Why You Should Invest in SAT/ACT Test Preparation and Admissions Counseling

StratusPrep ACT and SAT Tutoring IconApplying to and funding college can be stressful, but proper planning and expert guidance can help alleviate some of the pressure on students and their families. According to the College Board, the cost of attending a four-year college ranges from $91,000 to $179,000. College is a large investment in your child, and as with any other large investment, it is best to seek out an expert advisor who is experienced and has successfully guided others to similar goals.

I’ve outlined a few of the top reasons why you should invest in SAT/ACT test preparation and college admissions counseling for your child as a means to maximize your investment and set your child up for success.

Return on Investment. Working with a seasoned team of SAT/ACT tutors and college admission counselors will substantially increase your child’s chances of gaining admission to the school of his or her dreams. Graduating from a top university increases your child’s opportunities after graduation and lifetime earning potential. Investing less than 5% of the investment’s total in expert guidance is a minimal spend to maximize opportunity.

When seeking professional test preparation and admission counseling, it’s important to choose a tutor and counseling team wisely. Costs for these services varies by company, but be sure to ask questions regarding process, credentials and successes. For example, all of Stratus Prep’s tutors have scored in the top 1% on the ACT/SAT and have had at least two years of teaching experience. It is our firm belief that great test-takers must also be experienced educators in order to help students maximize their test scores. All of our admissions counselors have graduated from the nation’s elite higher learning institutions including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia and have significant admissions experience. We also believe in a team-based, customized approach. Stratus Prep counselors and tutors work together to help each student succeed – from practice test to admission. I am also involved with every single student’s admission plan and at multiple touch points throughout the application process. References are also always available.

Scholarship guidance and negotiation. When it comes to paying for college, there is quite a bit of money available. Since 2011, Stratus Prep has helped students negotiate over $15 million in merit-based scholarship. Our experience with negotiation has allowed many of our students to graduate debt-free. The luxury of not having to repay loans after college provides your child with the freedom to take any job opportunity that he or she may desire. Your child may also choose to extend his or her educational career by going to graduate school and would then be able to do so without the burden of knowing that he or she will soon be expected to make loan payments. It is also important to have guidance to navigate other types of scholarships that require essay writing and other forms of qualification.

A competitive edge. Admission to elite universities is more competitive today than ever. Most students only apply to college once. Just like with anything else, doing something for the first time is rarely as successful as the second, third, or thousandth time. Having the support of a team of seasoned admission professionals who have successfully worked with thousands of students gives your child an edge. Highly skilled admissions counselors know what works and what doesn’t.

An unbiased, available advisor. Many high school students look to their high school’s college advisor for guidance. This person serves as a great resource; however, certain universities may only accept a certain number of students from specific schools and it is up to the advisor’s discretion to promote one student more heavily than another to university representatives. Having an unbiased counselor to help guide your decisions such as essay topics and recommenders will allow your child to maximize chances of acceptance. High school advisors may also be guiding hundreds of students within a single application season. In order to receive personalized attention, it is best to look to an outside admissions counselor who is only working with a small number of students at one time.

For these reasons, you should consider investing in SAT/ACT test preparation and admission counseling for your child. Summer is a great time to determine your child’s application strategy and next steps. Please reach out to me with any questions or comments regarding investing in SAT/ACT test preparation and college admissions counseling at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com.

This post was provided by Shawn O’Connor, Founder and President of StratusPrep, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on June 7th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

An Inside Look at Admissions That Make or Break Student Acceptance

Monmouth College LogoStudents have been to applying to more colleges than ever. As a result, many colleges have actually seen increases in their number of applications. Ironically, this increase comes at time in which many regions across the United States are graduating fewer seniors. Private and Public colleges alike, are seeing increases in the number of applications they receive. Some flagship state universities now have admission criteria that reflect some of the most selective private colleges and universities.

It seems as though students have hit their limit with the number of college applications they complete. The majority of students now apply to 7-10 schools and that number has remained consistent over the past few years. Tools such as the Common Application and its growing popularity have contributed to the rise in applications. However, applications fees, essays and supplemental documents may be the reason why students are generally reluctant to apply to more than 10 schools.

I like to advise students that no one is going to care which schools you applied to and how many of them accepted you. They should not apply to Ivy League schools just so they can say, “I applied to Ivy League schools.” Future employers will only care about the college you did attend. Students should spend a lot of time up front researching colleges, just as anyone about to make a large investment would. Then they should apply to schools meeting their criteria, not someone else’s.

