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Common Application: Does “Optional” Truly Mean Optional?

You’ve finished the core components of your Common Application – your main essay, your activities, and any required supplements for the schools on your list – and are ready to submit. Then you pause.

Should I self-report my scores? Do I need to respond to the COVID question? Will colleges read the four extra letters from my other recommenders?

Need some last-minute advice? Read on!

COMMON APPLICATION: TESTING

Standardized testing these last few months has been an exercise in frustration for seniors. You’ve registered and prepared, only to see test centers shuttered and exams canceled – sometimes with no warning. Maybe you were able to sit for the SAT or ACT once but ended up with a lower score than you had hoped.

For students applying to colleges that are newly test optional, including the majority of the most selective colleges in the country, a good rule of thumb is that if your SAT or ACT scores are well within the middle 50th percentile range, then go ahead and submit these scores. Remember that for many top colleges, the switch to test-optional this year leaves admissions officers without some of the customary guideposts they used to help decisions. If everything else about your application is strong— your GPA, rigor of course load, and rank (if your school calculates one)—then including scores confirms to admissions officers that you are the kind of student they seek to admit.

What if your SAT or ACT scores are below the school’s typical admit ranges? If you are from a high school that typically sends lots of high-scoring applicants their way, admissions officers will likely assume that you are unhappy with your scores and chose not to send them. Remember that they have data from prior years’ applicant pools so they have some sense of what to expect from your school. Students from low-income schools and communities, those in historically underrepresented groups, will likely be given more benefit of the doubt than students from well-resourced families and schools.

We also anticipate that newly test-optional colleges this year will be flooded with applicants from around the country and around the world who, in previous years, may have been discouraged from applying because of lower scores. If applicant pools balloon, guess how admissions officers will sort through applications? They’ll use data – scores and GPA – especially in the first read, to figure out who seem to be the strongest students in their pool. A word about AP scores. If you’ve got a bunch of AP courses on your transcript from junior year, admissions officers will check to see if you self-reported your results. If not, they’ll assume the results were poor. So, if you have scores of 3 or higher, report them! In the absence of an SAT or ACT or subject tests, strong AP scores will also help show your strength.

Common Application COVID Question

COMMON APPLICATION: COVID QUESTION

The Common App’s new, optional question opens the door for students to share more about the impact of COVID on their “health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable and quiet study spaces.” Should you respond?

First, ask yourself a question. We’ve all had our lives turned upside down these last 9-10 months. Virtual schooling, zoom fatigue, quarantine blues, canceled testing, disrupted activities – these are common to all high school students. If the story you tell pretty much recounts what every high school student has had to contend with, then you are better off not responding to this optional prompt. You risk coming off as tone-deaf or privileged, two things that will form a bad impression in the minds of your application readers. 

Do answer this question if you and your family experienced significant hardship because of COVID – serious illness or death of a loved one, parent’s loss of employment, additional home responsibilities caring and teaching for your siblings, lack of access to technology and other online resources. In addition to sharing your struggles, be sure to show admissions officers how you overcame these unexpected challenges.

COMMON APPLICATION: SUPPLEMENTAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Back in the day when students applied to college using pen and paper (seniors, ask your parents about those days), admissions officers had a saying: “the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.” Essentially, students who loaded up their application with tons of extra letters of recommendation were essentially compensating for weaker credentials and basically throwing the kitchen sink at the admissions office.

So, once you’ve assigned the one or two required teachers, be judicious in using any of the optional or “other” recommenders. If you truly believe that a potential recommender can offer a perspective on your candidacy that no other recommender can, then go ahead and tap that person to be your “other” recommender. But, loading up on extra recommendations – even if the college allows – can overload your application with extraneous materials, making admissions officers a little grumpy as they wade through these extra letters. Good luck with your applications and we are here to help if you want last minute essay help or an entire application review before hitting SEND.

