College Applications and Admissions During Winter Break

keep-calm-it-s-almost-winter-breakThis post is not just for Seniors. If you are planning on applying to college, keep reading!

One of the best times of the school year is quickly approaching – winter break! You’ve been so busy with classes, homework, tests, and activities that all you want to do during break is sleep and relax. However, it’s not smart to spend your entire break in bed! Make the most of your Winter Break  – be active and put yourself on the path to success for college admissions. Some ways for you to make the most of your break:

  1. Work on your college applications. If you’re a senior and still have colleges applications to fill out, winter break is the perfect time to work on finalizing your application essay and complete your applications. With deadlines quickly approaching, use this break to finalize and submit your applications.
  2. Go on college visits.  The more colleges you can visit, the better. Start your college research by heading to our College Planning Site! Make a list of schools you are interested in and go visit them. You won’t see many students on campus, but you will get a feel for the environment, be able to visit the academic buildings, and possibly have an opportunity to meet with an admissions officer.
  3. Search for college scholarships. College can be very expensive and one of the ways to reduce your cost is through scholarships. Start your scholarship search early. Spend your break looking for scholarships and begin applying to them. Most scholarships require you to submit additional information such as essays and recommendation letters so make sure you get started on those as well.
  4. Study for the SAT or ACT. If you plan on taking the SAT or ACT this coming spring, now is the time to start studying for the tests. Since you’re not in school and don’t have homework or tests to study for, you can devote more of your time to SAT or ACT prep.
  5. Volunteer in your community.  Get in the giving spirit this winter break by doing some community service. Good places to look into are hospitals, soup kitchens, nursing homes, homeless shelters, or churches. There are also organizations that are specifically looking for holiday help.
  6. Review and plan your class schedule.  Colleges love seeing students that push themselves to take challenging courses in high school. In fact, that’s one of the top two factors in the college admissions process. Spend your winter break reviewing all your class options for the spring and for the upcoming years. Try to take as many challenging courses as you can during your junior year and 1st semester senior year.
  7. Recharge! You have had a busy first semester and while you should take advantage of your down time by working on college applications, studying for the SAT or ACT, and reviewing your course schedule, (you’ll be less crazed when you go back to school in January) you should enjoy the holidays with your family and take some time to relax and enjoy sleeping in!







Why Volunteering Matters in College Admissions

College admissions_volunteeringDoing volunteer work may not increase your SAT or ACT scores or boost your GPA, but it can provide you with that needed edge as you’re going through the college admissions process and wondering, how can I stand out in a sea of applications?

Here are four things that volunteering can help you attain on your journey to college:

  1. Experience: Volunteering can provide you with some great experiences outside the classroom, and it also appeals to college admissions officers—especially if they read about it in your application essay.  Admissions officers can find out your test scores, grades, and GPA on your transcript. but they also want to see who you are outside the classroom. Volunteering allows you to showcase another side of yourself. It provides an opportunity for you to speak passionately about a cause or organization that you believe in and that you have dedicated some real time towards.
  1. Leadership: College admissions officers love to see students who are passionate leaders, and volunteering is a great way to gain some leadership experience. Instead of merely completing the mandatory service hours that may be required by your high school, take the time to research a cause that inspires you. The more inspired you are, the more likely you are to take on a leadership position. This will show admissions officers that you can meaningfully contribute to the campus community and be an active member of the student body.
  1. Scholarships: That’s right—volunteering can lead to scholarship opportunities through various organizations. org, for example, offers two types of scholarships, one of which awards $10K to four lucky students. Join one of their volunteer campaigns and show how involved you are—it can pay off, big time!
  1. Networking: While volunteering, you will encounter and work with many different types of people who can help you develop professional skills in a field you may be interested in. Some of these people may even become your mentors and wind up in the perfect position to write your letters of recommendation.

What are some of the ways you can get involved and volunteer? Find inspiration in these examples, and remember that giving starts in your own community.

