully developed.
Preparing for the college admissions process shouldn’t add to the angst. Applying to college should be an exciting chapter for high school students. It represents infinite possibilities for classes tailored to a student’s academic interests, diverse perspectives, opportunities to study abroad, internships, and lifelong friends.
Yes, studying for entrance exams can be tedious at times, and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to earn good grades in high school, but our students must know that there is a college waiting for them and all they must do is their best to get there.
Many students come to me and ask what ACT score or GPA they need to get into college. My answer is the same regardless: simply your best. We can find schools that fit any profile because they are out there and the path to becoming a healthy, happy, and financially independent adult does not run through any one school.
It is a fool’s errand for any family to compare their child’s test scores or GPA relative to any other student’s. After all, many of the most selective colleges reject 90% of valedictorians and students with perfect SAT or ACT test scores. Said differently, colleges are looking for more than a GPA or test result.
It is up to us to empower students to follow their passions and create their own paths in this process. This is what admissions officers look for in their applicants, and just as importantly, it removes the artificial pressures of the high school rat race by liberating students to pursue what matters to them. It creates a win-win, as this approach enables students to stand out and earn admission to a college that is a great fit for them.
We must inspire our kids to view the challenges of high school as preparation for their own unique futures and to develop the confidence that they can tackle any challenge or obstacle they face. Their resilience will define their success far more than any transcript or degree hanging on a wall ever will.
Clicking ‘submit’ for the final application brings many seniors and their parents a great sense of accomplishment and relief that the hard part of the process is over. Many parents do not anticipate the emotional roller coaster that accompanies the waiting game for admissions decisions. The fact that colleges makes admissions decisions on different timelines can result in increased stress for those waiting to hear back from their colleges after their classmates have already been notified.
Here are several tips for staying strong and focused on what matters most through this process:
1. Tune Out Other Acceptances
High school seniors treat acceptances like a form of social currency and create pecking orders based on where they are admitted. Every applicant has a unique story to tell. News of another student that has been admitted to your dream college does not necessarily mean there isn’t a spot for you there as well. Colleges admit students to create a well-rounded class. There is room for multiple students at any college—even the most selective—from any high school.
2. Stay Positive
The college admissions process is a great introduction to the life lesson that regardless of how hard we try, there are certain things outside of our control. There is no point in worrying what will happen with specific schools because there is a degree of arbitrariness in the process. People read the essays and applications files and some may be received better than others at no fault of your own. Focus on the fact that you gave the application process your all and showed admissions committees what inspires you or makes you unique.
3. Be Realistic
If your dream school only accepts five or ten percent of its applicants, accept that this means just a handful of the well qualified applicants will actually get in. You could do everything right, and it may still not be enough to earn admission. There are just so many more applicants than spots available at many selective colleges. Recognize this as early as possible.
4. Focus on Long-Term Goals
To become a doctor or embark on any other competitive career does not require a degree from Stanford, Harvard, or any other college that accepts 5% of its applicants. Remember to dedicate yourself to long-term goals and recognize that there are countless colleges that can provide the foundation for you to achieve long-term success.
Seniors, I wish you the best of luck in the next few months as you hear back from the schools you applied to. But more important than luck with the admissions process, I wish you long-term success beyond college.
Frank Bruni, of the New York Times, recently profiled a student who turned down offers of admission from Harvard, Princeton, Yale and other hyper selective colleges to enroll in the honors college at his home state public school, the University of Alabama. The student’s decision to bypass opportunities to study at some of the most prestigious universities in the country for a program closer to home with generous financial aid, that offer small classes filled with other high achieving students highlights a growing trend for students seeking a college within a college experience through honors programs.
Through an honors college program, your child may be able to create a college experience similar to a private school within the confines of a large public university. This includes research opportunities with faculty, small classes, and career and internship guidance.
As the cost of tuition skyrockets and it becomes more challenging to earn admission to many well known universities, consider honors college programs at public universities. They may offer the type of college experience your child seeks at a fraction of the price than you were expecting. College is a growth opportunity. Keep an open mind for amazing opportunities.
As the acceptance rates at top public and private universities across the United States plummet, many parents ask, “Is there anywhere my child would be a preferred applicant?” Sadly, the answer is probably no, unless your uncle has a dorm named after him at an Ivy League school, or your child is the next Serena Williams of tennis.
