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Setting A Higher Bar and Access to It

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

"They believe they can get more students to go to college and stay there by making high school harder."

It's a perfect marriage:  opportunity coupled with access.  One high school in Spokane, Washington is working hard to build bridges between their typically under-challenged, low-income student population and challenging courses that normally would fall outside of their academic plan.  

Aside from building esteem through meeting the demands of harder classes and achieving academic success, high schoolers plant seeds that will support their preparation for learning and performance at at the college level.

Why Placing Students In Difficult High School Classes May Increase College Enrollment   READ MORE


Photo Credit:  Sarah Butrymowicz

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

The New Way Colleges Read Applications

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

More and more competitive colleges are moving to an initial "committee-read" system in reviewing applications.  This method pulls file readers out of their former silos, allowing them to compare their evaluations more or less simultaneously in a joint review.  The University of Pennsylvania, one of the Ivies, initiated this approach back in 2013.  Most recently, other colleges that have successfully adopted this system report that they can manage more applications in less time.  

Potentially, this is a win-win method for both applicants as well as admissions departments that find themselves inundated with application files, whether real or virtual....  READ MORE

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com


Well, I Do Declare!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Enrolling in College As An Undecided Freshman

“Great news!  Good for you!”  It's a well-earned moment for high school seniors with college on the horizon to glow in these words of congratulations from well-wishing friends, family, teachers as well as the random casual acquaintance.  So gratifying to receive these words of enthusiasm until the next breath brings the inevitable, “And what are you planning to major in?”

While many students will have a ready response to the question, the majority will hem and haw because, well, they don’t really know how to answer.  Let’s be realistic:  How many 17 or 18-year-olds applying to college truly know what they want to focus on for four years, let along pursue on the road to a lifetime of work?

In today's world, the intent driving pursuit of a college education can be very individual and experienced through many dimensions.  Ask any student about why he or she wants to invest in a college experience.   Is it all about learning -- or vocational support -- or a time and place to learn to be independent and grow up?  Maybe it is a stage in life to construct a broader world perspective?  Maybe it’s all of these?

Another Kind of "Early Decision"

Feeling early pressure to “know” what one wants to study in college puts students in a precarious position of having to laser in on an area from the starting gate that may be a wrong fit later down the road.  Most well-meaning adults (and, admittedly, this mostly includes parents) tend to conflate a college major choice with career path.  It's wishful thinking to equate a decision on a major from the get-go as a sure route to success at the conclusion of four years.  

Honestly, you can hardly blame bursar bill-paying grown-ups for this perspective.  After all, the cost of college today is to be taken seriously and quickly takes on the dimensions of an investment that we all hope supports a good “return."  

But consider how much a first year college student typically evolves once exposed to academic areas or other students who may open their eyes to learning they had never been exposed to before.  And consider that the high school curriculum most teenagers pursue is relatively limited and doesn't offer the breadth of coursework they would see in college.  The very experience of college itself is likely to open any student’s eyes wide to a catalog of areas to pursue. 

Typically, colleges report the most popular choice of major at the time of application is “Undecided.”  My personal spin on this is a more positive one:  Still Exploring.   Extending even further, how about: Potentially Interested in Many Things?  In a perfect world, this is the kind of attitude an eager undergraduate should bring along to college! 

Outcomes 

Broadly, what is the goal that students hope to achieve at the end of their four years?  For some, it's preparation and solid recommendations for graduate or professional school.  For others, it’s graduating with a bachelors degree debt free.   For many, it may be a job offer or a realistic shot at employment in a field of interest that affords a sustainable lifestyle and independence.

Stepping into freshman and sophomore years of college for many teenagers is about finding direction via exposure to a broad curriculum while testing and then embracing (or eliminating) possible directions based on experiences in introductory courses. Then when the time comes at the end of the second year to formally declare a major, truly invested undergrads may look toward a path to double majoring or majoring/minoring.  As any college grad will realize, there had been so much available to explore in college --  and so little time to absorb it all!   

Destination 

Filling in between the lines of what students major in and the requirements of the job market in any field goes beyond solely taking classes.  Today, students set themselves apart in the employment or professional school sandbox via experience gained along the way through internships; campus research and jobs; or volunteerism.  While it may come across as a bit of a paradox, it’s worthwhile to remind students at every bend in their educational path to gain experience outside of the classroom. As a result, they can be more hirable later on and later actually have a greater opportunity to apply what they did in fact learn in school.  

Given that students are bound to change their planned major as a result of potential exposure to areas of interest and fit, why constrain a high school senior with demands to determine a major before setting foot in a campus classroom?  For some students, their natural path has been clear for years, but expect most to explore the bricks in the walkway before branching off on the formal road.

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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

It’s Finally Here: The August SAT

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Coming to A Testing Center (Hopefully) Near You…


August 26, 2017 marks the (re)introduction of a summer SAT testing date, much to the applause of over-committed, rising high school seniors looking for an opportunity to prepare and sit for the SAT or SAT Subject Tests without the added pressure of a full plate of classes; extracurricular demands; and the time required in the fall to complete college applications.

