Choosing the Right College for You

With so many different choices, the decision of where to spend the next phase of your life can be a little overwhelming. Create a list of criteria and rank them by importance; use this to guide your search and narrow down the school that is right for you. Don’t know where to start? Here are some things to consider to help whittle down the lists of colleges.

 

  1. What is Important For YOU

Make a list of “Musts” that a college has to have for you. Consider what you would like a school to offer and what you couldn’t care less about. Maybe you love marching band and continuing that passion is important to you. Your passions are a part of you and they should follow you throughout your college experience.

  1. Identify Major Options

Not everyone enters college knowing exactly what they want their major to be. But before you start, you should always have a good idea of your interests and a few majors that appeal to you. Picking a school that only has one major that interests you limits your possibilities to change your mind if you find that it isn’t what you want to do for the rest of your life. Too many people have entered a major thinking they love a subject only to find that it is more of a hobby than a career for them.

  1. Costs

Finances can be a huge factor in choosing a college that is right for you, but not all costs are clearly posted. Many schools only post their rates per credit hour; however, sometimes additional equipment fees can be tacked on to your bill unexpectedly. Figure out what you can afford before you make any decisions. Look for scholarship opportunities both within the school and out of school for the best chance to be able to afford your dream school.

  1. School Rankings

All schools are not created equal. Every college has their different strengths and weaknesses. Researching national rankings can give you a better idea if the school’s focus and direction line up with your own.

  1. Class Quality and Size

The size of a school can factor into the quality of education available to you. You have to know what you are comfortable with regarding class size.  If you attend a bigger college, classes will also be large.  Classes with a student to teacher ratio of 300 to one are common with larger schools. Know your learning style and what will be the best environment for you.

  1. Past and Current Students’ Opinions

Listen to what others have to say. Alumni and current students will give you better insight into the day to day life than any admissions representative. You never know what useful things you can learn.

  1. Campus Visit

This cannot be stressed enough. See the campus for yourself: pictures and videos can only show so much. Use the opportunity to talk to students, see different buildings, and get a general feel for the campus. Is the campus small enough to walk between classes? Things like very limited parking or how well the facilities and dorms are maintained can tip the balance between schools.

  1. Housing Options

Most college students will spend 2-6 years at college. Of course, you will need a place to live, and chances are you will be moving multiple times throughout your time there. Don’t just assume you will be living in the dorms your whole stay. Check out the surrounding area. What are the options like? How far are they from campus? Are they affordable?

  1. Work Options

Everyone can use a little spending money, and others will need some additional income to pay for the cost of tuition. Look at local businesses and see what kind of opportunities are available and how many are open to students. Is there Work Study available on campus?

  1. Gut Feeling

Trust your instincts. Some places will just give you a bad vibe. Try to identify what these things are, but even if you can’t do that, do not just ignore it. Other times you will step foot on campus and feel like you just came home. Gut feelings can go both ways; give them a voice in your decision.

 

Whatever school you choose should fit the college experience you are looking for in a school. Don’t let tradition or peer pressure put you somewhere you don’t belong. Trust and know yourself. You are going to college for you, so you should feel great about whatever decision you make.

Which College Majors Have the Best ROI?

Whether or not you choose to go to college and earn a 4 or 5-year degree is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer here. There is, however, a smarter way to look at the college debt you will accrue and how to graduate college with a higher chance of getting hired into the field you studied.

U.S. News and World Report has put together a list of top college majors for finding full time work and the number one college major may be a surprise to everyone. Most anyone you ask will tell you that you can’t go wrong with a business degree. That may be true, but it wasn’t at the top of this list. The number one top bachelor’s degree by demand was an Accounting degree with a 54.4% chance of hire. Coming in as a close second is a Computer Science degree with 53.9% chance of hire and the third sought-after bachelor’s degree is Finance with a 50.6% chance of hire. Business came in at number four with 47.8% plan to hire.

Knowing which college majors are going to be the most sought after will help any high school or college student narrow down their field of study as the goal is to get a job and start a career based on their college major.  Double majoring with in-demand majors will also help you obtain a job within your field of study. Most likely if you graduate with one of these majors, you will get a job more quickly and a higher salary.

Entering college with a more calculated approach as opposed to “figuring it out along the way”, will also help you gauge your ROI. Figuring out what specific colleges cost over four years, the projected hire for a college major, and the probable salary will give you a more precise return on your investment and help keep students focused along the way.

