High School 2 College

December 29, 2009

Last Minute Advice for Last Minute College Applications

I have just a few quick words of advice for those of you still finishing up the last of your college applications. Click here for a few tips by U.S. News and World Report that I wholeheartedly agree with to add to my own:

1. Have someone else look over the application before you hit send. Your eye can miss the same mistake over and over.  I always proofread these blog posts before I hit “publish,” but as I look back over them weeks later, I occasionally find a typo.  It’s hard to find your own mistakes, especially when you’ve been working on an essay for a while. But mistakes happen on the application part as well, so show it to someone before you submit.

2.  Make sure your email address works and reflects the mature side of yourself. The colleges can’t let you know if some form is missing if your mailbox is full.  Now isn’t the time for “sparkleprincess@aol” or “redsoxsuk@gmail.”  Use your name or initials.  Check your inbox often.

3.   Print out every application. Keep copies of all forms, resumes, transcripts, and score reports that you send.  If a college doesn’t receive something, you should have proof that you sent it by the deadline, and you can just fax the college another copy.

4.  Attach your user id and password to your application copy. I wish colleges would all agree on how many letters, numbers, and characters your user name and password should be, but they don’t.  If you don’t keep a copy, you’ll have trouble tracking your application through the system.

5.  Do a little research online before you write the supplement. Find out the exact name of the department or school you’re applying to within the college or university.  Don’t just call it “the business program” if you can call it “the W.J. Smithson-Frinkle School of Business.”  If you’re writing about how much you’d love to do research, look online to see if there’s a particular program or department or office you can reference.

6.  Have your SAT or ACT scores sent by the College Board or ACT directly to each school to which you apply.  It’s not good enough to have the scores on your application or transcript.  Sure it costs money.  Wait until you see how much college costs!

7.  Check with each school about a week after you apply to make sure it has your application. Usually you can check online.  Don’t skip this step – you wouldn’t believe how many students’ applications get trapped somewhere in outer space.  The time to find out whether or not your application made it is before the deadline, not afterwards.

8.  Give your guidance department enough time to process your transcript request. All of your papers and forms and scores need to reach the colleges well before the deadline.  The guidance department has to deal with college applications, PSAT concerns, scheduling problems, students’ issues at home and at school all at the same time.  Give them a break and get your application requests in as early as you can.  Fill out the guidance forms clearly, correctly, and completely.

9.  Don’t wait until the last minute to submit your application online. Read what the New York Times wrote last year on December 31st about the Common App website which got clogged during the end-of-year application crunch.  I don’t want to say “I told you so” to you, too.

Good luck!  If you have any last-minute questions, I’ll be home all week.  Send me a message on this blog and I’ll get back to you.

Wendy Segal

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December 16, 2009

10 Dumbest SAT and College Questions

Remember that teacher who said, “There are no dumb questions”? Well, she was wrong.  I occasionally answer questions on Yahoo Answers just to be a nice person in case there’s anything to that karma notion, but sometimes the questions are so foolish that I can’t believe someone asked.  I politely answer but then the next day, someone else asks.  I answer, a bit more tersely.  Then a week later, someone else asks that same question.  So I’m writing the answers here in the hope that they google the question and find the answer.

Here are a few of the dumber questions, with the answers:

1. Are these PSAT scores good?

Questioners on Yahoo Answers ask that every day — actually, several times a day.  My answer is always, “Are they good for Harvard? No.  Are they good for community college?  Sure.  Are they good if you’re an honors student getting A+ in everything?  Nope.  Are they good if you’re flunking out of high school?  Probably.”  The question really means, “Can I take the SATs without doing any more prep?”  And the answer is get out a prep book and start working, you lazy bum!

2. I missed the deadline for sending my SAT scores to colleges.  Can I still send them?

The answer is a deadline is a deadline.  That’s why they call it a deadline.  You didn’t do it – now you’re dead.  Figuratively speaking.

