Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are you a Junior in high school or know someone who is?

Juniors, you're up. I firmly believe that it's never too early to plan for college (and I'll delve into that in a future post) but right now it's time to start paying attention. Seniors are rounding the bend into decision-making land, and the focus will shift primarily to Juniors.

A little organization will go a long way right about now. The end of the school year is overwhelming, but it's important to set yourself up for next year, now, too. It's time to come up with a plan.

Let's talk about the SAT and ACT. Based on your PSAT or PLAN test results, you should have a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses. March 9 is the deadline to register for the April 14 ACT exam. May 4 is the deadline for the June 9 exam. For the SAT, you must register by April 6 (April 20 is the late registration deadline) to take the May 5 exam. You can find test prep materials for both of these tests online (ACT, SAT) much of it is available for free. If you know you want to take the SAT or ACT twice, I would suggest a spring/fall split. December can be too late in the game, depending on the application deadlines for the schools you will apply to.

What else can you do to prepare over the summer? If your family is going on vacation and there's a college nearby that you think you might be interested in, it might be worth swinging by for a visit. College campuses are pretty quiet in the summer, so keep that in mind if you're hoping to get a "feel" for campus life. However, it could be a great opportunity to talk to members of the admissions office, especially if the representative for your area is around. Call ahead and ask.

Summer is also a perfect time to start working on the essay. Don't worry so much about a specific question or topic, but focus on getting into the habit of this kind of creative writing. Buy a notebook or create a binder and starting jotting down ideas. Try to keep all of these ideas together though, or the notebook isn't worth much. Think about your experiences and some of the things that make you, you. What have you found rewarding? Challenging?

Read this post I wrote for more writing advice: Just how important is the essay?

Applying to college is a stressful process and my goal is always to minimize stress. The stress level is up to you though. That's why having a plan is so important and I'll emphasize it over and over again.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

'Twas the night before the SAT

I wasn't going to do another guest post, but this was too funny to pass up. It just felt necessary right about now.

Calculator shopping, the night before the SAT
By Daniel de Vise
The following is an excerpt from the “ The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions,”a forthcoming book by J.D. Rothman, an Emmy-winning screenwriter and lyricist and recent veteran of two rounds of college admissions with her sons.

Q: What does "SAT" stand for?
A: It used to stand for Scholastic Achievement Test, but in 1947, the name of the exam was changed to Scholastic Aptitude Test. Then the folks at the College Board used their Critical Reasoning skills and came to the conclusion that a coachable exam could not be called an "aptitude" test. So officially, SAT stands for nothing, although at least one college refers to it on its Web site as the Scholastic Assessment Test.

Q: What time does Staples close, in case your kid can't locate his TI-183 calculator the night before the SAT exam?
A: Luckily, the Staples in our neighborhood closes at 9 p.m., as we discovered the night before our son’s exam. (Our son, who had "just had" his calculator the day before, volunteered to pay for the new one, which should add up to about a week of his summer wages.)

Q: What are some good snacks for the SATs?
A: A power bar, a peanut butter sandwich, and a banana. We typically procure all of these, but our sons typically leave the power bar at home and the sandwich and banana in the car.

Q: What is the ACT?
A: Another standardized test, which up until twenty minutes ago was popular only in the Midwest. But because there are no trick questions, they allow score cancelling and unpenalized guessing, and offer an early September test date, it is the test du jour . New Yorkers are now obsessed with the ACT, and it is gaining fans in other trendy cities. In fact, for the first time ever, the number of ACT test takers is about the same as the SAT. Poor SAT — it now stands for Sad Anachronistic Test.

Q: What is a superscore?
A: A superscore is achieved by choosing the best subscores from multiple sittings of the same test. (We know, a "sitting" sounds like you're posing for a portrait, but bear with us.) For example, let's assume you have these SAT results from these three sittings:

Sitting 1: 800M, 500CR, 450W

Sitting 2: 600M, 410CR, 780W

Sitting 3: 510M, 740CR, 530W

Your composite scores would be 1750, 1790, and 1780, but your superscore would be 2320.

Q: Wow! Do colleges superscore the ACT as well?
A: Not many superscore the ACT, because they'd have to work with five separate numbers, including a composite that often has been rounded up or rounded down. That would require advanced math skills, which would be too confusing, even for colleges. Except MIT, of course. They will even cross-superscore the SAT with the ACT...just because they can.

Q: Do you have to send in all your test scores to Yale, even the ones that suck?
A: No, that's Penn. Yale’s Web site says, "As long as you provide a complete set of score reports from one testing agency (either the College Board or ACT, Inc.), you are not required to report scores from both. You can choose to report either all of your SAT results (both SAT and SAT Subject Tests) or all of your ACT results. If you want us to have any scores from both the College Board and ACT, Inc., you must report all scores from both testing agencies.”

And if you're having trouble understanding this, you probably shouldn't be applying to Yale.

Q: I thought the SAT and the ACT offered Score Choice, so you can send in only your impressive scores.
A: They do, but Yale wants to find out if sitting for standardized exams was your only extracurricular activity. And they promise not to peek at your lousy scores.