Obviously, not every student will choose a major entering college or maybe not even their freshman year of college. However, the more knowledge you have surrounding college majors, their projected income, and the likeliness to obtain a job straight out of college, the easier it will be to choose a career that makes sense to you.

Standard and Advanced ACT Courses

Most students fall into one of two categories, which is either private tutoring or prep courses. Do you know which type of tutoring you fit into? At Get Smarter Prep, we offer two types of courses to help students achieve their ACT goals.

Standard ACT Courses

Our Standard ACT Courses are a good fit for students scoring within the 17-23 range (the 30th-68th percentiles) and their score is consistent among all four categories of the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science). If there’s more than a 6-9 point difference in any of the four categories, then private tutoring may be more up your alley since it’s more custom to your needs.

The standard course assists students in achieving a score improvement, alongside a small group of similarly scoring students. Because our Standard ACT Course is taught by the most experienced instructors of any company in town and focused on a smaller, more cohesive group, our students consistently find results through our tried and true curriculum. This course includes 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date.

Advanced ACT Courses

Another option for students who want to increase their ACT composite score is our Advanced ACT Course. This course is accompanying for students with a slightly higher ACT baseline score between a 24-29 (74th-92nd percentile).

The advanced course offers a small class setting (no more then 8 students) and meets once a week for eight weeks leading right up to the official test date. Built in practice tests are included with our advanced courses. Office Hours are always available to students taking this course.

Private Tutoring

While both our standard and advanced courses are good options for numerous students, we know all students won’t fit into those two courses, which is why we offer private tutoring. Private tutoring is available for any and all students who want to increase their ACT score anywhere between an average of 2-7 points depending on the amount of hours spent tutoring.

Whether you take one of our standard courses, advanced courses or elect for private tutoring, know that we want you to succeed and our tutors will strive to help you get the score you need for the school you want.  

ACT Extended Time Changes

For the last few years, ACT’s National Extended Time policy has been full of changes. Beginning in 2016, the ACT began providing students with an open, self-paced 5-hour block to complete their test (or a 6-hour block with the optional Writing). In the 2017-2018 school year, ACT moved to separate the 1-hour Writing time from the 5-hour multiple choice block, so that all students had 5 hours for the multiple choice, whether or not they were going to complete the Writing.

Now the ACT is moving away from the self-paced block of time all together. ACT says that “self-pacing on the extended-time test is intended to provide flexibility… [but] it can have the reverse effect, requiring an additional demand beyond what is required of those testing with standard time or other types of accommodations.” Instead, beginning in September 2018, the National Extended Time testing will look much like it did pre-2006, with a specific amount of time being allotted to each section:

ACT Extended Time Changes

English

70 minutes

Math

90 minutes

Break

15 minutes

Reading

55 minutes

Science

55 minutes

 

What does this change mean for students?

  • Pacing

The current rules have provided an additional challenge for some students, as maintaining a good pace for the entire exam might be tricky. The new structure will enforce the pacing from section to section, so a student is free to focus on pacing within a section, instead of between them.

  • Flexibility

If you have been practicing your exam using only 45 minutes for English and 120 minutes for Math, you’ll need to adjust your strategy. There was some added flexibility with the previous timing structure that will no longer be available, as each section will have its own firm time boundary.

  • Breaks

There will be one 15 minute break scheduled after the Math section. Under the current rules, students are allowed to take breaks as they choose throughout the 5 hour time period, and we normally suggested a short break after each section. The new structure will have a student taking a break only after their first 2 hours and 40 minutes of testing.

If you’ve been taking the test with the current structure, and you’re taking your last ACT in July, then there will be no changes for you! However, if you won’t take your first ACT until September, then you’ll just want to make sure you practice with the new timing allotments. If you’ve already been preparing, though, and will need to change your strategy, some additional timed practice might be in order to make sure you’re making the most of the time for each section.

To stay in the know about ACT Extended Time Changes, visit ACT.org.

Why We Offer Free Practice Tests

At Get Smarter Prep we offer FREE Practice Tests for both the ACT and the SAT almost every Saturday. This isn’t new. We’ve always offered free practice tests. Establishing a baseline score for the ACT and SAT is the best place to start in the process of preparing for an official ACT. Unlike big box test prep companies, which use exams their employees made up, we use actual ACTs or SATs that were given in the last 3 years.   

Establish a baseline score

There are a number of reasons to establish a baseline score. As stated previously, our ACT and SAT practice tests are actual tests that were given within the last few years, so you will know how you would score on a real test.

