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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.

How to Plan a College Visit


Source: Fix.com Blog

You Received Your PSAT Scores. Now What?

The PSAT occupies a strange in-between place in the world of standardized testing. In terms of admissions, the PSAT doesn’t “count.” Colleges will only ask for your ACT or SAT scores. For most students (where most equals 97%) the PSAT doesn’t do much anything at all. It’s just practice.

It can help you decide whether you want to take a real SAT, or whether the ACT might be a better fit for you. If you think you will do better on the SAT, consider taking a full-length practice SAT (along with your practice ACT) to be sure. There are some timing differences between the PSAT and the SAT that might affect your performance. If you’ve already decided to focus on the ACT, think carefully about whether you want to change gears now.

However, unlike the PLAN or ACT Aspire, the approximate equivalents of the PSAT in the ACT-universe, for some students, the PSAT can matter. And because of that some (where some equals about 50,000 nationwide), the PSAT is kind of like Schrodinger’s standardized test. It might count. It might not.

Before scores were released, you probably had some idea where your score might fall; now you know. The cat is out of the box. You can properly contextualize your PSAT experience, progress beyond this uncertain, liminal space, and move on with your life.

Or, maybe not.

Based on estimates of this year’s cutoffs (emphasis on estimates), the answer to “does this score matter much?” is either “no” or “possibly.”

If, based on the estimates, your score is significantly below the projected cutoff in your state, (this is true for the most students, even those who study and work hard and are bright and who will have excellent college options down the road) then the PSAT was practice. It gave you a bit of information about how you might do on an SAT.

If you think you might end up a Semifinalist, you should prepare for and take an SAT. You’re likely to do well on the SAT, especially with some additional practice, and having an SAT score that validates your PSAT is one of the requirements of advancing to Finalist status. However, be aware that you won’t know whether you’re a Semifinalist until September. Counting on it probably isn’t helpful, and driving yourself mad speculating likely won’t help either. National Merit is only one source of scholarships; if your test scores are in this range, it’s likely not your only option. Keep researching, and studying, and doing what you’ve been doing all along.

If your PSAT scores are better than you hoped, congratulations! If they are lower than expected, take heart: there’s time yet to prepare for the “real” test, whichever one you choose.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

4 Steps to Begin Your Scholarship Search

College is a huge investment. While the benefits of higher education are undeniable, another truth is just as evident. College is expensive. Given this reality, scholarships can be a college student’s best friend; after all, it’s money you don’t have to pay back! When it comes to college scholarship applications, it definitely pays (both literally and figuratively) to put in the extra work. So where to begin? Just follow these simple steps to begin your college scholarship search!

Set Up a Meeting With Your School Guidance Counselor

Your school counselor should have a great idea of scholarships that are available within your area. They also have experience assisting former students with the various application procedures, as well as the knowledge of what successful applicants have done in the past. Before your meeting, be sure to prepare a list of colleges you are interested in applying to and a list of activities or organizations you are currently associated with. This information will help your counselor identify scholarship opportunities that are tailored to your specific interests and needs.

Visit Your Dream School’s Website

A college’s website or financial aid office is the best resource to find out about university specific scholarship opportunities. Even if you haven’t started applying for admission yet, visiting your prospective schools’ websites can give you an idea of when scholarship applications are due as well as GPA or test score requirements for different levels of merit-based aid. Many schools have a scholarship application process that is separate from the admissions application, so don’t assume that by applying for admission you are also applying for aid.

Check Out Employers

Many companies offer scholarships or tuition assistance programs to their employees and their family members. Simply being related to someone who works for an organization that offers scholarships or grants could be a new opportunity, so be sure to ask your parents or other family members for that matter (Holiday get-togethers could be a great time to ask around!). If you have a part-time job, don’t forget to check with your employer as well. Who knows, maybe your weekend job could end up providing you more than just gas money!

