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With the recent trend of more colleges going test optional, you may think that test scores have become less important in college admissions, but this isn’t exactly the case. The reality is there are many schools and many categories of students for whom test scores remain to be very important. So let’s break it down.
Why Test Scores are Still Important
Currently, there are over 850 colleges and universities in the United States that are test-optional, or “test-flexible” in some capacity, but these make up less than ⅓ of the 4-year colleges and universities in the country. SAT and ACT scores are considered by many institutions to be the most effective data points we have right now to compare students from different high schools and different parts of the country. These tests are not perfect, by any means, and they do not accurately assess many of the intelligences and skills a student might bring to a school, but, for better or worse, they are what colleges have right now to use as an equalizing factor. And so they will remain an important component in admissions at many schools, particularly large institutions. Even many schools that appear to be test-optional are not truly test-optional for all students. They may require other testing in lieu of the traditional SAT or ACT, such as AP or IB scores, or they may require scores from student athletes and students seeking scholarships even if they aren’t required in general admissions.
Test Scores are More Important at Some Schools than Others
Every higher ed institution ranks the factors it considers in admissions from “very important”, to “important”, to “considered”, to “not considered”, and you can find this information online in college profiles. For example, Yale lists test scores as “very important,” the University of Michigan lists them as “important,” and Harvard lists them as “considered.” But because this information is self-reported, you have to take it with a grain of salt (Harvard boasts some of the highest test scores in the country, after all). Test scores are also calculated into U.S. News and World Report rankings, so this puts additional pressure on schools seeking higher rankings to increase the average SAT score of their admitted students.
Still…Test Scores are Just One Factor in Admissions
Knowing how important test scores are to certain institutions can give you valuable insight into the level of scrutiny that your SAT or ACT score report might face, but it is also important to keep in mind that scores are only one factor in admissions. Most institutions consider your high school transcript and GPA to be the most important component in admissions and also consider other elements such as essays, teacher and peer recommendations, extracurricular activities, and personal obstacles. This is a good thing for students who feel that their test scores do not best represent them, but it also means that students should realize that test scores might be even more competitive at their dream schools than they realize. Say a school deems test scores a “considered” factor in admissions and releases a middle-50 percentile SAT score range of 1200 – 1450 (I’m using new SAT scores out of 1600, since that is what we will be working with from now on). You may think your 1250 makes you competitive at this school, and it might, depending on the rest of your profile. But remember that this score range is likely pulled down by some students who have been admitted for special reasons. You should always target scores in the upper half of this range, then, to consider yourself to be truly competitive. If you’re wondering how to improve your ACT score or your SAT score to move up in this range, one of the best ways to do so is to practice with all of the official tests you can get your hands on (and do so under a time limit). You can find previously given SATs and ACTs on the College Board and ACT websites as well as in the official books published by these organizations.
The moral of the story is that good test scores can only help you in college admissions. Test optional schools are a great choice for students for whom the SAT or ACT is not a good fit, but, with the state of college admissions today, good scores still stand to open up a lot more doors.
About Kristin Fracchia
As Magoosh’s resident ACT Expert, Kristin creates awesomely fun ACT lessons and practice materials for students. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
All views and opinions of guest authors are theirs alone and are not representative of the views of Petersons.com or its parent company Nelnet.
So you’ve gathered a list of prospective colleges and you are ready to apply. But with applications fees stacking up creating a financial burden, which ones are the right ones to apply to?
By now you should have a good list of 5 to 10 or more colleges that you are considering attending once you graduate high school. These colleges should include colleges that are a long shot, some conservative selections, as well as safety nets like local universities and community colleges. The reality is, everyone wants to go to the best college, but a lot have to go to a more conservative option due to a number of reasons, including the cost of attendance, how far the college is from family, and what the college has to offer.
Whatever the case, March of your junior year in high school is a good time to start narrowing down your list of schools. But, how do you know which school is the right school for you?
There are many factors that come into play when choosing which school you want to attend, and ultimately the decision is up to you. However, there are a few things you should keep in consideration no matter what your particular situation is, for example, the cost of attendance, what majors the school has to offer, and the geographic location of the school in terms of where you want to live and how close you want to be from home. Other things to consider are extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports, and special programs, housing options, and last but not least, the facilities on campus, like science labs, theaters, and gyms.