We want you to establish a baseline score, so we can guide you into either our Standard or Advanced Courses, Semi-Private Classes or Private Classes. Without a score to go off, we are walking in blind. We don’t know what your strengths are in each category and as part of our process, we want to tailor the way we tutor to each student so they can get the most out of each tutoring session.

Reduce Anxiety

Our Free Practice Test is a great opportunity to alleviate some of the fear and loathing of these standardized tests.  It’s also a great time to examine the timing of the test and see how well you did with the timing piece as so many students tend to run out of time in different sections.

All of these, and more, are good reasons to take an absolutely free practice exam with us. That way you’ll get an accurate score, as opposed to a guess. We think it’s such an important piece in learning where you begin for both tests that we want to make it readily available to every high school student who is interested.

Planning for College in the Summer

Most students look forward to summer simply because there’s no homework, no tests to study for, and it’s sunny and nice out! Whatever your reason is to love summer, there may be a gently nagging in the back of your mind that you have a ton left to do to get ready for college. Planning for college in the summer is a great way to get ahead of the game.

Get Smarter Prep offers several different options to help students prepare for college including a Career/Assessment test, how to build a College List, and Essay Writing Courses.

Career/Major Assessment Test

Start with a Career/Major Assessment test. This test allows you to see what your strengths are, coupled with what you enjoy doing and provides a number of careers to guide you in the right direction. Don’t worry, taking this type of test in the summer isn’t something you have to necessarily prepare for. The test is a comprehensive online assessment that will gauge your learning style, interests, personality, and career focus. Our counselors will go over the results of the assessment and discuss possibilities and paths through your feedback and conversation – discussing careers, as well as possible majors.

Build a College List

If you already have a good idea of what you want study in college and/or what your major will be, but haven’t nailed down a college yet, Get Smarter Prep will help you build a college list that matches your values and goals. If your simply not sure where in the world you would like to college, we will guide you through the process and figure it out together. We can customize ACT/SAT recommendations to ensure the college list is right for you.  

College Essay Writing Course

Maybe you already know where you want to attend college, but haven’t even thought about college essays? Not to worry, we offer college essay writing courses in June and July to help you write your best college essays and set you apart from the pack. Our college essay writing experts will help you craft your best essays for your college set. We go above and beyond to ensure you don’t write an essay that prevents you from becoming accepted into your school of choice.

Wherever you are in the college planning process, we can help. It’s not too late or too early to start planning for college in the summer. Contact Get Smarter Prep to get a jump start on your summer plans!  

Debunking Common Testing Myths – Part 1/3

We’ve all been exposed to a variety of folklore at one point or another. Whether we were exploring the Scottish roots of the Loch Ness Monster, sitting around a campfire telling stories about how Big Foot uses logs for toothpicks, or dreading the day we lost a tooth and we would be visited by the portly Tooth Fairy, who was known to accidentally fall on children in their sleep and smother them. We’ve all heard them! Wait – your older brother didn’t tell you that one about the tooth fairy? Maybe that was just me.  

Well, guess what? There are many myths out there about the ACT and SAT as well! We, at GSP, are here to help you navigate the testing process a little more smoothly and put you in a better position to make the best decision for you or your child. The challenge with college entrance myths is that many of them are rooted in some truth. If someone tells you something that seems too good to be true, you’re probably right. A good rule of thumb is to remain skeptical, and confirm with an authority on the topic!

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll provide insight into some of the most common myths. Here are the first three (in no particular order):

  • Myth 1: Since the ACT & SAT are college entrance exams, doing well in my classes as a Junior or Senior are the best/only way to prepare.

 

Ironically, most of the content that is necessary to do well on the ACT is learned by the end of sophomore year. For instance, much of the content found in the English section of the ACT or Writing & Language section of the SAT is taught in elementary school and in middle school. Very little of a student’s high school curriculum is focused on basic grammar rules. And, believe it or not, your science classes will help you very little on the Science section of the ACT! We have seen students who have never taken traditional Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Earth Science courses perform VERY well on the Science section of the ACT. Even the Math section – which mirrors “high school” curriculum better than the other sections – still has components that most students learned years ago, won’t learn for another year, or, in some cases, may never learn.

  • Myth 2: The best and easiest way to improve on the ACT or SAT is to take the test over and over again.

