Posted: Friday, August 17th, 2012 | Filed under: choosing college, college, College acceptance, College Admissions, college education, college prep, education | author: By Sarah Mollo-Christensen
Posted: Monday, July 16th, 2012 | Filed under: choosing college, College acceptance, College Admissions, college education, college life, college prep | author: By Teddy Bergman
Applying to college
Applying to college is a daunting task. The first three years of high school are all about preparing for this process, and between the SAT test, ACT test, SAT II Subject Tests, extra-curriculars, sports, AP tests, college visits, and getting that GPA up, those years were no walk in the park. For rising seniors, however, the real challenge is just beginning. Senior fall is one of most challenging semesters in high school, and when applying to college is layered on top of that, things can quickly spin out of control. When it comes to applying for college, therefore, it’s important to have a plan in place, and get started early.
The first step for any high schooler thinking about college (other than getting SAT test scores, ACT test scores, SAT Subject Test scores, and grades in order) is to start visiting colleges. Junior year is a perfect time to do this, since senior fall will be very busy, and summer isn’t a great time to visit colleges and go on college tours (with no students on campus, it’s difficult to get a sense of what the community is like, and what it would be like to go there). When you’re there, ask relevant questions of your tour guide, and make all the connections you can with coaches who might be interested in you, teachers who specialize in your interests, and family friends who have connections to the school. By the summer between junior and senior year, you, your guidance counselor, and your parents should have come up with a rough list of schools you want to apply to in the fall.
Your best friend in the process of applying to college will be the Common Application, also known as the Common App. Almost all colleges and universities accept the Common App, so it provides a convenient way to apply to all the colleges you’re targeting at once, and in one place. You can find the Common App online at www.commonapp.org. The first step is creating a login and password, and then starting to fill in your personal and academic information on the website. We suggest that you do this in early August, because that’s when colleges will be posting their supplements (with extra questions, required information, and essays) on the Common Application site. Once you have your account on the site, you can begin adding colleges to your “My Colleges” page, and starting to check out each college’s supplement.
The first step to completing your Common App, once you fill in all your personal and academic information, is to upload your College Essay (also known as you personal statement), and write your short answer essay about an extra-curricular activity that has been very important to you. The personal essay can be uploaded to the Common App, so length is not as important (although the Common Application suggests a length of 250-500 words, and many college admissions advisors suggest that you not exceed 650 words). The short answer essay, however, has a strict limit of 1,000 characters—more than that will not fit in the box provided.
You will also need to provide several letters of recommendation, which you can send requests for to your teachers through the Common App website. Think hard about which teachers would write you the best teacher recommendation letters—it should be someone who knows you well, and likes you and your work.
You must also remember to send your scores—either through the College Board website (for SAT test scores) or the ACT Student website (for ACT test scores)—to the colleges you intend to apply to. If you haven’t finished your testing yet, plan on having those new scores sent as soon as you receive them in the fall. Remember to make sure you’re sending the scores that show you off in the best light. For the SAT test, that probably means Super Scoring, and for the ACT test, that means choosing your best test date. You will need to pay a fee to send your scores, and it can only be done through these websites.
Once that’s done, you will need to fill out the Common App supplement for each college. Each college will have its own supplement, with additional information and additional essays.
Once everything has been filled out and uploaded to the Common Application, all that remains to be done is for you to provide an electronic signature and a payment method (each application has fees associated with it, which is one reason to narrow down your list of schools to apply to). After you’ve done both of those things, send off your applications!
After you send your applications, it’s a good idea to check in with your guidance counselor and make sure all the necessary information has been sent from your high school to the colleges to which you’re applying. You can also be keeping in touch with any of the connections you made at those colleges, and reminding them that you’re still working hard and still interested in their school.
After that, cross your fingers, keep working hard at school (some colleges will follow up to make sure you’re still doing well during senior year), and hope for the best!
Posted: Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 | Filed under: ACT, ACT exam, ACT strategies, College Admissions, SAT, SAT exam, SAT prep, SAT scoring, SAT strategy | author: By Teddy Bergman
After the arduous task of working hard in high school, studying for the SAT or ACT exams, visiting colleges, writing essays, filling out applications, and waiting for acceptances you get the great news – you got in! All your incredible hard work has paid off and you are on your way to college. Four years of new intellectual frontiers, freedom, responsibility, and maturation await you.