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ACT Breaking News College Board COVID-19 Juniors SAT Seniors

Oops!…They Did It Again. More SAT and ACT Issues

You’d think that after a spate of SAT and ACT cancellations because of COVID-19, the College Board and the ACT would pull out all the stops to ensure that high school students – especially current juniors – would face no obstacles in rescheduling their exams for July, August, September, and October.

You’d think leaders of these two mammoth companies, keenly aware of the numbers of colleges and universities waiving testing for students applying to college this fall, would do everything in their power to avoid losing even more market share at a pivotal time.

Instead? Turmoil and greater uncertainty for juniors who did not complete their admissions testing before May (i.e. most of them).

COLLEGE BOARD: SAT TEST CENTER CANCELLATIONS & TECHNICAL WOES

Last week, the College Board attempted to reopen registration for students who registered for spring 2020 testing and who have no SAT scores. A crush of students and families – clearly the result of pent-up demand among anxious juniors and their parents – tried to register but were met with technical failures. We were hearing from our students one after another that they were sitting at their computers for hours and could not log on. This comes on top of the glitches with the online AP exams that resulted in thousands of students not being able to submit their exams and having to take the exams again in June.

Today, the College Board announced that it is canceling plans for an online, in-home SAT. As noted in the Washington Post, an estimated 1 million high school juniors this spring who do not have an SAT score were blocked from taking the test because of testing-center cancellations. They form a large share of college-bound seniors in the Class of 2021. The College Board hopes to expand capacity in the fall, but how much that will offset this spring’s testing turmoil remains unknown.

SAT ACT frustration

ACT: FEWER TEST CENTERS OPEN

Meanwhile, over at the ACT, a change in CEO ensued and the organization sought to cut its costs by having fewer test centers open this June and July. Fewer test centers – and more social distancing in those that do open – means that students will face uneven access to the ACT this summer.

The ACT is prioritizing Class of 2020 seniors who need the ACT for scholarship applications and admissions decisions and juniors in the Class of 2021. According to the head of a test prep service, only 33% of testing centers are scheduled to open in June and July. As Jed Applerouth noted to Inside Higher Ed, “Students will be disproportionately affected across the country. No students in Massachusetts will be able to sit for a June ACT. In Wisconsin, a single test center of the 107 scheduled will be open. In New York, the state hardest hit by the pandemic, a mere 15 of their 203 sites are open,” he wrote. “States with fewer than 10 percent of sites open include New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin.”

UPDATE: June 18ACT is postponing section retests to allow for more students to take the full ACT test.

TIPPING POINT

Have we reached a tipping point? Today, over 1,200 four-year colleges and universities either do not require the SAT/ACT or have waived the requirement for the Class of 2021. We predict that more colleges and universities will move to test optional policies for the Class of 2021 because of the extraordinary stress and uncertainty many now face.

So, should juniors try to take the exams? If you are planning to apply under an early decision or early action program and were able to secure a seat for June, July, August, September or October, then yes. Use time this summer to prepare and do you very best on the exams. You’ll get the results of these exams before the vast majority of early deadlines. Even schools who’ve waived testing for this year will still take note of strong scores on your admissions application and they will strengthen your application.

And do check out schools who have gone test optional for this upcoming round of applications, and those schools who have been test optional including, Bates, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Bucknell, Cornell, and Dickinson.

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ACT coronavirus COVID-19 Standardized Testing

Big Changes Coming for ACT

Post by TTA tutors: Steven and Amy

As we all struggle to find some stability in a chaotic world created by the Coronavirus, it seems that the only constant is change. In many cases, the change is welcome, even necessary.  Such is the case, we believe, with the proposed three major changes coming to the ACT beginning with the September 2020 test date.

ACT CHANGES

  1. The ACT will be available as an online test at select locations in September, 2020. Of course, this is slightly questionable as shelter in place orders continue to extend.

