Ian Siegel

For more information about how to navigate the college tract, contact director of Streamline Tutors, Ian Siegel who specializes in college counseling, test prep, and academic coaching. You can visit his website at StreamlineTutors.com, or contact him directly at [email protected]

Time to Figure Out Top-College Choices: Early Action and Early Decision



Early action or early decision?  That should be the question for Baltimore’s rising seniors applying to selective colleges.  Many Baltimore parents are familiar with early action and early decision, especially if one child has already been through the admissions process.  They know applying early means more than turning in application materials by November 1 (the most common early application deadline).  For early decision, it means applying to one school and committing to enrollment if admitted.  Early action, on the other hand, means a students receives an admission decision in December, but can still apply to another institution.

Why apply early action or early decision?  For the average student applying to selective colleges, it makes sense to apply early action to a few places.  If accepted, the student knows earlier that he or she is in college, has a better shot at scholarship money that dwindles as the admission season wears on, and has more time to be considered for admission to honors programs, like the one at UMD College Park For those who are dead-set on a specific college or university, early decision can make sense, too, just make sure it’s what you want.

Making Your College Application Stand Out – Focus on What Makes You Unique


Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post by professional tutor Ian Siegel, who owns and operates Streamline Tutors.

College-Application-FormIt used to be that GPA and SAT scores dictated where a student would be accepted into college. Now high scores and top grades only get a student considered at selective colleges and universities. The admissions office at Harvard, for one, reports that over 70 percent of its applicants are more than prepared to succeed there.

On the other hand, I have been told by admissions insiders at several large universities that applications with numbers that aren’t up to snuff are read by part-timers who only suggest a second look to admissions when other intangible aspects of an application appear especially unique and impressive. In other words, they stand out.

An Exercise in Critical Reading: Why the SAT will Change in 2016


Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post by professional tutor Ian Siegel, who owns and operates Streamline Tutors.

Please read the following post carefully, as you would an SAT passage.  Critical reading questions — consistent with those found on the current SAT — will follow!


In his speech March 5 announcing an overhaul of the current SAT, College Board President David Coleman owned up to criticism that the current SAT reinforces socio-economic inequality because the wealthy have greater access to quality test prep than the poor.  He also conceded that the current SAT is out of touch with today’s middle and high school curricula and explained that the new test would better reflect what students learn in class.  According to Coleman, these changes represent the “College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.”

When Push Comes to Shove: When and Why Baltimore Parents Hire Tutors


SPONSORED POST – Tutoring relationships often start out something like this: it’s late in the grading period, and your freshman or sophomore is struggling in Algebra II. He barely passed the class last semester and swore he would try harder, but he’s still floundering. So you decide he needs extra help and seek out a tutor.


Or, perhaps you have a bright junior who took the SAT for the first time last month. She does nowhere near as well as she thought she would, so you enroll her in a SAT class with all of her friends. But the class turns out to be a waste: the strategies she learns are vague, she receives little individual attention, and her score hardly improves. So you scramble to find a personal tutor who can rectify the situation by May or June — the last two months of SAT test dates before fall of senior year.

In these cases as in most, the impetus for hiring a tutor is an ardent hope to fix an immediate problem, immediately. The issue with this approach isn’t just that the time constraints make the prospect of success more of a gamble; rather, it undermines a tutor’s potential to make a significant impact on your child’s academic trajectory.

In other words, even if your son ends up with an ‘A’ in Algebra II or your daughter improves her SAT score by 200-300 points, the tutor who made each feat possible is only addressing one specific, albeit important, area of academic concern. A great tutor, in my opinion, views this success as one facet of the bigger academic picture for your child.

To illustrate this point, I’ll examine each case individually. In my experience, your Algebra II student is not just struggling because of the new, difficult concepts in class. Rather, he likely lacks a strong foundation in Algebra. Or, perhaps he excelled in Algebra last year but is finally confronting a level of difficulty that necessitates the effective study habits and time management strategies that seemed unnecessary before. A stellar tutor recognizes these underlying issues and implements a long-term plan to address them.

For many, the bigger picture becomes a study of all the small details that add up to influence a college admissions decision. This reality is certainly the case for that bright junior who needed help preparing for the SAT. She probably has a few very selective colleges at the top of her list, and improving her SAT score is a fantastic way of boosting her chances. In such a competitive college admissions environment, however, a strong SAT score is just one of many factors that impact an admissions decision. In terms of standardized testing, SAT Subject Tests and AP (or IB) tests are also very important. So are questions like who will write her recommendation letters? Will her recommenders characterize her as intellectually curious or simply a hard worker? Does she have an academic passion, if so, how has she pursued it outside of class? Is her course load challenging enough for her? And what extracurricular activities help her stand out among her peers? The list goes on.

In this sense, the hard work your daughter put into improving her SAT score will be far less valuable if she ignores everything else that influences the admission decision. This is also true for your Algebra II student, who has more time to impact his college prospects.