  • Last year, teens participating in DoSomething.Org recycled 1,333,135 aluminum cans that would have ended up in the landfill.
  • Over the last 25 years, New York residents have given over 1.6 million coats to be distributed among their fellow residents.
  • In one Kentucky city, volunteers collected 143,600 lbs. of fresh fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste by gleaning farms after harvest and collecting day-old produce donations from supermarkets.
  • You can be a catalyst for giving! A study from University of California, San Diego, found that altruistic acts inspire others—up to two degrees of separation away. Your friends and your friends’ friends will all be inspired by your generous behavior and good deeds.
  • In 2012, Americans volunteered over 7.9 billion hours of service.
  • College alumni gave over $9 billion in donations back to their schools in 2013.
  • Giving back can make you happier! Researchers at Harvard and UC Riverside found that spending time or money on others releases mood-enhancing endorphins in the brain, making you happier than if you’d spent it on yourself.
  • Students who give back to their community through volunteer service hours are 19% more likely to graduate from college on time.
  • Consider this when giving to your local food drive: the most needed items in food banks are always peanut butter, tuna, and beans.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and volunteer—not only will you be doing something good for others, but you’ll be helping yourself on the path to college!

How are we showing our thanks this season? By offering our biggest classroom savings of the year! (more…)


SAT/ACT Test Strategy: Increase your Critical Reading Score

imagesWhen teaching SAT/ACT Reading strategies, we emphasize the merits of accuracy over speed – you only earn points for questions you answer correctly on Test Day!  However, we won’t deny that proper pacing is essential.  In this monthly series, we’ll discuss how you can use real-world articles to build your vocabulary and increase your reading speed.

In the last monthly installment of our Reading Strategy Article of the Month series, we looked at a how to build your vocabulary by defining words in context.  This month, we’ll focus on how to quickly identify the author’s purpose and main idea by focusing on topic sentences.  In the non-fiction passages on both the ACT and SAT, each paragraph contains a phrase – typically the first sentence – that summarizes the main idea of the paragraph and/or makes a claim the details of the paragraph will support.  Learning to focus in on these key areas will help you distinguish between the important parts of a passage that earn you points on Test Day, and the extraneous (time consuming) details that won’t.  

Let’s take a look at this Natural Science article from Smithsonian Magazine, Why the Alpaca Has No Humps.  Listed below are the first sentences for each of the nine paragraphs in the article:

Paragraph 1:  “Camels have been helping people out for more than 5,000 years, ever since they were domesticated in Somalia and Arabia.”

Paragraph 2: “The root of these adaptations, however, has been a mystery.”

Paragraph 3: “Reporting today in Nature Communications, the team reveals that camels and alpaca share about 83 percent of their genomes with both humans and cattle.”

Paragraph 4: “Being so closely related, both camel species and the alpaca have just a few key differences in their genetic architecture.”

Paragraph 5: “Adaptations include enhanced stress responses to things like heat, intense UV radiation and dust storms; tweaked fat and water metabolism; better eye protection in the form of long lashes and eyes that can withstand bright sunlight; and greater resistance to respiratory diseases to battle the desert dust.”

Paragraph 6: “The camels’ humps—their most conspicuous feature—appeared alongside these genetic edits.”

Paragraph 7: “While camels were going through the natural selection meat grinder, alpaca had to contend with just some chilly weather that arrived around the last glacial maximum, about 44,000 years ago.”

Paragraph 8: “In addition to increasing our understanding of these historically and economically important domesticated animals, the authors point out that their findings could help us predict how other species might respond to a hotter, drier world—and it might aid breeding programs that seek to engineer a “supercamel” that can thrive in ever harsher conditions.”