Search the Internet

A simple Google search will yield more scholarship opportunities than you could ever have the time to explore. Thankfully, there are many scholarship search engines that make the process a lot easier to digest. A great place to begin is the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool. There, you may search for scholarships by keyword or filter by location or demographic details. There are many similar websites that offer similar services, so be sure to look around until you find one that works well for you.

By Jennifer Murphy, Standard-Level Tutor @ Get Smarter Prep

 

Changes to the 2017-18 FAFSA Process

If you’re planning to attend college next year, chances are you’ve heard of FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA is the form that all U.S. college students fill out in order to be considered for need-based financial aid. This aid includes federal grants and loans, state and school based scholarships and college work-study opportunities.

Beginning this year, there are two changes to be aware of regarding filing for FAFSA:

  1. You can submit the FAFSA earlier. The 2017-18 FAFSA will launch on October 1, 2016. This is three months sooner than the January 1 launch date in place for previous FAFSA years. Earlier availability allows students additional time to meet deadlines, especially for aid which is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  2. You will use earlier income information. The 2017-18 FAFSA will ask for information from 2015 federal tax return instead of 2016. This use of earlier tax information eliminates the need to use estimates or to update information at a later date after taxes have been filed.

So, who should fill out the FAFSA? The Federal Student Aid website dispels common myths surrounding financial aid and the application process:

Myth: “My parents make too much money for me to qualify for student aid.”
Truth: There is no income cut off for student aid qualification. Income is only one factor for determining student aid eligibility. In fact, by filling out the FAFSA, you are also applying for state funding and possibly scholarships from your school.

Myth: “I’m ineligible for aid due to my ethnicity or age”
Truth: While there are basic eligibility requirements, ethnicity and age are not considered on the FAFSA.

Myth: “My grades aren’t good enough to get financial aid.”
Truth: The majority of federal aid programs do not take grade point average into consideration when determining eligibility. It is still true that grades will impact a student’s acceptance to certain schools as well as their eligibility for merit based scholarships.

Bottom line, if you are planning to attend college for the 2017-18 school year, there is absolutely no harm in filling out the FAFSA, even if you don’t believe you will qualify for aid. The process only takes about half an hour and you might be surprised by what you qualify for!

fafsa

 

Written by: Jennifer Murphy, Standard-Level Tutor

 

ACT Explains their Essay Scores

We’ve talked about the new ACT essay and its associated issues and confusions. ACT has released a document hoping to clear up the misconceptions, titled “ACT Research Explains New ACT Test Writing Scores and Their Relationship to Other Test Scores.”

I don’t want to ruin this delightful saga for you, but you should know going on: there is no relationship. Beyond that, ACT says there’s no relationship between individual subject scores, either.

ACT addresses the discrepancy between the Writing scores and the other scores by acknowledging that there is a difference in scores, but that concern about that fact is rooted in a lack of communication about how scores should be understood.

 

“It is true that scores on the writing test were on average 3 or more points lower than the Composite and English scores for the same percentile rank during September and October 2016. Some students may have had even larger differences between scores. This is not unexpected or an indication of a problem with the test. However, the expectation that the same or similar scores across ACT tests indicate the same or similar level of performance does signal that ACT needs to better communicate what test scores mean and how to appropriately interpret the scores.” 

Much of the article reads as an attempt by ACT to debunk the idea that their individual scores are very useful. For example, “the difference in scores across tests does not provide a basis for evaluating strengths and weaknesses….” The important thing to look at, they maintain, are the percentiles, because scores don’t really translate across subject lines. A 25 in Reading is not a 25 in Math, and you were silly to think, because they’re reported on the same scale and created by the same people, that there was any relationship between them. (OK, so they don’t actually call anyone silly. But they do say that “[t]ests are not designed to ensure that a score of 25 means the same thing on ACT Math as it does for ACT Science or Reading.” Check out that skilled usage of the passive voice there!)

