Making the Most of the PSAT

Posted by: Website Administrator on 11/28/2012

If you took the PSAT in October, expect to receive your scores in December. The PSAT serves two primary purposes. First, it’s the qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Second, it’s great preparation for the SAT.

Read on for more information about how to make the most of  the PSAT.

SAT Preparation. You can use your PSAT score to help you prepare for the SAT later this year. The PSAT has three sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing Skills. Each section is scored on a scale of 20-80. If you add a zero to the end, the score looks a lot like an SAT score. However, don’t think that your score on the PSAT is a prophecy of how you’ll do on the SAT. Instead, you should view your PSAT score as an opportunity to see which sections, and which question types you can work on to help improve your SAT score.

The PSAT score report, officially called the PSAT Score Report Plus, has several useful tools for you to use in preparing for the SAT. In order to fully take advantage of these tools, you need to create an account with My College QuickStart. Here are just some of the useful tools that your PSAT Score Report Plus and My College QuickStart give you.

1) Personalized ranges that show how your scores might vary if you took the test multiple times.

2) Personalized feedback on your PSAT performance.  You can see which specific skills on the PSAT are your strengths, and which you could improve upon.

3) You’ll get a copy of your actual PSAT Test booklet.  You’ll be able to see the level of difficulty of each question, and how you scored on each question.

4) A customized SAT study plan based on your PSAT performance.

National Merit Scholarship Program. Your junior year PSAT Score is also used to determine your eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The highest scorers on the PSAT in each state are invited to continue in the National Merit competition as Semifinalists. Semifinalists then have to complete an application to become Finalists. Scholarship Winners are then selected from among the Finalists. If you want to move forward in the competition, be sure to complete the application National Merit sends you, and follow all instructions carefully.

National Merit Scholarships tend to be very small, and some colleges will match these awards, or provide awards of their own for Winners, Finalists, and/or Semifinalists.  If you receive National Merit recognition – great! But don’t expect it to make up for other weaknesses in your profile.  Your four year academic record and your SAT/ACT scores (where required) will be stronger indicators of your chances for admission than your National Merit status.  This also means that if you are not selected for National Merit, not to worry.

Colleges won’t use your PSAT score in evaluating your application, and your score is not necessarily a predictor of what your SAT score will be.  Take advantage of the interactive score report to help you prepare for the SAT, and if you are selected as a National Merit Semifinalist, continue on in the competition.  In general, think of the PSAT as another useful tool in the college application process.  

Taking the Lead in the College Process

Posted by: Website Administrator on 11/22/2012

We understand. Applying to college can be stressful and intimidating. You’re busy with a dozen extracurricular commitments, not to mention schoolwork. And your parents are all too eager to help you out.

The truth is that colleges want to hear from you – the student – and not your parents. They want to know that when you apply to their school it’s because you want to. Parents should be helpful and supportive, but when it comes to communicating with colleges, scheduling visits, and filling out applications, students need to take the lead.

If the thought of taking the lead in your college search is intimidating, remember that you have numerous resources at your disposal to find guidance and advice.

  • Your college counselor is a crucial resource for you in the college application process.  S/he is there to provide information about colleges, help you interpret that information, and match your interests and personality with colleges that are a good fit for you – and, of course, making sure your school forms are sent out. But that is as far as the counselor goes. The actual process of applying, contacting schools about missing materials, and choosing the final group of colleges is up to you.
  • Your local college representative is there to help you. Most colleges and universities divide travel and/or applications according to geographical region. Most likely, the same admissions counselor you met at your local college fair will also be reading your application. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your admissions counselor if you have questions that aren’t answered on the website. If the idea of reaching out makes you nervous, remember – admissions counselors are friendly and approachable, and are happy to hear from you. On the other hand, if you legitimately have nothing to ask, don’t reach out just because you think you should. 
  • Your parents are absolutely allowed to help you, within reason. Parents are great for help with keeping organized, setting a schedule, and arranging the logistics of college trips. You can ask them if an idea for an essay “sounds like you” – but they shouldn’t be telling you what to write in your essays (and certainly not writing them). They can give you the information you need to fill out the Common Application, but you have to fill it out yourself. They can provide suggestions about colleges to look at, but you have to research the schools for yourself. Your parents want you to succeed, so ask them for help when you need it, but remember that you’re the one leading the way.

Applying to college is a major undertaking, and a big responsibility. You’re probably going to have some anxiety about the process, and that’s OK. It’s important to not let your anxiety get in the way of being pro-active and engaged in the college process. You’re the one going to college, after all, so now is the time to step up and take charge. Be sure to rely on your parents, college counselor, and local admissions representatives as resources, but be sure to take the lead in the process.  

Post Early Deadlines Advice

Posted by: Website Administrator on 11/20/2012

Early Action has passed.  Now what?