Not all colleges operate the same way when it comes to the admission process. Some have Early Decision or Early Action deadlines in which they hope to secure top students early through a loosely binding process. Many of Regular Decision deadlines occur in January, with review of applications taking place only after that date. An increasing number of colleges have adopted Rolling Admission, in which applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis usually without any deadline for consideration. NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) recently released on their website a list of over 200 schools still accepting applications after May 1st, the National Candidate Reply Date. Every year there are students who start their college search late and think applications deadlines have past. Although students should begin seriously researching colleges during their junior year, it should be known that just because one school’s deadline has passed it does not mean all others have as well.

There are vast differences between large and small colleges. The two of the most striking differences are the residential life and classroom experiences. For obvious reasons it much more difficult to build a close-knit community among 20,000+ students than it is at a small, residential college of 1,300 students like at Monmouth College where I work. Additionally, smaller colleges typically have no Teaching Assistants, small class sizes (average of 15 at Monmouth College) and low student to faculty ratios (12:1 at Monmouth College).

Monmouth College is an ideal place for students seeking a broad classroom-based education, great co-curricular opportunities such as Study Abroad and ways to explore leadership opportunities. Over 90% of Monmouth students live on campus and 99% of them received a scholarship or grant. Faculty know students by name, provide them with their cell phone numbers and invite them over for dinner at their homes. Monmouth College has been a great investment since 1853 and continues to be with 99% of our 2013 graduates reporting employment or enrollment in a graduate or professional program within six months of graduation.

This post was provided by Phil Betz, Director of Admissions at Monmouth College, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on May 31st, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Online Learning vs. Traditional Education: What’s Right for You?

Trident University LogoTrident University International (Trident), recognizing both the changing needs of its students and the employers that hire its graduates, is introducing its first new programs since 2011. Students can choose a path of either Bachelor’s or Master’s of Science in Leadership degree starting in this year’s summer session beginning on July 7th. Registration is open now.

These programs utilize the most current leadership theories and are taught using tried and true pedagogical methods. Students will have the opportunity to build on their current managerial skillset, as well as learn new theories and practical approaches. With a focus on the development of critical thinking skills, the tools provided to students in these degree programs will give them a professional edge, whether they are working their way up the corporate ladder or strengthening their resume as an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“People ask “Are leaders born or made”? I’ve never met a “born” organizational leader who hasn’t gone through the life experience, studies, and work with others that it takes to make a leader.” Dr. Stefan Hanson, Program Director, B.S. in Leadership, Trident University

Roles requiring managerial leadership skills, which are currently in high demand, have grown at 4.5% over the past decade and are expected to generate an additional 410,000 jobs by 2020. Despite this, there are few options to meet that demand in the private online space. Several industry segments have the need for professionals who have mastered these skills, including management of companies and enterprises, professional scientific and technical services, computer systems design, and state and local governments at the national level.

The Bachelor’s or Master’s of Science in Leadership programs resulted from years of research, managed by Dr. Simcha Pollard, Dean, College of Business Administration and College of Information Systems. Approval from accrediting bodies, such as Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC), depended on many factors, including the employability of future graduates from these programs. Both programs received approval from WASC, the body that reaffirmed Trident’s accreditation in April 2013 for 7 years.

As Trident’s demographic diversifies, the university remains committed to student success through the development of degree programs that appeal to a diverse population while preparing these students for careers in the modern world. With the B.S. and M.S. in Leadership, current and future managers can hope to gain the skills necessary to handle growth, increase productivity, and manage conflicts in an ethical way in the modern professional environment. The B.S. in Leadership offers concentrations in Management, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Criminal Justice Administration.

About Trident University

Founded in 1998, Trident University International (Trident) is a leading online post-secondary university serving adult learners. Trident developed the Trident Learning Model, which employs case-based learning in an online setting to teach real-world relevant critical thinking skills to enhance student’s lives and careers. Trident offers high-quality bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, led by a qualified faculty team, over 90% of whom have doctoral degrees. Visit www.trident.edu, Trident’s Facebook page, or call at (800) 579-3197 to learn more about Trident’s wide range of program offerings.

These two blogs were originally posted to Trident University’s website.  Andy Vaughn, CEO & President of Trident University was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on May 24th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

An Affordable Option for Low-Income Students to Obtain a High-Quality Degree

Berea College LogoThere is a college in the US unlike any other.