There have always been some differences between the scores in different sections. Anyone who looks at a percentile chart will notice that. For the most part, they’re not huge.  But “even larger differences are found when comparing percentiles between the new ACT subject-level writing score and the other ACT scores. For example, a score of 30 on the ACT writing test places that same student at the 98th percentile, a full 9% higher than the reading score [of 30.] Similarly, an ACT subject-level writing score of 22 is over about 10 percentiles about the Composite or other ACT scores.”

Why change over to the new scale at all then? Don’t you think that the new scale might, you know, encourage those comparisons? The ACT admits the 1-36 score for the Writing “[makes] comparisons with the other scores much more tempting. Perhaps too tempting!”

ACT’s insistence on talking about the test like something that sprang into being all by itself and behaves in self-determining ways is giving me robot overlord concerns.

 

Didn’t they… design it? Didn’t they decide how the scoring would work? Unless the ACT test itself has become sentient and begun making demands, this doesn’t make any sense. Treating the scores as if they exist as something other than a product of a series of human decisions is absurd.

They put everything on the same scale. They’ve admitted that having things on an apparently identical scale invites comparison, and they’ve also said that “[c]omparisons of ACT scores across different tests should not be made on the basis of the actual score…” Oh, OK. What?

If the actual scores don’t really help in making comparisons (which is what standardized tests are for, after all – making comparisons), and everyone should just look at the percentiles, then why do we need the 1-36 scale at all?

In the document, ACT points out multiple times that this kind of variation is common on many tests. That doesn’t change the fact that they changed the Writing score to make it look like the other scores (except lower) which has caused confusion and will continue to do so. The math that turns an 8 into a 23 and a 9 into a 30 is not intuitive nor set in stone, and if they wanted to correlate a given Writing score and a Math or English score to the same percentile, they could.

Beyond that, as the ACT admits, “each test score includes some level of imprecision,” and that margin of error is considerably larger for the Writing test. They explain that “a score of 20 on ACT writing would indicate that there is a two-out-of-three chance that the student’s true score would be between 16 and 24.” (Put another way, this means there is a 33% chance that your “true score,” whatever that means, is more than 4 points away from what shows up on your report.”) The ACT cautions against using the Writing score on its own to make decisions, suggesting using the ELA score instead – an average of Reading, English and Writing. But if the Writing score on its own isn’t a useful metric, then perhaps it shouldn’t be reported?

Further complicating all of this, the ACT blames some of the low scoring on students’ unfamiliarity with the new version of the test: “students are only beginning to get experience with the new writing prompt. Research suggests that as students become increasingly familiar with the new prompt, scores may increase[.]”

The ACT claims that the essay tests “argumentative writing skills that are essential for college and career success.” If that were actually the case, familiarity with the test wouldn’t matter. Unless the ACT is arguing that as students become more familiar with this particular aspect of the test, they will also become more prepared for college. I suggest that those two factors – college readiness and ACT essay scores – don’t have a relationship, either.

Author: Audrey Hazzard, Master-Level Tutor

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!)

New Office in Mission

Get Smarter Prep is excited to announce a brand new office located at 5920 Nall Avenue, right in the heart of Mission, KS!

The Mission Office is replacing our Overland Park Office on 87th street. We opened our doors to the new location on March 16th, 2016. Alongside our Leawood Office, Mission is now offering all of our tutoring services.

We’re happy to be part of such a vibrant neighborhood that’s full of other local businesses and attractions. While in the area, you can grab a coffee or pastry at Dips & Sips or pick up a new novel at Rainy Day Books. We are adjacent to Pearl Harbor Park and a historic site of a watering hole along the Sante Fe Trail. We’re also only 8 minutes from the Plaza!

Also, we’re excited to be in a better position for our families. We’re now just 5 minutes from both Pembroke Hill and Bishop Miege, 7 minutes from Kansas City Christian, 8 minutes from Shawnee Mission East, 10 minutes from St. Teresa’s Academy, less than 15 from Maranatha, and 15 minutes from Park Hill South.

Check out more photos on our Facebook page!

 

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.