Each of these things should be carefully considered when deciding where to apply to. You don’t want to end up paying for application fees to places you don’t plan to go to anyway. Some of the can be upwards of over $100 to submit your application.
It’s crunch time for high school seniors preparing for college. For many, the end of the prior school year and the summer before senior year was spent applying for scholarships and grants and spent September applying to colleges.. Most students will have a decision from the colleges they have applied to by April, but there are things that need to be done before then.
Finishing up scholarship applications:
High school seniors should be finishing up the application process for most of their scholarship requests. It is important to review the scholarship application deadlines as well as ensure that all requested information for each scholarship is completed correctly. Many scholarships are very competitive and incomplete or incorrectly completed applications are often not considered. Others may require essays or letters of recommendation or transcripts. It is important to take the time with each scholarship that has not already been submitted to ensure that all requirements have been accurately completed.
Even though college starts in the fall, it is not too late to continue to look for other scholarship opportunities. This may be a good time to check with local social and philanthropic organisations in within the community for further opportunities. College expenses add up quickly and any extra fund sources, even smaller scholarships, are worth the time to investigate.
Two misconceptions regarding completing the FAFSA:
It is time to complete the FAFSA application, if it has not been completed already. Some students and parents think that they must wait until after 2016 income taxes are completed. Others think that they cannot apply for financial aid until they have been accepted by a college. Neither of these are true. FAFSA applications can be completed prior to income tax returns, and can be amended once the returns are completed. If a student has applied for more than one college, information on all colleges can be included in the FAS application.
With the FAFSA application, timing is everything. Many of the grants and financial aid options offered by the FAFSA are offered on a first come, first served basis. The sooner the application is completed, the more opportunities for financial aid will be available.
Most applications to college are decided in March or April. If a student has applied for Early Decision or Early Action, then likely he or she has already received the decision. It is important to speak with admissions counselors and understand the complete admissions process. Regardless of the admissions process for the individual college, having the FAFSA completed will simplify the process.
It can sneak up on you. Sure, you’ve thought about college in the past, but suddenly now it’s just over the horizon. One more year of high school is all there is before you pack your bags and head off to higher education. Now, in addition to your current schoolwork, homework, and extracurricular activities, you’re looking at colleges and researching scholarships. There’s so much to do!
Contemplating the ACT® test can be daunting, but it’s an important part of preparing for college. Your ACT scores will be a very important factor schools look at during the application process. If you feel overwhelmed or concerned, it’s tempting to postpone the test. After all, you could take the test as late as September of your senior year.
That may not be the wisest course. Unless you have a very specific reason to wait, it’s a good idea to start preparing and schedule your test as soon as possible. We have two great ways to help you prepare for the test: Peterson’s ACT Prep Guide and online practice tests.
The Peterson’s ACT Prep Guide provides detailed information on each of the five test categories, general information on the test itself, and six full-length practice tests.
The Online Prep Course provides similar information on the test but has a few more added features. You can get an initial diagnostic that will give you an idea of where you should focus your study. It also allows you to enter your testing date and even has automated essay scoring to take the guesswork out of the test.
Remember, if you do your prep work, take the test, and are not satisfied with your results, you can take the test again. Testing early gives you more of an opportunity to continue ACT prep and re-take the test than if you waited until later in your junior year to take it the first time.
If you take the test the first time, and feel that more assistance might help you get a better score on the test, these ACT preparation products are readily available to you.
There is a lot to do between now and the end for your senior year to prepare for college. The best course is to continue to make steady progress. Getting the ACT under your belt sooner will allow you to focus on your other goals. This is one you shouldn’t put off. Take the test as soon as you can!
Navigating the financial aid process can be confusing and difficult, especially when trying to calculate your estimated family contribution (EFC) on your FAFSA application. Your EFC is a number that determines your eligibility to receive federal student financial aid. This number is calculated by a formula that is established by federal law, and includes your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (unemployment, Social Security, etc.), family size, and other family members who will attend college. Luckily, you don’t have to do this on your own. The US Department of Education makes a lot of great tools to help you estimate the aid you will receive.
