You might be surprised to learn that the coveted National Merit Semi-finalist status, proudly touted in the Seattle Times and on high school reader boards each fall, is based solely on the PSAT that is taken in October of junior year!
That’s right. National Merit status is based on just one test. But a lot of students don’t know that. And, if you are a kid who tends to do well on standardized tests, it could be in your best interest to study for the PSAT this summer. “What???” you say, “No one studies for the PSAT!”
But that’s not true. The students in the know do study for it. Lakeside, which usually has the highest number of NMSF’s, offered a practice PSAT to their sophomores two months ago. Lakeside understands the system; if strong students move up their SAT prep to the summer between sophomore and junior year, they have a much better chance of qualifying for National Merit status.
“Okay,” you say, “but how do I know if I have a chance?” That’s a good question. It is hard to become a National Merit Semi-Finalist, even if you are a good test-taker. And, it is even harder in our state than in some. That’s because the strongest students in each state are nominated, and we have a lot of good students here in Washington State. For the past few years, the qualifying score in our state has been around 218. Sometimes a little lower, sometimes a little higher.
Do you have a PSAT score from last fall? If so, pull it out. Take a look at the overall score and then look to see where you can improve. Did you miss math questions because you didn’t remember how to do all the math? Did you miss questions on the writing section because you didn’t know all the grammar rules? Historically, practicing math and grammar have been the two easiest ways to raise your PSAT and SAT scores.
But….this year has a wrinkle! There is a brand new SAT coming out in March, 2016 and the 2015 PSAT will be based on the new test!
So, how can you study for it? The same way you would have studied for it in the past, with one big difference. You want to make sure to use the study materials for the new test. The College Board is releasing a study guide with four practice tests in July. And they are teaming up with Khan Academy to have practice questions available for free online, hopefully this month. In the meantime, you can go to the College Board site to learn more about the new test and to see practice questions:
Chances are, you are going to be studying for the SAT or ACT anyway. If you are a good test taker, you have nothing to lose by moving up your timeline a bit and prepping for the October PSAT. And then, maybe you will see your name in the paper in the fall of senior year!!!
It’s almost May 1! The day when the seniors need to declare which school they are going to attend in the fall. This is a busy, yet exciting time. Some students have just finishing making last minute visits to their top choices. Others are filling out housing forms and making new friends via Facebook.
And yes, some of them are going off to big name schools like Harvard, Brown or Tufts. Others are going to equally prestigious but lesser known liberal arts colleges like Williams, Wesleyan or Carleton.
But the most exciting ones for me, are the surprises. The schools that a student hadn’t originally heard of, but turned out to be a great fit. Maybe the student was initially drawn to the school by a particular dance or engineering program or a terrific scholarship. Maybe the school is in a part of the country that hadn’t been considered before. Maybe it is a school right here in the Pacific Northwest. But for whatever reason, the school turned out to be the one!
As I look over the list of seniors and the places they are headed, I can’t help but smile. Everyone has a good spot. Even the ones who were initially disappointed when the “dream school” didn’t come through. Helping kids put together “the list” is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. And now, the cycle starts all over again. Juniors are diving in and researching colleges, thinking about what will be most important to them as they decide where to apply.
Some of the best advice I’ve heard came from Howard Schultz, of Starbucks. He was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who ended up at a small college in Michigan on a football scholarship.
He said “Be as curious as you can. Put yourself in situations where you’re not just yielding to what’s familiar. I came out of college with a level of confidence and self-understanding that I don’t think I could have possibly gotten from an East Coast school, where I would have been among the kind of people I grew up with and lived near.”
There is something to be said for being open to new experiences. For being willing to go to a school where everyone isn’t just like you. Some of this year’s students are doing just that. And it will be a terrific adventure!
Mid-March….the best of times and the worst of times for seniors who are applying to top schools.
By now, most schools have sent out acceptance letters. Congrats to those of you with acceptance letters in hand, and double congrats if you have a nice scholarship offer!
But some of you are still waiting to hear from the most selective schools, schools like Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Emory and Vassar. Getting into a highly selective school is like catching the brass ring on the merry-go-round. Everyone thinks, “I will be the one who will do it!”
And you might be! You might be one of the 20% or less who gets accepted.
But…what if you aren’t?
The last two weeks of March bring the most rejections. This year will be no exception. These schools have been bragging about their record-breaking numbers of applications. They don’t brag about how that translates into a record-breaking number of rejections. If you are used to being one of the smartest in your class and being successful if you just try hard enough, it can be painful to be told “no.” Especially if you hear it from multiple schools!
