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Need Help With College Admissions?

College admissions is not for the faint of heart. All you need do is review the Class of 2021 acceptance rates to see for yourself.

We’ve been swamped with emails and calls from nervous parents and students who, now that summer has kicked in, wonder “WHAT can I do to get into a top college?” They ask varied questions, but are all seeking help. We feel their pain. It’s complicated and confusing to figure out what’s truth and what’s myth when it comes to getting into college.

As we always say, “college admissions is not transparent.” This is why we do what we do – we believe that knowledge is power and we set out to empower students with our books, services, and our Admissions Insight blog which has been around for over 15 years, before we even knew what a “blog” was.

college admissions focus
A clearer focus on college admissions.

Once some of the common myths are banished and students understand the playing field, the admissions process becomes much less stressful we’ve found. We want students to be fully authentic and when they stop trying to be someone they aren’t, in the name of “getting in,” then their time in high school is much better spent.

Below, we aim to give students and their parents a guide to what we offer that matches where they are! The questions are samples that have come to our offices recently.


Year by Year: There is a Lot You Can Do! Take Action Now.

I have just finished junior year and am stressed about the whole application process and selecting schools. Help me.

I’m going to be a junior in the fall and need help with admissions.

What should I do this summer that would help me get into a better college?

My son is a smart kid and did well freshman year, but he doesn’t have any of the high level awards other kids at his school who have gone to the Ivies received.

How can I push up my SAT/ACT scores? I have time this summer, but I’ve heard that the big company SAT/ACT prep courses in a classroom aren’t customized enough and sort of waste time? Any ideas?

Whatever tutoring you choose, be sure it is one on one tutoring as this is most effective and allows you to zoom in on your specific test-weaknesses. Our tutors and diagnostic testing do just this!

Are you a current client of Top Tier Admissions interested in our tutoring services? Email us for your client-only discount code.


I keep hearing about the Academic Index. What is it and where does my student stand?

  • That’s easy! We have a link to this on our website –assess where your student stands in terms of college admissions rankings today. Michele Hernandez was the first to reveal this formula to the public in her book A is for Admission and we were the first to bring the AI calculator to the web over 15 years ago!


college admissions glitter

Calling all writers! Get your groove on this summer and submit some of your work for publication. We love Glimmer Train which welcomes the work of upcoming writers like you. There is a fee per story (see website for specifics) but there are also prizes for winning entries. Listed below are upcoming deadlines for submissions.

Short Story Award for New Writers (1st place – $2,500):

  • Welcome in January/February, May/June, and September/October.
  • Open only to writers who haven’t had any fiction appear (nor scheduled to appear) in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. (Entries must not have appeared in print, but previous online publication is fine.)
  • Most entries run from 1,000 to 5,000 words, but any lengths up to 12,000 are welcome.

Very Short Fiction (1st place – $2,000):

  • Welcome in March/April and July/August.
  • We invite any length stories from 300 to 3,000 words.

Fiction Open (1st place – $3,000):

  • Welcome in March/April and July/August.
  • Open to all subjects​ ​and themes. Most entries run from 3,000 to 6,000 words, but we invite stories from 3,000 to 20,000 words.

Family Matters (1st place – $2,500):

  • Welcome in November/December.
  • Calling for stories about families of all configurations. Most entries run from 1,000 to 5,000 words, but any lengths up to 12,000 are welcome.

Standard Category ($700):

  • Welcome in May and November.
  • Open to all. $2 processing fee. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome.
Academic Index Colleges Insider Tips Ivy Admissions

AP Test Planning

ap test planningWhen we begin working with new students on their testing plan and strategy, they are often surprised that AP tests are included; they mistakenly think that AP tests are for college credit only. Actually, AP scores have become important for the purpose of college admission. Not only does taking an AP-level course show colleges that you have taken a challenging course load (learn more about how rigor of course load can help you in admissions by using our Academic Index Calculator) but earning scores of 3 or better on the AP’s 1-5 scale on enough exams can earn you the distinction of AP Scholar, which looks very high level on your applications. You can learn about the different levels of distinction here:

Finally, in addition to proving your rigor of course load and giving you a nice honor to add to your Common Application, performing well on AP tests in a specific academic area can back up your honed academic focus. For example, if you want to present yourself as a budding psychologist on your applications, taking AP Statistics and AP Psychology would certainly help to back up that interest.

Even if your school does not offer AP classes, any high school can order AP tests for students – but you have to ask ahead of time, in January or February, as schools must order by March. If for some reason your school refuses to order a test for you, you can also take AP tests at a neighboring public high school as long as you order them ahead of time. Remember that colleges only see AP tests from junior year and before since the results come back in July and the tests are only offered in May. That means you want to front-load AP tests, taking as many as you can prior to senior year.

An article last year in USA Today noted that AP scores of students from around the country are dropping. Despite the fact that students are taking nearly three times as many AP exams as they used to (from 1.1 million in 1999 to 2.9 million in 2009), the failure rate (students scoring a 1 or 2) has risen by over 5% in the same time period.

