As a test prep tutor and college consultant, I personally work with dozens of students every year to improve their college applications. For some of my students, I help them shore up shaky resumes and make a four-year university a reality. For others, I aid their already tremendous applications by refining their essays and interviews and helping them find the best schools for their selected fields.
Yet, one thing remains constant for every student I work with regardless of his or her dream: High School grades matter. A lot.
To start, I've helped dozens of students over the years get into college on the basis of grades alone. Arizona State, University of Kansas, and University of New Mexico are just three examples of schools where all you need is a 3.0 Core GPA and a smile! Most students don't realize that for students who select these colleges, the SAT and ACT are significanlty less important. Instead these universities put the focus on grades, a proven indicator of college aptitude.
In fact, recent studies have confirmed that high school grades are more predictive than the SAT or ACT, meaning that grades almost always matter more than standardized test scores. As I noted in an earlier post, colleges are becoming more and more aware that SAT and ACT scores are not indicative of future succes. That realization has prompted people like Richard C. Atkinson, president emeritus of the University of California, to continually call into question the value of the tests to the college admissions process while simultaneously reaffirming the usefulness of high school grades:
The most intriguing aspect of this research, however, is not what it says about tests but what it says about that old-fashioned admissions criterion, high-school grades. The studies concluded that a student's performance over four years of high school remains the fairest and most meaningful measure of his or her accomplishments and the most reliable indicator of future success in college.
- Forbes, "Beyond the SAT"
As more and more schools like Wake Forest turn to testing-optional programs, students are going to see colleges intensify the focus already placed on high school grades.
This shift is happening at all levels, but will have the greatest effect at highly selective universities. ASU, KU, and UNM may admit students solely on the basis of grades, but highly selective schools (like the Ivies) are starting to prioritize grades in a time where the smallest differences between applications matters tremendously.
And there's no sign of slowing in the increase of applications or the decrease in test score relevance. I predict that the (Freshman) Class of 2012 will face a very different college admissions reality than today's Seniors.
So keep that GPA up to at least a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. Take classes that are challenging and earn A's and B's by doing the work and learning the subject. Hire a trained academic tutor if you need one. Colleges do like to see an upward trend in grades throughout high school, but they like to see A's from day one even more!
In short, make your high school grades are an asset instead of a liablity. You'll thank me when it comes time to apply to college.
Got more questions about college? Contact us today to get more information about getting into the college of your choice.
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Earlier this month, the LA Times reported that The College Board will be launching a new PSAT in 2010 for 8th grade students. Currently only 10th and 11th grade students take the PSAT, a standardized test that has no real bearing on college admissions for the majority of students. The addition of the 8th Grade PSAT will bring the wonders of the SAT into the middle schools and junior highs of America for the first time.
To which I say "Blech!"
The public director of Fair Test sums up my feelings quite well:
"Now we're going to have a preadmission test to get ready for the
preadmission test? Get ready to get ready to get ready?" said Robert
Schaeffer, public education director of Cambridge, Mass.-based
FairTest, which is critical of standardized testing. "To believe you
need an eighth-grade test on top of the PSAT and SAT is just insane."
College Board is claiming that the new test will help to identify students who should focus on college preparatory classes during high school. I think it's far more likely that they want to compete with the ACT and generate additional revenue.
By their reasoning, students who will score well on the 8th Grade PSAT
will score well on the actual SAT and should be on a college bound
track. That relationship will probably hold up to scrutiny, but only because they are designing both exams. In addition, success on other standardized tests is plenty of notification already for parents and students to arrange for college prep classes.
ACT currently has a middle school test titled EXPLORE. I personally don't find the test to be particularly worthwhile, but it doesn't advertise itself as any sort of signal for future ability on the ACT. Instead, it's one of many diagnostic tests that administrators can give to help students understand their future choices by focusing on students interests, abilities, and values.
The new PSAT, however, is already being marketed in a way that makes parents and students who don't plan on taking the exam feel behind. It's not a diagnostic exam that will help students understand their choices. It's a marketing ploy designed by College Board to attach kids to the SAT brand while charging schools for tests that mean nothing.
Sound crazy? Here's what the LA Times says one administrator is already doing:
Cortines said he welcomes the new test, as it will focus families and
teachers on what students need to succeed. The deputy superintendent
said he has asked the board to budget $125,000 for eighth-grade PSAT
tests in the coming school year.
That's right. $125,000 of taxpayer money is going to go toward a test that is completely unproven to test anything. Just because College Board, a company that has no official relationship with colleges beyond supplying the SAT, says the test matters.
I'm never a big fan of interviews with college admissions staff. No matter who is doing the interviewing, the whole subject ends up being a rehash of every other interview ever given and nobody learns anything new about the staff member or the process. Earlier this month, Ted O'Neill, dean of admissions at University of Chicago, gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune that was really typical...except for one fascinating part:
Q: What's your favorite part of the process?
A: More than a few
parts are very pleasing. I like the ritual of sitting and signing 3,400
admit letters, and appending notes going to the students I have come to
know. That brings me pleasure, and I know the letters bring them joy.
Wow. The admissions dean for a major American University writes notes to the students he knows? He actually takes the time to say "Thanks for applying, but it's not going to work out" or "I can't wait to see you in the fall"?
Of course he does!
Students and parents constantly forget that the admissions officers at the colleges they are applying to are real people. They have feelings, desires, and motives all their own. Most of them like their jobs and most of them genuinuely want to see every student succeed.
And because of that desire, reaching out to them is an extremely successful way to improve your application. They love to hear from students who are excited about their university and eventually grow to like applicants who are successful at networking and expressing their desire. When it comes time to make admissions decisions, that emotional reaction can definitely influence their choices...