One of the few things that students are prepared completely for is the process of choosing a major. It’s an important decision and, along with the college you choose, a statement and choice about your interests and values. A college course catalogue can, at times, feel like an overwhelming buffet and picking what you want can be quite difficult.
Of course, a number of factors, that vary from school to school, will affect the nature of this choice. Undoubtedly, one of the major factors that drew you to the college you ended up at was the nature of the curriculum. Inherent in that curriculum, and the educational philosophy of any school is a question of freedom. Some schools let you entirely pick and choose what you’d like to study and have no requirements outside of the demands of various majors, while some have very intensive demands for all students. At University of Chicago and Columbia University, they have a strenuous core curriculum that require all students to do battle with the great works of western humanities and sciences. Other schools have broader distribution requirements, that demand you take classes is a wide array of broad disciplines like Humanities (English, Philosophy), Social Science (Sociology, History), and Natural Science (Biology, Chemistry).
In other instances, students attend specialized schools for bachelor degrees in fine arts, engineering, and business. While there is certainly a degree of choice in these institutions, in affect your major has already been chosen. Similarly, students who go into a undergrad experience with the full knowledge that they want to go on to pursue a graduate degree in Law or especially Medicine will want to elect a major very quickly so they can complete their rigorous and specialized requirements.
The toughest choice is usually faced by undergrads in a Liberal Arts setting with more freedom. Here, the playing field is wider and the timetable governing the selection process more fluid. There are still factors that condition when you want to elect a major though. The number of requirements in a given field will establish a need to start working early to have a balanced and manageable experience. Also, if you plan to study abroad at any point, most school require that you have established your major by that point.
As a general rule of thumb, most students want to elect a major by the end of their sophomore year. This means in the first two to three semesters of school it’s wise to take classes in many disciplines you suspect may interest you and see what fits. Also, if there is a particular teacher whose work and style interest you – take his or her classes. This can be an organic and rewarding way to find the perfect major for you.
Posted: Friday, June 15th, 2012 | Filed under: College Admissions, college prep, PSAT test prep, SAT exam, SAT prep, SAT strategy | author: By Chris Ajemian
What is the format of the ACT? What is the format of the SAT? How do they compare?
When students reach their sophomore and junior years of high school, they are faced with a choice. If they are planning to go ahead and attend college they must take a standardized test, and they obviously want to do their best. The SAT and ACT, as the two standardized test choices that are presented to American students, share many similarities but also differ greatly. One of the main ways the SAT and ACT differ is in their respective formats.
The SAT consists of ten sections. Three of these sections test you on math, three of these sections test you on reading, and three of these sections test you on writing. The last section is called the experimental section and can test you either in math, science, or writing. The experimental section of the SAT is not graded but is a way the College Board (the institution that creates and administers the test) can try out new questions. You must take this section and will have no idea which section is the Experimental section.
The three SAT Math sections break down as follows: one section consists of twenty multiple choice questions, one section consists of sixteen multiple choice questions, and finally one section consists of eight multiple choice questions and ten questions that require the student to fill in the answer herself.
The three SAT Reading sections break down as follows: one section consists of twenty-four questions that includes eight vocabulary questions and sixteen reading comprehension questions, one section consists of twenty four questions that includes five vocabulary questions and nineteen reading comprehension questions, and finally one section consists of nineteen questions that includes six vocabulary questions and thirteen reading comprehension questions.
The three SAT Writing sections break down as follows: one section consists of a persuasive essay that you are given twenty-five minutes to write, one section consists of thirty-five multiple choice questions on grammar, and finally one section consists of fourteen multiple choice questions on grammar.
The ACT on the other hand consists of five sections. One section tests English, one section tests Math, one section tests Science, one section tests Reading, and one section is an optional persuasive essay. The English section of the ACT consists of seventy-five questions relating to 5 passages of writing. These multiple choice questions, which you are given forty-five minutes to complete, test both your knowledge of grammar and your command and understanding of style. The Math section consists of sixty multiple- choice questions that you are given sixty minutes to complete. The reading section consists of 40 reading comprehension questions that refer to four passages. Thirty-five minutes are allotted for this section. The science section consists of forty questions that you are given thirty-five minutes to complete. These forty questions refer to seven passages that describe the results of experiments and competing scientific explanations. Finally you are given thirty minutes to complete an optional essay. If you complete the writing portion of the ACT, it can count for both the SAT I and SATII to many colleges.
