High School 2 College

October 31, 2018

How Often Should I Take the SATs or ACTs? Which Test Should I Take?

First let me answer a question that parents often ask: What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT – and which should my student take?

In a nutshell, the SAT and ACT are both college entrance exams, and ALL colleges in the United States (yes, even the Ivy League schools) accept either equally.  They want you to take whichever shows you in the best possible light.  All the colleges also know that there’s very little difference between the tests.  Academically-inclined students do well on both.  Students who are struggling academically will do poorly on both.  So it really comes down to which style you prefer.

Before I discuss which of these tests any given student should take, what about the schools that no longer require either test?  Parents often tell me that they’ve heard that students can just skip the tests.  That’s both true and false.  There are some schools that require neither, but there are more schools that require that you take the SATs or ACTs.  I think students who take neither test will regret having to narrow their school search exclusively to those schools that don’t require either.  Some of the schools that say they don’t require the SAT or ACT do require two or more SAT Subject Tests.  Some of the schools that don’t require any standardized tests require students to submit a few graded research papers or critical analysis papers from class, or they require several application essays.  If you decide not to take any tests, choose a few schools that don’t ask for tests and read their admission websites very carefully.  You may change your mind.

If I’ve convinced you that you’ll have to take either the SAT or ACT (or both), which one should you take?  In general, here’s a comparison:

SAT

  • more time per question in every section
  • more reading per question in every section (including math!)
  • reading questions can be fairly subjective (requiring interpretation)
  • math includes a section where calculators are prohibited
  • math includes questions that require you to figure out the answer yourself (not multiple choice)
  • five reading passages, usually including reading from 1900 or earlier

ACT

  • less time per question – speed is a signficant factor
  • math is a bit more straightforward – fewer logic questions, less reading
  • reading questions are straightforward and clear, but again, speed is a factor
  • calculator permitted in all math sections
  • all math questions are multiple choice
  • four reading passages, with most passages contemporary writing
  • includes a separate science section – knowledge of school-taught science only required for 2 of 40 questions but ability to analyze graphs and charts critical

 

Typically, students who excel in English and Social Studies do a bit better on the SATs, and students who excel in Math and Science do a bit better on the ACTs.  Slower readers can do well on either test if they are decisive about answering questions (can you decide quickly what the answer is, or at least decide you don’t know and move on to the next question?).

But how can you know for sure?  Some students sit for at least one SAT and one ACT to see which they prefer.  But you can find out the same information by buying the ACT book by the ACT organization or downloading for free the student guide which contains one complete test (starting at page 12 of the booklet).  Take the test TIMED (each section must be timed precisely because that’s the challenge of the ACT, even if you don’t take all sections on the same day.  Then try the SAT by buying the College Board SAT book or downloading a test for free (download a paper test).  Again, time each section, even if you don’t take all the sections in one sitting.  

About half of my students do precisely the same on the SATs and the ACTs.  Some decide to continue with the one test that feels more comfortable, but others decide to take both tests.

So how often should you take each test?  That depends on you.  Some students say, “I’ll practice as much as necessary and test as often as necessary to get the best possible score.”  Others say, “I’ll show up once a week for tutoring, but don’t expect me to do any preparation at home.  I’ll take one of the tests once or perhaps twice, but whatever I get will have to do.”  Which is closer to your feeling?

Most students are between those extremes.  If that’s you, you’ll probably find that you want to either take one test three times (either SAT or ACT) OR take two SATs and two ACTs.  Experts suggest you should expect to test at least twice, but you can test four or more times if you want.

Given that most students apply to most if not all of their college choices by mid-October to take advantage of the boost that applying early provides, you should plan on completing your testing by the summer after junior year at the very latest, but by June of junior year if possible.  (But you will be able to test once more senior year if necessary.)

So the prime times for most students to take SATs are

  • December of junior year
  • March of junior year
  • May of junior year
  • August before senior year

And the best times to take ACTs are

  • December of junior year (a different Saturday than the SATs)
  • April of junior year
  • June of junior year
  • July before senior year (but they’re not given in New York, so you’ll need to go to Connecticut or New Jersey to take them)

There are other test dates, both for the SAT and the ACT, but these are the most popular because they fit into the application cycle the best.

If you need help preparing for either test, you know where you can find me!

Good luck!

 

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August 5, 2018

When Should I Apply to College?

The Common App opens for the new application season every August 1st.  That’s the date students entering their senior year in high school can begin to create their college applications, but by August 1st, you should really be toward the END of the college application process, which should have begun the summer going into junior year. (Juniors, are you listening?)

Sometimes I find it’s more effective to explain the schedule to students when I work backwards, like this:

The vast majority of the students I work with apply to most of their schools early action.  (Unlike early decision, early action isn’t binding.  It merely says to the college, “I’m showing you my application early so that you can give me a decision early.”)  Early action deadlines are generally November 1st.

