12/22/2017 0 Comments
This is less a matter of “currently” than of type of college. Some colleges, particularly state flagship public universities like the University of Minnesota, don’t care at all about recommendation letters or essays. There’s no place in the application to include those things.
Other schools practice “holistic” admissions, which means they take all of these things into consideration. Lets look at what admissions officers gain from each of these application pieces:
Other schools have an emphasis on each student, so they value the more insightful parts of the application—the letters and essay—more highly than simply grades and test scores. This is especially true of the many test optional colleges, and colleges where the application allows more creativity through ZeeMee, video applications, portfolios, etc.
In short, you should make sure that the real you shines through on all parts of your applications, but evaluate carefully to make sure the colleges that you apply to really fit your strengths.
In the world of acronyms, the PSAT/NMSQT is the biggest mouthful. But what does it all mean?
The PSAT evolved as a practice version of the SAT, but now is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Only juniors can take the NMSQT, so if you took the PSAT for practice as a sophomore, your scores were not forwarded to National Merit Scholarship Corp. even if you got a perfect score. You also cannot retake the PSAT/NMSQT, as it is only offered once a year. There are other versions of the PSAT: the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10. They all test the same skills, but "in ways that are appropriate for your grade level," which means the questions are likely easier, and the high scores are not as high. These tests are also offered at different times through the school year.
Every year, the NMSC identifies about 16,000 National Merit semi-finalists on the basis of these test scores. To become one of 15,000 finalists, semi-finalists must submit grades, SAT scores and a school official's recommendation. About 8,200 finalists win scholarships from NMSC. Another 1,500 students who are not finalists also win special scholarships. [Source]
You can practice with sample SAT test questions online through Khan Academy. The SAT has the same format as PSAT but with more difficult questions, so practicing for the SAT might make you even better prepared. https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/new-sat/new-sat-tips-planning/new-sat-how-to-prep/a/full-length-psat-to-take-on-paper
You only get one shot at the NMSQT and it can mean considerable merit scholarship money at your colleges. Thus, it can only benefit you to put some work into preparing for it. This year, the PSAT/NMSQT will be administered on October 11 or October 25, 2017. It should be available at your school. Check with student services or your guidance counselor to find out about signing up. Taking the test will cost $15. Find out more about the PSAT on the College Board’s website by clicking the link or cut-and-pasting the URL into your search bar: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/taking-the-tests
You know, the ones that make straight A’s in all upper-level classes, in “National Honor Society”, top-level band or orchestra, graduate at top of their class. What happens to these kids after high school or college? Do they end up being “average," or go on to be CEOs or high earners?
This depends quite a bit on what college the overachievers go to. Malcolm Gladwell, a writer who deals with math and social science, gave a really fascinating speech at the Zeitgeist Conference in 2013 that shows that being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a small fish in a big pond. He demonstrates that students in the top 5% of their class publish research at about the same rate (X papers per year) no matter whether they go to Harvard (which accepts only 5% of their applicants) or the University of Toronto, which accepts 82% of their applicants. Students at the bottom of the class at Harvard are no more successful than students at the bottom of their class at the University of Toronto.
This means that the smart overachiever types who go to Harvard are more likely than not to consider themselves not-so-smart and not-so-overachievers once they get there, and this change in their perspective follows them for the rest of their lives. These students often get what is call “imposter syndrome,” because they begin to believe that, no matter how much they have accomplished in their lives, there is always someone way smarter and more accomplished than they are. Imposter syndrome is the more dangerous cousin of humility. Obviously, we don’t want everyone to believe they are the smartest person in the room. Those people can be insufferable. Nor do we want people to feel like everything they’ve accomplished is a fluke and sooner or later people will realize they’ve been faking all along. Imposter syndrome can lead to depression and anxiety—like the epidemics of depression and anxiety we currently have.
So that’s one thing that can happen to those smart overachievers. I have yet to meet a smart overachiever type who didn’t have a crisis of self-confidence in college.
