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If You Have Time for Just Three Things...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Are minutes in the day shrinking or is the calendar just moving faster?  Sometimes it feels like both are happening.  Seniors in the midst of finalizing early applications know this better than anyone -- while high school junior, sophomore and freshman parents are astonished at the fact that their students are moving up the high school ranks en route to their college futures.


In reality, the college process has sped up in many regards, with all students in my practice completing at least one early application.  For juniors, early fall is a great time to gain a head start on pieces of the college process and optimal for seeing schools when the weather is still good and academic obligations have yet to pile up.


Most seniors are done with application tasks by now -- but not all.  Some students are still making campus visits and re-visits as well as making one final attempt to boost SAT/ACT scores. For juniors ready to step into their college process, it's worth taking time during the next couple of months for the following:


1.  Register and prep for standardized testing
Chances are a student will be required to take either the SAT or the ACT as a condition of application to at least one intended college.  Some students align with and focus exclusively on one of these tests, while others try out both to see which one best fits their testing style.  At the very least, it's smart to visit the SAT or ACT websites to sample the style and types of questions one may encounter on these exams.  Most students will begin testing during the winter of junior year, if not earlier, espeically if their winter and spring schedules are full with extracurriculars.

2.  Schedule campus visits

It takes more than a little planning to organize student and parent calendars in order to make campus visits a priority.  With busy weekends full of homework, projects, athletic and family obligations, campus visits may easily slide onto the back burner.  Before you can say "summer’s here,” senior year has arrived with its own set of priorities that may tighten up schedules even more. Besides, it’s best to visit schools during the normal ebb and flow of the academic year rather than during summer break when there are typically few students in attendance. Prospective applicants need to view campus life in action, in part, to determine a good college fit.

3.  Don't ask teachers yet for college recommendations…

... but start to consider the fact that most schools require at least one academic teacher's evaluation.  Students should begin to think about connecting in some way with teachers and how to get to know them better in or out of the classroom -- or both.


The college process is made up of many more steps than mentioned here, but with these three items underway students and parents are off to a good start! ________________________________________________________________

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 admission process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  


Asking the Right Questions

Sunday, August 12, 2018

As part of a well thought-out college search, probing beneath the glossy surfaces or published standardized testing numbers can reap insights. Georgia Tech's Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission, blogs about the wisdom of digging beneath the stats that colleges love to boast about.  

Typically, college information sessions, while an excellent marketing resource for learning about campus offerings, admissions requirements and student outcomes, skew toward broad-based marketing content that schools share to enthuse parents and prospective applicants. Class sizes? Faculty-to-student ratios? Graduation and retention rates? Employment or grad school outcomes? Not surprisingly, the statistics tell only part of the story.
By digging deeper, students can become smart, insightful college shoppers by listening between the lines and learning to --- Ask Good Questions.

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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.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  

ACT Soon to Become a Longer Test

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

With a new experimental section tucked in following its Science section, the ACT will require an additional 20 minutes of testing time starting this September.

It's not unusual for experimental questions to be included in standardized testing in order to try out new question types, gauging student performance and likelihood of correct or incorrect responses. This method of "testing" the test questions is designed to ensure statistical validation and reliability. The SAT too had long utilized experimental questions during test administration, currently providing their experimental section to students who forego the optional essay.

Testing Out the Test Questions

While responses to experimental questions do not count for or against a student's total score, test takers need to be aware of the extra time -- and additional stamina -- required to get though a 3-hour and 35-minute test, soon to be an additional 20 minutes longer.  While the ACT has displayed a modicum of courtesy in placing this section following the four main sections, including Reading, Math, English and Science, students who are signed up to take the essay portion need to save up additional energy and focus for this last piece at the very end.

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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.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  

Another Shift in the SAT/ACT World

Monday, June 18, 2018

When registering for the SAT or ACT, students are asked to consider whether or not to sign up for the optional essay. Since the number of colleges actually requiring the essay has been steadily decreasing as of late, it has been something of a toss up as to whether or not to advise students to spend the extra time and money to complete the essay component of standardized testing.  

Since students typically sit for these tests well before settling on a final list of colleges, there was no telling early in the game which of their intended colleges would ultimately require the essay. Thus, the safe bet has been to just sign up for and write the essay in the event that an intended college does in fact require it.

Recent Trend

Increasingly, the trend of late has been for colleges to no longer opt in to review the essay score. Over just the last two months with Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth deciding to drop their essay requirement, there are now only 25 colleges that still require the score.  It is worth noting that nine of these -- over a third --are universities of the California system.

