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The Top 5 Summer To-Do's for Rising Juniors & Parents

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The summer is for enjoying much-needed downtime and then making a little time for these tips that will make junior year -- and the college process -- run more smoothly:

1. Design a testing schedule for next year, including practice tests, prep calendar, etc. Students can take either the SAT, the ACT, or both. Because colleges equally accept scores from either, students are smart to test according to their personal strengths.

2. Try on something fulfilling over the summer. Jobs, travel, volunteering -- any activity that draws a student's authentic interest provides a great opportunity to grow their world and help discover strengths.

3.  Read, read, read.  (Anything that you enjoy!)

4. Visit a couple of local colleges -- or check out what's close to the family summer vacation spot -- to gain a sense of how different campuses look and feel.  Make an effort to vary campus size and location for a broader perspective ex. large vs. small; urban vs. rural. 

5. Have an open parent/student conversation about college affordability.  For students heading to college in Fall 2021, it's a smart idea for parents and students to consider financials to determine the family's expected financial contribution (EFC).  For an early estimate of financial aid eligibility, check out this planning tool.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Do I Need to Write the Optional SAT Essay?

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The optional SAT essay, requiring an additional 50 minutes of test takers' time, focus and energy, is swiftly becoming an artifact.  

Like the vestigial human appendix, at one point in time this component of the standardized testing landscape had its purpose. More often than not, today the essay score is simply disregarded, serving no true function in evaluating applicants, so says the testing policy at the vast majority of colleges and universities.  Still, every year we grapple with the wisdom of signing up for the optional essay.  

Testing Requirements Run the Gamut

How should students approach the decision of whether or not to sit for the optional essay?  General wisdom has long suggested that the smart and safe move would be to write the essay because without it colleges that do require this component will regard the main two-part SAT score to be incomplete.

So what are the policies that colleges hold around the essay?  Schools such as Bates, NYU, Quinnipiac, Connecticut College, UConn neither require nor recommend the optional essay and will not consider its score at the time of application review.  But College of Charleston recommends the essay, as does Occidental.  As of last year, Duke stopped requiring it. None of the Ivies require the essay.  So who does?   

Look West

Primarily, the University of California system institutions (ex. UCLA; UC San Diego; etc.) and Stanford still ask for the essay.  A student applying to these schools will need to submit their essay score in order to complete their application. 

Future Tense

Another possible rationale behind writing the essay is as a back-up in the event a student later decides to transfer colleges, and the destination college is one that requires the SAT essay score for admission -- including transfer admission.  Without a complete score, the SAT two-part score may be regarded as insufficient.

International applicants whose language of instruction is not English may consider writing the essay to lend another perspective to their TOEFL or IELTS score.

In the present timeframe, if a student feel that they will likely have remaining mental focus to satisfactorily write the essay after completing the main SAT sections, then they might just pay the extra $15 fee and register for the essay.  And after once completing the essay and if satisfied with the two-part score, the student may not need to write the essay again in future testing scenarios.  In other words, when it comes to the essay more often than not it's "one and done."    

If a student wants to learn more about the essay section (highly-recommended prior to test day), click here to learn more about the approach to writing the essay and the skills assessed.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

What Is An "Adversity" Score?

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Since the College Board recently announced the gradual rollout of their new contextual index, dubbed the "adversity score," numerous parents have inquired about this latest quantitative measurement and how it might impact the perception of their student in the Admissions Office.  "Will my child be regarded more or less favorably?  Will living in a more highly-resourced community make my child look indulged -- or even 'spoiled'? If I move to a different neighborhood, how will it affect my high schooler and younger kids?" What influence will this numerical value have on admissions outcomes for the majority of students taking the SAT?

For most students the index, formally referred to as the Environmental Context Dashboard will, on its own, likely not have a major impact and, like all elements that go into a holistic reading of a college application, will be reviewed in broader context. 

The Stated Intention

In recent years the College Board, along with other major players in the sphere of higher education, has begun to publicly comment on the reality of how socio-economic advantage directly contributes to higher standardized test scores as well as a likelihood of admission to more selective institutions.  For the many students who either live and/or attend high school in less resourced or socially-challenged cities or neighborhoods, the "adversity score" aims to shed light on the environment many of our students have had to manage, thereby allowing greater insight to the context in which these peers live and learn.  

The index aims to quantify a student's neighborhood, family, and high school educational environment while excluding considerations of race.  The numerical value comes from an analysis of census data along with information the College Board collects.

Students do not see their dashboard score, adding to the opacity of this number and its impact on admissions.