  • A college that offers full tuition scholarships to all admitted students and admits only students who lack the means to contribute at all to tuition.
  • A college that offers a high-quality liberal arts program as well as majors with vocational/professional character including nursing, education, business, agriculture, sustainability and agriculture.
  • A residential college with an attractive campus, well-equipped facilities, a faculty active in research and scholarship, a staff that contributes to the educational enterprise through supervision of students in the work program, international programs, and vibrant extra-curriculars including inter-collegiate athletics, lectures by distinguished visitors, many events in the performing arts and community celebrations of our distinctive character.
  • A college that not only admits students, but hires each and every one into work positions that help support efficient campus operations and provide valuable work experience.
  • A college that was founded before the Civil War and was the first interracial and coeducational school in the South; still with a diverse and interesting student body, faculty and staff, including substantial numbers of international students and a broad mixture of domestic students.
  • A college that accentuates the celebration of its regional association. It is located in the city of Berea in the state of Kentucky, near Lexington, and does its utmost to provide an educational opportunity to students living in Appalachia as well as other services to distressed communities in that part of the country.
  • A college that through that commitment offers opportunities to all its students to learn through the offering of service to those in need.
  • A college that has put a high emphasis on sustainability of its operations—we operate the first LEED certified hotel in Kentucky, have built one of the only platinum-level LEED certified residence halls in the country, and are renovating all of our buildings to reduce substantially reduce our carbon footprint—and also offers living and learning experiences in Sustainability and Environmental Studies.
  • A college, that because of its compelling mission and model, is supported by an array of friends, foundations and alumni so that its unique financial model remains robust and sustainable, and so that it enjoys a triple-A bond rating.
  • A college that leads the way in many areas of national recognition including Kiplingers, the Washington Monthly, and other rating services. The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center’s report that shows Berea has the lowest tuition and fees in the nation. The national average for private, four-year not-for-profit colleges for tuition and fees is $22,786. Berea’s is $910.

This college has many successful graduates in nearly every profession and career imaginable, including entrepreneurs in business, public servants in politics, professors and academic leaders, preachers, teachers, nurses, farmers and foresters. A short list of distinguished graduates might include:

In conclusion, one might rightly ask why there is not a Berea College in every region of the country? That seems to us a very good question.

This post was provided by Lyle Roelofs, President of Berea College, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on May 10th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Go to College in the West for Less!

WUE“I can afford to study out-of-state? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Students — and their parents who are bankrolling their kids’ education — are often amazed to learn that they can afford an undergraduate education outside of their home state, thanks to a program called “WUE” that’s been around for a quarter of a century. Some say it’s like winning the lottery!

More than 25 years ago, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), a nonprofit higher education policy organization, forged an agreement with its 15 western member states called the “Western Undergraduate Exchange”, or “WUE”. WUE is a multi-lateral regional tuition reciprocity agreement whereby a resident of one WICHE member state can go to college at a participating public institution in another WICHE state, and pay 1.5 times the resident tuition of the enrolling institution. WICHE member states are: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, ND, NM, NV, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

WUE is the biggest program of its kind the nation; a 154 total of institutions — community colleges and universities – participate in the network. This year alone (2013-14), some 34,000 students saved an estimated $264.7 million by paying the reduced WUE rate, instead of full nonresident tuition. Individual savings ranges from about $900 up to $13,000 per student, but on average, a student this year is saving about $7,800.

The savings numbers are even more staggering when you look at the historical savings the program has provided for families since the first exchanges began in 1988: western residents have saved an estimated $2.2 billion on some 392,000 tuition bills! Depending on where you’re from and where you want to enroll, earning your degree may cost about the same and sometimes less than what you would have paid if you had studied in your home state!

Now you’re wondering: what’s the catch? What motivates institutions participate in WUE? Community colleges and universities like WUE just as much as students and families do. It helps them achieve their enrollment goals on several levels. The savings can entice students to enroll in difficult-to-fill majors. They can also use WUE as a merit scholarship, to attract the brightest students in the region, which also boosts their graduation and retention rates.

WUE also helps them diversify their student body; the more regional and ethically diverse their students are, the richer the learning experience for all. Some institutions also use WUE to attract academically qualified athletes in the region. Furthermore, some graduates will probably remain in the state where they received their degree, and become part of the local workforce. For growing states, this is a plus!