First, if you are a high school junior scoping out colleges to attend after you graduate, you should start in January so that you can find out what the cost of attendance (COA) is for each of your prospective colleges. Depending on how much tuition and room and board is going to be, it will help you decide which colleges are worth spending time on.
So, how do you calculate your EFC? After you’ve filled out your FAFSA, this number will be available to you after the FAFSA has been fully processed. Though you are able to fill out your FAFSA between January 1st and June 30th for the same calendar year, you should file the application as soon as they are available so that you don’t miss out on any aid. You will have to fill out the FAFSA every year you attend college, so it is good to get familiar with the process.
However, if you want to estimate your EFC before filling out your FAFSA, there are many free tools online to help you do that. On the Department of Education website, they have a FAFSA4caster that will give you an estimate of your eligibility for need-based and non-need based aid, including federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans and other grants to help you pay for school.
Sure, everyone knows you should study to do well on a standardized test, but what does it take to get a top score? Are there certain study habits that correlate with better scores?
We wanted to find out, so we surveyed more than 400 Magoosh students who scored in the top 10% for the GRE, GMAT, SAT and ACT. Here’s what we learned about the way they prep for test day.
The Big Takeaways
- Lone wolves get awesome scores. 98% of respondents said they chose to study alone when asked if they preferred to study solo or with a group.Top scorers give themselves enough time to study. 84% of students in the survey studied for a month or longer for their exams.
- Spending thousands isn’t necessary to get a high score. When asked how much they spent on test prep, 88% of respondents said they spent $300 or less. A majority also reported that they performed better than they thought they would on test day.
- There’s no need to cram. 71% of respondents said they gave themselves a break the day before the exam instead studying to the last minute.
- Scores benefit from the silent treatment. When asked if they preferred listening to music while studying, 63% of students said they chose to study in complete silence rather than with any kind of music or background noise.
- Top scorers do sometimes leave the library. 68% of respondents said they exercised at least 1-2 times a week while studying.
- It’s possible to score big the first time around. 68% students nailed the exam the first time they took it.
The Survey Also Suggests…
Money doesn’t guarantee satisfaction. More than 20% of students who spent over $500 on test prep said that they felt like they performed worse than they expected they would on test day. In contrast, fewer than 9% of students who spent less than $500 felt that way.
Paying more might actually stress you out. A majority of the students that reported paying more than $1000 felt nervous on test day. In contrast, fewer than 35% of students who paid less than $1000 felt that way.
Your study efficiency might decrease after 6 months. Fewer than 5% of respondents who studied between 1 and 6 months performed worse than expected on test day. That number jumped to 16% for those who studied for more than 6 months.
Most Common Advice From Top Scorers:
- Once you know how long you have to prepare, develop a study routine and stick to it. Many students from the survey said it was helpful to work a strict study schedule into their daily routines. It helped them manage the workload and spread their study time out evenly across their few months of prep. Magoosh recommends giving yourself 3-6 months of prep time. That’s because studying more than that might burn you out, but anything less than that might mean you’re inadequately prepared for the exam. In addition, make sure you manage your intensity and try not to study for more than 4 hours in a day.
- Dedicate a significant amount of time to learning from each question you miss. A large handful of top scorers from the survey said that while studying, you should be mindful of the mistakes you make. Try and learn from each and every question you miss, and — above all — avoid rushing through them. Several students also mentioned that keeping a log of their errors helped them learn and move on from each mistake.
- Study strategically by focusing more on your weak spots. After your diagnostic test, review your answers and identify the types of questions you struggle with most. Top scorers from the survey said that other studiers should make a point to focus on their weak points, then practice those question types until approaching and solving them feels natural. (Don’t be alarmed if you start dreaming about certain test questions after a while.
- Timing is everything. Knowing how to approach a question is great, but if it takes you five minutes to get to one answer, that won’t help you on test day. The top scorers from the survey said it’s crucial to be able to complete questions accurately under intense time constraints. At the beginning, you should study slowly and focus on developing techniques, but start timing yourself toward the end to prepare for the realities of test day.
This post originally appeared on the Magoosh Blog.
Deciding whether or not you want to go to college in-state or out-of-state can be a tough decision. Affordability, acceptance, independence, and where your friends go can all factor into your decision. While going to college out-of-state has perks if your budget allows, going in-state can save you a lot of money and headache, especially in the first couple years of school. Consider these tops reasons why you should go to school in your home state.