At this point, you may have submitted an Early application or two.  If so – congratulations! But now that the Early deadlines have passed, it’s time to turn your attention to Regular Decision. We know many questions come up around this time, so here is some advice on the most common things we’re asked about this time of year.

1) I’ve already applied to my top choice school – now what? You’ve submitted your top choice application and can breathe a small sigh of relief.  You’ve worked hard on your application, but you can’t make any assumptions.  Don’t wait until December 15 to begin applying to other schools. Hopefully, you’ll be admitted, and won’t need to submit any other applications.  But if in mid-December your Early Decision or Early Action school sends a deny or defer decision, you don’t want to be scrambling for the next two weeks to throw together all your Regular Decision applications.  It might be hard to focus on schools other than your top choice right now, but in order for you to be in the strongest position later in the year, you want to at least pursue other options.

2) The colleges I’m applying to say they’re missing application materials. Will my application be reviewed?  If schools contact you about missing application materials, remain calm.  Check to see what they’re missing.  If it’s something you were supposed to submit personally, like your test scores, Common Application, or Supplement, double check that you submitted it.  If you submitted the materials in the last week, the admissions office is probably still processing them.  Wait a few days before checking again.  If it is well after you submitted the materials, you can call the admissions office to confirm receipt. If they still don’t have it, ask how they would like you to resubmit.  The guidelines for school documents are similar.  If you know they were submitted recently, give it a few days, as the documents are probably still being processed.  If they were submitted a while ago, pick up the phone and ask the admissions office to confirm receipt.  If any school forms need to be re-sent, you can ask your college counselor or teachers (nicely!) if they could resubmit their materials because the college didn’t seem to get them.

3) Can I take the SAT or ACT again?  What about SAT Subject Tests? Hopefully, you’re done with your testing.  However, if you still want to take the SAT or ACT again, or SAT Subject Tests, there’s still time, at least for Regular Decision. If you want or need to take any more tests for Regular Decision, call the schools you’re applying to and ask if they will accept scores from the test dates you’re planning on.

4) I made a mistake on my application!  What should I do?  If you made a mistake on your application, don’t fret. How big is the mistake?  Did you forget to list a club you were involved in for a month at the beginning of freshman year?  If it’s a minor omission like that, you don’t need to worry about it.  If it’s something you’re really worried about, you can always send your admissions counselor a quick e-mail that includes an explanation or correction of the error, and an apology for the mistake.  If you have an update to your application since submitting it, it’s the same basic approach – just write to your admissions counselor, provide the updated information, and request that it be added to your file. 

As you wait for decisions on your Early applications, be sure to check that they are complete, and promptly follow-up on missing materials.  The key is to remain focused on upcoming deadlines while keeping an eye on your submitted applications at the same time.

The Most Common Supplement Questions

Posted by: Website Administrator on 11/14/2012

Most students these days apply to at least a couple of schools on the Common Application. The Common App certainly helps simplify the college application process, but it doesn’t always decrease the number of essays you have to write. Many schools have their own supplements with school-specific essays, and the extra writing adds up quickly.  However, if you’re thoughtful, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for each supplement. There are a couple of common questions that pop up on many supplements, and you can write an initial essay and then customize that essay for each school (this means doing more than simply changing the school’s name!).

·  Why do you want to go to our school? Colleges want to know that you’re invested in their school, and that you have put some thought and effort into your decision to apply. You need to be able to articulate some specific reasons to go to each college you’re applying to, beyond things like their location, size, and student:professor ratio. 

You might think this means you need a completely new essay for each school, because really, aren’t they all unique? If you’ve done your due diligence on your college list, there are probably some important similarities among your schools. You’re probably looking for schools with a particular kind of learning environment or character, for instance. Or maybe there’s a certain type of social life you’re looking for. Whatever it is, structure your essay around your interests and how they tie into your ideal college experience. If you do that, your essay is still primarily about you, and you can easily customize each essay with specifics and details for each college.

 ·  What do you want to study and why? Colleges want to know what you think about, and how you plan to spend your time at their school. If you’re undecided, that’s OK! Talk about some things you’ve thought about studying, and perhaps address why these areas interest you, and why you can’t decide right now. It is important to show that you have academic interests and that you can point to some specifics about the programs at each school; if you have a specific major interest, show your knowledge about the field and the school’s department. The heart of the essay should be about your academic interest(s), and then you can customize it with the specific opportunities and options in those subjects at each college.

If you have school specific supplements to complete, be sure to review all of the questions before you sit down to write. Look for common themes in the questions for different schools. That way, you can plan ahead and write your essays to be widely applicable and easily customized. There’s no need to necessarily write a new essay from scratch for every question if you pay close attention to the prompts and do a bit of advance planning.