That means EVERYTHING needs to be in by November 1st at the latest — your recommendations, your essays (yes, more than one if the college has a supplemental essay), your list of activities, your transcript, your SAT or ACT scores (which have to be ordered from either the College Board or the ACT and sent to each college directly by that organization), any college credits you’ve earned by taking college-level classes.  EVERYTHING.

So realistically, you should have EVERYTHING in, done, and sent by October 15th at the latest because (1) you want to look eager to the colleges and (2) you don’t want to chance having the Common App website crash as you feverishly work to get everything in the last week in October (and it DOES crash – nearly every year!).  Most importantly, you want to apply by October 15th because the acceptance rate at nearly every college is higher for students who apply early action than for students who apply regular decision.  That’s not to say you won’t get into a college if you wait until the regular deadline between December and February depending on the school, but why not give yourself every advantage?  This article from last year explains that early action acceptance rates are getting higher every year (meaning colleges are taking more students who apply early and fewer students who wait until the regular deadline), and this year is certain to follow that trend.

To get your applications finished by October 15th, you need to have:

  • taken your SATs and/or ACTs as often as you think practical to show your best self
  • asked two teachers for recommendations (ideally, teachers you’ve had junior year in a subject area related to your intended major)
  • written your Common App essay (if you Google “Common App Essay topics 2018,” the list of possible topics comes up) and had your essay reviewed by a teacher or tutor or parent (as long as you don’t let your parents edit your paper for anything other than spelling or grammar – I can always tell when a parent has been too hands-on with an essay)
  • written your supplement essays (many schools require an additional essay or two or three!)
  • created a list of colleges to which you plan to apply, with at least three good-match schools, three safety schools (they’re almost guaranteed to take you unless you commit a felony between when you apply and when they get your application), and three reach schools, which are unlikely to say yes, but hey, you never know
  • visited several schools on your list (but it’s not necessary to visit every school to which you are going to apply)
  • filled out your guidance department’s forms so your counselor knows which schools to send transcripts to (some high schools substitute Naviance for this step, and some schools ask you to fill out information on Naviance AND fill out forms for your guidance department)
  • created a resume, or at least written down all of your extracurricular activities, including paid work, volunteer work, academic honors, and athletics grouped into those categories and in reverse chronological order (a resume makes it MUCH easier to complete the Common App and is useful when you go on interviews)

Look at the calendar.  October 15th is just about two months away.  What are you waiting for?

If you need help with your application or essay, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with me through my website.  I’ve been helping kids get into college for over 30 years, so the process doesn’t intimidate me at all, but it can be very daunting the first time.

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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November 9, 2016

6 Ways NOT To Choose a College

Choosing a college is a lot like choosing a husband or wife — there’s no single right way to find the perfect spouse, but there are a lot of wrong ways to go about it.  And the ideal mate (or college) for your best friend might be completely wrong for you.

Ideally, each student should attend a college that offers that student an excellent education in a field that interests him or her in a place that feels just right among people whom that student can feel challenged by but comfortable with and taught by professors who are knowledgeable, on top of their field but approachable and interested in each student’s progress.  How hard can that be?

To accomplish such an “easy” task, there are dozens of books, too many articles, and several ranking sites about how to choose a college.

Since I wouldn’t give the same advice to two different people, I’m not going to tell you how to pick the college that would be perfect for you.

But I can tell you some really awful ways to choose a college.  So please DON’T do any of these:

Only look at colleges you’ve heard of.  You probably have heard of about 20 colleges.  Your parents have probably heard of about 20 colleges.  Even if your lists don’t overlap, that’s 40 colleges out of the thousands in the United States.  Just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a stellar reputation among those in your field.  And just because you have heard of a college doesn’t mean it deserves its notoriety or that it’s necessarily a better fit for you.

Decide you want a really big college (or a really small college) without looking at one first.  Some big schools feel really big.  Kids generally feel lost, disconnected, not focused.  But some really big schools do a great job of making kids within a certain major or within a certain housing unit feel like they belong, like the faculty cares about their progress, like they have pride in their school.  The same with small schools.  Some have limited choices.  Others are creative and open to designing the perfect curriculum for you.  You don’t have to visit every school you apply to, but you shouldn’t make a blanket decision about a type of college without visiting a school of that type and a school of the opposite type.

Pick a school based on the dorms or the cafeteria or the weather.  If the freshman dorms are cramped,  remember that you won’t be a freshman forever.  If the senior housing is nothing special, you might be living off campus by then anyway. Don’t decide whether you like a school based on the unimportant externals.  Don’t decide you don’t want to go to school in Connecticut or Massachusetts because it’s colder there.  It’s not.  Don’t decide you want to go further south because you like the warm weather.  You’ll be in classrooms, your dorm, and the library most of the time anyway.  If your campus is lovely but you can never take the classes you like because seniors get priority and the classes are filled before you can register, you’ve picked a pleasant vacation spot but a crummy school.