Nearly half of all students in the United States who take the AP exam are failing – therefore, nearly half of all students in the United States are not gaining even the most elementary level of knowledge necessary to compete at the university level and beyond. This gives you an opportunity to be in the other half of students to show your level of expertise along with rigor of course load.

What’s the average AP score at your high school for specific tests? Find out. Read your high school profile, which is sent with your transcript to colleges when you apply. If you don’t think your AP class is preparing you for the AP test or your school doesn’t even offer AP classes, take matters into your own hands and self-study for the tests. There are plenty of resources available to do so. MIT OpenCourseWare, for instance, offers free online classes in physics, biology and chemistry. Some additional test prep website resources are CollegeBoard’s APCentral, SparkNotes and McGraw-Hill.

If you live in California, UC College Prep offers free self-study AP courses:

KahnAcademy offers no cost AP test prep videos in courses such as Calculus, Biology and Physics. There are AP test prep books galore as well as AP textbooks corresponding to AP classes.

When more and more students are performing poorly on their AP exams, your strong AP scores will help you stand out. The earlier you start preparing for your AP exams and using all of the tools available to you, the more likely it is that your scores will improve the quality of your application.

ap testing prepSome interesting facts about AP Tests:

  • As of this year, guessing is encouraged if you are unsure of an answer. The quarter-point penalty for a wrong answer has been eliminated, so experts are advising students to play the odds.
  • Foreign language AP exams are often broken up into a “language” test and a “literature” test. The former tests knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, the latter tests understanding of literary texts (such as Don Quixote for Spanish Literature). The literature tests are considered more difficult and somewhat less common but don’t shy away from them.
  • Some exams have different levels: Calculus BC is higher than Calculus AB; Physics C is higher than Physics B. If you take the higher level AP, the lower level will usually not count for any additional credit in colleges although you may gain additional grounds for AP award eligibility.
  • AP Exam Dates:
  • You can suppress a low AP test so there is NO risk to taking one you are unsure of. In fact, this past year many of students reported that they were allowed to first SEE their score and THEN cancel it – but in either case, you can suppress a 1 or a 2.
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Calculate your Academic Index

A is for AdmissionThe Academic Index is a formula the Ivies use predominately for recruited athletes (not to be confused with applicants who happen to have played sports in high school; if you’re being recruited, you know who you are!). It combines SAT scores, SAT Subject Tests and a student’s class rank. Even for non-recruits, it can be a helpful guideline to show students how they stack up among Ivy applicants.

Academic Index Uncategorized

Understanding the Academic Index

By: Dr. Michele Hernandez

During the four years I worked as an Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth College, I was mystified as to why we were not allowed to speak about the “secret formula” when we printed it on the front of every application folder. Yet when parents asked us if we used a formula, we were instructed to say no. One of the reasons I decided to write A is for Admission was that in my opinion, there were MANY things that Ivy offices kept secret and admissions is NOT supposed to be the CIA. There is no reason why the admissions process shouldn’t be open and honest at every turn. Though the AI is mostly used for recruited athletes, it’s very useful for students to know how to compute their AI to get a rough idea of their admissions odds at top colleges. Though of course it’s not the only factor, academics make up 75% or so of the admissions decision the formula contains mostly academic measures that when combined with recommendations and school endorsements can give students a good idea of where they stand.

Although the Ivy League schools spent many years denying they used any kind of formula, they in fact have been using a ranking formula since the 1950’s called the Academic Index, AI for short. Though it has traditionally been used for sports purposes (maintaining some kind of academic standard on the various athletic teams), every Ivy League school still calculates an AI for every student. Why? Because the average AI of the athletic teams cannot be more than one standard deviation away from the average AI of the entire class, but the only way to know that is to calculate an AI for every student. Naturally since the number was so easy to generate, many schools began to print the number right on the front of every student’s folder and used it to help them rank a student academically. Please understand that the AI is just a statistical tool – it does not take into account a student’s essays, teacher recommendations, outside achievements or awards. It merely chronicles the objective side of the equation, namely high school rank in class and standardized test scores. In short, the AI is a formula that combines the averages of student test scores (both SAT I’s and SAT II’s) and high school rank in class (represented by an Ivy League invention, the converted rank score or CRS). The AI is represented on a scale of 1-240, with 240 being the highest. The approximate average of Ivy applicants is around 200 while the average AI of accepted students is closer to the 211 range.

Every school has a different method of computing rank so figuring out your own CRS may be hard. The most accurate way (and the preferred method) is to have an exact weighted rank. If your school provides rank, use the first part of the CRS input field. Next the formula turns to decile rankings (top 10%, top 20%), but be aware that the formula only approximates the MIDPOINT of the range, so anyone who enters only “top 10%” effectively gets counted as exactly 5% in the class hierarchy. Finally, if neither rank nor decile is available, the formula will take into account a GPA, but often that inflates the CRS and the ranking appears higher.

Obviously admissions offices that use the AI use it along with all the subjective information and make informed decisions about how to understand the most complex part of the formula, the CRS. Why then does the AI matter? Most importantly, it will help you gage your chances for admission since there is a very high correlation between high AI’s and high acceptance rates.

On to the calculator!