Prospective students must apply for the WUE discounted rate at the same time they apply for admission. The WUE rate is never guaranteed. Students must request it and meet the enrolling institution’s requirements.

Here are a few simple guidelines to follow:
1. Make sure your major is eligible for the WUE discount at the WUE institution where you’re applying. Some high demand majors are excluded. To find out, check your dream institution’s WUE profile. Remember, if you change to a non-eligible major, the institution will charge you full nonresident tuition.

2. Read the participating institution’s WUE eligibility requirements (GPA and ACT or SAT scores). Do you qualify? About 20% of WUE institutions use the program as a merit scholarship.

3. Apply directly to the institution where you want to enroll, and apply as early as possible! Check the institution’s WUE application deadline. An early application will increase your chances if you meet all of the other qualifications where you want to enroll. Remember: some institutions have a limit on the number of WUE discounts that they will offer to new students each fall—you want to fall within that number.

4. If you’re awarded the WUE discounted tuition rate, be ready to study hard and finish your bachelor’s degree within four years. Most institutions limit the number of semesters that they will give you the discounted rate. Community colleges may also set a two-year limit for full-time students. It’s important to note that WUE is for students who want to complete a full degree; it is not designed for a semester or one year study experience.

For specific questions about admissions requirements, contact the enrolling institution directly. If you have general questions about the program after reading the WUE FAQ contact WICHE staff at info-sep@wiche.edu 303.541.0270.

This post was provided by Margo Colalancia, Director of Student Exchanges at WICHE, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on April 5th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: OutOfStateCollegeFairs.net

Becoming an “Angular” Student

students_readingIn the early eighties, when I applied, the buzzword for college acceptance was “well-rounded,” which referred to a student who participated in many different activities.

That is no longer what colleges are looking for from applicants. Now they want to build a well-rounded class made up of students who will each fill one or two slices of their total round pie: in other words, students who are unique, focused, and angular (or express excellence or uniqueness) in their interests.

Peter Johnson, The Director of Admission at Columbia University, echoed this view when I heard him speak recently.  Johnson said that Columbia is seeing a rise in what he calls “Niche Applicants” and what I call Angular Applicants. These are students who have already demonstrated a deep independent intellectual curiosity or expertise in a given area from science research to humanities to outstanding athletics. An angular student can also be a student who has developed a degree of excellence in one or two areas—leadership, intellectual curiosity, athletics, or community service—or who has a special talent or exhibits unusual personal character.

I developed The College Application Wheel™ to serve as a framework and tool to assist you in identifying your strengths and “gaps”—areas that you may need to fill in such as community service or higher standardized test scores—it will also help you determine where your energy may best be spent in making yourself shine or stand out from the crowd. It will help you understand what makes you unique, how to find a college that values you for who you are, and help you see where there is a match between you and a specific college.

The College Application Wheel™

college_app_wheel

The key components of the College Application Wheel are:

  • Academics/test scores
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Leadership
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Athletics
  • Special talents
  • Financial
  • Other

Colleges don’t expect you to excel in all eight of these categories, but they do look at these areas to determine if you will be a good academic, cultural, emotional, financial, and character-based “fit” with their institution.  So what’s your angle?

Bio
Lisa Bleich is founder and president of College Bound Mentor, LLC and the author of Surviving the College Application Process: Case Studies to Help You Find Your Unique Angle for Success.  She mentors students from all over the world on the college application process, helping them uncover their strengths and develop a personal plan for success. Lisa holds a BA in European cultural studies and French from Brandeis University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and three daughters. Two of them have successfully survived the college application process!

This post was provided by Lisa Bleich, College Bound Mentor, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on March 22, 2014.  Listen to the broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: University of Nottingham

Western Undergraduate Exchange: Is Your Student Eligible for Reduced Tuition?

Map of participating WUE states.Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) operates as a non-profit facility and essentially acts as an informational hub, conveying data or “resource sharing” between educators, governors and policymakers.  They pride themselves as an organization dealing with and concentrated exclusively on higher education.

It’s centered in 15 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

For more background information, visit the WICHE about page on their website.

The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) is one of their primary initiatives focused on financial aid.  As a resident of one of those states, you’re eligible to receive reduced tuition of 150% at over 150 WUE participants.

Wondering if your dream school is part of this program?  A full list can be found here.  You may also use their search feature and they grouped colleges by state for your convenience.