Expect your guidance counselor or parents to help you choose a school.  As well as your parents know you, they aren’t you.  You’re the one who has to live at that school for four years (at least).  You’re the one who has to take those classes, interact with those students, learn from those professors.  Don’t be lazy.  Do some work yourself as you build a list of colleges to apply to.  Visit colleges when you can.  Look carefully at dozens of college websites.  (They all look good initially.  You can only differentiate between them when you’ve seen many.) Don’t stop at the admissions page of the college websites.  Poke around on the “majors” pages.  See what research the professors are doing.  See what sub-majors each school offers within your general area of interest. Count how many professors each college has in your major.  Look at the online course catalog to see whether you’d really like to take the required classes in your field.  Email the admissions office if your questions can’t be answered by the website — or email a department or professor directly.  By all means show your list to your guidance counselor; guidance counselors have excellent resources at their disposal and know which schools are well liked by previous students. But they may not know you well enough to know whether you like to get friendly with your professors or would prefer to talk to a teaching assistant, or whether you’d prefer a school where the university provides a lot of entertainment or you’re expected to explore the surrounding town or city on your own. Do your own background research as best you can.  Parents are (sorry, moms and dads) a bit less reliable, especially when it comes to advising their oldest child.  A school that was up-and-coming and quite selective 30 years ago might be much less prestigious now (or more to the point, may not be right for their child), and a school that was no great shakes 30 years ago might be truly amazing now.  (I remember when I was in college that Syracuse was a safety school for many solid B students.  Colleges change over time – for better or worse.)

Rely on the ranking reports.  As this New York Times article explains, there are many college ranking lists, most from prestigious institutions.  Each emphasizes different aspects of college statistics from future earnings of students to student satisfaction to peer review to percentage of applicants who are accepted and more.  And the lists disagree with each other quite a bit.  There really aren’t any indisputably “top schools,” even within a particular field.  If you check several lists, you’ll get an idea of whether a particular school generally is toward the top, middle, or bottom of the list of similar schools, but choosing a school because it’s ranked #10 over a school ranked #12 is like ordering vanilla ice cream because it’s more popular when you really love pistachio.

Wait until senior year in high school to start thinking seriously about which colleges you’d like to know more about.  To return to my previous analogy,  you wouldn’t plan a wedding and then a month before the wedding start looking for a potential mate, would you?  Then why plan to go to college but not concern yourself with which colleges might be a good fit until just a month or two before you need to submit applications?

Choosing the place you’ll spend four very important years takes a bit of time, planning, and work.  It’s not crazy to start gathering information at the end of 10th grade.  Think about it:  If you want to apply in the beginning of senior year, you’ll have to be looking at colleges by the end of junior year.  And to look at colleges in the spring of junior year, you need to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year.  And to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year, you need to start doing some serious thinking and research — NOW.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please send me a message through my website (which has plenty of good information including a link to schedule time with me): www.wendysegaltutoring.com  .

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September 18, 2016

When the Admissions Department Comes To You: College Visits at Your High School

Every fall and spring, most students miss the greatest opportunity they have to impress the admissions department of dozens of colleges that might be a perfect fit for them.  To take advantage of this opportunity, you don’t have to travel or write an essay.  You don’t have to study for it and it doesn’t require you to get up early.  In fact, it comes to you.  Yet year after year, when I ask my students whether they’ve availed themselves of this free, easy, potent tool for getting into college, they look at me with blank stares.

When colleges come to visit our local high school, very often only a handful of students show up out of a combined junior and senior class of over a thousand.  All of the other students are wasting a huge potential advantage.

Here’s what THE COLLEGES do:

College admissions departments make appointments with high schools all over the country.  They schedule a visit of about 45 minutes to an hour on a particular day, and a list of these visits is usually kept in your high school guidance department.  (In my local high school, you can even have these visits synced with your google calendar, but in other schools, the appointment list is either online or available in guidance.)  At the appointed time, the admission counselor gives a brief presentation and asks if there are any questions.  Very often, he or she asks the students present to complete an interest form or merely to list their names and contact information on an index card.  Students have an opportunity to chat with this admissions counselor in an informal way.

After the appointment, the admissions counselor makes notes about his or her impression of the students who attended for later follow-up. Very often, that admissions person is in charge of a certain region in the country and will be making admission decisions for those same students.  They often think of the students they meet as “their” students and look forward to getting and considering their applications.  As you can imagine, it’s a significant advantage to have an admissions representative look out for your application and give it personal and careful attention.