Some obviously go on to great things, but as often as not, those CEOs of multimillion dollar companies and governmental leaders did not go to the super-elite colleges. This doesn’t mean they weren’t smart or overachievers. Condeleeza Rice is a classic smart overachiever type who went on to be Secretary of State. She attended the University of Denver and overachieved there, too. ;-)
But if you think in terms of pure numbers, there are something like 40,000 high school valedictorians graduating every year. There are 4,000 seats for freshman in the Ivy League; say 10K seats for freshmen if we count all the highly-selective colleges in the country. This means that only one out of every ten valedictorians will be able to attend a highly-selective college (really less than that because some of those seats go to non-valedictorians). Multimillion dollar corporations only need one CEO a piece, when there are more and more amazing graduates coming into the job market every year. It’s just not numerically possible for every smart overachiever-type to be a famous highly-financially-successful-type person after graduation.
Does this mean they’re average? That depends on what your definitions of “success” and “normal” are. Many people choose to step off the “success” treadmill for one reason or another. They want work/life balance, or to be their own boss, or to do something outside the mainstream. I would argue that this does not mean they’re more or less successful than normal. But I think it’s a good idea for us to stop encouraging our teens to be overachievers and instead support them in finding and following their interests. Being happy and fulfilled is more important than “achieving” as far as I’m concerned.
 Malcolm Gladwell - Zeitgeist Americas 2013
There are five huge changes to college admissions for the Class of 2017.
1. Standardized testing--as you probably already know, the SAT has completely revised their test, not just the questions but the whole format. For example, students no longer lose 1/4 point for wrong answers (often call the guessing penalty). So guess away! The ACT has changed significantly in the last year as well, but they did it kind of undercover. You now will have a "paired passage" as one of the four reading passages, where you not only have to demonstrate comprehension, but also the ability to compare and contrast the passages and their perspectives. The ACT writing test has been completely revamped. Instead of a five-paragraph persuasive essay, students are now asked to evaluate three different perspectives on an issue, determine their own perspective on the issue and then write a persuasive essay comparing and contrasting all of them. It sounds more difficult, but actually the new essay is considerably more formulaic, so I think it's easier.
2. Test prep--Free or almost free test prep is now available for both the ACT (in partnership with Kaplan) and SAT (in partnership with Khan Academy) to anyone who is willing to put in the work. This is huge.
3. Applications--There's a new application on the scene: the Coalition App. This application complements the Common App and the Universal App. Most of the Coalition members will continue to accept the Common App and Universal App and, since this application is new, there are bound to be some bugs in it this year. Learn more about it at Coalition for Access & Affordability.
4. Common Application--The Common App has changed their policy to allow students not in their senior year of high school to begin working on their applications at any time. They used to purge all data on August 1. Now, if you've registered as something other than a graduating senior, your data will stay in your account. This is pretty great because it means that you can begin your applications before August 1, when you may have more time to work at it little-by-little.
5. Financial Aid--The federal government is changing their process for determining financial aid eligibility. For the Class of 2016, students had to apply to colleges in the fall, then wait until February or March for their parents to complete their prior year (2015) taxes before they could file the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Schools provide net price calculators to help applicants see how much they are likely to have to pay for each individual school, but filling them out is a tedious process. Now the government has moved to a prior-prior year standard. That means that the 2015 taxes can be used to determine federal student aid eligibility starting in October of 2016 for the 2017-2018 school year. This change effects all students who have to fill out the FAFSA, but benefits the Class of 2017 the most, because they will be the first class in history to know what their expected family contribution will be BEFORE they choose which schools to apply to. No more shooting for the moon and then finding out later that you can't afford it.
Keep your eyes and ears open as these changes are implemented over the summer. It's going to be a great application cycle!
This answer was originally published on Quora on May 7, 2016. Follow me on Quora for more great content!
Nearly every student who comes to me for test prep is battling one thing: text anxiety. Even if you have a weak grasp of pronoun rules or have forgotten most of your pre-algebra, even if you’ve never had test anxiety in any other testing situation, the anxiety is there.
It makes sense: No one likes to be judged. Some students struggle with perfectionism. Others believe that the ACT/SAT is crucial to getting into the right college and therefore having a happy life. (Nothing could be further from the truth.) So here are some ways you can manage test anxiety.