 

While practice is certainly one component of getting better at something, think about the last game or concert you prepared for… did you just run around the field or push random valves or keys when you were practicing? Did you have anyone in charge, like a coach or conductor, helping you learn the best way to swing a bat or play a particular scale? If you learn poor mechanics in sports or begin your singing career with terrible pitch, the more you do that task incorrectly, the more ingrained that bad habit can become, making it more and more difficult to improve in the long run! 

Learning how to do something correctly the first time, and then practicing it the right way, whether it be a sport, music, or the ACT, will almost always lead to the best results.

“Perfect practice makes perfect.” – Cal Ripken, Sr.

  • Myth 3: I only have to send my best scores to colleges when I apply.

 

When you apply to colleges, they will expect to receive all pertinent data in order to help them make the best admission decision possible. This is why almost every college will ask you all of your scores on the application, just as they’ll ask for all of your high school grades! It’s not that they won’t also receive your transcripts with your grades, they just want to make sure they have all your information and that you’re being forthright. In fact, almost all college applications will ask you to sign the application (electronically in most cases) to confirm that you are providing fully accurate and complete information!

There are several other ways in which colleges can/will get your complete testing history, so not disclosing all your scores can also work as a disadvantage if/when colleges find out you didn’t provide them with the full story.

Next week, I’ll debunk three more common myths, like, my scores are too low to get into college, all the “jocks” take the test on a certain date – so I should too, &  everyone I know seems to be scoring a 30!

-By Caleb Pierce, President, Premier-Level Tutor

ACT, SAT, or Both? Deciding which Path is Best

This debate may be familiar to many of you. ACT? SAT? Both? Some students and families enter junior year with a perfectly clear answer to those questions, but the reasons behind those decisions may be less clear. Do any of these sound familiar?

He’ll take the ACT, of course. He wants to attend a school in the Midwest.

We’re an SAT family. Her older brother scored much better on the SAT.

Of course I want to prepare for both exams!

The ACT and SAT originated in different places, for different purposes, and developed different reputations over the years. Despite the many changes to each test, some of those perceptions persist.

The SAT, originally developed by the College Board for use in admissions to elite, northeastern schools, remains more popular on the coasts than in the Midwest. The ACT came later, designed to provide an admissions test for regional and public universities that didn’t use the SAT; it is still more popular in the Midwest than the SAT.

Although these regional patterns persist regarding which test students tend to take, the initial reason for those patterns – which test your college of choice might accept – no longer holds. The final school to accept the ACT finally did so in 2007, meaning that the choice of which test to take is really up to the individual student.

Until the roll-out of the Redesigned SAT in March of this year, our goal as tutors was to encourage each student to take both a practice ACT and a practice SAT before deciding which test to prepare for. There were substantial differences in the structure, with the ACT favoring fewer, longer sections and the SAT preferring more, shorter ones. The ACT had the dreaded Science section to contend with, while the SAT tested those also-dreaded vocabulary words. Many students would score about the same on each test, and choose based on their preference, while some would perform significantly better on one than the other.

The discussion of which test to choose has been complicated somewhat since the SAT redesign. The new SAT features fewer, longer sections, just like the ACT. It has done away with the vocabulary sections. And while the SAT hasn’t added a Science section, the charts and graphs that permeate each part of the test will look somewhat familiar to those who have spent time with the ACT.

There are still differences, though, between the ACT and the SAT, that one should consider when deciding between the two exams, and they don’t have anything to do with the geographical distribution of your college list.

First, how strong are you at math? On the SAT, math counts for half of your score, while on the ACT math makes up only ¼. That’s a significant difference. Consider, also, how well you’ll fare without a calculator, as the SAT has a section that must be completed without one.

How much do you want to improve your score? Because of the changes to the SAT, there is much less practice material available than for the ACT, which means fewer opportunities to practice and improve your score. If you’re looking for a significant boost, you might lean towards the ACT.

How much do you struggle with timing? The timing on the ACT is more difficult for some students. The SAT provides more time per question, which might be an asset. Taking a practice version of each will help you to know if that is the case for you.

A final consideration is that the SAT, during and since the redesign, has been a bit unstable. There have been data breaches, score delays, and debates over how the new scores stack up to the old ones.

