High School 2 College

February 22, 2014

Tips for Taking the SATs With Only Two Weeks To Go

Filed under: Advice for high school juniors,SAT,Testing — highschool2college @ 4:07 pm
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The March SAT is coming up soon. Here’s my best advice for how to maximize your score on the test with only two weeks to go:

1.  Read the plot summaries of MacBeth and To Kill a Mockingbird on Sparknotes.   Read the plot summaries of another book or two that you liked or remember well.  Other books that are easy to use on the SAT essay are Lord of the FliesHuck Finn, and Of Mice and Men.  If you refresh your memory about the characters, author, and plot, you’re more likely to use a book successfully on the essay.

2.  Go through the blue SAT book and find words you don’t know.  The SAT people tend to reuse words, so if it shows up once, it will most likely appear again.  Be sure to know words like anachronism, aesthetic, pragmatic, censure, partisan, and adroit.  Don’t forget phrases like righteous indignation, mutually exclusive, and a pointed discussion.  Write down at least 20 words on paper or index cards so you can bring them to the test to study just before the proctors make you clear your desk.

3.  Do a timed math section or two or three.  At most, each section is only 25 minutes.  Time yourself and take a few sections.  That’s the easy part.  The more time-consuming and less pleasant part is for you to grade those sections to see if you can figure out where you went wrong.  Careless mistake?  It’s better that you made it on the practice test than the real thing.  No idea what you did wrong or how to solve that problem?  Bring it to your math teacher – or just leave out that kind of problem on the SATs.

4.  Get snacks. You should bring something to eat and something to drink to the test with you.  I recommend a snack that is not too salty because if you get thirsty, you won’t be able to concentrate — or you will drink too much and need the bathroom during the test (not good!).  You should bring something chewy like Tootsie rolls, since several studies suggest you will remember better if you’re chewing while you take the test. Bonus:  the sugar and caffeine in chocolate will help you stay alert during the test.  They fit in your pocket and you can pop a Tootsie roll between sections.  You should also have a bigger snack for the long break.  A granola bar or power bar works great.  Don’t forget to bring iced tea.  Studies show tea helps you concentrate, so bring tea with caffeine and sugar — nothing diet!

4.  Buy batteries for your calculator.  Unless you’ve changed the batteries this month, you’ll want to change the batteries in your calculator (yes, you can use a graphing or scientific calculator, but you can also just use a 4-function calculator).  Also make sure you have several new #2 pencils with new erasers. You won’t need a pen at all, and they don’t permit mechanical pencils.

5.  Buy or borrow a watch.  They won’t let you use your phone to keep track of your time, and you shouldn’t rely on the proctor to give you a time check when you need one.  Bring a watch.  If you don’t like wearing one, you can put it on the desk, but at least you’ll have a way to keep track of your own time.

During the week, I’ll post tips for test day itself, so stay tuned!

Wendy Segal



February 15, 2014

Applying to Colleges Starts Now, Juniors – Don’t Waste February Break!

For most of my students, college seems far away.  The few 10th graders I have think they’re much too young to have college on their minds.  My seniors are patiently waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied under regular decision deadlines (or from those schools from which they got wait listed). My juniors think they’re doing quite well if they’re coming once a week for SAT tutoring.

Not so!

Let’s back up the timing from the end till now.

  • You want to hear back from colleges as early as possible and get as many yeses as possible, so you want to apply to several schools early action.  That means applying by October of senior year.
  • To apply by October, you have to work on your applications, especially the application essays, over the summer before senior year.
  • To work on the essays over the summer, you have to know which colleges you’ll be applying to more or less by June of junior year.
  • To know which schools you want to apply to by June, you have to have visited several  schools in March and April of junior year.  (Most schools discourage tours in early May when finals are in session, and most college students leave campus by mid-May.)
  • To know which schools you’d like to visit in March and April, you need a list of potential schools by FEBRUARY of junior year, which is now!

How should you start building that list?  I’m sure your high school guidance counselor has suggested you start with Naviance.  Feh!  The sample on Naviance is just too small.  If someone from your high school got into Big State U, is it because he was a sports star?  Did his parents go there?  Is he a coveted minority?  Was he an expert at the French horn?  You’ll never know from Naviance.

Try the College Board college search.  (Yes, I used to recommend Princeton Review, but they’ve tinkered with it so much in the past few years that you now need a college degree to work their program.)  US News & World Report also has an excellent college search tool.  They charge $30 to access it for a year, but it has very specific, very accurate information.  Between US News and the College Board, you’ll have all the college information you need to start building a list. Think of how far away from home you want to be.  Think of what majors you want your school to have.  Do you care if your school has a big football team?  Is on-campus housing important to you?  How do you feel about Greek life (fraternities and sororities)?

You want your list to be huge at first, maybe 30 – 40 schools.  Include every possibility.  Then start narrowing.  Are religious schools out?  How about urban schools without a campus?  Please don’t eliminate a school just because you haven’t heard of it, and don’t include schools that don’t fit your needs just because your friends are talking about them.  Build a list on your own.

Once you have a list, group your schools geographically.  Can you visit all the New York State schools over a three-day trip?  What about Pennsylvania schools or Boston schools? You’ll probably want to take a few weekends to visit schools, so start looking for weekends that work for your parents. Don’t forget to make appointments for school tours and information sessions.  The most popular dates fill up quickly.

It’s February — what are you waiting for? Let me know if you need help building your list or organizing your college tour.  


Wendy Segal


February 14, 2014

I Got Into Several Colleges – How Do I Decide Which to Attend?