Here’s what YOU should do:

Check your guidance department for the list of which colleges come and when.  You often have to sign up for these visits with your guidance counselor in advance.  When the day and time comes for the college admissions visit, you’ll have to leave whatever class you’re in, often mid-class, but if you’ve signed up in advance, the teacher will excuse you.  (Different schools have different procedures, but usually the visits are during the school day, and teachers are instructed to allow students to attend even if there’s a test scheduled.)  Arrive promptly at the designated room.  Listen politely, take notes where appropriate, smile and look engaged.  Most importantly, ask questions.  Since you’ve signed up in advance for this visit, you’ll be able to do a bit of research online about each college.  Ask questions that you could not find the answer to online.  Some appropriate questions might be:

  • How popular is my major at your school?
  • Is there help finding employment after I graduate?
  • Tell me about freshman housing.
  • What weight does your school place on AP courses / SAT or ACT results / grades?
  • If I’m not sure what I want to major in, should I guess or apply undecided?
  • Will there be a faculty adviser available to help me choose classes?

At the end of the talk, shake hand with the admissions person, thank him or her for coming, and get a contact name and/or email address for further questions (and use that info to write a quick thank-you email that afternoon).

What if you’re not sure you want to apply to a certain school?  Should you still go to the college visit?  

Absolutely!  You might find a school you weren’t even considering is a better fit for you than you thought.  Even if you decide a certain school isn’t right for you, you might hear another student ask a question you hadn’t even thought to ask.  And every time you speak to an admissions person, you’ll become more at ease and polished.  So don’t hesitate to go to as many of these appointments as you can.

Nearly all students who apply to the colleges that interest you will have about the same GPA, about the same SAT and ACT scores, very similar activities, and glowing teacher recommendations.  How can you stand out?  Be your most charming self with the person who is going to make your admission decision!  They can’t make it any easier for you to make a good impression.

If you have any questions, please contact me or your guidance counselor.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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May 27, 2016

What Do Colleges Want From Applicants Like Me – Part 1

I’m glad you asked, because there are indeed concrete steps you can take to enhance your college application whether you’re in 9th grade dreaming of college, a senior overwhelmed with the process of college applications, or any student (or parent) in between.

First, a little background.  When I first started advising students about how to get into a college that would be a great fit for them about 29 years ago, most colleges were looking for the “well-rounded” student.  The ideal applicant would get good grades, have high SAT scores, belong to several school clubs, play a sport, and perhaps even dance or sing or play an instrument.  The more areas in which a student showed competence, the more attractive the applicant.

About 15 years ago,  there was a shift.  Colleges decided that they could have a well-rounded freshman class even if each student wasn’t well-rounded.  In fact, perhaps a college could build a stellar class if they chose some students who were brilliant academically but had no other activities, some athletes who were stars on the field but didn’t test well and didn’t have wonderful grades, some virtuoso cellists who had played Carnegie Hall but never joined a club or held a job, and so on.  Colleges were looking for “passion,” drive, and singular achievement.

About 7 or 8 years ago, there was another shift.  Colleges found that sometimes star athletes, world-class musicians, and brilliant students kept those interests isolated from everything else in their lives, and so didn’t add much to the school environment.  Now, colleges are looking for something I call “consistency.”  They want to see that your interest or talent pervades your life, that you don’t merely dance or play lacrosse because someone said it would look good on an application.  They want to see how you use that interest throughout your life.  So if you dance, they want to see that you work part-time in a dance studio helping younger dancers, that you and your friends give free dance performances each Christmas in the local senior center, that you dance in your local dance group, that you’ve organized a dance group for your school.  If you play lacrosse, they want to see you get paid for coaching lacrosse, they want to see you spend your summers at a lacrosse training camp, they want to see you volunteer to coach kids in some sport in your nearest inner city Boy’s Club.  Your in-school, out-of-school, volunteer, and paid work should all be organized around your interest, talent, or ability.

The best applicants actually DO have a pervasive, enduring interest that shows itself in every aspect of their lives (while those applicants also get good grades and have good scores).  But if you know that’s what colleges are looking for, you can give them what they want.  Instead of going on your church’s midnight run to give food to the homeless in the city (or in addition to that), be sure you look for volunteer opportunities that complement your “interest.”  Better yet, create volunteer opportunities that both reflect your interest and highlight your leadership abilities.  Be thoughtful about how you spend your summers.  If you’re an athlete, camp or life-guarding is fine, but if you want to be an engineer, perhaps working theater tech for local community theater is better.  Choose after school activities wisely.  If your strength is academics, you may want to join the prom committee, but the debate club might be a better choice.