You simply need to indicate on your admission form to the participating institution that you’d like consideration for the WUE tuition rate.  While it isn’t automatically given to all students, be sure to apply early.  A number of colleges hand out a limited amount of WUE awards.

Still unsure about something with their organization?  Any other FAQs can be found under their page called “Ask WICHE”.

For questions directly concerning the WUE, send an e-mail their way to info-sep@wiche.edu or give them a call at (303) 541-0270.

This post gives you basic information about the Western Undergraduate Exchange.  We went into greater detail on our College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” February 1st 2014 broadcast.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.  For a more detailed explanation of the WUE program, listen to our show with guest Margo Colalancia, Director of Student Exchanges at WICHE.

Photo Credit: U. of Montana

Why SAT and ACT Prep Matter, But Don’t Have to Break the Bank

ExamWhile finding an excellent SAT or ACT tutor can give your children a significant advantage when they take their test, finding quality SAT tutors can be difficult at times. Obviously, a good SAT or ACT tutor can have a profound influence on a successfully improved score, but many great resources are available to families that can either complement the efforts of a tutor or substitute for them.

Returning to those promised resources, here’s a list of 6 free things you can do to help your student improve her SAT and ACT scores:

1.  Watch Jeopardy one night a week as a family. Why? It will expose your child to words she might not know, teach her the type of thinking that goes into crafting standardized test questions, and provide a relaxed and entertaining setting in which she can learn.

2.  Listen to A Way with Words. This curious, once-a-week radio show provides an extensive exploration of various words and phrases. Since the ACT and SAT pull their writing selections from a variety of sources, exposure to the diverse phrases featured on A Way with Words will help your student to navigate those sources.

3. Read one essay or article a week (yes, as a family), and have your child try to pick out the main theme from the work. Beyond that, discuss the essay—how does the author present her argument? You can get selections of essays from your local library or bookstore, or simply peruse the New York Times to find a weekly essay.

4. Try using ProfessorWord as a way to highlight ACT and SAT vocabulary that appears in that reading

5. The SAT Question of the Day and ACT Question of the Day are free!

6. Utilize the best free ACT and SAT resources on the web. If you need assistance with SAT math, give PWN the SAT a whirl. The site is a bit goofy, but most students like it—and the site’s author also has a Q&A section where he responds to SAT questions for free. If you’re worried about ACT and SAT reading or English, The Critical Reader provides great online resources and tips. If you need further practice materials, Knerr Learning Center lists even more.

Wondering what else can be done to improve your child’s score? Well, the books published by PWN the SAT and The Critical Reader offer excellent supplementary resources. However, they don’t cover things like ACT math or science. So your best overall resources are The Official SAT Study Guide and The Real ACT Prep Guide. Even handier than books, though, are mobile apps. Why? Teenagers always have their smart phones on them, so they can train no matter where they are. Virtual SAT Writing Tutor, QuotEd Reading Comprehension, QuotEd ACT Science, and SAT Up are among the most effective. As a side note on other prep materials (online courses, books, or apps), just because people like how easy they are to use doesn’t mean they are actually helping students improve their scores. You want your child prepared for the test, not bursting with unfounded overconfidence! Please keep that in mind when you see glowing evaluations of prep materials.

And, for those of you wondering how SAT studying might work if you were the sole driver of your child’s training, Debbie Stier’s delightful book called The Perfect Score Project is a great introduction to both the SAT and parenting while your student prepares for her test.

Bio:

Kreigh Knerr is a former classroom teacher who specializes in preparation for tests like the ACT and SAT. Kreigh has successfully worked with students from over thirty countries (and almost every state in the US) and consults nationwide on test preparation and test anxiety. In 2012, he invented QuotEd, a mobile app used by thousands of schools and individuals throughout the world.

This post was provided by Kreigh Knerr, the founder of QuotEd, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on December 21st, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Alberto G.

Is It Really Impossible to Get into College These Days?

9436795862_7ef8af87dc_bThere’s no question the students who get the attention of admission officers and do best in the college application process have figured out who they are and what they want.

Be yourself. High school—and the college application process—are about students finding out who they are and what they love — not simply trying to create the image that they’ve heard is going to impress a college.