It’s wonderful to have choices!  All your hard work – studying, SATs, application essays – paid off, and you were accepted at more than one college.  Congratulations!

You probably haven’t heard from all of your schools yet since it’s before April, but as you get responses, how should you evaluate your options?

Last week, I explained what’s NOT important.  Now let’s figure out what matters when it comes to choosing among the offers you are getting.

First of all, which schools can you afford?  Very few people pay the “rack rate,” or tuition listed on the schools’ websites and on www.collegeboard.org.  So ask your parents to talk to you honestly about how much they are willing or able to pay toward your college education.  Consider any financial aid packages you’ve been offered.  Take into account the extra expense that comes with a school that is a plane flight away.  Look at how much each school charges for room and board.  (These rates vary by thousands of dollars.  Think about how much it costs to live in the heart of Boston versus how much it costs to live in a rural school.)  Consider whether you’ll need a car at school as a freshman.

Next, take a look at your potential major.  Of course your school offers your major or you wouldn’t have applied.  Now look a little closer.  Go on each school’s website to figure out how many professors there are in your major compared to other majors in that school.  Ask your admissions counselor what percentage of students in last year’s graduating class graduated with your major?  The more professors and the more students, the more money a college invests in that major. More money translates into better lab equipment, more well-known teachers, better library facilities for whatever your major is.

Most importantly, let your heart help you decide if you’d be happy at a particular school.  Your gut feeling doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you.  Could you see yourself at that school?  You might have to visit more than once to really get a sense of a school.  A visit on a rainy day might feel very different from a visit on a sunny day.  If religion is important to you, are religious services readily available?  Even if you never attend, if they hold services regularly, chances are you’ll find co-religionists at that school.  If sports are important to you, visit on a day when there’s a game. Do lots of kids go to the games?  Does the campus get excited about its teams?  Spend a few minutes on the college’s website looking at the clubs they have.  Does it look like there might be any you’d be interested in joining?

I wouldn’t have had the courage to do this at 17, but your parents will surely be willing to ask random people in the cafeteria a few questions, like “Would you recommend your cousin go here?” Or “What’s the worst thing about this school?” Or “How hard is it to meet with a professor?”

I hope you noticed that teacher:student ratio isn’t on my list.  The quality of the cafeteria food isn’t on my list.  Where a school ranks on any list isn’t on my list.  The prestige of the school’s reputation isn’t on my list.

Here’s the most important advice I can give you.  It’s just a college.  It’s not an irreversible decision.  You’re only 17.  You can only make the best decision you can right now with the information you have now. If you learn more about yourself in a few years and you feel another school would work better for you, transfer.  Thousand and thousands of kids transfer every year.  Big deal.  Don’t let this decision overwhelm you.

There’s always grad school! <wink>

Wendy Segal


February 9, 2014

I’ve Been Accepted! What Doesn’t Matter in Choosing a College (For Juniors, too!)

Congratulations!  You’ve gotten into at least a few of the schools you applied to.  Doesn’t it feel good to be wanted?

Now all the adults you know are asking:  So, where are you going to go?

How should you choose among the schools that said “yes”? 

Every year at this time, most newspapers and magazines publish articles giving advice.   Some advice is better than others.  Juniors, pay attention so you have the best chance at applying to schools you’d actually like to go to.  US News gives this advice.  Please read this article so my comments make sense:


I just have to respond to their suggestions,  some of which are good, but some of which are downright silly.  (In a few days, I’ll write again and give you my own thoughts about how to choose a college, but read this so you know what NOT to do.)

  • They suggest you check into the requirements and how flexible they are Silly.  Some schools have requirements.  Big deal.  Mostly, colleges let you choose from among many courses to fulfill those requirements, and some of those courses turn out to be great.   If you have a fundamental issue with required courses, why did you apply to a school with so many requirements?  (See?  I told juniors should be reading this.)
  • They suggest you should make sure that the school you choose has the major you’re interested in and courses you want to take.  Silly.  Again, did they think you’d apply to a school that doesn’t have the major you want?  It is true that at some enormous universities you may have to wait until you’re an upperclassman to take certain courses.  Not the most important reason to reject a college.
  • They suggest that you note whether a school has a required writing classSilly.  That a school has a required writing class in no way indicates whether you personally will have a professor who is concerned with your writing skills.  The school’s mandating a writing class in no way indicates if you personally will have to write a lot of papers.  (Philosophy, English, Political Science major?  Yes, you will.  Math, Computer Science, Chemistry major?  No, you won’t.)
  • They suggest that that if graduate assistants teach courses, that’s a bad thing.  Silly.  There are great teaching assistants.  One of my son’s most favorite classes was taught by a brilliant graduate assistant.  There are incompetent teaching assistants.  There are also brilliant and mediocre professors at every school.
  • They suggest you check out the student/teacher ratio.  Silly.  In college, I took a Psychology 101 course with 500 kids in it.  I also took a course in the High and Late Middle Ages (loved it!) with 6 kids.  So is the student/teacher ration 250:1?  Of course not.  I have the same objection to class size ratios.  They’re meaningless.
  • They suggest you look at the percentage of students who graduate.  Well, now they’ve finally hit on an important criterion, but one you should have looked at before you applied.  Look at both the 4-year graduation rate and the 6-year graduation rate.  Alone, those statistics aren’t helpful, but compare those numbers to those of other schools you are considering and you might find signficant differences.  You don’t want to go to a school where kids either drop out or transfer out at a greater rate than similar schools.

Don’t pick a school based on any one set of numbers, but do look for anomolies (things that don’t fit the norm).

More advice in a few days.  Please check back!

Wendy Segal


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