3.  My PSATs are really bad.  Can I improve?

Haven’t you seen all those ads for SAT prep classes?  Do you think they’d offer them if people couldn’t improve?  One complaint that academicians have against the SATs is that rich people have a huge advantage because to a small degree classes help but to a greater degree private tutoring helps.  I’ve tutored kids who have gone up 250 points in one category alone.  More common are increases of 50 -100 points in each category.  So yes, read some suggestions on this blog, go to a class, hire a tutor and you can and will improve.

4.  How do I send my scores to colleges?

If you can’t read the instructions on the website, you’re probably not ready for college.  Both the SAT website and the ACT website give very clear directions on how to order official copies of your scores to send to colleges.  You need a credit card and the name of each school or program that you want to get your scores.  They send all previous scores unless you block specific dates or tests.

5.  The college admissions website says I need to have the College Board send my scores, but they’re on my application.  Do I still need to pay to have the College Board send them?

Yup, that’s why the website says to have the College Board send them.  The first college test is if you can follow the application directions.  And you could put anything on that application.  Your guidance department might put the wrong scores on your transcript.  It’s going to cost a fortune to get through college.  It will cost less than $100 to send your scores to your schools.  Just do it.

6. Are the SATs harder than the PSATs?

Why not take a practice SAT and find out, you lazy bum?  There is a free SAT on the College Board website. Sit down and take it timed and you’ll have a reasonable idea if the SATs are harder than the PSATs.  People are different, but most consider the SATs much harder than the PSATs, so don’t get too excited by your decent PSAT scores.  The SATs are longer.  There’s an extra year of math.  The reading selections are longer and more boring.  There’s more difficult vocabulary, both in the sentence completion questions and embedded in the reading selections.  And don’t forget that there’s an essay on the SATs.

7.  I’m a senior and I’m taking my SATs for the first time next week.  What can I do to prepare?

No, I’m not kidding.  Before every SAT, this question is asked by several people, usually followed by a growing string of exclamation and question marks as the test gets closer.  If the test is a day or two away, I usually suggest they look for schools that don’t require any standardized tests.   I also recommend they read the March 2009 entries to this blog (this one and this one) which contain last-minute hints, like bringing plenty of candy and iced tea to the test, changing the calculator batteries, and wearing a watch.  Hey, you too can read all the suggestions — why am I repeating them here?

8.  My grades are really awful.  Can good SATs or ACTs overcome a bad GPA?

No.  Let me say that another way:  NO.  Unless you have a very unusual and serious reason for low grades (a hospitalized parent, frequent moves to different high schools, a documented mental or physical health issue), colleges care more about how you do in your classes over a period of time and the rigor of those classes (you know that photography isn’t as impressive as honors physics, right?) than they do about how you did on your SATs.  Get off the internet and start studying for that U.S. history exam!

9.  Can I get into [name of college] with these SATs?

Why are you asking random strangers?  Go to princetonreview.com and see what the average SATs are for colleges you’re interested in.  Understand, though, that colleges are looking for much, much more than a good SAT score.  They want kids who will fit in with their school’s atmosphere, who will add to what they already have at the school.  They want kids with intelligence, ambition, concern for the wider world, an upbeat attitude, an interest in sports, a willingness to volunteer, an ability to lead — you  have all that, right?

10. A college I’m interested in is coming to my high school.  Do I have to go to that meeting?

My, you are lazy!  If you have a school or two or ten that you’d like to check out, the more contacts you make with that school, the better.  Sign up for information on their website.  See their reps at college fairs.  Talk to their admissions counselors when they show up at your school.  Call the admissions office to ask questions for which you can’t find answers on their website.  Take advantage of the opportunity to visit the campus.

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Do you have a dumb question you want to ask? Go ahead. I’ll try to answer without being snide.  And I promise I won’t put your name on a future edition of “Dumbest Questions.”

Wendy Segal

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