If you know you’ll be taking an ACT through school, or (for those who haven’t already taken it) you plan to prepare for the PSAT, those factors might influence your choice as well. The goal is to prepare for only one exam. The ACT (or SAT) is only one part of your college applications, and your college applications are only one part of your life. Preparing for both tests – or choosing the wrong one – is a recipe for doing more work than necessary and taking time away from all of those other activities and classes that make up your high school career.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

Kansas State University with Austin Motley

Austin Motley
Kansas State University
College of Engineering
Major: Mechanical Engineering
  1. What first drew you to Kansas State University?

Growing up I had always thought I would go to a private Christian college like my both of my parents and my sister before me. However, engineering was not offered or not very prominent at any school that I was considering so I had to broaden my horizons. I began doing campus visits to several state schools. As soon as I walked onto campus at KSU I knew it was the right place for me. I loved the atmosphere. Everyone was so friendly and every interaction I had with professors gave me a sense that I already belonged there. After graduating, I know that it was a great school that provided me with so many opportunities.

  1. What other colleges were you considering?

In my early search I looked at private colleges such as Olivet Nazarene University. Later I looked at state schools in the Midwest that offered in-state tuition to Kansas residents.

  1. How was the adjustment from high school to college?

For me the change was not as challenging as it is for many others. For one I was only 2 hours from home. This was the perfect distance for me; It was close enough to visit, but far enough away to feel independent. The best thing is to get involved early. I had already made several friends in band before my first semester had started and that made a huge difference.

  1. What was your favorite class? Why?

I can’t pick just one so I guess I’ll pick my top two. For my engineering related classes I loved my senior project. This was a yearlong course where we were assigned a project to work with a sponsoring company to complete different projects in groups of 4 to 5. We went through the entire project to do a proof of concept for some really cool up and coming technology. (I can’t say much more than that without a 3 page essay.) I loved getting to be so involved in such a unique project.

Secondly I loved being in a part of the Kansas State University Marching Band for four seasons. It was an amazing experience to be in one of the best bands in the nation.  (Received the Sudler Award during my senior year) Also I got to travel the country on bowl trips every year. The comradery of this group is unlike anything and I would hope everyone gets to experience something like it at least once in their lives.

  1. What clubs or groups were you involved in?

Kansas State University Marching Band
Powercat Motor Sports
RA at Goodnow Hall (pronounced Good know)
Tutor for incoming Mechanical Engineering Freshmen

  1. Anything else you want to tell us?

Don’t pick the college you want to attend based solely on tradition or money. Talk to real people on the campus and find out what you absolutely must have to enjoy your college experience. For me, I had to find a place that could feel like home. And I found everything I wanted and more in the “Little Apple”.

  1. In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

KSU is filled with leaders of great character that will inspire you, students and staff alike.

A Resolution to Read More in 2017

Reading skills are critical to success on standardized tests. While that is hardly the most important or convincing reason to read more, it’s one that is particularly interesting to us at Get Smarter Prep. According to the American Library Association, students who read for fun have higher test scores than those who don’t. Students who discuss what they read at home also perform better on exams.

It makes sense that students who read for pleasure score achieve higher reading scores, but a study in the UK found that students who read for pleasure also score more highly on math exams. Being able to read and understand questions easily can simplify math questions – especially those that are longer or phrased in tricky or unusual ways (something we’re very familiar with on the ACT and SAT!).

Complicating matters is that the students who enjoy these benefits are those who read because they want to, not because of an assignment or a requirement. So how can parents encourage their children to read without pressuring them or making it feel like work?

One of the simplest is for parents to model the behavior. If children see parents engaged in reading, they are more likely to want to read as well. Talk to your children about what you’re reading and why it is enjoyable to you. Demonstrate that it’s an important part of your life, and a worthwhile use of your time.

Many parents read to their young children, but reading to your child can evolve into reading together as your child gets older. Reading aloud to grade school children can open up more advanced content than what they might find accessible on their own. Books like The Wind in the Willows may be interesting to grade school students, but above their reading level. Reading together can facilitate discussion about unfamiliar vocabulary words as well as themes and ideas within the book.

Encourage children to read what appeals to them, even if it’s not to your taste.  You might find dragons boring, but they might be just what your child is interested in at that moment. Obviously, considerations about age appropriateness are relevant. But reading material need not be high literature for a student to reap the benefits. Trips to the library can encourage students to explore different subjects.

Talking about what your student is reading, encouraging them to become engaged in a series, and connecting reading to their other goals and interests can also help support their reading habits.

Increased test scores are only one of the many benefits of reading. Reading can increase empathy, improve social skills, and reduce stress – for adults, too! Let’s all resolve to read more in 2017.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor