College Admissions in the Headlines: The “I Cannot Believe We are Back to School” Edition

Poster-HeadlineHere are some of the latest, most interesting headlines about the college admissions process from media outlets across the country. And we hope everyone has a great back to school. Go get ‘em!

The annual  national scores report for the ACT was released earlier this month. What does it show? There were more test takers than ever, but scores remained stagnant compared to the previous year. Keep in mind that historically more test takers mean lower average scores. But the good news is that more students understand the value of a college education!  (Inside Higher Ed)

This is probably coming too late for most of you, but doctors from theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics are recommending that schools start later to allow students to sleep more. (TIME)

Are you a parent who is about to borrow to finance your child’s education? Think about it some more…and be very smart about it. (U.S. News & World Report)

Check out some of this past application cycle’s most interesting college admissions essay prompts. Which one would you like to answer most? Which one do you think would let admissions officers know the “real” you better? (Parade)

Hey parents, here’s why you may not want to post your child’s back to school photos on Facebook. (The Washington Post)


The Top 5 Tips for Filling out the Common App


CommonAppLogo-small1It’s Common App Time!  On August 1st, the 2014-2015 Common Application went live. The Common Application, also known as the Common App, is a single application for college admissions used by over 500 universities!  Because so many schools participate, the Common App can simplify the admissions process – students can apply to many schools with the same application. Bonus – it is a huge time saver as well! Below are some tips to help you when filling out the common app.

Tip  # 1 – Create your account and review the application

Before you start filling things out, make sure to go through the application and see exactly what information is required to fill it out. Make sure to collect what you need ahead of time so that you’re not stuck when you officially start working on it.

Tip #2 – Work on your essay early

The essay is one of the most important parts of the Common App as it gives admissions officers a glance into what makes you you.  It’s 650 words or less and you must choose one of 5 topics which will demonstrate your ability to write. The topics for this year can be found here.

Don’t rush working on your essay. Take your time writing it and have family, friends, and teachers review and critique it.

Tip #3 – Review any additional requirements the colleges you are applying to may have

Colleges that use the Common App might also have supplemental essays and/or require additional information. Make sure to check their college pages within the Common App to see if you have more information to fill out.

Tip #4 –Preview your application before you submit

It’s very important to preview your application before hitting that submit button! In preview, you will be able to see exactly what colleges will see and have a chance to re-read everything one last time. If you catch any errors, you can still fix them. Note that once you submit, you can’t go back and edit your application.

Tip #5 – Print!

In addition to previewing, you should also print your app so you can make edits right on the paper. Once you submit, make sure to print the submission confirmation for each college to which you apply. It’s always great to have a printed copy for your records in case colleges say they are missing materials.

To begin your application, go to the Common App website. Good luck and congrats on starting your journey to college!



SAT/ACT Reading Article of the Month

When 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.

Though it may seem as though many of the words you encounter on SAT and ACT reading passages exist solely as hurdles between you and your goal score, vocabulary words are in use all around you!

Take, for example, this recent Natural Science article from the New York Times, All for One and All for the Hunt, that describes the hunting behavior of Africa’s wild dog population.  When read straight through, you might not even realize how many vocabulary words you’ve stumbled upon; that’s because the surrounding text gives the word a definition in context.  Good news for you – that’s exactly how both the SAT and ACT test your knowledge of individual words!  In vocab-in-context questions, you’re asked to provide a definition by drawing on clues from the surrounding passage.  On the SAT, you’re also asked to define vocabulary words in the context of a sentence, as part of sentence completion the portion of the Critical Reading sections.

Below are just a few of the vocabulary words appearing in the article above that you may encounter on Test Day.  Define each word using only context of the passage first, then confirm your predictions with a dictionary.

  • To conjure
  • Synchronized
  • To obscure
  • Communal
  • To devise
  • Exuberant
  • Resilient
  • Crude
  • To presume

Closer than you thought, right?  You can repeat this exercise with any magazine or newspaper article, as well as with literature you might already be reading for school.  You’ll be amazed how rapidly your vocabulary grows, solely from words that are already part of your surroundings!  With regular practice it won’t be long until you’re a ready to tackle the ACT/SAT Reading sections with an alacrity you never thought possible.



College Essay Do’s and Don’ts

The college essay is often seen as the most difficult part of the college application. Most universities require at least one essay, while many require two or more of various lengths.  While your ACT or SAT test scores, along with your GPA, give the college admissions officers an opportunity to assess your academic potential, the college essay is your opportunity showcase your personality – what makes you you?   These top tips will help you not only get you off to a strong start, but also help you avoid common college essay mistakes.

1.  DON’T expect your first draft to be perfect.  Getting started is the hardest hurdle to overcome.  So your first draft ends up looking nothing like what you want to submit as your final essay – who cares!  You’ve gotten started, and that’s the first step.

2.  DO revise, early and often.  Your college essay should go through multiple stages of revision.  We’re not talking about a quick proofread; you should ask parents, teachers and even your peers to read through your essay and give you substantial critical advice.

3. DON’T rehash your resume.  The college admissions committee has already seen a list of your extracurricular activities and volunteer work, as well as the honors and awards you’ve received – you listed those accomplishments elsewhere on your application!  Your college essay should portray you as a mature, thoughtful individual.  What is your personal story that captures this quality?

4. DO use first person. Avoid generic third person pronouns like “one” or “students.” This essay is about you!

5.  DON’T rely on famous quotes to do the heavy lifting.  If you have a quotation that particularly speaks to you, and that is essential in order to tell your story, tell the readers why those words are so meaningful, not just that they are.  In the same vein, avoid clichés and other common phrases.  If you’ve heard it regularly before, chances are the admissions officers will have heard it hundreds of times.

6.  DO say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Be honest, but not boastful or self-deprecating.  Be specific, clear and concise.  Using a thesaurus can help you find the exact word you want to convey a feeling or emotion, but …

7.  DON’T have your essay read like the dictionary.  Vocabulary words definitely belong in your SAT Essay, but in your college essay you want to sound like yourself.  If you wouldn’t ordinarily describe sharing meals with your family as a “salubrious assemblage of kin” your college essay is NOT the place to start.

8.  DO start early!   Writing your college essay is not a task that you should put off until the last minute.  The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll be one step closer to attending your dream school!


Back to School – get involved outside the classroom and Be Your Future Selfie!

BYFS200x200Ah, a new school year will begin very soon! As you go into the new school year feeling refreshed (hopefully!), recharged, and ready to go, you may be thinking about the clubs and organizations you want to become (more) involved in. Now is the perfect time to discover or further develop your passion! Colleges love to see students who are dedicated and involved in activities outside the classroom.  So whether it is a sport, drama club, a volunteer organization, or Biology club – get involved now!  Joining a team, club, or organization is also a great way to gain experience in the areas of study that you are thinking about pursuing in college and beyond. So, as you think about where you want to spend your time outside of the classroom, it’s great to keep in mind where you will take that passion 1 year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now! Whether you’ll be in the lab developing a cure for cancer, on stage rocking it out with your band, walking through campus at your dream school, or backpacking around the world, we would love to know what your future looks like! Enter our Be Your Future Selfie contest and show us where you will be in 5 years. You could win a MacBook Air! It’s simple, just snap a selfie and submit your entry here. Good luck with Back to School and discovering your Future Selfie!


College Admissions in the Headlines: The “Is College Worth It?” Edition

Poster-HeadlineHere are some of the latest, most interesting headlines about the college admissions process from media outlets across the country. Starting off…have a good read! And continue having a great summer!

Data shows that a college degree (almost) always pays off in the long-run, student debt and all.  Oh and the unemployment rate for of non-college graduates is nearly double that of college graduates. So there’s that too. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

New appeals court decision rules that the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policy can stay in place. (USA Today)

At some colleges across the country, increased competition to get in has caused schools to offer their applicants deferred admissions. Meaning students can enroll as freshmen, but in the spring, not the fall. (The Baltimore Sun)

Here are some questions you should ask about college financial aid before actually starting the admissions process. Kaplan provides some tips. (U.S. News & World Report)

The largest state college system in the country has some news to report. The percentage of all new University of California freshmen who come from outside the Golden State is expected to be 20.2% this fall, up from 18.3% last year and 15.5% in 2012. (The Los Angeles Times)



The Top 5 Tips for Picking Your College Major


Off to college in just a month or two? Currently filling out your college applications? One of the questions that students spend a lot of time thinking about as they prepare to go to college is “What will my major be?”  And, it’s a great question! What you study in college and major in will impact not only your time while in college but also what you plan to do post-college.  To make choosing a bit easier, we have narrowed down the top 5 ways to pick the right college major for you!

1. Don’t pick too soon! Many college freshmen are tempted to declare their major when they set foot on campus.  Many of us have thought:  I want to be a doctor… lawyer…artist…teacher – just fill in the blank – when I grow up!  But, take some time to explore different classes and gain some experience outside the classroom in your intended field of study to ensure you are making the right decision! Make sure you balance your interests and talents with practical experience when choosing your major – this will lead to a more informed choice.

2. But, don’t wait until senior year of college either! College is a big financial investment.  You should take some time to make your decision while also thinking about your graduation timeline. You don’t want to waste too much time!

3. Don’t choose the major that everyone else you know is choosing.  It’s easy to want to choose the major that many of your friends are pursuing or the one that is the most popular at your school; however, you need to pick what is right for you! Yes, it is fun to study with friends and be in classes with them, but you can always take elective classes with them. You will be working toward your major for several years and it will very likely have a large impact on your post college professional life – make sure it is something you excel in and enjoy!

4. Be informed! This is very important. Make sure you take the time to ask all of your questions. Talk to professors, upperclassmen, your advisor, and the career center about your major and what it may mean for career prospects after your graduate.