Though the article is just shy of 700 words, the approximate length of an ACT or SAT reading passage, we already have a very clear summary of the key points the author makes.  We know that camels and alpacas are genetically very close (paragraphs 1, 3, 4), but that camels had to make numerous adaptations  (paragraphs 2, 5, 6) while the alpaca didn’t (paragraph 7).  That’s it!  We’ve condensed the entire article into one sentence, without even reading it!  

Of course, on Test Day you’ll still want to continue to skim through the rest of each paragraph.  Ask yourself, “Is this telling me something different from the topic sentence, or is this just supporting details?”  By focusing on the topic sentence, and skimming through the detail-heavy text, you will become a more strategic, a time efficient, test taker. 


College Application Season is Almost Over, So Hang In There

College admissions

Here are some of the latest, most interesting headlines about the college admissions process from media outlets across the country. Hope everyone who is in the throes of the college application process is in good spirits!

You have your SAT and ACT scores, have asked for letters of recommendation from adults who know you best,  and have finished off the common app. So what’s left? That piece of the application that you may have been putting off: the essay. Look at the essay as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Be passionate, be genuine, and wow them! Here are some ways to do so.

More and more students are applying to more and more colleges. Is this messing up the college admissions process? Some really fascinating stats. For instance, did you know that college applications have increased 70% (!) from 2004 to 2013, but there has only been a 5% increase in high school graduates during that time period?

For many college admissions officers, “weird” is beautiful…and your ticket to acceptance. What advice do they have for applicants? “Be your best self, whatever that means… “You don’t have to go in saying ‘Oh, the colleges want straight-haired people so I have to straighten my hair.’ Be your best curly-haired self.

Looking to escape the skyrocketing cost to attend college in the United States? If you’re willing to study abroad, there are plenty of opportunities. Ever want to live in Rio or Berlin?

One college in Indiana  says testing for prospective students’ personality quirks could be “the path of the future” when it comes to admissions.  Why? They believe it may be a predictor of academic success.

Thousands of Chinese and South Korean students who plan to apply to colleges and universities in the United States are in a heap of trouble amid claims of widespread cheating during the recent SAT administration. Their scores have been delayed pending an investigation, despite looming deadlines for college applications.

And speaking of SAT-takers in Asia, we may finally know how many students in the world’s largest continent actually sit for the SAT. This information has long not been shared with the general public.

Please feel free to comment and share! What issues on the college admissions landscape are YOU paying attention to, talking about, tweeting about, and sharing?


SAT vs ACT – which test should you take?

Sat vs ACTShould you take the SAT? The ACT? Both? Colleges accept either SAT or ACT scores so you may be thinking “Which test should I take?” We’ve broken down the main differences for you so you can decide which test is best for you.

  1. Test Length and Timing- The SAT is a bit longer than the ACT – 20 minutes longer to be exact when you take the ACT with the optional essay. While there is not a big difference in timing when you look at the total time for each test, there is a real difference when you look at the sections. The SAT has 10 sections ranging from 10-minute sections to 25 minute sections. The ACT, however, has 4 sections plus an optional essay section ranging from the 30 minutes to 60 minutes.   In addition, the ACT has more questions for students to answer, allowing for less time per question.  Some students find the longer sections on the ACT challenging, while others find that 10 sections on the SAT is difficult to manage.
  2. Science – There is a Science section on the ACT. You may be thinking, “Wait! I need to know Bio, Chem, and Physics?” Not exactly.  While the ACT does include questions in areas such as Bio, Chem, and Physics, you by no means need to be a science whiz to answer the questions in the Science section.  The ACT Science section tests logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. Think of it as a science based Critical Reading section.
  3. Trig – Yep! There is trigonometry on the ACT Math section. There are only a few questions that test trigonometry, but you’ll find them only on the ACT – no trig on the SAT.
  4. Wrong Answer Penalty – There is a wrong answer penalty on the SAT but NOT on the ACT.  So, if you guess on the multiple choice questions on the SAT and you guess wrong , you lose a ¼ of a point. What happens if you guess on the ACT and you get it wrong? Nothing. You don’t lose any points and you don’t gain any points. This does not make the SAT more difficult, but for some students, the thought of possibly losing points when guessing can be stressful.
  5. Scoring – This is a major difference between the SAT and ACT. The two tests are scored on entirely different scales. The SAT is scored from 600-2400 while the ACT is scored from 1-36. Let’s break it down by test.
  • The SAT provides students with 3 section scores. A student receives a section score from 200-800 for Math, Critical Reading, and Writing.  The essay score on the SAT is from 0-12 and is factored into the overall Writing Section Score.  The 3 sections scores are then added together to give the student a composite score. Let’s say you scored a 500 in Math, a 600 in Critical Reading, and a 550 in Writing. Your total composite score would be a 1650.
  • The ACT, on the other hand, gives students 4 sections scores ranging from 1-36. The essay score on the ACT ranges from 0-12 but is NOT factored into any section score. The 4 section scores are then averaged to give a student a composite score. So, if you scores a 28 on English, a 30 in Math, a 28 in Reading, and a 26 in Science, your composite score would be the average of those 4 section scores – a 28.