The sections, question types, timing, and scoring will remain the same. The online test may be more comfortable for some students. For others, it might prove more stressful or distracting. Colleges will not know whether you take the online or the paper test — it is strictly a matter of personal preference. The scores for online tests will be available as quickly as two days later. This is significantly faster than the paper test and may be helpful for students who are up against application deadlines.

The online test will be given at specified locations on ACT computers. It will not be available for home testing, or on your own laptop, even at a testing center. Scratch paper will be available, and the testing software will include highlighting tools. You will be able to go back and change answers if there is time remaining in the section.

Some students prefer the comfortable environment of working on a computer screen. Others prefer to have the ability to mark on the page with their pencils as they work through the material. We advise you to try both environments before making your decision. The Official Beginner’s Guide for ACT (a publication of ACT, Inc.) includes access to an online practice test so that you can see for yourself which option is best for you.

  1. ACT will report a “superscore” for those who take more than one ACT.

About one third of all institutions currently allow superscoring. The change is that, now, ACT will automatically report the best score on each of your English, Math, Reading, and Science sections across all of the ACTs you take, and calculate your hypothetical composite score as though each of your best section scores were on the same full ACT. Colleges and universities will still each decide how to handle this information. Some will not consider the superscore in making admission decisions. Be sure to check with the schools and programs you are applying to for more information.

  1. If you have taken one complete, or “full-battery,” ACT at any time since 2016, you may choose to retake individual sections.

You may retake one, two, or three sections as an online test at select locations on any of the seven annual national test dates beginning with September 2020. You may NOT take individual sections as paper-and-pencil exams. In our opinion, this is the most exciting change. It means that, with proper planning, you could take your “full-panel” ACT on one day, and then do the writing section as a stand-alone test at a later date without the fatigue that is a major factor for many students. Some students will benefit from the reduced fatigue and stress when retaking only one, two, or three sections rather than an entire ACT exam.

PREPARATION REMAINS KEY

As always, talk with your tutor to determine whether to take advantage of the new ACT testing format.  Preparedness is still critical, so be sure to work out a plan well in advance of your test date.

The situation with COVID-19 remains a fluid and fast-changing one wreaking havoc on all scheduled testing. Be sure to regularly check testing websites to stay on top of the most recent developments regarding closures or travel restrictions. For more information read our prior post about COVID-19 and admissions.

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ACT Admissions college admissions College Board Ivy Admissions Ivy League Admissions Juniors Seniors Standardized Testing

Admissions in the Time of COVID-19

*UPDATE* *UPDATE* *UPDATE* 

“As a service to students and families, NACAC is providing this online tool as a central resource for information about changes in college admission events, deposit dates, and more as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.” –NACAC

 

As we all adjust to the new realities of our day-to-day lives and follow the guidance of our public health officials regarding Coronavirus, we’ve pulled together some helpful tips and suggestions for students regarding college admissions in the time of COVID-19. Whether you’re a high school senior waiting for admissions decisions, a junior whose SAT was just canceled, a college student back at home, or any student now home and starting virtual schooling, our tips below will have helpful suggestions for you.

COVID-19 IMPACT ON HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

SENIORS

March is always a busy month, with colleges releasing their admissions decisions to thousands of students across the country and around the world. At this time, we anticipate that admissions decisions will be released as planned, but April programs for admitted students have been canceled at most schools.

At this critical time, colleges will use all social media tools in their arsenal to connect with accepted students. Plans for virtual events for admitted students are being developed as rapidly as possible. Seniors, check your email and other social media platforms regularly for updates from the schools on your list.

Some schools have already announced that they will push back the May 1 Common Reply Date to give seniors more time to review their options and finalize their matriculation decision. Check in with each of the schools to which you have been accepted to see their policy on this.

JUNIORS

The college cancelations came as many of you were planning spring break visits to campuses across the country. There are still plenty of ways to connect with the colleges on your list—and those schools will definitely want to connect with you (as soon as they finish the admissions decisions for the current seniors).