This debut of the August test date is expected to draw a large number of test takers. Note that while the regular deadline to register is July 28, certain metropolitan areas, including Boston and New York City, are expected to experience high demand for the available number of seats.  Early registration is essential for preferred testing locations.

The availability of a summer testing date offers a number of potential benefits to students:

1.  The growth in the number of schools with Early Action/Early Decision/Priority application deadlines necessitates that students complete testing equally promptly.

2.  If a student has waited for the middle or end of junior year to test and would like the benefit of an additional testing opportunity, she can now do so without the demands of the senior fall staring her in the face.

3.  If a student was caught short in studying for Subject Tests, say amid the requirements of preparing for May APs toward the end of junior year, or perhaps missed the June test date due to other exigencies, there is still the summer to refresh recently-completed subject material.  This is valuable before the introduction of new coursework in senior year, particularly in courses that do not build in tandem ex. chemistry with little to no overlap with physics or biology.

4.  Initiating or refreshing test prep without the distraction of other academic pressures may enable the student to focus more on his preparation contributing, at least in theory, to a higher test score. Even though some school districts start up again in late August, the school year will not yet be in full swing.

5. At the very least sitting for a summer SAT, with the advantage of some breathing room in the calendar, can potentially make a huge difference for students disposed to anxiety in anticipation of high-stakes testing.

6.  For students who had put their eggs into the ACT basket but now want to try their hand at the SAT can now do so without having to wait for October of senior year to come around.  And…

7.  …those students who decide to — or need to — take the SAT in fall of senior year, can now potentially avoid the pressures of back-to-back October and November testing.  Testing as such, with precious little time in between to assess prior scores and shore up weak areas, is unlikely to be productive in significantly boosting scores.

For more information about the SAT, SAT Subject Tests or to register, visit the CollegeBoard website. 
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Parent of a Junior? That Is, Rising Senior!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

by Marla Platt, AchieveCoach College Consulting


Parents of high school juniors: Congratulations! In a few short weeks you will attain official status as a parent of a rising high school senior.

While our juniors are currently focused on final projects, papers and exams, (and the joy of handing in the last of the bunch!) they also have an eye on the next important stage in their education: preparing to engage fully in the college process.  


In preparation for moving smoothly through stages of getting ready to apply to college, by now your student should:

  1. have at least one result from the SAT or ACT
  2. be familiar with his or her transcript 
  3. be aware of courses still required for high school graduation 
  4. have already toured at least one college campus
  5. have several schools in mind to actually apply to 
  6. possess an understanding of what target; reach; good bet admission possibility means for them
  7. engage in an honest discussion with parents about college affordability
Summer break sits brightly on the horizon with fall of senior year following directly behind. Look forward to some carefree summer days and the special delight that comes with a well-deserved rest from the hectic pace of the school year.  Then be ready for fall when the calendar turns again!

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com




Should My Student Take SAT Subject Tests?

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Come spring, standardized testing begins to take on even bigger proportions than usual.  Junior year is wrapping up, and some students are considering re-testing for the SAT or ACT for a second — or even third time.  AP exams are popping up everywhere on the student calendar, and there there are those SAT Subject Tests (until recently known as SAT IIs) to consider.   Of the all these college-related exams, which take precedence?  Since there is no “one-size-fits-all” standard in college admissions, it all depends…

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

Parents may recall that “back in the day,” strong students typically sat for academically-focused Achievement Tests designed to assess a student’s command of academic knowledge.  The College Board, owner and publisher of the SAT, years back retired the Achievement Tests and re-introduced these knowledge-based exams that are known today as SAT Subject Tests.

Similar to the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple choice exams that are designed to test student knowledge and analytical skill in a variety of academic areas, including math, science, literature, history and foreign language.

The overall trend in recent years has seen many colleges shifting away from requiring the SAT Subject Tests.  Instead, colleges are focusing their application reviews on admissions factors that they consider to be more strongly indicative of student potential for college success, primarily high school course rigorgrades earned in these classes; and SAT and/or ACT scores.  As result, only about 35 colleges require or recommend SAT Subject Tests, while a number of others consider the results. Keep in mind, however, that even if a college’s overall policy is to not require Subject Tests, certain programs within the college, especially in STEM fields, may.


Why Should My Student Consider Taking SAT Subject Tests?

If few schools require these tests, why still plan to take them? For the student who wants to showcase a particular academic strength, preparing for and taking a Subject Test may provide an opportunity to highlight his application relative to others in the pool of applicants.  This approach is even more applicable if the student is unenrolled in AP level courses but still wishes to demonstrate depth of knowledge.

Homeschooled students often elect to take Subject Tests in order to demonstrate the strength of their chosen curriculum as well as provide additional data points to Admissions. One very academically-focused homeschooler I worked with years back had his eye on several highly selective colleges.  As he worked through his challenging, home-based course work, Subject Tests were never far in the background.