However, many of the most highly regarded colleges in the United Kingdom actively seek American students to add diverse perspectives to their classes, with some of the most prestigious schools boasting acceptance rates three times as high as their American peer schools.
To facilitate the process of Americans applying to UK colleges, some of these schools are making the process easier by accepting the Common Application (the application form used by many American colleges) and considering students’ SAT and ACT scores as part of the application. Said differently, applying to a school like St. Andrews or University of Edinburgh aligns with what many high school seniors will do when applying to public and private universities closer to home.
Students considering the UK for college have similar choices for campuses, majors, and settings as they do in the US. Depending on what a student seeks in a British college, they will find colleges offering gothic and historic architecture, close-knit campuses, city locations and internationally recognized STEM and business programs.
As tuition costs skyrocket across the United States, it’s worth noting that tuition at many of these UK schools actually work out as less expensive than the in-state tuition for public universities. For international students from the US, the tuition at St. Andrews — arguably one of the most famous and prestigious colleges in the UK — costs less than the in-state tuition for some flagship state schools.
What does going to a UK school mean for job prospects for American students? While it may be more difficult to obtain a visa to work in the UK after college, a UK college student originally from Los Angeles recently told me of a job fair for Bank of America held in London. American multinationals routinely recruit grads from top UK colleges.
The dramatic rise in competition and cost for attending colleges across the United States requires creativity. For some, attending college across the pond may provide a world-class education at a lower cost than available to them at home. As globalization continues to drive economic growth, many students will find an international college experience invaluable for their careers and personal growth, which is what college is truly about.
I found spending a semester of college in Argentina to be one of the most defining experiences in my life. Getting out of my comfort zone and developing fluency in Spanish opened up incredible opportunities for me. I never would have landed a job on Wall Street after college but for studying abroad in Argentina. Drawing on both my own personal experience and a strategic approach to the application process and beyond, I am excited to support students who seek similar international experiences for their education.
Succeeding in the college admissions process is as much about standing out from a sea of other highly qualified applicants as it is about developing the foundation for long-term success. As we begin 2018 and students return from winter break, set healthy college admissions resolutions that will not only improve your child’s odds of admission, but empower them up to achieve their goals in college and beyond.
Here are four resolutions I suggest every high school student adopt and stick to in 2018 to turn their college admissions goals into a reality.
1. Make a Plan
Given the fierce competition to earn a spot at selective colleges, it is critical to create a plan to stand out. Students who sign up for every AP class offered learn the hard way that they have little time to do things to stand out beyond their transcript. Approach every class, activity, and test strategically to ensure that your child can dedicate time to the things that matter the most to her and will deliver the highest return to her applications.
2. Develop Passions and Skills
Admissions officers have many talented applicants to choose from when admitting applicants. Admissions officers are not looking for well-rounded students. Rather, they are seeking passionate specialists, which together, create a well-rounded class. To stand out and earn a spot at your child’s dream college, focus on the areas that matter the most to your child, and look for opportunities to excel in them. Earn recognition wherever possible, and think of creative ways to demonstrate an ability to make a difference in whatever your child naturally enjoys doing.
3. Gain foreign language skills
If you are worried about good jobs being shipped overseas, your child should become fluent in a foreign language so she can be part of an international team. Admissions officers and employers are impressed by applicants who demonstrate an interest in foreign cultures and who have made an effort to connect with people out of their comfort zones. Foreign language fluency can lead to higher pay and more robust career opportunities that do not exist for people who do not speak a second language.
4. Focus on yourself, not classmates
A collective group panic sets in somewhere in eleventh grade as students become nervous about their odds of admission. To reduce stress levels, to the extent possible, try to ignore other students’ or parents’ stress and focus on your own individual plan for earning admission. Colleges do not look for multiple copies of the same applicant. They will build a dynamic class comprised of students with different interests and skills. Avoid the temptation to do what everyone else is doing; following the crowd is likely to be counterproductive and lead your child to blend in with other applicants.
By staying true to yourself and creating a plan to develop skills and passions that admissions officers covet, your child will position herself for success, both for college and beyond. Best of luck in this process in 2018!