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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.

Making A Great Persuasive Essay

Nerves abound as the teacher walks through the room.  Every student waiting anxiously, stirring in their seats as names are called out one by one. Finally, your name is called; stiffening as your paper lands on your desk, you gasp. One glance at all the red ink and your heart sinks; the essay you spent all night writing barely resembles the original copy. You think to yourself, “But I tried so hard. What did I do wrong?”

This story can be echoed by students across the country. Whether you are answering an ACT or AP test prompt, or submitting a college scholarship essay, persuasive writing is not about trying hard but understanding how to craft an effective argument. There are several common mistakes that are easy to fix.

  1. Planning the Essay

Too often students are given a prompt, brainstorm a few ideas, then begin writing. To really plan an essay you need to figure out more than just your thesis statement. A good plan should include how you are going to defend your thesis, what arguments others might pose and how to counter them, and what evidence you will use to support these claims. With a good plan the essay can almost write itself. All you need to do is link the arguments together.

  1. Supporting a Claim

What is the difference between a claim and evidence? While most people can articulate the difference, these often become muddled in essay writing. A claim is a statement that presents a perspective and a belief on a certain subject. Evidence is a factual statement that provides support for a claim. For example, If I stated that M&Ms are the best candy, few people would accept it. However, if I provide concrete evidence I can give weight to this claim. But evidence can have varying strengths. Good evidence can look like this: “Fox News reported that M&Ms sold the most units and were the highest revenue generating chocolate candy in America for 2017.” This evidence has a strong source, provides a metric for comparison, and covers a large sample size. By leaving any of these out the evidence loses credibility and effectiveness. Let’s see what bad evidence would look like: “Mr. Johnson’s fourth grade class voted M&M’s as their favorite candy”. This extreme has very little credibility, a tiny sample size, and provided no metric for comparison. Just remember, whenever you make a claim it needs good evidence to support it.

  1. Understanding Perspectives

Trying to make an essay stand out can be hard. But one surefire way to catch a grader’s eye is to show understanding of what drives different perspectives. By arguing against the emotions or motivations of counterpoints you can move past just responding to a prompt and start providing real insight. Anyone can rewrite a prompt in their own words, but few are able to dissect that prompt and move past just regurgitating the same old lines.

All these things can bring strength and life to your essay writing that might be missing in your peer’s. This is not about changing your style of writing, merely approaching your essay differently. Focus on writing clearly with sound arguments and you will see a lot less red ink marring your essays.

Andi Oursler – Standard Level Tutor

Andi Oursler moved to the Kansas City area halfway through her sophomore year of high school. She attended Spring Hill High School where she participated in cross country, track, theater performances, and choir. She also was a NSHSS member, Kansas Honors Scholar, Senior Class Treasurer, and salutatorian.

Currently, Andi is attending Mid-America Nazarene University. She is studying as a Mid-Level Science and Math Education Major. At MNU, she has been a part of choir and science club. She also has helped as a cross country and track manager, chemistry teaching assistant, and freshman mentor. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering with her church’s youth, reading, running, and solving puzzles.

Andi is currently a Classroom Instructor. Even if you’re not enrolled in a class, you’ll likely see her at Office Hours in Leawood.

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.

One Point Improvement?

 

“The most important investment you can make is in yourself.” – Warren Buffet

Most high school students taking the ACT test have a certain goal in mind for their composite score. Of course, each student has different variables for their specific situation such as, automatic college admittance, scholarships, reach schools, etc.  However, when it comes down to it, is every point achieved on the ACT the same?

There are benefits to increasing your ACT composite score no matter where you fall on the ACT score spectrum.

One Point Improvement

At Get Smarter Prep, we have had some students who only went up on point on their ACT. Sometimes all a student needs is a one-point improvement, other times they were looking for a four-point jump. What many don’t understand is that one point can mean the difference between a $1,000 yearly scholarship ($4,000 over the span of 4 years) and no scholarship at all. That one point difference is still an advantage!

Let’s say on this last ACT you achieved a composite score of 24. Roughly 100,000 other college bound students with that score, as well as entered the range in which most colleges begin offering scholarships. Also, some colleges are offering automatic admission with a 24 (most of these schools also have minimum GPA standards and curriculum requirements).

Every point earned on the ACT is a step in the right direction. Don’t lose heart if you only bump up one point, there are still benefits to that one point.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

No matter if that one point is all it took to get automatically accepted into college, be offered a scholarship, or get into an Ivy League school, that one point improvement helped shape the direction of your future.

 

 

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!  

Scholarship Winner Jumps 7 points on the ACT

“This win is Bella’s future,” said Dawn Heckert, mother of our scholarship winner, Annabelle Heckert. Dawn has won her fair share of giveaways and raffles throughout the years. When she found out the essay piece she wrote for Get Smarter Prep’s scholarship contest was in fact what we selected, she knew she won something special.  However, it wasn’t until Annabelle started coming to her sessions with our Premier-Level Tutor, Caleb Pierce, and started seeing a change in Annabelle that she really understood the gravity of what she won.