You may now be asking yourself, what is a good score on the SAT? on the ACT? Well, that depends on what schools you are thinking about attending and the scores you need to gain acceptance into those schools.

Still contemplating which test is right for you? Take our SAT/ACT Combo Test on National Practice Test Day 11.15.2014 to find out!



The Top Tips to Nailing Your College Interview

College-Student-Job-InterviewThe college interview is often the forgotten piece of the college admissions process. Most colleges do offer a college interview so it’s in your best interest to secure an interview as soon as you can. Even though it’s not the most important determining factor in getting accepted, the interview can help admissions officers get to know you better so that you’re not just another name in a pile of applications. It can help you stand out!  Here are the top tips to helping you nail your college interview!

  1. Do your research. Review the college website and brochures before the interview. Learn as much as you can about the school and the program you’re interested in so that you appear knowledgeable about the school and interested in learning more.
  2. Be prepared for common questions! Admissions officers might try and throw you a curve-ball to see how you’ll react in the interview. Be prepared! Here are some questions they can ask. Prepare and rehearse your answers to these questions before your interview:
    • Why do you want to go to this college?
    • What do you want to major in and why?
    • How would your friends characterize you?
    • What do you do in your spare time?
    • Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
  3. Have your own questions ready. Some students say that the hardest question you’ll get from an interviewer is “Do YOU have any questions?” Don’t be caught off guard. Questions about activities, off-campus programs, housing – or whatever is important to you – are encouraged as it shows your interest in the school.
  4. Bring along a notepad. Write down your interview questions on a notepad. Also use the notepad to take notes during the interview.
  5. Dress to impress and arrive early. You want the make a good impression with your interviewer. Dress appropriately and make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Arriving early will give you some time to relax and prepare yourself mentally.
  6. Send a thank-you note.  After your interview, send a thank you note to your interviewer. Express your continued interest in the school. The more interest you show in them, the more interest they may show in you.


College Admissions in the Headlines: The “Rankings Are Here!” Edition

HeadlinesHere are some of the latest, most interesting headlines about the college admissions process from media outlets across the country. And we hope everyone has had a  great back to school. Miss summer yet?

Last month, U.S. News & World Report released its highly anticipated and highly buzzed about 2015 college rankings.  Our advice about the rankings remains this: They can be helpful as an aggregate source of data around different factors such as student population, academic life and other considerations.  The statistics behind the rankings can offer useful insights.  For example, a school’s freshmen retention rate can be a strong indicator of whether current students are happy at that school and a school’s financial aid profile can indicate its likelihood of offering need- or merit-based aid.  All that said, a college’s actual rank is probably more important to administrators and alumni than it is to the average college applicant. Dig deeper. Find the best bit. (U.S. News & World Report)

