Posts

Class of 2018 Game Plan

As the 2016-2017 school year winds to a close, it’s time to consider a test prep plan for students in the Class of 2018. Most students do not complete the required coursework to begin successfully preparing for the ACT or SAT before the end of sophomore year. To that end, we suggest not taking your first practice test until the May or June after sophomore year. (Please note that we have suspended SAT pretesting until June.)

We offer free practice testing nearly every Saturday at both our Mission and Leawood offices. The practice test is an important first step – please don’t skip it! The earliest we suggest taking the practice test is May or June, but for the deadline-oriented people wondering how long they can wait, here’s a handy guide.

ACT deadlines

SAT deadlines

In order to use this tool, you’ll have to pick an official test date (or two – it’s not a bad idea to have a backup available) that will work well for you. Consider sports schedules, exam schedules, family or religious obligations, travel plans, etc. when deciding which test date will work best for you. Preparation schedules are targeted at a specific date; preparing for a test date you end up being unable to take can be a big setback.

The key is to take your practice test at least three full months before your selected official test date. You may or may not need three months to prep, but the sooner you (and we!) have a practice test score on file, the sooner we can work together to come up with a plan and a schedule that works for you.

If you haven’t begun visiting colleges or thinking at all about what kinds of colleges you might want to attend, this summer isn’t a bad time to start. It’s important to have a target score to work towards as you begin prep, and that target score is largely determined by the colleges and universities to which you’re applying. A college list will also help you determine whether to take the optional ACT or SAT essay portion, and whether you’ll need to take any SAT subject tests.

Here’s a suggested timeline to get your planning started.

Suggested Schedule for the Class of 2018

May 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the September ACT.
  • Plan summer college visits and begin a college list. Take notes as you research and visit!
  • Begin preliminary scholarship searches.

June 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the October ACT or SAT.
  • The October SAT may be a good date for students who also want to prepare for the PSAT. The content of the PSAT and SAT, while not identical, is similar enough that preparing once for both tests makes sense!

July 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the November SAT.
  • Think about courses and extra-curriculars for Junior year. Plan to take the most challenging courses you can be successful in, and look for opportunities to take leadership roles in activities.

August 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the December ACT or SAT.
  • If you haven’t already, make a solid timeline for Junior year with deadlines, goals, college visits, test dates, etc.

September 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the January SAT.
  • Make a good impression on your teachers. You’ll be asking them for recommendations in a few months.
  • ACT – September 10th.

October 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the February ACT.
  • SAT – October 1st.
  • PSAT – October 15th and 19th
  • ACT – October 22nd.

November 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the March SAT.
  • Plan college visits for winter break.
  • SAT – November 5th.

December 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the April ACT. All public school students in Missouri take a statewide administration of the ACT on April 19th, so begin preparing for that exam now if you attend public school in Missouri.
  • SAT – December 3rd.
  • ACT – December 10th.

January 2017

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the May SAT.
  • (Consider whether you’ll need to use the May SAT administration for Subject tests.)
  • Begin thinking about which teachers you want to ask for recommendation letters.
  • Begin thinking about summer plans, like projects, jobs or internships.
  • SAT – January 28th.

February 2017

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the June ACT or SAT or if you haven’t done so yet. If you haven’t begun preparing for the ACT or SAT yet, now is the time! You’ll have a chance to retake in the fall if necessary, but that shouldn’t be your first test.
  • Plan spring break college visits.
  • ACT – February 11th.

March 2017

  • Keep refining your college list.
  • Once you have a good idea of which teachers you need to ask (based on your college list) begin asking for recommendation letters.
  • SAT – March 11th.

April 2017

  • Missouri public school students take the ACT April 19th.
  • Review for AP Exams and SAT Subject tests if you’re taking them.
  • ACT – April 8th.

May 2017

  • AP Exams
  • SAT – May 6th. (This is a good date for Subject tests!)