In many ways, I’m sorry for this trend.  I do think 14- , 15- , 16- , and 17-year old students should be exploring lots of interests.  How do you know if the chorus isn’t for you until you try it?  Maybe you’ll find that the Model U.N. ignites a passion for public service in you.  Maybe not, but you won’t know until you try.  So on the one hand, I’m giving you advice I don’t believe.  I don’t believe young people should be hyper-focused on one passion.  Your “passion” at 15 might bear no resemblance to your “passion” at 17 — and that’s how it should be.

On the other hand, people do pay me for my years of expertise about how to get into their top choice college — and telling students to focus, focus, focus on their grades and one big talent or interest will absolutely differentiate that student from the thousands of other smart, suburban, perfectly likable and capable students who will compete for a limited number of spots at that college.  So you need to decide whether your passion or talent is enduring or a passing flirtation, and how important it is for you to tailor your activities (beginning in 9th grade, if possible) based on college acceptance.  Or maybe this advice gives you permission to resign from clubs and activities that don’t light your fire in favor of those that feed your passion.  Feel free to comment (politely).

Shortly, I’ll write about other aspects of a college application over which students have control so they can give the college what they want.  Stay tuned!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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May 9, 2016

College Acceptance: Can They Really Take It Away?

You wooed them.  They flirted back with glossy pamphlets and flattery.  You’ve proposed, they’ve accepted, and you expect to walk arm and arm happily into the sunset — just you and the school of your dreams.  Now that you’ve said “I do,” all you have to do is put that sticker on the back of your car, and you and your school will build a 4-year relationship together.

Not so fast.

A few years ago, the New York Times printed this article warning kids not to let their grades slip too far in senior year:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/education/edlife/rescind22.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=slackers%20beware&st=cse

It warns “slackers” that colleges will and regularly do pull offers of admittance if a student’s grades slip too much.  You have to submit your year-end grades to the school you’ve chosen, and if the college doesn’t like what it sees, it has a long waiting list of eager students still batting their eyelashes at your school.

I believe the New York Times.  Most of the colleges they referenced were large state schools (the kind with affordable tuition) who have too many students to care if you fill that last dorm room or another student does, one more serious about learning and schooling whose grades not only didn’t drop but might have even improved over the past few months.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently updated its article on the same topic, confirming that colleges do indeed rescind admissions offers if they must.

If you have a legitimate excuse for why your grades are dropping, contact your college as soon as you realize what’s happening.  A legitimate excuse might be a recent serious illness — your own or a parent’s.

If  you merely have an advanced case of senioritis, that’s not an excuse.

Remember, colleges don’t see your third quarter grades, but they do see your final transcript.  If your grades start to drop, do something!  

  • Talk to your high school teachers about extra credit.  Offer to do anything to raise your grade.
  • Talk to your guidance counselor about strategies to pull up  your grades now.  If they know you’re trying, they may be willing to go to bat for you with the college if it pulls your acceptance.
  • Get a tutor for finals or state exams (like Regents exams).  Don’t wait – if you need to pass that math or physics regents exam, get a tutor.  It’s not a long-term commitment, and the money you spend now may save heartache and embarrassment later.
  • Contact your college admissions department with a contrite explanation and a promise to do better.  Tell them BEFORE they get the bad news to show you’re responsible and willing to correct your missteps.
  • Get off facebook.  Recent studies have shown that FB users in college have grades a full GPA point below non-users.  Once your final grades are in, you’ll have all the time you want to catch up on your favorite social media.

The weather is warm, the prom is coming, and English is boring, but keep it up for just a little longer.  It’s hard to get that sticker off your car window!

 

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May 11, 2015

How Much Will My Scores Go Up With Tutoring?

I get asked this question all the time.  When I’m on the phone with a parent and he or she can’t see me rolling my eyes, I just say, “It depends.”

Before I tell you what it depends on, permit me a not-so-brief rant.  

The press is full of articles and blog posts lately decrying the new SAT and wondering if college entrance tests are necessary or fair.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m far from a fan of the new SAT.  But that doesn’t mean that a national standardized assessment isn’t a valid way for colleges to get an idea of whether a student can handle college-level work.  I encourage you to read this blog post that was in the New York Times recently about the new SAT, the old SAT, and whether either of them are worth anything.  Does the author seem to make sense to you?

Well, it’s nonsense.  I belong to several LinkedIn groups of SAT and ACT tutors who generously exchange information, insights, techniques, and news.  One of the participants, Matt McCorkle, co-founder of Clear Choice Test Prep in California, gave me his permission to share his comments with you.  Read his reaction to the New York Times article, and I think you’ll agree with him – and me. (Click here: Matt McCorkle)

Now, to answer the question, how much will my scores go up with tutoring?

1.  How much your score will go up depends on where you’re starting.  If you tell me that your writing score (the grammar part) is currently at a 420 out of a possible 800, I am confident that I can help you get your score up into the 500s or better.  Can I expect a similar 100+ point improvement if you come to me with a score of 700?  It’s not as likely that you’ll make as dramatic an increase.  Will you go up?  Probably.  By the same amount as someone who starts lower?  Probably not.