Originally, Annabelle didn’t think much of taking the ACT. She knew she would eventually have to if she wanted to go to college, but she wasn’t excited about it. Taking the ACT was a step towards college, but she didn’t even know where she wanted to attend or which major she was interested in.  Annabelle was grateful she won the scholarship contest and she knew she was going to give it her best effort, but it wasn’t until the very first session with Caleb that she knew this was going to be life changing.

“She came home and was excited to share these different strategies with me,” said Dawn.  Annabelle’s excitement continued to increase after each session with Caleb. With each session her confidence also escalated. 

“You gave her confidence and unlocked something inside of her that was stifled,” exclaimed Annabelle’s mom, “Confidence is the most important thing you can give a student now days.”

Annabelle took the ACT exam February 10th at her high school, Blue Valley West. When she was taking the test,  the ACT proctor noticed she was taking the test differently than other students. Annabelle was going back and forth between questions and passages within each section, which is one of the strategies students learn at Get Smarter Prep.  After the test was complete, the same proctor approached Annabelle and asked her what she was doing. “I was using my different strategies!” replied Annabelle.

“We are just so excited for her and proud of the effort she put towards this training by Get Smarter Prep!  Caleb told her there were strategies to beat this test and she wanted to see if it was true. And man did she do it!” said Dawn.

Annabelle knows her training was unique.  She put in the effort, came to class with a fantastic attitude ready to learn, completed her homework, and confidently walked into the ACT using the strategies and methods she learned during her tutoring sessions.  

Annabelle still doesn’t know where she will attend college, or even what she is leaning towards for a major, but she does know she has completed a piece of the puzzle by taking the ACT.  She knows for a fact that with the help of Get Smarter Prep she has done better than she ever thought possible, and that different possibilities now exist that weren’t there before.

“Get Smarter Prep has opened an even greater future for her as she explores what’s next!  You have changed her story for the good!” exclaimed Dawn.

With a full 15-hr. Premier-Level Tutorial Annabelle’s score jumped up 7 points from a 24 to a 31 in a condensed four and a half week program! Get Smarter Prep couldn’t be more proud of this year’s Scholarship Winner, Annabelle Heckert!

The Infamous 30 ACT Composite Score

The infamous 30 ACT composite score. Why does every student desire a 30 on their ACT?  Just to say they have a 30? What does a 30 composite score actually get you?  More scholarships? Entry into a highly selective school? The ability to say you scored a 30?  Maybe.  Maybe a 30 composite score will get you all of those things, but let’s take a closer look to see if that score is the right score for you.

Did you know that the National average ACT score for college bound students is a 21? The average for the state of Kansas is 21.7 and the average score for the state of Missouri is a 20.4. The average for Blue Valley District is 25.4., the average for Shawnee Mission District is 22.7, and the average for the Olathe District is 23.8, the three largest districts in JOCO.

National Average

Kansas Average

Blue Valley District

Shawnee Mission District

Olathe District

Notre Dame de Sion

Rockhurst High School

St. Theresa’s Academy

The Barstow School

21

21.7

25.4

22.7

23.8

27.1

26.5

27

28

Overall, Johnson County is performing well above the state and national averages.

So why does a 30 ACT score haunt high school students?  For most students, scholarship money is what drives a student to achieve the very best score they can. For example, The University of Kansas gives a break down of scholarships related to ACT/SAT scores, plus their GPA score.  The funny thing is, the break down doesn’t provide any more money for a 30.  The additional scholarship money is awarded when a student goes from a 28 to a 31. If a student already has a 28 on their ACT, the infamous 30 shouldn’t factor into the discussion.

Make sure you at least have an outline of the types of colleges you would like to attend and then take those schools’ scholarship requirements into consideration. Most students would be shocked to realize the break usual isn’t at 30, but closer to 31, if not a 32 or higher.

The same principal applies to college entry.  Highly selective schools typically don’t look for a standard of a 30 ACT (or it’s SAT equivalent). They look for higher scores starting at a 31 or 32, plus a fantastic GPA of around 3.75 or higher. For example, Vanderbilt University in Nashville typical accepts students scoring in the 32-35 range. The middle 50% of scorers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois is 31-34, similar to that of Duke University in Durham, NC. The bottom line is, do your research on the schools with which you’re truly interested and figure out if a 30 is sufficient or if you need to score even higher.

It’s so important to set proper goals based on what you are interested in, your ability, and what is tangible for you. If you take a pretest and score a 17 composite score, a 30 is big stretch – to say the least! Do you have endless amounts of time to study? What about your class schedule in high school? You don’t want to fall behind on your regular classes to study hours and hours for the ACT.

Another factor to consider is all of your extracurricular activities. Studying for and taking the October ACT while you are in football or volleyball will be totally overwhelming. How full is your schedule this semester? Do you even have the time and energy to spend on achieving a 30? The ACT has several test dates from which to choose throughout the year; choose one that makes sense for you and your schedule. Get Smarter Prep has different prep options for any type of student: from small group courses to semi-private and private tutoring. Select an option and test date that will set you up for success, not overwhelm you.  Setting a tangible goal score will the best way to assure success, whether it’s the infamous 30, a solid 26, or a Kansas average of 21.7.