You may remember a WSJ op-ed last spring written by a young woman — Suzy Lee Weiss — titled To (All) The Colleges That Rejected Me — in which she talked about how colleges “lie to prospective students” by telling them to “be themselves,” when what colleges really want in an applicant is stuffed resumes, an ethnic minority, and “fake charities.”

Aside from illustrating the dangers of the use of satire in the hands of teenagers, the op-ed vividly illustrated the fact that this young woman simply does not understand the true nature of the admission process.

When colleges say, “Be yourself,” they don’t mean, “be a slacker” and they don’t mean “be politically correct.” And it’s certainly not a promise to admit you no matter what. They are simply asking applicants: “tell us the truth about yourself.”  Because, like most of us, colleges value honesty. But also because an admission office needs to know who you really are when it puts together a class that will meet the college’s needs.

Students who ignore their true interests in favor of what they think a college wants are making a mistake — because what a college really wants is to know who they truly are. You do not have to fake it to make it.

One of the reasons applying to college can feel scarier than it has to is that students — and parents, too — believe they can only prepare successful applications if colleges tell them exactly what they are looking for.

So when colleges do not give explicit instructions, students and parents often feel that it must be proof that the process is completely random or rigged in some way.

The truth is that it is not in the colleges’ best interest to tell you what they are looking for. What happens in a college admission office is about putting together a class that meets the college’s needs. It is driven by institutional priorities — a phrase that most deans of admission and college counselors wish that parents understood — and what that means is, admissions are driven by every college’s own self-interest.

Colleges have their own agendas. They are businesses. They have payrolls to meet, facilities to maintain, programs to mount, trustees to satisfy, faculty and staff to keep motivated and happy, and laws to observe. Admission officers have to listen to all of a college’s voices.

So what does that mean?
You have all heard a version of this — that a college wants women engineers or a shortstop. But it’s much more complicated than that. At the highest level: Colleges each have a mission and they meet that mission in different ways. At public universities, of course, the priority is often a mandate from the legislature to educate the best students in the state as defined by GPA or class rank. Private colleges will seek applicants who reflect the characteristics that fulfill their mission statement—which might be leadership, intellectual ability, or dedication to public service.

Then it gets more complicated.
One admission dean said to me, the faculty owns admissions. And it’s not just that the engineering school wants more women, it’s that the math department wants to see conceptual creativity in their incoming students, the political science department wants students who will give professors a run for their money in a classroom discussion, and the biology department wants at least some students who are genuinely interested in biology rather than studying it as a stepping-stone to medical school.

Then the people in student life get a say — they want leaders who will run the student organizations, actors to walk the stage, and students to fill the stands at a football game.

The administration chimes in — they want geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity.

And then there is another layer. Some colleges have cultures and personalities that can become an important part of their admission criteria—perhaps they are seeking quirky intellectualism like Harvey Mudd College in California, international applicants like George Washington University or students who want study abroad or cultural immersion experiences like Goucher College in Baltimore.

So what are colleges looking for? All of the above.
Charged with answering all those voices, with building a class that meets all those priorities, admission departments need to know what the applicants are really like in order to meet that charge.

So even more than impressive test scores and fantastic essays, colleges are looking for authenticity.

This is why it is crucial that students set time aside to think deeply about this next phase of their life: what they want out of college, what they absolutely need to have in a school, what they can and can’t live without for four years. If students are so overloaded with activities and academics that they do not take the time for self-reflection, they are making a mistake. They need to ask themselves the tough questions that help them emerge with a strong understanding of who they are. Because colleges really mean it when they tell students to “Be yourself.”

That’s good news. It’s not about being the perfect candidate. The perfect candidate may be someone who is imperfect but authentic.

This post was provided by Christine VanDeVelde, co-author of the book College Admission: From Application to Acceptancewho was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on December 7th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Jose Mendivil

What Every Parent Must Know About the SAT and ACT Tests

SAT or ACT?

Parents of college-bound children need to know the difference between the SAT and the ACT, how to determine whether their student should choose one of these tests or take both, when to take the tests, how much advanced preparation and study time is needed, and how to study for these tests. I have sought to provide an introduction to test preparation and the resources that are available to you as you navigate through this exciting time in your student’s life.

What is the Difference Between the SAT and the ACT Tests?
These tests have many similarities in what is tested. It is, however, the way in which each test determines a student’s proficiency in a given area that sets them apart. While the SAT and ACT both look at Reading, Writing and Math skills, and both have an essay section, they test these skills in very different ways.