However, there are a few colleges that still recommend the essay portion specifically for placement purposes (ex. Manhattan College and the University of Miami), however seemingly ignoring the score when considering a candidate for admission. While there is a larger number of schools that have a policy of recommending the SAT/ACT essay, the intended purpose is, however, unclear.

As to the list of colleges requiring the essay score, the names are likely to change as schools continue to re-evaluate their policies.  

Image credit:  Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

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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.  Contact Marla via www.achievecoach.com  




Don't Go In Cold! The Value in Prepping for Standardized Testing

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The College Board, publisher of the SAT, has a vested interest in pointing to successful outcomes for students who take advantage of free online SAT preparation through their affiliate, Khan Academy.  The CB’s research points to increases in SAT scores relative to PSAT results in measure with how many hours a student has spent in focused prep. 

“On the new SAT, it’s easier than ever for students to show their best work. Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is free and personalized, and we see students achieving substantial score gains,” said in a statement from College Board President David Coleman. ^

While it’s impossible to say with certainty that students who prepared with the free CB-sponsored online tools did not also utilize other means of tutoring, the takeaway is that focused preparation, regardless of the provider, is likely to enhance performance and result in higher scores. 

With so many choices available today for both SAT and ACT preparation — books; phone apps; sample test questions found online; private or group tutoring — I firmly recommend that students avoid walking in cold on a test day.   Even some small measure of review can make all the difference between a great testing day resulting in a score that the student is happy to submit — or a day when the exam could have gone better with a little advance understanding of what to expect.

One of the intangibles of advance preparation is increased confidence on test day, an important ingredient for success, in particular, for the student who may be anxious about testing.  However, students who engage in private tutoring should not be lulled into a false sense of security.  Potential for testing success is not necessarily a function of how many hours students spend in live tutoring sessions, but rather the time and focus devoted to practice beyond the tutoring hour. Simply put, the keys to testing success rest on preparedness; familiarity; confidence -- and solid sleep the night before!

^ Jaschik, Scott. "College Board Releases Data on Khan Tutoring." Inside Higher Ed. May 9, 2017. Accessed December 22, 2017. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2017/05/09/college-board-releases-data-khan-tutoring.

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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 can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

5 Tips For Making the Most of August

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Once the calendar turns to August, gears begin to shift. Some students are just beginning to feel like they even have a summer, especially if they've been busy taking classes or involved in special projects.  Others have been traveling or chilling during June or July,  just now getting down to business in advancing their college process. And for those seniors (or super-ambitious juniors and recruited athletes) who are seeking another standardized testing opportunity before classes start anew, we now have the August SAT to think about.

One truth is for certain:  Everyone spends summer on their own schedule, and one size surely never fits all! Topping off the stretches of a perfect summer break is about that special mix of downtime and "gettin' stuff done." 

Looking for some productive ways to spend the next several weeks before classes begin?  Here are some ideal suggestions for juniors and seniors:

1.  Check out a few college websites.  Identify a minimum of three desirable features of a school and keep track of these as time grows close to beginning applications. 

2.  Visit some colleges. Even though the summer vibe on most campuses will be less than energetic, there are still facilities to check out and college towns to explore.  No doubt, campus visits make for the best approach to learn about a school. 

3.  Set goals for the school year to come.  It's a helpful way to smooth the transition back to the classroom when students really think about what they need in order to make the upcoming school year a successful one. 

4.  Plan to become more involved in activities that truly hold appeal.   Deepening involvement in a few activities vs. taking a shallow stab at many not only makes for a stronger story at the time of college application, but also works to grow the individual student. Follow what you love doing!

4.  Read something.  As students move through high school en route to higher education, the skill set that will work to their best advantage, no matter the area of study, includes improving and broadening their scope of reading.  Read a book.  Read a magazine.  Read online.  Read!

5.  Follow the money.  It's never too early for students and parents to think about financial aid and paying for college.  Students and their families can learn about the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as well as scholarship-based assistance through search sites such as FastWeb.

There are few times as fleeting as the precious weeks of summer. Take the time to both enjoy and make them count!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

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 can be reached via www.achievecoach.com


Should My Student Take SAT Subject Tests?