Bottom Line

In my view the College Board, referencing their strength in student data collection, is attempting to repurpose the copious amounts of student data they collect via each test registration.  My sense is that this rollout is more about monetization of data on behalf of the College Board rather than a substantive element that will significantly impact how the vast majority of colleges will evaluate admissions files.  The College Board appears to be attempting an approach of quantifying students' living and learning environment.  But ask anyone how their living and learning experience could effectively be boiled down to a number?

Beyond quantifying elements too nuanced to be calculated, most important is that all students receive a fair and contextual evaluation of their applications and are reviewed in view their potential to succeed at any institution.  In sum, every individual, professional and institution dedicated to the mission of higher education should be vigilant that all students are awarded the opportunity to attain their potential to study, learn and engage.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Oh, Canada!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Interested in learning more about Canadian colleges and universities? More and more, families are expressing interest in the world of higher education beyond our northern border.  In view of escalating costs at domestic institutions, increased competition, advancing levels of selectivity, and the currently strong US dollar, many are considering the value proposition of quality higher education at a lower price point.

Canadian universities offer students a four-year education taught in English, precluding language barriers for students for whom English is their language of choice.  

Note that while US colleges and universities employ a holistic admissions process in which applicants are evaluated across a spectrum of criteria in addition to GPA and test scores, Canadian universities typically focus on applicants' numbers and don't bother to evaluate factors such as recommendations and demonstration of interest.

The Maclean's University Guide offers a robust resource as an overview of what programs stand out for undergrads and graduate students alike.  Attending "university" in Canada might be an attractive and compelling possibility.  Oh, Canada!

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

National Merit Cutoffs for Class of '20 Announced

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The folks who create and score the PSAT, also know as the National Merit Qualifying Score Test (NMQST) have announced the cutoff score for Commended status.  The qualifying score, also known as the Selection Index, remains the same as last year:  212.

Students of US citizenship scoring in the top 50,000 of test takers nationally qualify for official Commended status.  Of this group, approximately 16,000 test takers who later sit for the SAT go on to achieve "confirmation scores" that place them in top tier of scorers will likely advance to the Semifinalist level.

CALCULATING THE SELECTION INDEX

In order to calculate one's Selection Index, the student needs to refer to their PSAT for the two test sections:  the Reading and Writing section and the Math section.  Index calculation is as follows:

* Remove the zero after each section

ex. A section score of 700 converts to 70

* Multiply the Reading and Writing section score by 2; then add the Math section score

ex.  Reading and Writing section score is 720           Math section score is 700

(72 x 2) + 70 = 214

Since this result is higher than the cutoff of 212, this student's test score is qualifies for National Merit Commendation.

For more information on how students advance into upper rankings of National Merit recognition, including state-by-state cutoffs for Semifinalist status, click to READ MORE

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Tips for the ACT Reading Section

Monday, March 04, 2019

The ACT is commonly known at the "sprint" test: Test takers need to move quickly and steadily to make it through the race. Of the four required sections of the ACT, including Math, Reading, English and Science plus the optional essay, the Reading section typically challenges students' pacing and focus.  With 35 minutes available to answer 40 supporting-evidence questions across several passages, test takers need to rely on their skills in efficient and active reading to achieve solid performance in this section.

Thanks to the generosity of the good folks at Method Test Prep, a standardized test preparation tutoring service, AchieveCoach College Consulting blog readers can access here highly helpful tips and suggestions for effectively managing the Reading section of the ACT.

Even if the ACT is not their thing, students can still put to use these tips relating to organization and focus whether sitting for the SAT or actively reading short or long essays as part of school-related assignments.  Through these helpful suggestions, readers and learners of all ages could benefit from the pacing and strategy suggestions in The ACT Reading Quick-Tip Guide.
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Appealing a College Rejection

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Like it or not, letters of rejection come with the college application territory. While it's rare for colleges to revisit their admissions decisions, students who have significant new information to share may potentially find an ear.

While it's never pleasant or easy to open a letter of rejection, a disappointing college admissions decision should never be considered an indication of a student's worth or potential.  With record numbers of applications at all selectivity tiers of colleges and universities, there can be minute differences between two applicants, one of whom receives a "yes" and the other a "thank-you-for-applying" response.  

Numerous factors go into an application review, some of which are objective, like grades and test scores, and others that are purely subjective, such as community impact or letters of recommendation.   On top of all the mystery is the part that is completely opaque: the pool of other applicants and their application stories. 

The best approach after receiving a rejection notification is to calmly acknowledge the decision, even if it is surprising or feels "unfair." Assuming the student had applied to a reasonable list of colleges and had already received acceptances, then it's time to appreciate those "you're in!!" notifications and how much those schools value the applicant and what they would bring to the college's community.  