The SAT takes a total of three hours and forty-five minutes to complete, with some additional time added in for the administration and proctoring of the test. However, within that span of time you are continually switching between subject matter and the test is broken down into more bite sized pieces. The ACT on the other hand, takes two hours and fifty-five minutes without the essay, and three hours and twenty minutes with the essay. In this slightly shorter amount of time you are required to focus on single subjects for a much longer span of time, however once your are done with a subject, you are really done with it – a difference from the SAT.
Both these tests are challenging and rewarding, and the only way to get a really good sense of which one is a better fit for you is to take a mock SAT test and a mock ACT test and compare them. CATES offers free mock – tests every weekend, so come down and see which test works for you.
Posted: Wednesday, June 13th, 2012 | Filed under: choosing college, College acceptance, College Admissions, college education, college life, college prep | author: By Chris Ajemian
Alan Schwarz’s recent article in the New York Times, “Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill,” highlights the pressures to succeed on SAT and standardized tests, pressures that lead some students to use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in an effort to boost their scores and enhance their positions in the university admissions process. As the CEO and founder of CATES Tutoring in New York City with offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Westchester, and abroad in cities such as London, I personally have worked with hundreds of students – and CATES as a company with thousands – from elite private schools in the New York area and all over the world. Our clients run the gamut: regular time, extended time, double time, 2400 caliber on the SAT test, and students hoping to simply break 21 on the ACT test. Some of our students, particularly those enrolled in Envision Test Prep, our specialized division for students with learning differences, receive prescriptions for Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, et al and use them to great benefit in their work. However, we have been asked about the use of PEDs for students who do not clinically require them. These questions actually highlight a core issue in the testing process: The need to develop coping techniques that allow students to perform at peak levels despite the stress of the exams.
Coping techniques for the stress of exams
The three basic elements of a successful coping strategy for taking standardized tests are nutrition, exercise, and something we all take for granted: breathing. In our SAT coaching binder we address this last element directly: “Many students forget to breathe during the exam, and as a result, do not think as clearly. Take three deep breaths at the beginning and end of each section to focus and center yourself. Take another breath at the middle of each section to re-focus for the second half of it. If you need to “reboot” your brain, take a breath, or do some yoga or jumping jacks during the test to refresh your mind, either during a section (if you’re taking the test in a room alone) or during the break (outside the room). Go for it.”
Nutrition is also important. No one thinks clearly on an empty stomach. Eat a full breakfast and eat a snack at the first break. A snack allows you to maintain focus throughout the last hours of the SAT, as your breakfast energy usually peters out half-way through the exam.
A technique we recommend for students with learning differences or ADHD can help almost anyone improve their test performance: Circle 3 things in the question. We find this to be the single most useful strategy on any and every (paper-based) standardized test. For students with focus issues, regardless of whether or not they have learning differences, if they circle no less than 3 details in each question – the key facts, facts that imply other facts, what the question is asking, etc. – scores rise. Circling – and NOT underlining, which doesn’t highlight the info as well – helps you pull out the key info and cut out the distracting, non-essential wording around the key facts. Circling helped one of our students, John, stay focused through the SAT and brought him 30 points in the Reading and 60 points in the Math overnight. The difference in his scores helped him gain entrance to Georgetown. Circling helped our student Victoria gain 110 points in Reading, 90 points in Math, and 90 points in Writing. The difference in her scores helped her earn admission to a number of Ivy League universities.
Students who have been prescribed PEDs to cope with learning challenges need to understand how to best – and when to – take the medication within the course of the exam to maximize their focus and test scores. For slow release medications like Adderall and Concerta, take them before the exam and at the second break of the exam. Quick release medications like Ritalin should be taken right before the exam starts and at each break.
For tips on exercise that can help students perform their best, we have a blog on nutrition and exercise (http://www.catestutoring.com/blog/healthy-study-tips/) with great information. We invite you to speak to one of our learning specialists at Envision – whether you have a learning difference or not – to learn more about the techniques our tutors use to help their students focus better during the exam.