A good strategy right now, while you are waiting, is to fall in love with the schools that have already admitted you. Picture yourself on one of those campuses. Check out the admitted students’ Facebook pages or read about some of the exciting research going on there. Mentally assume that you will be going to one of those colleges. You carefully selected those schools out of 4,000 colleges and universities for a reason. Embrace your options.
Frank Bruni of the New York Times has been getting a lot of press this week because of this column:
It is well worth reading, with lots of great advice about getting through the next two weeks. It sounds trite to say “hang in there, you will get through this.” But it is true. And it is also true that where you go to college matters much less than what you do while you are there.
Whether the decision is “Congratulations” or “We’re sorry,” you will be fine. No doubt, you have some terrific options already, and by next year at this time you will be happily finishing your first year of college. Gulp!
Happy New Year!
With the holidays behind us, this is a great time for juniors to be planning college visits. For some, that will mean a plane trip over spring break, for others it will mean finding a day here or there to visit schools that are closer to home.
People often ask “what should we be looking for on a college campus?”
The answer, of course, depends on the student. Some students, who know for certain what they want to study, will want to meet with a professor or sit in on a particular class. Other students want to meet with an athletic coach or talk to students on the quad or in the dining hall.
If at all possible, try to visit college campuses when school is in session. A Saturday visit during the school year is better than a weekday visit in the summer months, when the campuses are deserted. There is a vibrancy that you see in the flyers announcing upcoming events, booths set up in the dining hall to promote a political or humanitarian cause and students playing Frisbee or juggling on the lawn that you miss during the summer. More than one student has visited a campus in the summer and has loved it, only to re-visit in the fall and subsequently take it completely off the list! And vice-versa, of course!
It is very likely that you will not be able to visit every school before applying, especially if your list includes out-of-state schools. But there are lots of ways to find out more information about a school, including asking me. I am continually visiting colleges, and will be seeing about a dozen of them in the next month or so.
Now that the bulk of the senior applications are in, I’m meeting with juniors to put together tentative college lists, plan upcoming visits, and do college and career surveys. Ideally, the juniors will have fully formed lists by the summer and will be ready to take advantage of my August application workshops. The more that can be done before September, the easier and less stressful the fall will be.
And, from a practical standpoint, the earlier you can get applications submitted, the more likely you are to receive scholarship money. The old adage, that the early bird gets the worm, is doubly true in the world of college scholarships.
Call or email if you are ready to set up an appointment!
SAT in Seattle Public High Schools!
Did you know that the juniors in Seattle Public Schools are taking an in-school SAT test on Wednesday, Feb. 25?
It is the first time that I can remember this happening. It is a real SAT exam, and yes, the scores will count. But, what does that mean?
First, a primer on SAT scores. For the past several years, the College Board has offered “Score Choice” for SAT scores. Which means students can choose which scores to report to their colleges. However, there is always a catch. The tippy-top schools, like Stanford or Yale want to see all scores. No matter where the student is planning to apply, it is a good idea to take this upcoming test seriously and to prep for it, the way you would prep for a regular Saturday SAT exam. And now is the time to get started….
Ways to prep:
Self-Study – This works well for students who are self-motivated and willing to set aside time on a regular basis to review SAT materials, which are available on-line and in review books. Several of these books are here: http://www.thompsoncollegeconsulting.com/book-shop.html
Prep Class – Classes have the advantage of meeting on a regular basis. They will help students become familiar with the material and will help to highlight areas to review through self-study.
Private Tutoring – This is the most expensive option, but it can also be the most efficient. The tutor will focus solely on the areas that the particular student needs to work on. For some that might mean Algebra 2 or Geometry, for others it will be vocabulary or grammar.
The big question becomes “how important are test scores?”
The answer is complicated. If the student is applying to Ivy League level schools, scores are very important. If the student is looking for scholarship money scores can be very important. But….more and more schools are going test optional, meaning students don’t even have to submit scores. For all schools, the ones that require test scores and the ones that are test optional, the student’s GPA trumps SAT scores. So be sure to focus on schoolwork first!
My advice to students writing college essays: Tell a story only you can tell.
Did you know that synapses in your brain light up when you are connecting with a story that you are reading or hearing? Think of your favorite family stories. What makes them funny or interesting? Parents often think that students should write about their big accomplishments. But, what the Admission Reps really want is a glimpse into the student’s mind. How they think, what motivates them, what scares them, what they have learned about themselves.