Tips for Second Semester of Junior Year

Second semester of junior year is a stressful time for most students. In fact, it might be the most stressful semester of high school. I don’t want to add too many things to your likely-unending to-do list, but here are a few important things to consider including in the whirlwind that is this semester, and (bonus!) a couple of things that can wait until after finals.

This semester, you may want to:

Consider an internship. Not while school is in session. On top of everything else you’re attempting to juggle – test prep, school work, extra-curricular activities, actually sleeping at some point – one more commitment in your schedule is probably not advisable. Now is the time, however, to spend some time researching summer opportunities. Consider your interests, investigate your connections, and make a plan for summer now.

Keep working on that college list. All of the planning and scheming that lurks between now and your admissions deadlines next year will hinge upon your college list. If I had a catchphrase, it would probably be “it depends on the school.” Is your ACT score high enough? Do you have to schedule interviews? Can you take a gap year? The answers to all of these questions depend, at least in part, on specific schools you’re considering. If your list has 30 colleges on it, narrow. If you’ve only got one, more research is in order. Research, go to events, and plan more visits!

Prepare for AP or SAT Subject tests. Depending on your college list, you may be required to take SAT Subject tests. Even if the tests aren’t mandatory for you, some schools recommend that you submit them, and others will consider them if you choose to submit them. If you’re in AP courses now, and plan to take AP exams, consider whether taking the SAT Subject test will benefit you as well. The best way to figure it out is (you guessed it!) to look at the colleges on your list.

Connect with teachers and advisors. Second semester is the time to begin asking for recommendation letters. The best teacher to ask is one who knows you well and who can write about your specific strengths, and the best time to ask them is this semester. The sooner you ask, the more likely it is that you’ll get good letters.  You can generally expect that you’ll need two letters, but depending on your college list, you may need more, or there may be additional requirements placed on which teachers can write them.

Overwhelmed yet? Here’s the good news. You can wait until this summer to:

Write your college essays. College essays can be overwhelming. Working on them too soon, before you even have access to the applications, can be downright maddening. The Common App goes live on August 1st each year. There is not much to be gained by obsessing over drafts before you have a solid college list and the essay prompts for those colleges. Focus on your grades, your test prep, and your college list, and save the essays for this summer.

Plan the entire rest of your life. Actually, this one can probably wait even longer. However, if you’ve got seemingly pressing, urgent questions about your future (my junior year, it was do I want to be an architect?), you don’t have to answer them right now. The key is to avoid limiting yourself too much if you’re unsure. If you think you might want to go into an engineering program, the answer to do I want to take that extra science class? is probably “yes.” Prepare for multiple possibilities. Embrace the creative uncertainty. Explore your options, but don’t feel like you have to be certain right this moment.

For what it’s worth, I had registered for classes in ASU’s architecture program before I changed my mind and enrolled in a tiny liberal arts school on the other side of the country. I don’t really recommend that course of action, but you have time. It’s OK if your college list still looks like a 16- or 17-year-old student who isn’t exactly sure what they want to do for the next fifty years wrote it. I promise.

College Interview Tips

College Interview Tips

Most students will not be required to complete an interview as part of their college application process. However, many schools offer interviews, some going so far as to “strongly encourage” applicants to complete one – online, on campus, or in person with an alumni representative. Some scholarships applications also require interviews, even if the college or university itself does not. Here are some college interview tips for navigating the process.

  • Do your research. What is the interview policy for the schools on your list?

Some schools offer only informational interviews, which are a great opportunity to ask questions about a college, but don’t become part of your application. Preparing for an informational interview will quite different than preparing for an evaluative interview, which is the kind that does impact your application. Some schools offer interviews to all students, while some have a limited number. Some colleges and universities require interviews from only specific applicants, and some will invite a number of students to interview. Knowing how the colleges on your list approach interviewing will ensure that you’re prepared!

  • Practice, but don’t rehearse.