Unlike reconsideration after a deferral, a denial is typically a final decision and rarely overturned. Still, if an applicant has a signficant or material information to share with Admissions that never was included in the original application, it may be worth a "Hail Mary" for the student to contact their regional admissions representative.  First step: Find out if a re-read is even possible.  Suggested approaches for when it would be reasonable -- and not desperate -- to contact Admissions are all about being positive and specific.  

What not to do includes:
  • telling the college that they made a mistake
  • demanding an additional review
  • making excuses around poor past academic performance
  • submitting additional recommendation letters or essays
But doing these could support the student's case:
  • pointing out factual errors in the application that were discovered following submission
  • explaining extenuating circumstances that would present the student in a more positive light
  • informing Admissions of significant recent accomplishments or awards
  • clarifying strong interest in the school and a (truthful) commitment to attend if admitted
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Bucknell University Pilots A Test-Optional Policy

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Bucknell University has announced a five-year pilot test-optional admissions policy beginning with the entering freshman class of 2020.

Bucknell's new policy will allow most applicants the choice of whether or not to submit standardized test scores at the time of application.  As a result, other application elements will receive greater focus within a holistic review, including grades in academic classes, rigor of curriculum, fit with intended major, extracurricular involvements and achievements, and more.  

Students still required to submit standardized test scores at the time of application include recruited varsity athletes, international applicants and homeschooled students.

Most colleges offering a test optional approach will yet require test scores from matriculating students in order to support institutional research on the relationship between test scores and college success.  Happily, the option to include or exclude SAT or ACT scores at the time of application could widen opportunity for students who shine in other areas that better reflect their strengths. 

Bowdoin now joins the growing group of over 1000 test optional colleges, according to FairTest.org, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Freas Hall is home to Bucknell University's Office of Admissions. Photo by Chris Shipley

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Making Time for College Fairs

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

College fairs provide a one-stop shop experience for college-bound students and parents to gather information about schools and their offerings, as well as connect with admission representatives to ask specific questions relating to student needs and interests.  Typically, fairs take place in the spring and fall and are free to attend.

The larger fairs often ask students to sign up in advance. Registrants will receive an entry pass and details about which colleges will be in attendance as well as general information such as hours, parking, and tips on how to get the most out of their visit experience.

Clicking on the following live links will bring you to info and registration pages for several upcoming Massachusetts and Boston-area fairs.  Remember to bring along interest, energy AND your comfortable shoes!

The SERF Spring College Fair at Lincoln-Sudbury High School

March 16, 2019

The TEC Spring College Fair at Westwood High School

March 27, 2019

The Boston National College Fair

April 4 and 5, 2019

The Springfield National College Fair

April 8, 2019

Colleges That Change Lives

May 18, 2019

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

9th Grade, Before the College Search

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
It all counts!

With five months into their freshman year, 9th graders have been learning how manage their day-to-day, including the mundane elements of high school life such as the bell schedule or remembering Pizza Friday. Our freshman boys and girls are occupied with how to find their way into clubs or onto teams, not to mention figuring out the fluid nature of the social structure in their new school.  

For most, college is still a distant notion — a concept at best. And that’s fine because in our culture there is far too much discussion — and pressure — around the college conversation. Yet it’s important to be "applicant-ready" when the time comes. And that means setting a solid foundation for academic success and knowing what colleges will, shortly down the road, want to learn about your student.

So with their very first completed high school semester and grade report, a student is on the path to becoming a potential college candidate.  The grades students earn early on in high school will affect their GPA as much as grades earned as upperclassmen. Ninth graders content with earning Bs and Cs may find their college choices affected later on.  As much as upward grade trend does count, so do numbers.

Building an all-around good start

Let's support our kids by reminding them that the essentials of a good high school start include:
  • solid grades in academic courses...
  •  … and study skills grounded in time management and focus
  • organizational skills
  • firm reading skills, steadily developing 
  • a successful start to foreign language so the student is set up to pursue at least two years of the same foreign language, typically the base requirement at many (but not all) colleges
  • same for math, as a foundation in this subject prepares a student for further success in upper level classes. As with foreign language, students need to solidify the foundation in order to be successful.
  • understanding how to access support if the student requires assistance ex. teachers for outside help; school counselors; resource staff 
  • learning how to balance academic life and social life, finding a foundation in each
  • most of all, taking care of the self -- and that includes sleep and sustenance
Learning the ropes -- asking for support -- building confidence -- all combine to smooth the road in high school for our first-year boy and girls.
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com


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