College Board Common Application Top Tips

Common App Eliminates Disciplinary Question

Post by: Dr. Michele Hernandez

Every year, we have a few students who agonize over the disciplinary question on the Common App and how to respond to that question. As parents ourselves and private admissions counselors for two decades, we have seen all sorts of crazy incidents from a student who was charged with a felony (“graffiti” on federal land when it was actually just a funny drawing in a park) to plagiarism, cheating, fighting, drug/alcohol and minor disciplinary charges like missing a few days of schools. One complicating factor is that every high school has different rules for suspensions, expulsions and what to report. Should a student who receives a dress code suspension receive the same treatment as one accused of academic dishonesty?


When I worked in Ivy League admissions, I can testify that we were VERY concerned about any report of academic dishonesty from plagiarism to cheating and did reject kids who were known cheaters. After all, academic honesty and integrity is the currency of a university experience. Any violation of academic integrity typically resulted in rejection though often we would verify with the student’s school counselor first.

We also gave the student a chance to explain what happened and the Common App itself provided a space to do so. For years as private counselors we have helped students show their side of the story which often mitigated the judgment if it turned out to be more of a misunderstanding than a flagrant violation such as the student who wrote on social media that she could “Kill Mrs. Smith for that horrible test” which her school took as a threat.

When the Common App actually analyzed the data of who actually submitted application materials, they found that students of color (Black students particularly) were more than twice as likely to report a disciplinary record than white students. This is a significant issue since Black and Latinx students (27 percent of students who submit applications through the Common App) comprise 52 percent of the roughly 7,000 students who first, declare an infraction and second, as a result, do not submit their application.


Based on that data, the Common App decided to eliminate that question beginning in the 2021-2022 admissions cycle. Does that mean students should not worry at all? Of course not. Keep in mind that serious incidents of bad behavior or academic dishonesty still have paths to reach the admissions office. The most common way is the actual guidance/college letter. I would hope that a counselor would include in their official letter any serious incidents as they put their reputation on the line each time they write a letter of recommendation. If admissions officers learned of a serious omission, it would threaten the credibility of the high school and the counselor. My worry is that counselors are often afraid of legal repercussions and undue pressure from wealthy/powerful parents who could influence them to leave out important information. The other avenue for requesting the same information would be for colleges who wanted more information and who cared deeply about academic dishonestly to include that question on their supplemental essay questions so that the student would have a chance to elaborate.

Though of course we don’t support a question that penalizes one segment of the population, we do think the Common App could have perhaps tweaked the question rather than abandoning it altogether. We surmise that suspensions result more often from bad behavior than from academic dishonesty. If that were the case, why not ask a more targeted question: has this student had any major infractions of academic dishonestly including cheating or plagiarism. That would eliminate the minor suspensions from shoving a classmate in the hallway or not tucking in a shirt for instance, but preserve the essence of the question.


Our advice to students and parents is to keep in mind that top colleges DO value honesty and integrity and your teachers and school counselor are still writing letters to colleges that elaborate on what kind of student you are. Just because the Common App is eliminating the disciplinary history question (along with the cover letter School Form that asks for similar information) does not give you license to cheat or behave badly. That information is likely to come across via other channels (even from jealous classmates – really!).

Honesty is usually the best policy and we have helped students explain unjust suspensions or unfounded accusations. Admissions officers are human beings who do try to understand the context and the nature of any disciplinary action. That being said, your best option is to take pride in your own academic achievements and to avoid risking rejection for falsifying any of your work, period.

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).


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


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.


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.

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

Admissions in the Time of COVID-19


“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.



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.


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!


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.


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!


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!

College Board

Student Data For Sale

Next month, students will receive the results of their PSAT exams taken in October. Many may have indicated that they want to participate in the College Board’s student search service without fully understanding what this entails. To put it simply, the College Board sells student data to various schools, scholarship organizations and for-profit programs, setting off a massive marketing gambit to essentially increase their ‘demand’.


On their website, the College Board notes that nearly 1,900 colleges and scholarship organizations “use the Student Search Service to find students who are a good match for their institutions.” As a point of fact, the screenshot below came from neither a school nor a scholarship organization but rather an email of a for-profit “student leadership” program that purchases data from the College Board for its recruitment efforts. What’s worse is that this summer program lures students in by saying they are being honored with a nomination to attend.  A marketing ploy.