One important statistic that is not included in U.S. News’ rankings is an issue that is top of mind to many students and parents: campus safety. But Kaplan’s Test Prep’s 2014 survey of college admissions officers finds that schools think campus safety stats SHOULD be a part of the rankings. (The Daily Pennsylvanian)

Also from Kaplan Test Prep’s 2014 survey of college admissions officers: Colleges views most of the changes coming to the SAT in 2016 in a positive light: from students having the option to take the exam on a computer, to the writing section being optional instead of mandatory, to students not being allowed to use a calculator on certain math problems. But how do students feel about the changes? They are decidedly less excited about some of the changes. (Education Week)

At the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling held in Indianapolis last month, college admissions officers from around the country ( along with many guidance counselors) gathered to discuss major issues on the admissions landscape.  Among them: “Will students choose them? Will students even find them?” They are using technology to woo prospective applicants.  They want the best. (The Washington Post)

Smile! You may be on video…for an application essay, that is. Meet the non-traditional application that just a few colleges are adopting. The wave of the future or just a ephemeral ripple? (The New York Times)

Please feel free to comment and share! What issues on the college admissions landscape are YOU paying attention to, talking about, tweeting about, and sharing?


The College Recommendation Letter: Who to Ask, When to Ask, and How to Ask

outstandingAs part of your college application, admissions committees often ask for two or three letters of recommendation written on your behalf.  There’s no need to be anxious about requesting a recommendation, so long as you follow these few simple guidelines!

Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Guidance counselors and high-school teachers typically write letters of recommendation, although additional letters can come from coaches and/or employers.  In any case, these letters should be from people who know you well, both in and out of the classroom.  Collectively, they will inform the admissions committee of your abilities, character, passions and personality.

When deciding whom to ask for a recommendation letter, consider the following questions:

–        Is this a teacher with whom I’ve formed a connection with?

–        Has this teacher witnessed my growth or development in any way?

–        When was the last time I spoke with this teacher?

–        What subjects did I take with this teacher?

Your 12th grade teachers have likely not yet had enough time to get to know you, unless you took a class with them previously, and you have presumably matured since you were a wide-eyed freshman in 9th grade (at the very least you want to appear as though you have!).  The strongest letters of recommendation don’t always come from the teacher with whom you earned the best grade, but instead the teacher who watched your academic skills develop.  A letter that says, “Devon struggled early in my history class, but she re-doubled her efforts after the first exam, stayed after for help and steadily improved throughout the semester as a result of her hard work and determination” is a lot more compelling that a letter that says “Abigail earned an A+ in my AP Calculus class and she seemed nice based on my limited interactions with her.”

If you are only allowed one teacher recommendation, it’s best ask one who taught you a core academic subject.  Check the requirements of your colleges; some require two recommendations – one from a math/science teacher and another from a humanities teacher.

When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

Ask early.  As you probably know from your own essays and written assignments, you never do your best when rushing at the last minute.  Give your teacher or guidance counselor time to write you a glowing review.  At a minimum, you should make an in-person request a month before the deadline, but you can ask as early as the end of junior year, since it is those teachers who will likely be writing your letters.

How to Guarantee a Great Letter of Recommendation

Arrange a time in advance to speak with your letter writers after class, or after school.  This ensures you’ll have your teacher’s full attention, and also makes a good impression by demonstrating that you respect your teacher’s time.

While the Common Application will automatically email your recommenders once you add them to your online application, this should not be seen as a substitute for in-person request, nor should you add a recommender to your Common Application before asking.  Many surprises in life are good, but learning via your inbox that you’ve been tasked with writing a recommendation letter for a student who didn’t even ask you isn’t one of them.

Request, but don’t expect.  You will benefit by having your recommendation written by someone who sincerely desires to write a strong letter on your behalf.  If your request is denied, be grateful that this individual understands the impact these letters have on your future and respects you enough to be honest about their willingness up-front.