  • SAT – Tests reasoning and logic skills and assumes little prior knowledge of the subject areas. For example, on the SAT, students are given the formulas for the area of a circle and the side relationships for a 45-45-90 triangle, and they must demonstrates their ability to use these formulas to arrive at the correct answer.
  • ACT – More curriculum-based test and assumes some prior knowledge. A student must have memorized the formulas for the circumference and area of a circle, as well as the side relationships for special triangles. The questions on this test tend to be more straightforward as they test a student’s ability to use information in fairly straightforward ways.

The two tests do vary in subject matter as well. The SAT only tests math through Algebra II, while the ACT tests math through Trigonometry. The SAT does not test science-based knowledge, while the ACT has a complete section dedicated to science.

Should Students Choose One of These Tests or Take Both?
I believe that students should determine which test works best for them and focus all of their effort on achieving the best possible score on just one of these tests. I always ask students a few questions to start the process of choosing a test:

  • Do you prefer math and science or English and writing?
  • Do you have strong vocabulary?
  • Do you work well under time pressure?

4 Things to Consider as You Choose Between the SAT and ACT

  1. Students who prefer math and science will want to take a good look at the ACT since it is split 50-50 between math/science and English/writing.
  2. Students who prefer the language arts may naturally perform better on the SAT, which has two sections focused on reading and writing, and only one on math.
  3. Students with a strong vocabulary will do better on the critical reading section of the SAT which specifically tests vocabulary skills.
  4. Students must work under intense time pressure on the ACT. Students need to be comfortable working very quickly and must use strategies to improve their speed. Students need to work quickly on the SAT, but the time pressure is nowhere near as great.

What is the Best Preparation Strategy for the SAT and ACT?
If students have a clear predisposition for one of these tests based on their answers to these questions, I would recommend that they take a practice test right off the bat to determine their starting point and then study the material and strategies needed for the test before taking another practice test.

  • Download an official College Board Practice SAT Test here
  • Find more real practice SAT tests in this book
  • Download an official ACT Practice Test here
  • Find more real practice ACT tests in this book

If a predisposition toward one test is not clear, then I recommend that students take a practice test for each to see if they have a preference for one over the other. Students often simply prefer one test to the other, and generally speaking, the test that feels like a better fit usually is.

Professionally speaking, I do not agree with the advice that today’s students often hear, “just take both tests and see which one you do better on.” This is simply not the best advice. For example, taking the ACT for the first time, in an official capacity and with the strict time limits, does not yield an accurate assessment of how a student will ultimately perform on this test. When I give students an assessment test for the ACT, I ask them to take the test untimed. I am only interested in discovering whether they can answer the questions correctly, not in how many they will miss if they are timed. If students are capable of doing well without any time pressure, then I know that I can help them develop strategies to build the speed that they will need to get a high score.

The best approach is to start with a student’s strengths, learn test-specific strategies, then study and take practice tests to build speed and raise the student’s score to the greatest degree possible.

When Should Students Take the SAT and ACT Tests?

Students have traditionally taken the SAT or the ACT in the spring of their junior year; however, more and more students are starting to study for this test earlier and earlier. Spending more time studying for these tests is not always a good thing. Once a student has advanced to the level of math tested on these exams (and science, in the case of the ACT), I believe that the best plan is to choose a test date (usually in the fall or winter of their junior year) when they will be able to spend 3-6 hours per week studying for two to three months leading up to the test. They should take timed real practice tests before the test to determine whether their target score is in reach. This still be early enough for students to delay taking the test until a later date or to retake it if they are not happy with their score. I find that students who stretch out the study time to 4 months or more often waste a lot of this time, while students who study intensely for just 2 or 3 months tend to see much better results. But this process also requires getting guidance on how to focus the study efforts from a good tutor, class or prep book.

Preparation is Your Child’s Key to Test Success
As with anything in life, preparation is essential. Because scores on the SAT or ACT test can play a key role in your child’s academic future, one of the biggest gifts you can give your child is a well-formulated plan. Planning to your student’s strengths, understanding the intricate strategies of the test they will be taking, building both speed and proficiency, and creating a structure in which your child can succeed are all key.

Amy Martin Rodriguez

Excellence for College

Phone:  408-823-9999

Email:  Amy@ExcellenceForCollege.com

This post was provided by Amy Rodriguez, owner of Excellence for College, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on September 28th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: albertogp123