As an ACT prep instructor, I work with students every day who are trying to raise their scores. But , surprisingly, families often don't bother to think strategically about why they want a higher score for their student. Let's look at some good reasons to invest time and money in a test prep program.
Reason 1: Your score is not within the middle 50% for your school of choice
Colleges now report a range of scores instead of a single benchmark. The numbers indicate the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile of the scores of students who enrolled in their freshman class. For example, the University of Michigan reports their ACT score range as 29-33. This means that the majority of freshmen in Ann Arbor this year scored in that range. It also means that 25% of their freshman scored below a 29. Further investigation shows that while 67% of their freshmen scored a 30 or better, Michigan accepted 195 students with scores between 18-23! Thus, low scores do not necessarily shut you out of college if you have other talents to offer. However, there is no question that having a score in the upper range (75th percentile and above) will make you a more competitive candidate.
Reason 2: You want to increase your Super-Score
Many schools, particularly the private colleges and the highly-selective schools, will super-score, or refigure your ACT composite based on your highest score in each section. This super-score can be considerably higher than any one test sitting. At right you see how this can work. This student took ACT twice. The first test sitting, in April, produced a 29 composite, with strong scores in math and science. When he studied for the December exam, he had concentrated on raising his English and reading scores. While he got much better scores in English and reading, his math and science grades went down, so his composite only increased by one point. His super-score, however, increased his composite significantly. After submitting his second round of scores to his college of choice, he was invited to be part of their Honors College program, based entirely on his super-score.
Reason 3: You're looking for scholarships
Many schools offer merit aid to students based on their standardized test scores. Carthage College, a small, private liberal arts college near Chicago, offers the following automatic scholarships, renewable for four years, to their entering freshmen, based on ACT and GPA.
As you can see, a good test prep program can be a worthwhile investment, even if you don't have stratospheric grades and test scores. Make sure your prep program guarantees an increase larger than the margin of error of the test: 60 points per section for SAT and 2 points on the ACT composite, and that you will be practicing on actual ACT-developed test questions, rather than questions made up by the prep company. Be sure to read more about test-prep strategies in my teen blog.
More and more colleges are taking advantage of multimedia to help widen their reach to students across the country and across the world. Obviously, the best way to get a feel for a particular campus is to visit in person. You can interact with current students on your own terms, sit in on classes and even visit overnight. But with many students applying to 8-10 colleges across the country, it’s not feasible for most students to visit every campus before they apply.
That’s okay. I recommend that students and families use some of the virtual tour sites to “look” around campus and get a feel for the school before applying and then plan visits to the schools that you are accepted to and definitely might choose to attend.
How do you virtually visit campus? With a virtual campus tour. These tours can run the gamut from shaky hand-held video to slickly produced ad spots for campuses. In between you can find slideshows, 360° panoramic photographs, and even collections of interviews with students-all of which give different insight into the culture of a campus. Let’s look more closely at a few.
The first place you should look is on the school’s official website. Here you should find some means of looking at campus via a video tour or slideshow. If you’re having trouble, I recommend visiting CampusTours.com for basic information as well as a link to the school’s preferred tour.
Some of the tours you find will have been produced by Youvisit.com. Youvisit produces audiovisual--and just visual--panoramic tours of campuses, travel destinations, businesses, and events and venues. The Youvisit tours are optimized for most platforms: laptop, tablet, phone and even virtual reality! Ecampustours.com also offers panoramic photo tours as well as some college admissions information.
Youniversity TV provides commercially produced video spots about campus, similar to the college commercials you see during football games. These videos are difficult to watch on phones, which make them less useful for students than they might be for parents. The student-on-the-street interviews as CollegeClick TV are more Millenial-friendly, and better provide an actual feel for the campus and its students vs the professional marketing pieces at Youniversity or Youvisit. Once you figure out the tags that interest you, you can search for videos from multiple campuses about their athletics or theatre programs, for example, which can help you expand your college search.
Whichever site or sites you choose to use, remember that the only way to get an authentic feel for a campus is to visit in person. But virtual campus tours can be a good way to narrow your travel choices.
Without the internet, you and I would not be having this conversation today. If you found me through Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter, then we clearly would not be otherwise connected. Social media has been a blessing, a democratizing force for information, a way to learn and grow intellectually as well as be entertained. <Insert random cat video here> But having so much information at your fingertips can also be a bad thing.
Since the beginning of the World Wide Web about twenty years ago (April 1993 to be exact—thanks Wikipedia!), our lives have become more and more flooded with information—much of it good, but much more of it questionable or even bad.
Social media can be a terrific thing. Facebook is great for building communities and supports conversations among multiple participants in a way that email just can’t. I’m still a member of a couple Yahoo Groups, for example, but they’re all but dead, while those same communities are alive and well on Facebook. Facebook is also my favorite place to share articles I find interesting so I can discuss them with others.
Another good place to share articles and other resources, though not necessarily to discuss them, is Twitter. By following the major players in college info and reporting (@InsideHigherEd, @NYTedlife, @FAFSA, @ACTstudent, @collegeboard, for example), parents and students can get an inside look at what is going on in the world of college admissions. Tumblr, Instagram and other highly visual sites allow a bit more information to be exchanged, but they are primarily a site for pictures and feel.
The biggest problem with social media is that it can be very easy to assume that you know all about a place from following their Tumblr or their student blogs. Likewise, it's easy to believe you know everything there is to know about applying to college, or financial aid, or college entrance exams, because you've done some googling and read some sites. Most of the information that you find on the web is either extremely general, incomplete or otherwise misleading. Watch out for conflicts of interest--even ACT doesn't want to alienate the education establishment by admitting you don't get better at the reading section by doing more reading. Be sure to wear your skeptical hat and chase down any information which seems to be parroting a party line, or being entirely contrarian. The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
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