2.  How much your score will go up depends on your native ability in that area.  If you’re a good reader with a modest vocabulary, I can pretty much predict that your score will go up much more than that of a poor reader – or someone who just avoids reading.  If you’re fairly good at math, we’ve got a better shot at increasing your score than if you’ve always hated math and really haven’t mastered fractions.

3.  How much your score will go up depends on how much work you’re willing to put into it.  Work doesn’t just mean time.  When I have a student here in my home office, and as we’re grading a section that student is staring out the window, chances are his progress won’t be dramatic.  If I have a student, on the other hand, who wants to know why each wrong answer is wrong and why my answer is right, that student is actually learning from the process of taking practice sections and I can bet that that kid will indeed make a nice improvement.  If I ask you to do an essay at home, and you don’t, and I remind you the next week and you still don’t, it’s much less likely that your score will go up.  Just showing up at tutoring sessions is good and it helps, but not as much as showing up willing and ready to learn and become invested in the process.

4.  How much your score will go up depends on how nervous you get during standardized tests.  Some kids just panic.  It’s hard to score brilliantly when thoughts of “I’m no good at this.  I’ve never been good at this” are running through your mind.  One of the best benefits of tutoring is starting to build a sense that, although you won’t know precisely what’s on the test, you have a strategy for dealing with every type of question and that you’re as well-prepared as anyone in the room.  Still, kids who have a history of doing well on standardized tests go into a new testing situation with confidence and seldom second guess themselves or change answers just because they don’t trust themselves to answer correctly the first time.

Can tutoring really help my score?  Yes it can.  But read this blog post to see how and why your score will improve and why it really can’t be measured accurately.

If tutoring can really improve a student’s SAT or ACT score, isn’t that sort of unfair?  Yes, it is.  But the SATs and ACTs never promised to be an intelligence test.  It’s about being prepared for the test – both by virtue of having the academic skills necessary to perform well and having learned the techniques needed to gain the maximum score.  With or without a tutor, with or without a prep course, you can read the instructions in the beginning of the prep books, take practice tests over and over, grade them, analyze your wrong answers to see where you went wrong, draw conclusions about the type of questions you’re missing and try to fill in those gaps.  A good tutor can focus this process for you, but you can manage very nicely without any help at all if you’re self-motivated and are prepared to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and are ready to work hard to improve.

Is it easier to improve with a tutor? Yes, it is.  It’s easier for the same reason it’s easier to get stronger with a trainer at the gym than it is to workout alone at home.  A tutor or coach can give you motivation, techniques, strategies, insights, and either a pep talk or stern lecture, depending on which you need.  But you can do it alone if you really, really put yourself into it.  And you can’t get more fair than that!

 

 

November 18, 2014

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Dear Students,

I’m sure your parents have told you that when THEY were your age, they applied to two schools, got into one of them, and went to that school.

Well, things are different now.  When the Common App was created, it allowed students to apply to several schools just as easily as they could apply to one. Fill out one application and click.  Sure, you had to pay an admission fee at each school, but in the scheme of things, big deal.  So students applied. Students began to apply to more and more schools.  That meant schools received way more applications than they could accept.  The colleges loved it, because it made them appear more selective as they accepted an ever smaller percentage of the applicants.

Because the schools were now more selective, students panicked and, unsure of their chances of getting into any of these now-selective schools, applied to even more schools, just in case.

Now the colleges are complaining because students are applying to so many schools that the colleges are having a hard time figuring out who is sincere about going.  Sure, they like looking selective (what percentage of applicants are accepted), but their yield is now declining (yield is what percentage of students who are accepted actually choose to go to that school).

No student wants to be the one to try to stop the trend by applying to only a couple of schools.  So the cycle continues of students applying to an increasing number of schools and schools accepting a declining number of students.  (Read this NY Times article on the dilemma from a guidance counselor’s point of view.)

Unfortunately, in an effort to stem the tide, colleges are increasingly adding required “supplemental essays.”  Now nearly every college expects students to write the one major “Common App application essay,” the one they work on in school and that everyone talks about, but also a different supplemental essay for nearly every school.  Apply to 20 colleges and expect to write 21 essays (the Common App essay and a different supplemental essay for each school).   This recent article says that not only don’t schools pay that much attention to the essays, they compete to find the most clever essay topic, in part to ensure you want to go to that school enough to write yet another essay.

So, what’s the bedraggled high school senior to do?  How many colleges should a student apply to?  How many is too few? Is there such a thing as too many?

You’re not going to like my answer.

The answer is – it depends (I told you!).

