Whenever I went shoe shopping as a kid, my mom would always buy shoes at least a size too big and then make me run around Footlocker (or wherever we were) to make sure I wouldn’t trip over myself in the months before I grew into them.
What is the best SAT prep plan for my student?
It’s a question that parents of high school juniors (and, in some cases, parents of sophomores) should be asking right now. The answer to the question, like the SAT itself, isn’t straight forward, and, in my opinion, depends entirely on the abilities, educational background, and goals of each student.
It’s that time of the year again when US News and World Report releases its annual rankings for national colleges and universities. The 2015 rankings, released yesterday, illustrate the usual shuffle among the Ivy League and Ivy League-ish institutions at the top: Princeton, Harvard, and Yale remained on top; MIT edged ahead of Duke while Columbia, Stanford, and University of Chicago now are tied at 4th place. Essentially, nothing has changed, and in this article I will use the current metrics of college rankings to investigate why this is so and how it impacts college admissions.
Undergraduate Academic Reputation
A whopping 22.5 percent of the rankings are based on the subjective opinions of both high school counselors and administrators at peer institutions. The weight of this metric largely reflects the enormous marketing budgets colleges now need to stay competitive in the rankings. According to a 2011 Noel-Levitz poll, private universities spent a median of $2,185 marketing dollars per new student. This expense is an indicator that top colleges don’t just have to be good; they have to make sure everyone knows it. This is easier for Ivy League schools who have garnered impervious auras that remain intact no matter the cheating scandals or grade inflation that may occur there; whereas “ranking climbers” like Washington University in St. Louis have used exorbitant fundraising campaigns in years past to attain similar stature.
A life without Facebook might seem incomprehensible to some, but high school seniors applying to college would be wise to consider it, if only temporarily. As cited in the Huffington Post, more than 80 percent of college admissions officers use Facebook and other social media sites to get a second look at an applicant. Unless the applicant’s a recruited athlete, whose Facebook or Twitter profile might get a coach’s cursory glance at any point of high school, now is the time when a student’s Facebook profile may come under scrutiny.
Of course, deleting a social media account may seem like overkill. Why not just delete any potentially negative content? Or even change the account name so that the profile is harder to find? These steps may be sufficient, but I wouldn’t take the chance. After all, if admissions officers find the hopeful college applicant on Facebook, they won’t necessarily encounter the best representation of the student, nor the one so thoughtfully put together in the application; they may see a much more limited side, one that tends to encourage flash judgments, rather than careful review.
Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post by professional tutor Ian Siegel, who owns and operates Streamline Tutors.
It 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.
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.
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.
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.
It costs $10,490 for a high school student to spend seven summer weeks at Harvard, $11,900 for two months at Stanford, and $8,170 to spend a month taking classes and living in the dorms at Johns Hopkins. Students take the time and effort — and parents spend the money — because it makes them feel as though they’ve got an edge when applying to competitive colleges. But increasingly experts are decrying these programs as, well, kind of a scam.
Last year, Dave Marcus’s son was in middle school; now, the ninth grader is embarking on a ritual usually reserved for high school juniors and seniors — the college tour.
At first, I assumed this was just another instance of over-aggressive parenting, shifting the college pressure earlier and earlier in high school. And there is certainly plenty of that going around; a recent New York Times article discussed several for-profit schools that start students on the college application process in ninth grade. “Is it better to get a jump on the process but risk turning high school into a staging ground for college admission?,” the article asked. “Or is it preferable to start later, when students are more developmentally prepared but perhaps missing opportunities to plan hobbies, choose classes and secure summer internships?”