Be prepared with a list of colleges to which you are applying as well as their application deadlines.  A resume, short summary of your high-school accomplishments, and statement regarding your collegiate plans should also be provided to your letter writers.

Afterward, be sure to show your gratitude by writing your recommenders a formal thank you note and don’t forget to keep them updated as application decisions start rolling in!  They’ll be thrilled to know they helped you achieve your college dream.



The Top Reasons to Prep for the PSAT

psatSophomores and Juniors – it’s PSAT time! The PSAT is a few weeks away – and you are likely thinking, “It’s the PSAT – practice for the SAT, the real test.”   This is true. It is a practice run for the SAT, but this is likely one of your fist times taking a standardized test and prepping for it can really pay off. Why should you prep for a practice run? We’re breaking down the top reasons for you right here!

1. It’s like prepping for the SAT! The skills and topics tested on the PSAT are also tested on the SAT. By preparing for the PSAT, you are already on your way to preparing for the SAT.

2. You’ll know what to expect.  Do you want to walk into the PSAT not knowing what is tested or just how long it really is?  By prepping for the PSAT, you will be familiar with the format and question types you will see on test day.  Would you want to walk into a test and not know what was on it?

3. It can help with test day nerves. By preparing you’ll gain confidence.  You will walk into test day feeling prepared and ready to do well. It’s like any other test – you want to do your best and preparing will help you to do that! If you have never taken a practice PSAT (or SAT or ACT) you may feel nervous about not really knowing what is on the test.  Knowing what to expect can help with test anxiety and can lead to a better score!

4. There is scholarship money you can earn for college! That’s right! Just by doing well on the PSAT in your junior year, you can earn a college scholarship.  The National Merit Scholarship Corporation as well as many colleges and universities award scholarships to students who score well on the PSAT.

So, where should you go to prep? The good news is Kaplan is offering PSAT Cram sessions for FREE to help students prepare for the Math and Critical Reading sections of the PSAT. We’re committed to helping students feel prepared so they can walk into the PSAT ready. To sign up for  PSAT Cram sessions click here!


Your Monthly SAT/ACT Math Strategy!

MathWelcome to our monthly blog series on SAT and ACT math topics! Each month, we will target a different math topic that you will see on the SAT and ACT. Practice makes perfect – so if you practice these math skills, you’ll be well on your way to earning a new high score! This month, we will focus on sets.

What is a set you may ask? A set is any given list of elements. That’s it! It could be a list of the single-digit prime numbers – 2, 3, 5, 7 – or even a grocery list! Don’t be confused by the use of brackets around a list of items; they just show you where the list begins and where it ends. For example, Set A consists of the numbers one through five inclusive and the vowels in the alphabet: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, A, E, I, O, U]. Nothing scary there!

What could the SAT or ACT ask you to do with sets? Well, it will either be one of two things: find the union of the sets, or find the intersection of the sets.



The Union of sets is anything that appears in Set A OR Set B. It’s what you get when you take both sets and combine them into one. So for example:

Set A: [Apples, Bananas, Tomatoes, Kiwis]

Set B: [Carrots, Broccoli, Apples, Oranges]

Union: [Apples, Bananas, Tomatoes, Kiwis, Carrots, Broccoli, Oranges]

**Since apples appear in both sets, it only needs to be counted once in the Union.



The Intersection of sets consists only of the things that appear in BOTH sets. So in the example above, only one item appears in both sets: apples. Apples is the intersections of those two sets. Let’s do another one, just to make sure we get it.

Set A: [Cow, Duck, Pig, Dog, Cat]

Set B: [Fish, Hamster, Dog, Turtle, Cat]

What is the intersection here?

Dog and Cat appear in both sets, so those are the items in the intersection!

[Dog, Cat] would be the answer!


Generally, the SAT and the ACT will stick to letters and numbers when making up sets, but the process is the same as above. You can now walk into test day with confidence, knowing that you’ve mastered Sets!

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