PSAT data for sale

Data that students agree to share from their PSAT, SAT, and AP results include the following key demographic items:

  • Name
  • Birthdate
  • Expected high school graduation
  • Home address information
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity

Additionally, the PSAT and SAT ask students for their personal email addresses and request they self-report their high school GPAs.


Students who share their data are soon deluged with an avalanche of college brochures and their inboxes are flooded with recruitment messages. It’s an easy way for students to begin their college search but they have no idea how their name got on a particular school’s distribution list. The purchasing of student information is how and as you can see, many schools partake.

In the recent Wall Street Journal article “For Sale: SAT Takers’ Names. Colleges Buy Student Data and Boost Exclusivity,” the College Board shared that each year, those 1,900 schools and organizations buy 2 to 2.5 million names. Schools use a series of filters to micro-target students with specific demographics – perhaps combining geography, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and academic interest – and then segmenting that by PSAT scores. The strategy is two-fold: 1) identify a core group of students across key demographic categories whose testing and self-reported grades would put them in the top 5% nationwide, and 2) identify a group of students who would make up the “heart of the pool” — bright and high-achieving but not atypical in the applicant pool. Schools order names in 50-point score ranges but do not see a student’s exact scores.

Some schools buy upwards of 500,000 names a year. Why? It comes back to selectivity and the need to continue to grow the applicant pool to either increase or maintain a hyper-level of selectivity. If a school has 95,000 applications and only admits 20% of them, they appear a more competitive and exclusive institution.

Tulane University is cited as a case study. According to the WSJ, the university said it bought about 300,000 names last year from College Board. Tulane’s applicant pool climbed 174 percent between 2002 and 2017 and its acceptance rate declined 62 percent, federal data show. Vanderbilt, also cited in the article, notes that it bought between 100,000 and 200,000 names last year. Data presented in the article show that Vanderbilt’s applications have climbed 220 percent in that same time period and its acceptance rate has declined by 35 percent. This ploy utilized by colleges plays on the ever-present hope for admittance and leads to a frenzy of applications. Receiving ‘recruitment’ brochures and emails from top colleges should in no way be taken as a ‘sign’ that you’re on the way to being admitted.

College Board student data for sale


Students –know that if you fill out the pre-test survey you are giving the College Board permission to sell your data and prepare for a flood of recruiting communications from all kinds of schools and organizations. Don’t be fooled or lulled into complacency thinking this is your IN.

Instead, be a savvy consumer of this information. Understand that colleges are seeking to build their applicant pools with students who are likely to be solid candidates while knowing full well that the vast majority of these students whose data they are purchasing in hopes of them applying, will eventually be turned down for a spot in the first-year class.

Remember that ‘optional’ truly means optional when it comes to providing the College Board with all this information. (Keep in mind, ‘optional’ doesn’t always mean optional when it comes to supplemental testing! If a school says subject test scores are optional, rest assured your peer applicants WILL be submitting them!) You can opt in every time you register for a test or opt out of the Student Search Service at any time. Be the master of your inbox and feel free to unsubscribe (link typically found in the footer of these emails) from any and all schools you aren’t interested in. You’ve enough on your plate and dealing with spam marketing ploys shouldn’t be one of them.

College Board Subject Tests Top Tips

The SAT Math II Subject Test

Subject Test GuideThe Math II Subject Test from the College Board is a 50 question test with a 60-minute time allotment. The score range is from 200 to 800 points. Each correct answer earns 1 point while ¼ of a point is subtracted for each incorrect answer. All of the questions are multiple choice with 5 options. A graphing calculator is necessary to accurately solve many of the questions. Questions about Algebra and Functions and Plane and Coordinate Geometry make up a large percentage of the test followed by Trigonometry and Data Analysis (statistics and probability). While calculus may be helpful in answering a few questions, the test does not require knowledge of calculus topics. The test is generally offered 6 times a year (January, May, June, October, November, and December). Be sure to check with the College Board as some locations do not offer the test on every date.

Scaled Score

Your raw score is converted to a scaled score. The scale differs from test to test. In light of the scale, you do not necessarily need to answer every question correctly to score an 800. A raw score in the mid-40 range can be a reported score of 800.


Math II formulas

A reference page is provided which lists a few formulas such as the volume of a right circular cone and the surface area of a sphere. It is vital that you know the more general formulas that would have been provided on the SAT such as the Pythagorean Theorem, relationships of sides and angles of a 30-60-90 and 45-45-90 triangle, etc.  You should know the rules for exponents and logarithms, the law of sines and cosines, and an assortment of standard trigonometry identities. Often it is helpful to have some more complicated formulas programmed in your calculator (e.g., the law of cosines).