Now’s a great time to sign up to be on the mailing list for every school you’re considering (go to their websites). This will not only show your demonstrated interest, but will also give you access to any unique ways schools are showing off their benefits remotely. Share your email address (if you haven’t done so already) and you’ll get updates on virtual admissions information sessions, campus tours, and other programming targeted to juniors (and younger students). Many colleges are giving prospective students access to their online classes, since they aren’t able to visit and sit in on a class. Check with all the schools on your list.

March and May SATs cancelled. In response to the rapidly evolving situation around the coronavirus (COVID-19), the College Board is canceling the May 2, 2020, SAT administration. Makeup exams for the March 14 administration (scheduled March 28) are also canceled. Registered students will receive refunds.

The College Board will provide future additional SAT testing opportunities for students as soon as feasible in place of canceled administrations. We’ll be as flexible as possible to give students the best chance to show their skills and stay on the path to college. We have not yet canceled the June 6, 2020, SAT administration and will continue to assess its status with the health and safety of students and educators as our top priority.

Follow the College Board’s announcements here.

The College Board is finalizing options to allow students to do AP Exams at home. More details to follow by March 20. Follow the College Board’s updates on the AP Exam here.

ACT canceling April tests. ACT has rescheduled its April 4 national test date to June 13 across the U.S. in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). All students registered for the April 4 test date will receive an email from ACT in the next few days informing them of the postponement and instructions for free rescheduling to June 13 or a future national test date.

Use the extra time to continue your test preparation. We know you worked hard to prepare for the spring tests, but like a competitive athlete or dancer, stay in shape by keeping up with your prep (especially since you will have extra time on your hands). Our tutors are here to help you, and they have always worked virtually so no germs and plenty of brains!

CORONAVIRUS & COLLEGE STUDENTS

For the graduating Class of 2020 and current college students, this is a very unique spring. Not only are on-campus graduation ceremonies in question, but access to staff, faculty and on-campus academic and extracurricular resources have gone out the window for thousands of students. We are here to help and our College Enrichment Program (for current high school seniors and any college students) can help you ensure a scholarly college experience. High school graduates need to plan to hit the ground running this August and college students who have recently lost access to key academic, research and grad school/career advising from their universities need to maintain their strides, but now on a virtual setup. Help your senior or college student stay on track this spring and summer in terms of academic advising, research foundation guidance, and post-degree planning, including grad school. A Personalized College Enrichment Action Plan from us plus one on one video consulting, included with this program, will propel your spring and summer 2020 forward.

ALL STUDENTS

A global health crisis can also be a great learning opportunity. We’re watching a public health emergency and global responses play out in real-time. In mid-February, the Imperial College London launched a free class on the Coursera platform: Science Matters: Let’s Talk About COVID-19. Are you fascinated by the mathematical modeling that predicts the progression of the virus and how social distancing and other efforts “flatten the curve”? You can take UNC’s online course, Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health, or Johns Hopkin’s online course, Data and Health Indicators in Public Health Practice. Both are also available free of charge on the Coursera platform.

With schools across the country closing for a period of weeks, high schools are moving to virtual or remote learning. Since the traditional school day has been disrupted, we encourage students to take advantage of the time to deepen your learning and find ways to help those in your community who may be struggling.

Some ways to leverage your time:

  • Take advantage of online courses on platforms like Coursera, EdX, MIT’s Opencourseware, Yale’s Open Courses and check out this link to 450 online courses you can take at Ivy League schools for no cost. Deepen your interest easily through these free online opportunities.
  • Use this free time to boost your writing abilities so that you can return to school on a stronger footing! Our writing counselors, like our SAT and ACT tutors, work with students virtually, so you can use this time to get safe, effective help with your work!
  • How about entering your work in writing, history, computer science, math modeling, and art contests? Since these can all be done remotely, this would be a great time to stretch yourself and submit your work. We have compiled a Contest Guide for our students, but you can research and find so many on your own.
  • Start a virtual art and literary “magazine” for your classmates or younger kids or senior citizens in your community. Encourage them to post stories, poems, artwork, and music all composed in this time of social distancing.
  • Can you create and post instructional or “how to” videos on YouTube for younger kids? Create a virtual homework club and offer it to a local library. Offer to help homebound younger students with their lessons.
  • Launch a virtual PE class with your friends. Challenge yourselves with competitions you can do at home – pushups, sit ups, jumping jacks, etc. Organize a virtual dance party. Get creative!