What are they looking for above all? Interesting essays!!! Of course, the grammar should be correct, but even that can be forgiven if the essay catches their attention. During admission season, these bleary eyed reps are reading applications all day, every day. They are bombarded with essays about mission trips, winning the big game, a pet dying, being elected class president. These are all huge experiences in the life of a senior, but…..lots of seniors will be tempted to write about these same things. And the admissions reps will read the first sentence and think “I know where this is going”, and maybe even zone out. Can you make one of these stories more interesting than everyone else’s? Why even try? It’s much better to start with a story that only you can tell.
You want to find a way for the admissions rep to connect – to want to read your story. They want to know who you are. The person who you will be on their college campus. They don’t want to know what kind of academic student you will be, your GPA shows that. They want to know about the inner you. It is very likely that you have never written anything like this before. Is there a story in your life that is key to understanding you? One of my older daughter’s stories began during middle school when I signed her up for a Saturday afternoon cooking class. She discovered that cooking was science and from that point on she was an avid cook. She can easily tell lots of stories about cooking mishaps and successes. To talk about my daughter and not mention her passion for cooking is to leave something crucial out of her story. If she were writing a college essay today, that is where I would have her begin.
What is your passion? What should the admissions reps know about the inner you, before they make their final admissions decision? This is your chance to make your application come to life. To show them who you are and why they should say “Yes, we want to admit you!”
And….yes, if you want some help with essays, I’m happy to assist!
This time of year seniors are going crazy trying to finalize their college lists, and juniors are staring at the big college guide books trying to figure out where to begin. Students are asking "Should I put this school on my list?"
One excellent way to find out more about a college is to attend a local event sponsored by the school. In the next few weeks many schools will be putting on evening or weekend presentations.
I've put together a list of several of them; including University of Oregon, University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California, all this Sunday, Oct. 12. (sorry Seahawks fans!). For a list of schools visiting Seattle, please see our Resources page.
It is mid August already, how did that happen? Our fleeting summers always fly by! Right about now, rising juniors should be thinking about SAT/ACT testing and when to prepare for it and rising seniors should be working on their common app essays and finalizing college lists.
But today, I want to focus on the soon-to-be college Freshmen who are busy making friends on Facebook with their new roommates, and putting together packing lists. A lot of you probably already know this, but Bed, Bath and Beyond will let you pick stuff out here, and pick it up at your destination. What you might not know though, is that Bed, Bath and Beyond will let you use numerous coupons, even expired ones, for your purchases. It is genius marketing, they get the college students hooked, and then they keep purchasing from BB&B all through their young adult years.
More important than bedding though, are the decisions that students will be making about courses. Some of you have already decided on your first semester classes. And the rest of you will be signing up for those classes soon. This weekend I’ve been reading a terrific book, “The Thinking Student’s Guide to College – 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education”, by Andrew Roberts. The author is a professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and he has excellent suggestions for how to get the most out of your college experience.
My favorite tip was on how to choose classes. Most universities have distribution requirements; in order to graduate, students need to take a few courses in natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, etc. Students often start the process of choosing classes by trying to satisfy these requirements. They want to “get them out of the way”. A typical freshman first semester might include Calculus 101, Psych 101, Bio 101 and a Freshman Seminar. There is only one problem, those introductory courses are often the least interesting courses available. They are more likely to be lecture based and less interactive.
Andrews suggests turning this process upside down. Instead of starting out by trying to fulfill requirements, why not start out by trying to find interesting classes, taught by the best professors? He suggests identifying the best professors, then making a list of their classes. Which ones look interesting, or are in new subjects that you haven’t explored before?
You will probably take between 32 and 36 classes during your four years in college; you don’t want to waste them. Of course, you will still need to take some introductory courses, but there is no need to cram them all into your first year. A better first semester schedule might include Calculus 101 or Bio 101, a Freshman seminar and two of the interesting classes that you have identified.
If the class is taught by one of the best professors, you are very likely to have a good experience and studies have shown that when students like their professors, they tend to get better grades. That sounds like a win-win to me!
Today was the last day of school for Seattle Public Schools. Another school year is finished. Let the summer begin!
It’s an exciting time, and students are busy thinking about lazy days at the beach or their family vacation. In fact, my own family is about to leave on our annual 3 day trip to the Sandpiper Resort over on the Washington coast.
But, the summer is also a great time to think about college. Be sure to check out colleges and universities while you are traveling.
And if you are soon to be a high school senior, the summer is the best time to start working on essays and applications. Beat the rush and start the fall knowing that you are one step ahead of everyone else! To help with that, I am offering Summer College Application Workshops. Even if your college list isn’t set in stone, it isn’t too early to start working on those applications.
Click here for more information on Summer College Application Workshops. To register, email Teri at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Teri Thompson