Consider your budget
In-state tuition is significantly cheaper than out-of-state tuition. In some cases, schools charge more than twice as much if you are coming from a different state. Reducing the amount of student loans you have to take out in order to graduate should be on the top of your list when considering which college you want to go to.
In-state colleges allow you to be close to home
Even if you choose a college that is a couple of hour drive away from your home town, being close to home has its benefits. During breaks, you can easily drive home to be with your family and friends if you go to an in-state college. On top of that, having your family close will allow you to have a greater sense of support when you need to reach out for help — having a free place to do your laundry is huge perk as well.
In-state colleges are typically academically equivalent
In-state colleges often get a bad reputation, especially when you consider them next to ivy league and division one schools, but don’t think that your state’s college won’t offer the same amount of academic value as the other schools. Depending on where you live, your state college might be one of those high-ranking universities anyway, but even if it isn’t, you will still be able to obtain your degree from an accredited institution and find a job after you graduate.
It is often easier to get accepted into an in-state college
Getting accepted into colleges is often not considered as much as it should be when students first apply. Some colleges can be hard to get into if they are out-of-state, especially if you don’t have very high SAT and ACT scores, perfect GPA, and extracurricular activities that show you will bring value to the school. Typically, however, in-state colleges take into consideration that you are from in-state and can be easier to get accepted.
Consider scholarships and additional financial aid benefits to going in-state
Some states offer additional financial assistance to students who go to school in their home state. These types of state programs can help you keep your student loans to a minimum while still being able to achieve a high level of education. Check with your college’s financial aid office to see what types of extra financial assistance might be available to you.
Community college is a great way to save money while getting your generals out of the way
Another decision high school graduates have to make is whether or not to go to a state college or university, or a community college in your home city. While community colleges don’t offer a complete bachelor’s degree, they do often offer two-year technical degrees, certificates, and can be a great way to get your generals out of the way before you go to a state college where tuition is typically higher.
Where you get your bachelor’s degree doesn’t matter as much as you think
Yes, getting a degree from an ivy league school like Harvard or Yale is better when finding a job or applying for graduate school, but this comes with a huge financial burden. For the majority of people who get their bachelor’s degree, what matters most to employers is that you are hard-working and have academic and professional experience.
Consider where you plan on working
If you are planning on finding a job in your home state, employers will value students who graduate close to where the company is located. Especially for entry-level positions, home-town companies often want graduates who have family close because it is a signal to employers that you don’t plan on leaving.
Save money on travel and living expenses
This isn’t something that most students think about. When you go to school in-state, and especially in the same town where your family is located, you can save a lot of money on the little things, like laundry, food, travel, and rent. Even if you decide that you don’t want to live with your parents, you will find that having them close will help you save money in the long run.
Don’t forget about the unexpected
Unexpected situations pop up where you will need help and having family close will make it that much easier. If your car breaks down, you need help moving, or you just simply forgot to bring bring your homework to class, you will find that having family close will help to reduce the stress of the unexpected situations that come up.
Independence comes in many forms
Going out-of-state may offer a greater sense of independence, but that independence also comes with higher costs and a greater sense of responsibility. If your school doesn’t have dorms, consider renting an apartment with a couple of your friends that are going to the same in-state school as you. This can help you gain independence and save money doing so.
Students drop out for a number of reasons. A lot of time it has to do with money, time, or an unexpected emergency where they become unable to keep attending college or not go in the first place. Here are the top reasons why students drop out of college and what you can do to avoid the pitfalls.
- School costs too much
One of the biggests reasons that students drop out of college is because of the lack of funds to keep going. Many students take out school loans, but that isn’t always enough. Between the costs of classes, books, rent, and just trying to survive, students are more and more learning that while worth it in the long run, the cost of education is high. Check with your school’s financial aid office and search online for scholarships and help paying for tuition.
- Needed to get a full time job
This goes along with the cost of education. A lot of students find that they need to get a full time job in order to pay their bills, which cuts into being able to attend classes. However, a lot of people find that if they can take even one class a semester it will help them to lighten the load and complete their degree. Graduating from college is a long term commitment, and there is nothing wrong with taking longer if that is what you need to do.