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Come spring, standardized testing begins to take on even bigger proportions than usual.  Junior year is wrapping up, and some students are considering re-testing for the SAT or ACT for a second — or even third time.  AP exams are popping up everywhere on the student calendar, and there there are those SAT Subject Tests (until recently known as SAT IIs) to consider.   Of the all these college-related exams, which take precedence?  Since there is no “one-size-fits-all” standard in college admissions, it all depends…

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

Parents may recall that “back in the day,” strong students typically sat for academically-focused Achievement Tests designed to assess a student’s command of academic knowledge.  The College Board, owner and publisher of the SAT, years back retired the Achievement Tests and re-introduced these knowledge-based exams that are known today as SAT Subject Tests.

Similar to the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple choice exams that are designed to test student knowledge and analytical skill in a variety of academic areas, including math, science, literature, history and foreign language.

The overall trend in recent years has seen many colleges shifting away from requiring the SAT Subject Tests.  Instead, colleges are focusing their application reviews on admissions factors that they consider to be more strongly indicative of student potential for college success, primarily high school course rigorgrades earned in these classes; and SAT and/or ACT scores.  As result, only about 35 colleges require or recommend SAT Subject Tests, while a number of others consider the results. Keep in mind, however, that even if a college’s overall policy is to not require Subject Tests, certain programs within the college, especially in STEM fields, may.


Why Should My Student Consider Taking SAT Subject Tests?

If few schools require these tests, why still plan to take them? For the student who wants to showcase a particular academic strength, preparing for and taking a Subject Test may provide an opportunity to highlight his application relative to others in the pool of applicants.  This approach is even more applicable if the student is unenrolled in AP level courses but still wishes to demonstrate depth of knowledge.

Homeschooled students often elect to take Subject Tests in order to demonstrate the strength of their chosen curriculum as well as provide additional data points to Admissions. One very academically-focused homeschooler I worked with years back had his eye on several highly selective colleges.  As he worked through his challenging, home-based course work, Subject Tests were never far in the background.

For students planning college work in a technical field, such as engineering or biomedical science for example, even if the college does not specifically require submission of Subject Tests, a strong Math II or science score may potentially help set the applicant apart from others coming in with similarly strong high school math and science curriculum and grades.


When Should My Student Take a Subject Test?

Once a student has completed the highest level subject area coursework she is likely to pursue in high school, then it is time to consider sitting for Subject Tests while the material is still feels fresh.  In contrast, if the student will be later learning essential material through a higher sequence course, then it is best to wait until the student has more fully acquired the material before approaching the exam.  Since high school class content is unlikely to fully encompass all that is covered in the Subject Test, students should take the time to review gaps in their knowledge and fill in accordingly.

TIP! The College Board offers FREE review material posted online.

For the sake of sanity, remember to keep the focus and make a great testing plan.  In other words, students cannot take SAT Subject Tests on the same day as the SAT (truly, that would require an inhumane number of hours in a testing center!)  There are only so many hours in high schooler’s day: Should time constraints come down to one testing choice or the other, it would probably be more important to focus on posting a solid SAT or ACT score rather than hyper-focusing on Subject Tests.


Scores

Note that the Subject Tests are scaled and “curved” by individual subject, meaning that score percentiles for Spanish vs. Math II vs. even the SAT itself are very different.  In the case of a disappointing score, a student may have the option to hold back scores through the College Board’s Score Choice option and not release them to colleges. Students, however, need to verify individual college's policies around use of Score Choice.


To Test or Not to Test

Deciding whether or not to prepare for Subject Tests should be based on several factors.   Students should consider their interest in the topic; command of the material as evidenced through class grades as well as a sample SAT Subject Test; and the time and motivation to study the material that may fall into the gap between what the high school class provides and what the test requires.

At many colleges, the ACT may (but not always) stand in as a single substitute for the SAT plus two Subject Tests - but it is essential to consult each college’s specific testing requirements.

Even if a student prefers to take the ACT instead of the SAT, he may still desire to showcase his subject knowledge by scoring high on a Subject Test.

A Final Word

I advise my students to have a go with Subject Test(s) if they have:

* a strong command of material in an academic area and 

* the time and energy necessary to shore up any missing subject knowledge such that prepping will not siphon away time from other important student commitments. 

Throughout the college process, when you have something worthwhile to share then don't hold back.  While it’s great to shoot for high Subject Test scores, these won’t trump doing one's best by posting strong SAT or ACT results and achieving good grades in solid courses.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

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 can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

High School Junior Applying to College? Start the Ball Rolling Here

Thursday, March 02, 2017

All things come to those who wait, but when they come they’re out of date.” ~ Anonymous

Midyear grades have only just appeared. Super Bowl has only just faded to the rear view; Cupid has barely made his mid-winter mark; and March Madness is still weeks away.