  • If you are applying undecided, or if you applying to a liberal arts major, like history, psychology, or even math, I agree with this article that 10 – 14 colleges should do it.  You need to choose 3 – 4 colleges that you’d just love to get into.  These are reach schools, schools that might take you if they happen to need a tuba player this year and you play tuba, or schools at which you are in the mid- to bottom of their range, but hey, you want to give it a try because they do take a few people in that GPA and SAT range.  I say go for it, as long as you understand that a “reach” means they’ll probably say no.  No crying allowed if they reject your application.  (Remember that they’re not rejecting YOU, just the application.)
  • Then you need to choose 3 – 5 colleges that will definitely take you, as long as you somehow manage to graduate from high school.  These should be schools that you wouldn’t mind going to, but they don’t have everything on your wish list. Perhaps they’re too small or too close to home or don’t have a football team.  Remember that schools on this list are not only likely to say yes, but likely to offer you a scholarship that you might find difficult to turn down, so, as the previous article says, make sure you would actually like to go to these schools, because you might have to!
  • Lastly, pick 3 – 5 schools that are a good match for your qualifications.  They’re just as likely to say yes as no. They’re not guaranteed acceptances, but you’ve got a pretty good shot at any school on this list.  You should really, really love every school on this list because you’re probably going to attend one of them.  If you can only visit a few schools, visit the ones in this category.

Now, if you’re going to apply to a program where participation is limited, like nursing, or physical therapy, or engineering, it will be harder to get into a school with the same set of qualifications.  For example, you feel fairly certain that you could get into Whatsamatta U if you were going to major in English, but could you get into that school’s engineering program?  Much less certain.  So apply to more schools than you might if you were going to major in psychology or English, where it’s possible to have a few hundred kids in a freshman introductory class (and don’t forget to leave yourself time for all those supplemental essays).

How can you improve your chances of getting into any school on your list?

Show interest!  Go to a college fair and fill out a card (yes, that counts) for any school that even might possibly be on your application list.  Absolutely attend if one of the colleges on your list visits your high school (that’s a must).  Visit the campus if you can (but it’s not fatal if you can’t).  Definitely email the admissions department if you have a question that isn’t addressed on the college’s website (a much better strategy than asking your friends).  Ask for an alumni interview if you can’t get to the campus.  Let them know you’re not just applying because you had a free Saturday afternoon and didn’t mind writing one more essay.

Apply to colleges you’ve researched online, and then take a deep breath while you wait for them to email you.  You’ve done it right if you get a few no’s (that means to did stretch and reach a bit) and several yeses.  Good luck!

Questions?  Comments?  Need help with the Common App or essays?  My contact info and rates are on my website: www.wendysegaltutoring.com .

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Wendy Segal

August 5, 2014

Applying to College: Where Do I Start? When Do I Start?

If you’re going into your senior year of high school in the fall, you probably have a nagging feeling that you should be doing something about college, but I bet the whole concept feels overwhelming.  (If you’re going into your junior year and you’re smart enough to be reading ahead to be well prepared, give yourself a big gold star!)

Where should you start?  Is it too early to begin the college process – or are you already behind?

Let’s think this whole application process through, step by step:

– 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. (That means NOW!)

– 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, you need a list of potential schools by FEBRUARY of junior year.

So are you behind?  Unless you have a solid list of schools to which you intend to apply, I’m afraid you are!

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.  They’re much more likely to cooperate if you have a plan.  For example, you might say, “Mom, I want to take three trips.  I want to see the Pennsylvania/ Delaware/Maryland schools in one trip, the Boston area schools in another trip, and the New York State schools to the west in a third trip.”  Mom’s bound to be impressed! Then go online and find out when those schools have available tours and/or information sessions.

Don’t forget to make appointments for school tours and information sessions.  The most popular dates fill up quickly.

While you’re online, definitely fill out the “send me more information” page at each school.  That’s how they know you’re  considering them.  Once the schools get specific information from you, they can send you targeted brochures for your interests or major or any scholarships that you might fit.

After you  make your list, go to visit schools.  You don’t have to see every school to which you might apply.  You don’t have to visit your reach schools.  Face it, if you get into Harvard, you’re going.  Who cares what the dorm rooms look like!  Visit the schools that are most likely to admit you.  Visit different categories of schools:  urban, suburban, rural, large, small, northern, southern – whatever your categories are.

Next, start writing your essay.  The Common App is live as of August 1st.  You can read the essay prompts here, so get started now!

Please don’t wait until school starts to begin the essay.  Sure, some English teachers give you time to work on your essay in class, but they don’t have much experience with the new prompts (prompts changed just last year and are radically different from prompt over the past 10 years or so) and they don’t know you particularly well.  Don’t tell me you work best under pressure.  They’ll be plenty of pressure in the coming few months.   A well-thought-out essay may require several drafts.  You may pick one topic, begin writing, and realize the essay is a dud and you’d be better off with a different topic.  You don’t have to polish it up now, but you should most definitely begin right away.  Get off Facebook and start writing!