- Family issues
Family can be very helpful while going to college, but for a lot of students family can be a huge stressor and burden on their life. Especially if a family emergency happens, you might have to take time off from school. Keep in mind that professors are generally understanding of student’s situations, so often if you let them know of your situation, you can work out a plan to finish your coursework on your own time. Your teachers want to see you succeed.
- Too much stress
Going to college is stressful, there is no doubt about it. If you are just graduating high school, then the amount of coursework mixed with the personal life and new sense of independence will get to you. But, the important part is that you learn how to cope and find ways to study. It is OK to have fun, but passing your classes is essential to your success.
- Not sure of major
Many students go into college with their major undeclared, which is completely fine. However, as you get farther along in college, you are going to have to eventually declare a major. Don’t let this stress you out so much that you end up dropping out of college over it. Keep taking classes, meet with your professors and advisors, and find something that you are passionate about.
- No need to complete a full degree
A lot of students go to college just to obtain the knowledge they need to succeed, and sometimes you don’t need a full degree to succeed in life. Students who need a little bit of education in order to obtain a leg up in their career can find a lot of resources at college.
- Unprepared for the work load
Attributing to their overall stress, students who graduate high school and go straight into college find that the workload is more than they expected. Prepare to spend more time on your classes than you did before, but don’t forget to take some time to relax and recharge your brain too.
- Personal emergency
Personal emergencies are stressful enough when you are out of college. If something happens where you aren’t able to go to class and finish your homework, speak with your professors so that you can make other plans to finish your coursework, take tests, and make up the time missed in the classroom. As stated above, teachers want to see you succeed.
- The college atmosphere wasn’t the right fit
Some people just don’t mesh well with the traditional college atmosphere. And that is OK. If you consider yourself one of these types of people, consider the other alternatives to traditional education. You might find that an online program is a better with for your lifestyle. Or, consider taking classes part time so that you can work while you go to college.
- Too much fun outside of class
Don’t let personal freedom take control of your entire life. It is fine to have fun, meet new people, and enjoy your life in college, just be sure to take time to actually study so that you can pass your classes.
- Lack of advising
Lack of advising is often a problem in many colleges. A lot of the problem too is students don’t take the time to meet with advisors when they need it the most — don’t let this be you. Meet with your advisors and plan out your goals for college. And if they don’t help you, go to your college professors, mentors, parents, friends, and anybody else that will help you reduce the stress of how to obtain your personal and professional goals.
Keep in mind that just because you drop out of college, it doesn’t mean you can’t go back later to finish. More and more students are taking classes part time or dropping out for a semester and going back later. Graduating college is a very important aspect to being successful, and it is never too late to finish your degree. Time goes by fast, so know that you can finish one class a semester if you have to to lighten the load. Keep in mind these top reasons why most college students drop out to help safeguard yourself from not being able to complete your degree.
New York City public schools have taken a big leap in helping students pay for standardized testing and ease the burden of the college application process. The New York Department of Education has announced an initiative coined SAT School Day that will allow high school juniors to take the SAT for free starting in the spring of 2016.
By waiving the registration charge of around $54.50, free testing will go a long way in helping students get into college. Though it was intended to help low-income families have an equal chance of going to college, all students, no matter their income, will be able to take the test free-of-charge.
Schools will also be scheduling SAT test-taking time during the school day so that students won’t have to take time out of their weekends, which is how it is typically done now. High schools won’t make the test mandatory, but this should help improve test participation.
More than anything, this is part of New York State’s educational plan to increase the number of students applying to college after high school graduation. The hope is that taking the SAT will become a regular part of a student’s high school atmosphere. Kids take enough standardized tests as it is, but the SAT has become a requirement for admittance into most major colleges and universities across the nation.
High School sophomores and juniors were given free access to take the PSATs back in 2007 as a step towards ensuring student success. On the same day sophomores take the PSAT, juniors will have the option to take the SAT.
Six thousand students in 40 NYC public schools participated in the SAT School Day pilot program in the spring of 2015, and another 52 schools and 9,000 students will be added to the program. The citywide implementation of the SAT School Day program will happen in the Spring of 2017.