High school juniors: No matter how you frame your winter calendar, now is the time to set your wheels in motion around several key components of the college application process.

Even if it feels like there is a lot of road left to travel during junior year, it’s not at all too early for students to work up a personal plan and:

Get out in front of and be realistic about college affordability.

Devote time and energy to educate themselves about colleges.

Acknowledge their learning and social needs and search out appropriate educational environments.

Take the time to reflect on a potential college major (with the understanding that one's choice may change).

Put thought into an appropriate standardized testing plan.

Think about reaching out to influencers who will further support their applications, including teacher, counselor or employer recommenders.

Bottom line: There are plenty of pieces to organize along the way as students aim to assemble solid college applications that connect their strengths, goals, needs and resources.

If students are looking for a starting line, now is the time to pull out the calendar and jump on these action steps:

  1. Register for standardized testing.
    Chances are that the student will be required to take either the SAT or the ACT as a condition of application to at least one of their intended colleges. Some students align with and focus exclusively on one of these exams, while others try out both to see which one best fits their testing style. At the very least, the SAT and ACT websites offer sampling of the style and variety of questions students may encounter on either test.

    Prepping in some way for the SAT or ACT is a smart decision that will depend on student motivation, time and other resources. Test prep assistance ranges broadly from free, web-based supports such as Khan Academy or Number2 to fee-based private services that offer individualized tutoring.

    Most students will aim to begin testing during the winter of junior year, if not sooner.

  2. Order the official test scores you want your colleges to receive.
    Although students have the option of including their standardized test scores on their applications, many colleges still require official score reports to be sent from the appropriate testing agency. Scores are not automatically sent to colleges unless the student requests their submission — and pays the required fee.

    Note, however, that students have the option to request free score reports for up to four colleges at the time of test registration. (Visit SAT or ACT websites for details.) A potential downside is that students who choose to submit scores in advance forego the option to review their results prior to submission.

    If students intend to submit official score reports to colleges, they need to order these well before application deadlines since forwarding of scores from the testing companies is not instantaneous.

  3. Schedule campus visits.
    It takes more than a little planning to organize family calendars in order to make campus visits a priority. With busy weekends full of homework, projects, athletic and family obligations, campus visits may easily slide onto the back burner. Before you can say "summer’s here,” senior year has already arrived with its own set of priorities that may tighten up student schedules even more. Besides, it’s best to visit schools during the normal ebb and flow of the academic year rather than during summer break when there are typically few students in attendance.

    Prospective applicants need to view campus life in action, in part, to determine a good college fit.

  4. Ask teachers for college recommendations... 
    ...and thank them! Writing a thoughtful college rec requires precious time and focus to reflect on and express who you are as a student as well as a member of your school community. Asking early, before the end of junior year rather than up against a last-minute deadline, demonstrates maturity as well as a proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. It is courteous to make recommendation requests in person, whenever possible. One may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — as an even more personal gesture — through a handwritten note.

  5. Start making summer plans.
    Work, play, travel, research, write, think, volunteer, create, study, learn, experiment. The list can go on and on, but it's your summer so plan on making it a good one.

  6. Consider fin aid options and...
    Apply for financial aid well before deadlines.

    Exploring the net price calculators published by individual colleges can give families a head start in estimating need-based aid at those institutions. NPCs vary by college, but exploring these can provide insight on financing estimates for incoming freshmen.

    Financial aid timelines — and deadlines — have been recently pushed to earlier in the admissions cycle. Families can now submit completed tax returns according to what is known as the Prior-Prior Year schedule, pointing to the family financial scenario two years prior to the student’s year of college matriculation. Still, there is more to consider in this earlier timeframe: Students applying for financial aid via the FAFSA and possibly the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE will note that these applications are now available for completion beginning October of the senior year.

    The primary intention behind establishing earlier timelines is to allow colleges to better expedite financial aid application reviews and award decisions, thereby allowing students and parents more time to evaluate and respond to aid offers. In reality, aid funds are finite therefore remember to monitor deadlines so you can be the early bird — and much more likely to catch the worm.

    Juniors and soon-to-be rising seniors: Embrace the fundamental steps of the college process. Becoming organized now avoids a longer to-do list later on!

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 member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com




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