So call the school. Let them know you are serious. Visit and ask to talk to the admissions staff. Make an appointment to have an interview if possible. Just make sure they know who you are and that you really, really want to attend. Be genuine!
It's your job as the applicant to get the school to like, know, and trust you. You can do that by acing your standardized tests, working toward a solid GPA, and filling your application with professional and interesting information. But nothing will convince them that you are serious about their school until they get to know you and recognize your genuine desire to attend their institution.
If you're smart about it, maybe you can get a note from Dean Ted too letting you know that he's excited to see you at the U of Chicago next semester. If you convince him that U of Chicago is your top priority, it will significantly help your chances.
What have you done to let schools know you are serious? Ever stalked an admissions director? Worried that they will file a restraining order if you call them? Let us know in the comments!
It isn't often that I'm jaw-droppingly surprised by college admissions news articles. Usually it's just a mix of College Board's inane half-truths, press releases from colleges that won't take effect for 4+ years, and fluff pieces that get students worried that they will never go to college. In fact, I consider reducing student anxiety about those kind of news pieces to be one of the primary focuses of Omniac Attack.
However, my jaw dropped this week when I was looking over an article from Inside Higher Ed titled "New Ethics Rules for Admissions Consultants." In the article, IHE reveals that:
The Independent Educational Consultants Association
has changed its ethics code to bar people who work in college
admissions from also working as private college admissions consultants.
And also that:
Gifts from colleges to admissions consultants may no longer exceed a
$50 value. In addition, it will now be official association policy that
Web sites and other promotional material must be designed to decrease,
rather than encourage, anxiety over the admissions process.
Let me be clear: I'm all for the change in rules. In fact, I'm shocked that it has taken the IECA this long to implement these kind of ethical restraints. It's obvious to me that we shouldn't allow independent college consultants to advise students about getting into college while serving on the admissions board that is looking at student applications! It's obvious that we shouldn't allow colleges to offer large ($50+) gifts to college consultants! And we certainly shouldn't encourage consultants to create additional fear and apprehension about the college process!
So before you hire a local college consultant to help you find and get into the college of your dreams, here are some questions I would recommend asking:
1) Are you currently serving on the admissions board for a college or university?
The answer should be "No." No exceptions. Anyone who is sitting on admissions board while offering their services directly to students for money is behaving inappropriately.
2) What's the largest gift you've received from a college?
The answer should be "I've never accepted a gift from a college." While it may have been acceptable in the past, remember that you are paying your consultant to help you find a school. If they are taking money from schools as well, they aren't putting your interests first.
3) How do your promotional materials discuss the difficulty of getting into college?
The answer should be "My materials discourage anxiety and help students understand the overall process." If the consultant gives you information that makes you feel like you need them to go to college or you will die in a ditch, eaten by wild dogs...don't trust them.
The saddest part of this whole story is that the new rules on promotional materials only apply to new members. Consultants who have already been accepted by IECA will "eventually" have all of their materials reviewed, but for the moment only new members are coming under scrutiny.
So keep these questions in mind when shopping!
Anyone had an experience with a college consultant that's worth sharing? Any questions I've missed? Leave us a comment!
Every summer colleges and counselors debate the usefulness of the SAT and ACT to the college admissions process. With students gone for the break, everyone involved feels that they can ask a few tough questions, suggest a few alternatives, and generally poke and prod at the whole process. And, of course, College Board always chimes in with sunny but useless data that continues to try to convince everyone that the SAT can determine everything about your future success.
Yet when summer ends, everyone goes back to the business of telling students in no uncertain terms that the SAT and ACT are super important regardless of their usefulness in determining college aptitude.
This leads to an unpleasant situation by the time we meet with a student for the first time at the beginning of the school year to discuss the ACT. They know that standardized tests are part of the college process that shouldn't reflect on their overall intelligence, but they are still convinced that their score reflects poorly on them. Many are sure that they are the worst test taker they know. Some students are even convinced they have test anxiety, doomed to fail every version of the ACT ever constructed.
Yet, while most students need help preparing for the ACT, I've never met a student with actual test anxiety.
Gay Brock over at the Miami Herald published an excellent article at the end of July about a student who did have test anxiety. Here's how he describes the plight of his own daughter:
The morning of her first SAT test, my daughter Cate Falkowski left our
Weston home with a No. 2 pencil and a predictable amount of
a 3.8 GPA and all the required credits, she was poised for admission to
her college of choice, Purdue University. Her only hurdle was a
respectable SAT score -- or so she thought.
She had been gone about an hour when the home phone rang.
''I couldn't do it,'' Cate said. ``I threw up and left.''In
the weeks and months that followed, we realized Cate's biggest
challenge was no longer the SAT; it was full-blown test anxiety.
Cate suffers from a condition that is extremely rare. Real, actual test anxiety
is characterized by physical and mental symptoms that go beyond simply
being scared and struggling a bit. Students who are suffering an onset
of test anxiety are prone to vomiting, fainting, and hyperventilating.
Needless to say, it's hard to take a test when you're in the restroom
for the first thirty minutes throwing up.
If these symptoms describe you...then you've got full-blown test
anxiety and you need to consult a psychologist. Cate conquered her
symptoms with a combination of Xanax and psychotherapy; it's likely you
will have to do the same.
But as I said earlier, you probably don't have any of these
symptoms. Most students we work with describe the test as a scary
obstacle and we are all too happy to help them conquer it without
medication. Preparing for the test is usually the best cure for any student who is afraid of the ACT or SAT.