Allan Schwarz’s article, “Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill”, focuses on how some students use prescription drugs to enhance their academic ability to earn better grades and SAT test scores to ultimately position themselves for the university admissions process. Some of our students, particularly those through Envision Test Prep, our specialized division for students with learning differences, receive prescriptions for Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, et al and use them to great benefit in their work. However, we have at times come across the question of using performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) for students who do not clinically require them. It’s obviously a controversial subject – as it should be – but, as I see it, the topic actually helps to crystallize a core issue: student confidence.
As the CEO & Founder of CATES Tutoring in New York City with offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Westchester, and abroad in cities such as London, I personally have worked with hundreds of students – and CATES as a company thousands – from elite private schools in the New York area and all over the world. Our clients run the gamut: regular time, extended time, double time, 2400 caliber on the SAT test, students hoping to simply break 21 on the ACT test.
Over the course of the next few days, we’ll examine specific aspects of this article and lend some insight and guidance to help students and parents understand that a healthier attitude towards the US admissions process – whether you are from the Upper East Side, Scarsdale, or London – not only helps you succeed in the process, but also sets you up for success in your professional life.
Charity Begins at Home
As Schwarz’s article states, one of the “dealers” at Long Beach High School on Long Island plays upon the “burdens and insecurities” of their classmates. Playing upon insecurities was also cited by the current law student in Manhattan who dealt Adderall at his high school in Sarasota, FL, mentioning that the students who didn’t buy Adderall from him “would feel at a huge disadvantage.” The core issue here is that students are acting out of a place of fear rather than out of place of faith. If students felt more confident in their abilities to be successful by coupling their innate talents with consistent focus and hard work, students would feel less compelled to use PED’s.
This situation speaks to how the student needs to establish confidence early on so that he or she can build natural mechanisms to maintain and build self-confidence. Unfortunately, a lot of it relates back to parenting issues, where parents coddle and manage their kids’ schedules so much that the student does not develop the inner fortitude to be able to manage pressure on his or her own. Without facing their challenges head on, students can struggle to overcome fears and make them more susceptible to the draw of performance-enhancing drugs.
If you’re a parent looking to help your kid succeed in school, in the testing process, and college admissions process, here are some tips inspired by “Conquering the SAT: How Parents Can Help Teens Overcome the Pressure and Success” by Ned Johnson and Emily Warner Eskelen, which is a wonderful book I recommend to all parents:
Evaluate how you handle stress
How you handle stress is likely how your kid handles stress. Each of us possesses conditioned responses to the challenges and problems. If you kid is reacting adversely to the exam experience or process, he or she may be mirroring what you have demonstrated to them, however unconsciously. Share the way you overcome stress with your kid. You are probably an expert on how to handle your emotions by now. Pass along your wisdom to your child.
Set boundaries for taking about the test and about the college process
Many students get tired of the several years of constant conversation about the testing and application process. It can eat away at the student’s patience and desire to do well on the test. Keep your testing & admissions talk to 30 minutes twice a week once second semester of junior year comes around. Then perhaps build in a 15-30 minute window after dinner three-four times a week during senior year, or establish a 90-120 minute “college meeting” once a week to connect and complete action items.
Recognize hard work & get involved
Students need to know their parents are there for them and want to be involved – that this experience (and your child) are important to you! If your child doesn’t want help, let her know that you respect her independence, are confident in her ability, and are there for support if ever needed
Diffuse social pressure
Make sure your kid understands his or her capabilities are separate from those in his or her social group. Treat her like the great test-taker you want her to be. Let her know that she can succeed and you’re going to help her get the tools to do so
Let her take charge
Empower your child to be self-reliant, let her know you believe in her. Anxiety is totally normal and controllable.
Ask questions. Discuss different outcomes and how you will respond to them. What are they afraid of? Disappointing you? Living up to older sibling? Retaking the test? Discuss what happens when failure occurs and when success occurs. You will love them no matter what
Encourage them to no end
Always, always, always encourage your kid to think positively, and celebrate their success and effort throughout the journey. Reward small goals. SAT is a win-win. Nobody fails. Successful people have gone to all sorts of different schools. Let them know you’re proud of what she’s done. Not what she scores. Build confidence everyday.