Practice Tests

The College Board has published four Math II Subject Tests. While some questions in the Barron’s Subject Test book are more difficult than you may find on the actual test and some, possibly, not within the scope of the actual test, their material ranks high on the list of practice questions. Other publishers (Kaplan, The Princeton Review, McGraw-Hill, Ivy Global) are worth considering as well. The key: practice, practice, practice!

Take a full-length practice test before you begin preparing. Take the test under real test conditions (sitting, timed). This test will help you understand your weakest area and where you need to focus your efforts. How much preparation time and how many practice tests you should take depends on your math and test-taking skills.

Math II Subject Test tips

A Few Tips & Important Considerations: Math II Subject Test

  1. Asymptotes:

Ex. 1:           Ex. 2:           Ex. 3: 

Finding the vertical asymptote(s) is very easy. Set the denominator equal to 0.

Therefore, in Ex. 1 above, if – 4 = 0; = 4; x= ±2. In Ex. 2 above, there are no vertical asymptotes because  is not a real number. In Ex. 3 above, the vertical is x = 1.

Finding the horizontal asymptote(s) is (almost) horrible because there are conditions that apply.

(a) If the numerator’s degree is < than that of the denominator, there is a horizontal asymptote at y=0 (i.e., the x-axis).

(b) If the numerator’s degree is > than that of the denominator, there is NO horizontal asymptote (that doesn’t rule out a slant asymptote).

(c) If the numerator and denominator have the same degree, the horizontal asymptote is ratio of the leading coefficients.

In Ex. 1 above, since the larger degree is in the denominator, the horizontal is at y = 0.

In Ex. 2 above, since the degrees are the same (2), the horizontal is y = 4/1 = 4.

In Ex. 3 above, since the degree of the numerator (2) is larger than the degree of the denominator (1), there isn’t a horizontal asymptote (but there is a slant asymptote).

  1. Logarithms:

What is the equivalent to: Log(a²– b²) ?

Keep in mind that factoring never leaves youregardless of the math course. Consequently, this question can be rewritten as log[(a+b)(a-b)]. Since logs are exponents, they follow the exponent rules. Therefore, the product of like bases with exponents is the sum of the exponents. That means the equivalent expression is:  log(a + b) log(a – b).

  1. Equation of a Sphere:

Given:  x²+ y²+ z²+ 2x – 4y – 10 = 0

Problems like this extend the notion of the equation of a circle to 3-dimensions. You could be asked for the coordinates of the center and/or the radius of the sphere. The solution requires grouping and completing the square.

First, move the constant to the right side: x²+ y²+ z²+ 2x – 4y = 10

Second, group the like terms:  (x²+ 2x) + (y²– 4y) + z²= 10

Third, complete the square for the x- and y-terms:  (x²+ 2x + 1) + (y²– 4y + 4) + z²= 10+1+4

*Don’t forget to add the two values to the right side after completing the square!

Now, (x+1)²+ (y-2)²+ z²= 15.

Therefore, the center is (-1, 2, 0) and the radius is 

  1. Law of Sines/Cosines:

In ΔABC, if = 1, = 4, and ∠C = 30°, find the length of c.

For many, it’s helpful to quickly sketch the figure:

Math II Subject Test formula

Artistic skill doesn’t count, but be as accurate as you can.

Deciding between the two laws necessitates knowing that the Law of Cosines applies to problems when you have two sides and the included angle as is this case.

Therefore, c²= a²+ b²– 2ab∙cos(30°) →c²= 1+16-8∙0.866  (if you need your calculator, remember to change the MODE to degrees; otherwise, it’s helpful to remember the fundamental functions). The cos(30°) =  .  Then, c²≈ 10.07, so the answer is ≈ 3.17. A “trap” answer option would be 10.07 if you forgot to take the square root!

  1. Probability:

If you were to randomly form a committee of 5 people when you have a choice of 6 men and 9 women, what is the probability that the committee consists of 3 men and 2 women?

Remember that probability is: . The number of total ways is the combination of selecting 5 people out of 15.  That is 15C5= . To be successful, you would have to select 3 men from 6 and 2 women from 9:  6C3  and 9C2.  The probabilities in an and condition are multiplied together (in an or condition they are added together).

6C3 and 9C2  = 20∙36 = 720.  Then, 720/3003 = 240/1001 [combinations and permutations can also be found on your TI calculator under MATH →PRB.