For students planning college work in a technical field, such as engineering or biomedical science for example, even if the college does not specifically require submission of Subject Tests, a strong Math II or science score may potentially help set the applicant apart from others coming in with similarly strong high school math and science curriculum and grades.


When Should My Student Take a Subject Test?

Once a student has completed the highest level subject area coursework she is likely to pursue in high school, then it is time to consider sitting for Subject Tests while the material is still feels fresh.  In contrast, if the student will be later learning essential material through a higher sequence course, then it is best to wait until the student has more fully acquired the material before approaching the exam.  Since high school class content is unlikely to fully encompass all that is covered in the Subject Test, students should take the time to review gaps in their knowledge and fill in accordingly.

TIP! The College Board offers FREE review material posted online.

For the sake of sanity, remember to keep the focus and make a great testing plan.  In other words, students cannot take SAT Subject Tests on the same day as the SAT (truly, that would require an inhumane number of hours in a testing center!)  There are only so many hours in high schooler’s day: Should time constraints come down to one testing choice or the other, it would probably be more important to focus on posting a solid SAT or ACT score rather than hyper-focusing on Subject Tests.


Scores

Note that the Subject Tests are scaled and “curved” by individual subject, meaning that score percentiles for Spanish vs. Math II vs. even the SAT itself are very different.  In the case of a disappointing score, a student may have the option to hold back scores through the College Board’s Score Choice option and not release them to colleges. Students, however, need to verify individual college's policies around use of Score Choice.


To Test or Not to Test

Deciding whether or not to prepare for Subject Tests should be based on several factors.   Students should consider their interest in the topic; command of the material as evidenced through class grades as well as a sample SAT Subject Test; and the time and motivation to study the material that may fall into the gap between what the high school class provides and what the test requires.

At many colleges, the ACT may (but not always) stand in as a single substitute for the SAT plus two Subject Tests - but it is essential to consult each college’s specific testing requirements.

Even if a student prefers to take the ACT instead of the SAT, he may still desire to showcase his subject knowledge by scoring high on a Subject Test.

A Final Word

I advise my students to have a go with Subject Test(s) if they have:

* a strong command of material in an academic area and 

* the time and energy necessary to shore up any missing subject knowledge such that prepping will not siphon away time from other important student commitments. 

Throughout the college process, when you have something worthwhile to share then don't hold back.  While it’s great to shoot for high Subject Test scores, these won’t trump doing one's best by posting strong SAT or ACT results and achieving good grades in solid courses.
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Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com

Have a Positive, Relaxing Admissions Interview that Works to Your Advantage

Thursday, February 02, 2017

College interviews can provide the opportunity to add extra dimension to your application. If the whole prospect of a face-to-face meeting gives you the jitters, you can relax! In contrast to many an applicant’s worst fears, the interviewer is unlikely to try to trip you up or ask you questions out of left field. Instead, the interviewer’s main purpose is to learn more about you than the story revealed through grades, recommendations, test scores and essays. Give yourself the advantage: Prepare your thoughts ahead of time, and bring along enthusiasm as well as an active curiosity about the school you are applying to.

The following tips are sure to help set an applicant off on the right foot:

When possible, interview with your “likely” schools first in order to buff up your comfort level before meeting with target or stretch choices.

Dress for success, which means arrive neatly dressed and comfortable. No need for suit and tie or pearls, but avoid sloppy tee shirts, jeans and flip flops.

Be punctual. Arrive early to campus to leave sufficient time for parking and locating the assigned building. Time for a short walk around campus before your meeting can help to relax you. If you have a phone or Skype meeting, call in at the exact appointed time. If phoning, do so via a landline for the best sound quality and make sure there is no distracting background noise.

Learn your interviewer’s name and become familiar with it. At in-person meetings, ask for a business card and refer to it when you write the follow-up “thank you” note. Be sure to express your appreciation for the interviewer’s time as well as your enthusiasm for the school.

Express why the school is attractive for you. Be able to do the same with regard to the program of studies you are applying to, tying into your involvements and accomplishments in high school. Bringing along a resume may be helpful but is usually unnecessary.

Provide a picture of how the school would benefit by having you as a citizen of the community. Schools are interested in attracting a class of students who will enhance one another’s experience, so come ready to talk about your interests and involvements to paint a picture of how you may add to academic and campus life.

Be honest about your strengths as well as areas of challenge. What inspires you? What excites you? What do you need to succeed? If someone were to ask you how you have dealt with your challenges, what would you say?

Prepare a few questions covering things you want to know about the school or program, but always ask beyond the basics covered in the school viewbook or website.

Familiarize yourself a bit about extracurricular offerings on or off campus and be able to talk about these.

Be ready to talk about yourself through the eyes of others. What would your teachers say about you? What about your friends or parents?

Don’t expect any interview, whether one-on-one or a group format, to be a passive experience. Come ready to express yourself and ask questions! The goal of a successful college interview, like the goal of a good education, is all about sharing and learning.

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and application process. She is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com


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