5. Don’t panic! Yes, selecting your college major is an important decision. But, you do have time and it is not an irreversible decision.  Remember, college is a time of self-discovery! Explore and discover what truly interests you and the right decision will come to you.


College Admissions in the Headlines: The Avoid the Summer Brain Drain and Read Edition

Poster-HeadlineHere are some of the latest, most interesting headlines about the college admissions process from media outlets across the country. Starting off…have a good read!

A college admissions counselor at an elite high school asked college admissions deans and high school counselors to send him recommendations of books that are great summer reads for parents, students and everybody else. Check out the unusual list. (The Washington Post)

There’s definitely a risk of “oversharing” in your admissions essay, say college admissions officers themselves. Word to the wise: be careful what you write about and definitely get a second opinion before you submit anything. (The New York Times)

Have you heard about the upcoming changes to the ACT? No, the content is not changing, but come 2015 test takers will be getting new score assessments that may be or may not be shared with the colleges to which you apply. Here’s what you need to know…and stay tuned! (The Wall Street Journal)

You shouldn’t consider attending a specific college without thinking about how safe the campus is. Here are some tips on what to know, consider, and discuss. (U.S. News & World Report)

You think the SAT, ACT, and the American college admissions process are stressful?  (Yes they can be!) Wait until you learn about how they do it in China. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)


College Rankings: The other lists to consider!

foam fingerYes, academics in college are very important – that is the reason we all go to college, isn’t it?!  But, you will not just be attending classes while at college. You will be living on campus as well.

So, while academic rankings are very important in helping you select the colleges you will apply to, there are other lists to consider that rank colleges on everything from weather to athletics to Greek life.

We’ll break down some of those lists so you can check them out for yourself. This may even help you narrow down the schools you are applying to or open up some new choices — schools you may never have considered!

Weather: Do the winter blues get to you? Check out the colleges with the best weather. You can enjoy the sun and get a good education at the same time! (Colleges with the best weather)

Athletics: Are you a die-hard sports fan? Well then, the 20 Colleges With The Most Hardcore Sports Fans may appeal to you! (Colleges with the best sports fans)

Greek Life: If the movie Animal House and the Delta Tau Chi fraternity speak to you, then check out this list of the top 10 schools for Greek life.  They have assured readers that the selection of these schools was based on a very scientific process! (Top 10 schools for Greek life)

Campus Dining: Are you a foodie? The thought of beef stroganoff got you down? Well then, you must review the Daily Meal’s list of the 60 best colleges for food. They look at everything from the food being local and sustainable to student reviews and social media: (Best foodie colleges)

Dorm Rooms: Reluctant to give up the comforts of your bedroom at home? These 10 dorms may have you wishing you could move in now! (Top 10 colleges dorms in the country)

Good luck with your college search!


SAT and ACT Math Strategy: The “Three Right Triangles”

Making sense of “Three Right Triangle” questions (figure below) can be difficult. First, while there are two obvious right triangles (ΔADB and ΔBDC), the third is ‘lying’ on it’s hypotenuse! See the right angle at the top of the figure? That’s ΔABC.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.46.11 PM

In order to make sense of the relationship between these triangles, let’s first look at their angles:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.46.18 PM

To understand the relationship of the angles in this figure, let’s look at the largest triangle, ΔABC. It has a 90º angle, and two angles I’ve labeled and . Because this is a right triangle, a+c+90=180, or a+c=90. If that is the case, then any right triangle with either acute angle must have the other, as they sum to 90º. Let’s now update our drawing, applying this to the smaller two triangles (ΔADB and ΔBDC).

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.46.23 PM

Now we’ve clearly proven all three triangles are similar: they share the same angles and thus have proportional side-lengths. But applying this information can still be tricky with the current figure, so let’s extract each triangle from the figure, drawing them in a row:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.46.28 PM

Hmm, this is certainly more clear, but it’s not very helpful that each triangle is lying on a different side. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call the side adjacent to angle the base and the side adjacent to angle the height. We should now be able to put each of these triangles “right side down.” See for yourself below:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.46.34 PM

Let’s now apply all this to a real-life example from the ACT:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.46.54 PM

In order to find line AD, first, label your angles (I like to use the same letter as the closest vertex):

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.47.05 PM

Remember our earlier proof that aº+cº=90? Well, let’s use that now, labeling the other angles:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.47.33 PM

Like before, think of the line adjacent to as the base and the line adjacent to as the height. Draw all three triangles separately, keeping track of all vertices, side lengths and angles:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.47.41 PM

Now that we’ve organized the given information in an easy-to-use format, solving the question will be much simpler. First, use the Pythagorean Theorem (or your knowledge of the Pythagorean triplets), to find the hypotenuse AC.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.47.51 PM

Now that we know AC=25, either use the ratio between triangles or a proportion (shown below), to solve. I’ve labeled the side length we want to find, AD, as x.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.57.06 PM

So, with organization, patience, the Pythagorean Theorem and proportions, the “three right triangles” question is no match for our geometry!



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