If you are in the market for simple homework help, well, that’s a different story. On the other hand, if you consider tutoring a real investment in your child’s future, now is the time to search for a tutor who has the experience and expertise to guide your child through high school. Maybe your student doesn’t need tutoring at the moment, but a conversation with someone who can advise you about what’s ahead will undoubtedly help.

For more information about how to navigate standardized testing, contact director of Streamline Tutors, Ian Siegel who specializes in college counseling, test prep, and academic coaching. You can visit his website at StreamlineTutors.com, or contact him directly at [email protected]


Office: 410-200-1896

Email: [email protected]


Tailoring SAT/PSAT Strategy to Fit a Student’s Needs


With just a few days left until winter break, high school sophomores and juniors across Baltimore are powering through remaining tests and papers before the holiday vacation begins. But they’re also getting scores back from a standardized test they took in October: the PSAT.

Students across the nation take the PSAT as a form of preparation for the SAT. The PSAT, although half the size, possesses similar questions, organization, and time constraints as the SAT. Indeed, a section from a PSAT is almost indistinguishable from an SAT section. This is why a PSAT score is a solid indicator of an SAT score; just throw an extra zero at the end of the cumulative score and you’ll have a decent idea of how the same student would score if he or she took the SAT tomorrow.


But no one will take the official test tomorrow, and most will follow the recommendation stated at the bottom of the PSAT score report and take the SAT for the first time in the spring of junior year. Ostensibly, the suggestion makes good sense because students are at the furthest point in their schooling and still have the time to retake the SAT, if needed, in the fall of senior year. But, like most advice, it does not apply to everyone, and the implied logic behind the suggestion tends to be ill-founded.

Savvy parents of high school athletes, for example, realize that a strong SAT score early in high school plays a pivotal role in the recruitment process. This is especially true for the 99 percent of recruited athletes whose mailboxes are not jammed with letters from college coaches. These athletes must advocate for themselves by proactively contacting coaches and sending them updates about their GPA, SAT scores, and athletic accomplishments. Coaches begin building their freshmen classes years in advance, and they won’t hesitate to convey that strong academic numbers are crucial to getting on the list.

Give Yourself an Early Holiday Present: Make Your Teachers and Counselors Your Best Advocates


student at christmas

Some consider teacher and counselor recommendations to be the icing on the cake of a stellar college application, but they serve an integral role in the college application process.

Most understand that the strongest recommendations don’t succumb to platitudes like, “Johnny is a great, hardworking student,” or “Sarah always goes the extra mile in class,” but use anecdotes and examples to illustrate a student’s unique brand of excellence.

The best recommendations, however, also accomplish even more, like corroborating the writing ability in Johnny’s essays or explaining the extenuating circumstances that had an impact on Sarah’s grades.  Recommendations provide context to the many intangible aspects of a college application.

On the Common Application’s recommendation form, for example, teachers are required to rate each student according to 15 qualities that don’t necessarily factor into a student’s GPA (see below).  In my opinion,


it’s no coincidence that academic achievement, intellectual promise, quality of writing, creative thought, and productive class discussion feature at the top of the list.  After all, what college professor wouldn’t want a class full of students who excel in those five categories?

College counselors, on the other hand, fill out a form called the Secondary School Report in which, among other things, they rate the level of challenge of a student’s course selection.  Colleges take this evaluation very seriously: it helps them measure the quality of an applicant’s GPA.  All else being equal, a class schedule filled with honors and AP classes will always trump one without in the admissions process.

Is the Ivy League Out of Reach for Most Baltimore Students?




Last year, Baltimore Fishbowl writer Rachel Monroe reported on the parental angst incited by the low acceptance rates of Baltimore students at elite colleges.  Since then, not much has changed: acceptance rates remain relatively low at area high schools while  New England’s best prep schools still send students by the dozens to top colleges.  Why is this so?  Myths abound claiming either children of billionaires or impoverished students who have overcome impossible circumstances have the advantage, but, in truth, these applicants remain the exception.

Well, what’s the difference?  Do the most competitive colleges have a prejudice against Baltimore?  Not at all.  The difference lies in a simple reality: Baltimore is situated in one of the most competitive geographic regions in the nation.  Colleges first evaluate applicants on a regional basis, and the vast majority of admissions offices group Baltimore with the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  Savvy D.C. parents—like those in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston—understand the level of competition and realize that, in college admissions, doing well at a good school is only half the battle.  That’s why those aforementioned markets are saturated with excellent SAT tutors, subject tutors, and private admissions consultants.

In this respect, Baltimore lags behind.  Indeed, many Baltimore parents might balk at the rates that the best SAT tutors and private college counselors charge in hyper-competitive markets.  But in New York, $150 an hour for a private SAT tutor is considered on the low end.  Similarly, private counselors offer packages that range from $4,000 to $15,000.  That might sound pricey, too, but these counselors get results.  The best test prep consultants help students achieve an average 300-350 point increase on the SAT, which can make a significant difference in an applicant’s chances for admission.