Q: I heard you could cancel your scores so nobody will see them.
A: The SAT offers you a morning-after pill of sorts: If you were fooling around the night before or felt queasy during the exam, you can cancelbefore you find out your scores. But the more progressive ACT, which also allows you to guess without penalty, will let you terminate whenever.

Q: Do you really believe that Yale doesn't care about SAT Subject Tests if you send in an ACT score?
A: No — so we recommend you submit the results of your APGAR test. That's the score babies get from their doctors right after they are born, on a scale of one to ten. Yale's APGAR average is 9.8.

Q: What's with the writing section of the SAT? Some fine colleges, like Cornell, say they don't consider the SAT writing, yet if you take the ACT, they want you to take that with writing.
A: You're right. Some things are just not logical—or fair. Even the Neurotic Parent cannot write a decent essay in 25 minutes, especially using a #2 pencil while sitting in a stuffy classroom surrounded by smelly teenagers. But maybe we'd have success if they'd let us write about reality television.

Q: Let's get back to this ACT thing. That sounds awesome — no SAT Subject Tests! But I don't get those wacky science graphs. Where can I find a good ACT tutor in Bethesda?
A: Unfortunately, the ACT is still Because of this, only one-test prep company on the East Coast at this writing claims to have ACT specialists as tutors. And they charge $880 per session. But the always-resourceful Neurotic Parent Institute has located the top ACT tutors in the country. They are all in Evanston, IL, and they charge $40 an hour. So for the price of one $880 session in Bethesda, you can fly to Chicago twice for tutoring and splurge on a Cubs game, a taxi to and from O'Hare, and a deep-dish pizza.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What to do if you get deferred

The decision letters from colleges are slowly but surely rolling in. Some of these letters are clear: acceptance or rejection. But if you applied early, there's another potential answer: deferral. This basically amounts to "maybe", which could be just about the most maddening answer ever, regardless of the question asked. This article comes from the Washington Post, and there are some good suggestions here, some of which are also relevant for the wait list. The underlying theme here is conveying your desire. If this is the place you want to be, the admissions office wants to know that. It's a difficult position to be in, and I would suggest you also explore other options. Be hopeful, but be realistic.

Deferred students lobby for admission
by Jenna Johnson
The boom in the number of students applying to college through early decision or early action programs in recent years has resulted in more students asking questions like: What happens when you get deferred?

The answer to those questions varies from school to school, but here are seven basic tips for what to do next:

1. Remember that a referral is not a rejection — but it’s also not an acceptance. Many universities will only keep an application in the pool if the student has a shot of getting in during the regular admissions process — so congratulations on making it to the next round. With that said, you need to have a back-up plan and apply to other schools before their deadlines hit.

2. Update your application with any relevant information. A lot has probably happened since you sent in your early application in October or November, so make sure that you update that application with all relevant information. “Relevant” means your first semester grades and major accomplishments, like being named class president or receiving a national award. (Things that are most likely not relevant: being named “student of the week” in your Spanish class or joining the foreign film club.) You can also use this as an opportunity to submit an updated letter of reference, especially if your favorite teacher (or a teacher who has recently become your favorite) was unable to write a letter in time for the early deadlines.

3. Take full advantage of any opportunities that the admissions department offers. If your applications is not as full as it could be, change that. If the school offers to interview applicants, set up an appointment on-campus, over-the-phone or with an alum in your region. If the school has an optional essay, make sure to submit one. If you can submit up to three letters of recommendation and have only sent one, recruit two more.

4. Don’t stalk the admissions office. Don’t be annoying. And don’t submit extraneous information. Right now, most admissions staffers are trying to work their way through hundreds of applications. So unless you have a legitimate question, let them work in peace.

5. Check in with your other contacts. Chances are that the admissions department is not the only entity on campus that wants to hear about your senior year. If you have been in touch with other people on campus — maybe a coach, professor, mentor or department recruiter — make sure to keep them up-to-date on your application status. Make sure you also keep the college counselor at your high school in the loop on what you are doing.

6. Write a letter. If you applied early action or decision, then obviously that school is one of your top choices. But it doesn’t hurt to reiterate that sentiment in a formal letter. At Johns Hopkins University, Daniel G. Creasy typed up six tips for deferred students, which included writing a letter: “Though not something all deferred applicants need to do or even should do, some of you may consider writing a personal letter to the Admissions Committee stressing your interest in Hopkins and why you feel you are an appropriate candidate for admissions. Consider this a cover letter to your overall application.”

At the University of Virginia, Dean of Admission Greg Roberts advised against submitting any information beyond midyear grades: “Some students ask if they should notify us that UVA is their first choice. While we’re flattered to see that level of interest, we normally don’t take this into account when making admission decisions.” (This is the first year U-Va. has offered nonbinding early action, although years ago it offered binding early decision. The university received 11,753 early applications and accepted 3,187 students.)

7. Let the process play out. Once your application is complete, then you just have to wait. In the meantime, enjoy your senior year and keep your grades up.