Get help with this part. Practice with a friend or family member. Give your helper a variety of questions, and let them choose the order, so that you’re not simply memorizing a script. Similarly, don’t try to prepare verbatim answers. It will be helpful, for example, to choose a book to discuss, but you’re better off being familiar with the book than memorizing paragraphs of analysis. Select some stories to tell about your life, your academic career, and your goals for the future. Feel comfortable with those stories, the way you might feel if you were telling a new friend about the time your dad tried to drive you to school and help you review for a calculus exam – at the same time. (Bye-bye, hubcap.)

  • Be friendly but professional.

The interview is a great opportunity for the school to get to know you – even more than the essay, this is your opportunity to bring life to the numbers and lists of activities that make up the rest of your application. Actually being a real person is an important part of that process. Be yourself. Try to enjoy the conversation and engage with your interviewer(s). At the same time, be professional. Dress neatly, give the interviewer your full attention, and keep your language appropriate to the setting.

  • Do your research.  Be knowledgeable about the school and city.

Presumably, you’re going to an interview because you actually want to go to this college or university. Think about why you want to go, and if your answers don’t sound like interview material, come up with something a little deeper. Spend some time connecting with the school and its current students, if possible, and figure out how to explain what makes this particular place special. When the interviewer gives you an opportunity to ask a question of your own, be ready. Showing your interest and curiosity about the college is important, but it’s also a good chance for you to learn more about the school!

 

Tips for a Successful School Year, Part I

Tips for a Successful School Year

Summer vacation has come and gone, and whether you’ve spent the last three months watching Netflix in your bedroom or volunteering in Haiti, now is the time to focus on setting goals for the upcoming school year. Regardless of where you’re at in your high school career, we’ve got a few tips for what to prioritize this year.

For Freshman

1) Start taking challenging courses.

Challenging yourself now sets you up for better test scores and a more impressive transcript. Select courses that cover the core subject areas first. Choose electives that look challenging and/or represent interests you may wish to build on later.

2) Explore activities and interests.

High school may provide an opportunity to explore activities that haven’t been an option previously. Trying out a few different things (while balancing your time with schoolwork, of course!) is a great way to find strengths and passions that you can continue to pursue in the coming years, and also eliminate things that perhaps just don’t interest you as much as you thought they might.

3) Read!

Reading for pleasure has many benefits – higher test scores is just one of them. If you’re already a reader, that’s fantastic! Make time to keep reading. If not, work on cultivating the habit. Take a trip to the library and let yourself explore. Pick anything that interests you! Commit to reading one book a month this year.

For Sophomores

1) Continue taking challenging courses.

Build on your successes from last year. When colleges look at transcripts, one of the things they evaluate is your trajectory. If you took two honors courses last year, take more than two this year. Set a goal for your GPA that is higher than last year’s. Keep taking your core courses and challenging electives. Set challenging, but reasonable, goals.

2) Narrow your extracurricular activities.

You don’t have to do everything. Having some focus is beneficial, not just for your resume, but also for your life. Volunteered at three different, totally unrelated places last year? Pick the one that speaks to you the most and log some serious hours. Didn’t love yearbook? Drop it. Your time is valuable, and your activities should be things that you value.

3) Start generating a college list.

Yes, you’ve got time. But there are thousands of schools in the United States, and beginning your research now – when there’s less pressure – can actually be kind of fun. Don’t feel the need to make specific plans yet, just explore your options and see what sounds interesting.

4) Start your college visits.

Visiting colleges might seem premature if you don’t have a list, but your first visits should be less about meeting with admissions counselors and more about getting a feel for a few different colleges. Walk around a small liberal-arts campus, a big university, a medium-sized Jesuit school. Visiting colleges in your region, or that happen to be nearby on a family vacation, is a great place to start.

Look for “Tips for a Successful School Year, Part II, which focuses on Juniors and Seniors, out next week!

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.