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New Common Application Essay Questions for 2013-2014

Posted by: Website Administrator on 2/20/2013

Every year, the Common Application updates its application for the next admissions cycle.  The changes are usually minor, but for the upcoming 2013-2014 cycle, a more significant update is in the works.   This coming year, in addition to other changes that are yet to be announced, college applicants will have entirely new essay prompts and word limits.

The new word limit is 650 words, and the instructions have additional commentary.  “…Write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.  Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal.  Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so.  (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)”

In prior years, the Common Application suggested that essays be between 250 and 500 words, but in actuality, students could submit essays that were either shorter or longer.  The new specificity encourages students to use more depth and detail in writing their essays, enabling admissions committees to see a substantive writing sample from every applicant.

The essay prompts themselves are also quite different.  The intention is to have essay options that appeal to a wider range of students, and clearly encourage every student to tell his/her unique story. Take a look at the new essay prompts: 

    • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
    • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
    • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
    • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
    • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
If you’re a rising senior, take some time to review the new essay prompts and see what appeals to you.  You don’t have to start writing now, but as you continue through junior year and as you go into your summer vacation, you can keep these prompts in mind, take notes, and start collecting ideas.  That way, when you do begin the writing process in earnest, you won’t have to start from scratch.

Thinking Ahead to Leadership in High School

Posted by: Website Administrator on 2/7/2013

If you’re a freshman or sophomore in high school, it’s important to think ahead to what your extracurricular involvements might be like by senior year.  Colleges like to see that you’ve been consistently involved in extracurricular activities, and that you can demonstrate progressive leadership experience.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be President or Secretary of a club or organization.  That isn’t always possible.  However, leadership comes in many forms, and the more interested you are in what you’re involved in, the more likely you’ll be able to take on a leadership role within that group.

For starters, taking on a leadership role shows that you’re, well…a leader.  And that’s a good thing!  Being a leader enables you to show that your peers look to you for guidance, that you can take on significant responsibility, that you can conceive and implement ideas, and that you can take on a task or assignment and bring it to fruition.  These kinds of qualities are precisely what college admissions officers are looking for as they select potential students.

In order to set yourself up for a leadership position by the time you get to junior or senior year, it’s important to start planning now.  If you’re involved in any clubs or organizations, you’re most likely to get a leadership position by junior or senior year if you stick with some of your current involvements.  You don’t have to continue with all of your activities, just the ones that you enjoy the most and are most fulfilling for you.  Besides, the more you enjoy your extracurricular activities, the more likely it is that you’ll want a leadership position later on.

Remember…leadership positions are usually given to those students who have proven themselves through their involvement with a group or organization over time.  The longer you stay with something, the more knowledgeable, skilled, and visible you will become in the group.  These qualities will help you gain the trust of other members and advisors, which, in turn, will make them more likely to elect or appoint you to a leadership position.

Leadership in high school is important not only because of the benefits in the college application process, but also because it will help you become a better student and community member in college.  In order to set yourself up for leadership by the time you get to senior year, start thinking about your extracurricular involvements now.

Categories: College Counseling

How to Select and Prepare for SAT Subject Tests

Posted by: Website Administrator on 2/5/2013

Many colleges require or recommend that applicants submit SAT Subject Test scores.   You can take them at any point in high school, but it usually makes sense to coordinate Subject Tests with your high school curriculum. You may not yet know if you’ll need to take SAT Subject Tests, but you can still prepare for the possibility.

The best place to start when deciding which test or tests to take is your current course schedule. If you’re in any AP or IB classes right now that correspond with an SAT Subject Test, there’s a good chance that the curriculum for the course will overlap with the test content. Subject Tests are offered in two levels of math (Math 1 and Math 2), Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Literature, US History, World History, and several foreign languages. If your school doesn’t offer AP or IB courses, or if you’re taking an honors or advanced level course that you think could be good preparation for a Subject Test, ask your teacher about it. S/he should be familiar with the test content and be able to tell you if the course you’re currently taking will prepare you.

Once you’ve decided on some options, take a practice exam in each subject. Your performance on the practice exams should give you a sense of which tests will be most appropriate. The College Board offers a detailed SAT Subject Test study guide that has several practice tests and provides detailed information on all of the tests. 

Subject Tests are each one hour long and are multiple-choice (no fill-ins). They’re offered every time the SAT is offered, except March: October, November, December, January, May, and June. Many students like to take their Subject Tests to coincide with their AP exams in May or their final exams in June. Since you’re already studying for these exams, you can maximize your study time by taking Subject Tests around the same time. 

You can take up to three Subject Tests on one test day, and as long as you’re registered for at least one, you can change your mind about which Subject Tests you’re taking (and how many) up until the day of the test. So if you’re unsure about the specifics of which Subject Tests you’re taking, it’s still advisable to register early and decide on the details as things become clearer on your end. Also note that you can take either Subject Tests or the SAT on a given test date, but not both.

As your College List firms up, you’ll have a better sense of whether Subject Tests are required. Though your list is likely still in progress, look at the standardized testing requirements as you’re researching colleges. If you notice that some likely contenders require or recommend them, you should plan to take them. If none of the schools require them, then you can hold off for now. Either way, pay close attention to the requirements of schools you’re researching so you are appropriately prepared come fall.