In terms of standardized tests, if your score isn’t what you want, then go back and practice some more. But I would also suggest that you think long and hard about why you want an astronomical score. Just to see if you can do it? Then there should be no stress; you’re only competing against yourself. To get into your dream school? If your score is in the ballpark and the rest of your application is strong, a point here or there won’t make or break you. Focus your energies on the other parts of your application. If you’re nowhere near, we need to talk about refocusing your application strategy. Everyone can get into their best fit school, one where they will thrive academically, socially and financially. Probably you haven’t even met your best fit yet.
Hampshire is unique is that their students do not receive traditional letter grades. Instead students receive detailed narrative assessments from their professors (like students at Reed College, St, John's College and Evergreen State College). Instead of choosing a traditional major, Hampshire students design their own rigorous, personalized course of study, culminating in a year-long senior project. In light of this commitment to "authentic assessment," it's not so surprising that Hampshire has been test-optional since the college was founded. Since 1970, their Admissions officers will look at standardized test scores if students choose to submit them, but do not require such scores.
of civic engagement, their letters of recommendation from mentors, and their ability to represent themselves through their essays trump anything the SAT could tell us."
Hampshire took a big risk in deciding to go test-blind. U.S. News and World Report, publisher of the most influential college rankings, refused to include Hampshire in its rankings, because they use standardized test scores as part of their methodology. As I've mentioned in my parent presentations, the college rankings are big business to colleges; moving up in the rankings means an increase in applications in the following year as well as an increase in alumni donations. Sarah Lawrence College was test-blind for many years, but returned to being test-optional in 2012 so they could continue to be ranked. After dropping out of the rankings, Hampshire could well have seen a drastic reduction in both for the 2014-2015 school year.
But they didn't. Inside Higher Ed reports that although they did see a dramatic drop in the number of applications, they admitted the most diverse class in the school's history, including:
In the world of acronyms, the PSAT/NMSQT is the biggest mouthful. But what does it all mean?
The PSAT evolved as a practice version of the SAT, but now is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Only juniors can take the NMSQT, so if you took the PSAT for practice as a sophomore, your scores were not forwarded to National Merit Scholarship Corp. even if you got a perfect score. You also cannot retake the PSAT/NMSQT, as it is only offered once a year. There are other versions of the PSAT: the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10. They all test the same skills, but "in ways that are appropriate for your grade level," which means the questions are likely easier, and the high scores are not as high. These tests are also offered at different times through the school year. Learn more about these other versions of the PSAT in the table below or by clicking the links.
Boy, there's a lot of college admissions advice available out there! Some of it is really good, some not so good. As with anything on the internet, you have to take what you read with a grain of salt (or sometimes the whole shaker.)
Take, as an example, the myriad websites offering standardized test prep. The College Board (SAT) and ACT.org offer free and low-cost information for test-takers, but it's generally pretty vague and can lead to a false sense of security. Other sites (SparkNotes, for example) have outdated advice for the ACT, particularly for the writing section. Their information was correct when the writing section was introduced, but the ACT engages in incremental revision of its test sections (as opposed to throwing out the old and starting fresh, like SAT), so prep sites that are not also incrementally revised can get stale fast. How to find a good prep site? Look for up-to-date information (on their blog, for example) and test questions that come from actual retired ACT tests to practice on.
Finding Good Admissions Advice
You could easily spend 2,000 hours reading everything the web has to offer on college admissions: which schools have the best or worst ROI, the top admissions essay blunders, how to fill out the FAFSA. Most of these articles are nothing more than scare-mongering and clickbait. The media tends to focus on what's going on only in the most selective colleges in the country. You know the ones I mean; the schools that admit students in the single-digit percentages. Nationwide, colleges average 64% acceptance--that includes those single-digit monsters as well as those schools that accept 80% of their applicants. Studies says 75% of students are able to enroll in their first choice college.
The most accurate admissions advice comes not from the HuffPo or CNNMoney, but directly from the Admissions Offices of the colleges to which you are applying. Most of your questions can be answered by searching the school's website. Or schedule an interview with an Admissions Officer.
3 Ways to Tell If The Advice You're Reading is Legit
Have you found really good or really bad college admissions advice on the web? Share the links in the comments!
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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