CARING FOR YOUR COMMUNITY

Most importantly, look for ways to help those in need in your community. Check in regularly – via Facetime or phone – with your grandparents and older relatives, as well as older neighbors and others in your community. Is your community seeking volunteers to help keep food banks stocked? Can you volunteer to pack meal kits? If your older college-aged siblings are home, can you work together to deliver meals and supplies to those who are homebound?

During a pandemic in 1665, Isaac Newton had some time on his hands after the University of Cambridge sent students home. He called the year he spent away from school his “year of wonder.” It was during that year that he famously saw an apple fall from the tree in his garden and came up with the ideas around gravity.

The bottom line: as you practice social distancing and good hygiene, you can continue to stretch yourself academically and make a positive impact in your community. Who knows? You may discover new passions and hidden talents!

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ACT Breaking News

ACT Announces Policy Changes That Provide Greater Flexibility to Test-Takers

In a news release on October 8, 2019, the ACT announced several key changes that will take effect next September, including:

  1. Students will have the option to retake specific sections of the ACT, in addition to sitting for the entire exam.
  2. The ACT will now enable students to send an official report that includes a “superscore.”
  3. Students will have expanded options for online testing on national test days and test score results from online exams will be available in two days, rather than the current two weeks.

So, setting aside any cynicism about for-profit companies trying to get more market share and grow their bottom line, this added flexibility will help you make smart decisions about your testing strategy.

RETAKES

After taking your first ACT, typically in the early fall of your junior year, you’ll then have the ability to retake only those specific sections where you need to improve your score. Your prep strategy will now be to zoom in on one or two sections, versus spending additional hours to make sure that your scores on the other sections don’t drop.

Rather than using precious hours during the all-important junior year on test prep, you’ll be able to devote more time to your courses, deepening your academic niche, and contributing to your school and community in meaningful ways. Yes, testing is still a factor at top colleges but once you have the scores to be in range, it’s the quality of your achievements and contributions that matter more.

SUPERSCORE

Talk to any current senior or their parents today and they’ll share the hopelessly confusing and non-standardized score policies. Which schools superscore? Are colleges that say they only look at your best scores really being honest about that? Which schools allow score choice? What are the different variations of score choice across schools?

The decision by the ACT to allow students to send official reports that include a superscore helps simplify the reporting process for students. Let’s hope that all colleges and universities will now accept this streamlined reporting process and cut down on the confusion that students and parents now have to contend with.

FASTER RESULTS

We’re pleased with the expanded online testing options on national test days, especially because of the faster turnaround time for results. With results available more quickly, students can get a jump on any sections that need further work and get those retakes done in a more timely manner.  They can also submit scores to schools in time for early deadlines.

BOTTOM LINE

It’s likely that this set of policy changes by the ACT will lead to a counter-set of policy changes by the SAT. We wouldn’t be surprised if the opportunity to retake specific sections of the SAT is announced later this spring, along with online testing and faster score turnaround times.

It’s also likely that this latest round of testing changes leads more schools to move to test-optional or no-test admissions policies. If students can take the “pitch ‘til you win” approach with testing, then you’ll end up with lots of students who, one section at a time, build the foundation for a 36 or a 1600.  Testing, then, becomes even less of a differentiator if everyone’s scores fall within a narrower and narrower band.

We’ll keep an eye out for further announcements but in the meantime, our bottom line is this: An officially reported superscore, along with the flexibility to retake individual sections and faster results, will minimize the time and money students spend on testing.

Isn’t that what we all want?