Also, you should be making a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done in high school.

List:

  • academic achievements (pins, awards, honors)
  • after school clubs
  • sports
  • paid jobs (even babysitting)
  • volunteer jobs
  • community service

You need the name of the activity, the group you did it for or with, the dates, and perhaps a 5-word description.

Once you complete your list, show it to your parents.  You’re bound to have forgotten something!

After you really complete your list, make a resume.  Look online for samples.  The most important thing about a resume is that it is error-free. Have someone else review it.  Now you have something to bring with you on interviews, and completing college applications is SO much easier when you already have completed a resume.  Trust me!

If you follow all these suggestions, you should be busy until school starts (sorry about that!).

Need more help or advice?  Feel free to book some time with me (http://meetme.so/WendySegalTutoring ).

Good luck!

 

 

best college

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

June 2, 2014

Applying to College: The Common Application Changes and Advice

Back in the caveman days when I was applying to college, a student picked out 2 or 3 or even 4 colleges, wrote out each application as nearly as possible, got a large manilla envelope, mailed it in to the admissions department, and waited patiently for a thin or thick envelope in return.

Now kids apply to several colleges electronically, mostly via one application which is sent to many college with a few clicks.  Or at least that’s students and parents who haven’t waded into the college application process believe.

Here’s where they’re wrong:

  • Most colleges do accept the Common App, but not all do.  Some use their own application and some offer the Universal Application, a Common App alternative.
  • Students still have to send away for transcripts for any college-level classes they’ve taken in high school (like College Spanish, for example, or SUPA English), and have them sent to each college to which they apply (and each transcript comes with a fee).
  • Students have to send each SAT and ACT they want the colleges to see to each college – again, with a fee for each test and each college.  Just listing your scores on the application isn’t enough.
  • Students now apply to 12 – 14 colleges because they can complete just one form (at about $70 per application).  Because so many kids apply to so many colleges, each subsequent student has to do the same or risk not being accepted to a selection of schools. Colleges encourage this volume of applications because they’ll have more students to decline.  Sure, they have more students from which to choose, but just as importantly, they’ll have lots of students to turn down.  The more students they decline, the more selective the school appears to be, and therefore the more desirable.
  • About two-thirds of the colleges add a supplemental essay (or two or three or four!) to “personalize” the application.  Some colleges have boring, predictable essays, like “Why do you want to go to our college?” or “Why do you want to major in what you want to major in?” but others try to be creative with their supplemental essays, like “If you could have dinner with any person living, dead, or fictional, who would it be and why?” or “What’s your favorite word and why?”  Of course, there’s THE college application essay, the one that’s going to go to all colleges, but don’t forget about all the supplements you’ll have to write.

Last year, the Common App people changed the Common App substantially.  Some of the changes made the application a little easier to manage technically.  Other changes made the application much less appealing.  (I wasn’t the only one who found the changes frustrating.  Read this article from last year’s NBC news.)  Among the changes I object to:

The student used to be able to download a copy of the blank Common App.  The student could use this template to gather all the information necessary before sitting down to input that information.  Because the application website is timed,  it makes sense to have all the data on hand before you start.  (Do you know your guidance counselor’s fax number?  Do you know what year your father graduated from college?)  Last year, they decided that no hard copy would be available.  NEWS: there is now a paper copy of the Common App which your guidance counselor can download for those students who want to fill it out in advance of typing in the information online.  (I can also download it for my students.  I’m not sure if students will be able to download it on their own.)
The Common Application essay used to be general, with the last option being “an essay of your choice.”  They took that away.  The current options are narrow and geared primarily for students who have a story to tell.  If I my own sons were high school juniors, I’d certainly have them working on those essays over the summer.  (Take a look at the essay topics.)  No matter how busy you are during the summer, it’s likely that you’ll be busier in September and October.  You can’t create an account on the Common App website until August 1, but you can certainly start on the essay.

Because of all the changes – and the increased number of colleges accepting the Common App – the website crashed very frequently last year.  If you were one of the students who waited for the deadline day to apply, you likely weren’t able to apply to many colleges on your list.

My advice?  

  • Write your Common App essay over the summer. (Yes, I absolutely can help with the essay writing process! )
  • Create a resume over the summer (or at least list all of your academic honors, your sports, your community service, your extra-curricular activities, and your paid jobs (yes, babysitting counts).
  • Ask your guidance counselor to print out a copy of the Common App for you now, before the guidance counselors are gone for the summer.
  • Go on Common App website as soon as you can after August 1st to create an account.

As always, I’ll keep an eye on the news and let you know if there are any updates on the college application process.

Let me know if I can help or answer questions for you.1527059_691929960832285_1905266631_n

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

 

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