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Bye bye SAT? September 30, 2010

Posted by Jason McDonald in : College Related , 2 comments

There’s a buzz in the air about tossing the SAT through the window. Harvard’s dean of admissions, Mr. William Fitzsimmons points out the test is “incredibly imprecise” at predicting success in college. He recently shared his thoughts at the annual gathering for The National Association for College Admission Counseling held in Seattle.

In the Dean’s opinion, “Educational quality has nothing to do, or very little to do, with actual average SAT scores.” Mr. Fitzsimmons pointed out that ultimately, it’s up to each educational institution to assess the role of the SAT in their admissions process. He says they need to do research to determine how well the SAT and other standardized tests predict success at their institutions.

Although this conference stirred up a lot of discontent with the SAT, it’s nothing new. Former UC California President Richard C. Atkinson recommended they pitch the test from their admissions requirements in 2001, to become an SAT-optional school. Although that hasn’t happened yet, the College Board changed the test four years later to appease their largest client.

So if you’re reading this thinking students may not have to take the SAT to get into college you just may be right if:

  1. They’re only considering one of the 775 (and growing) SAT-optional schools. See FairTest for the full list.
  2. They’re considering going to a community college first.
  3. They’re currently in elementary school. These changes take time and most admissions officers at the conference expressed the same sentiment: The test is not perfect, but it’s still useful.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you’re currently in high school, want to go directly to a four-year college and are interested more than the limited number of SAT-optional schools, you’ve got to take the SAT.

What do YOU think?

Should the SAT be used in the college admissions process?  If so, why should it be kept? If not, how SHOULD admissions offices differentiate candidates?  Add a comment (name, email, and url fields optional).

NOTE: your post may not appear live because, unfortunately, due to spammers I have to approve your first message.


22 ways to succeed in college August 25, 2010

Posted by Jason McDonald in : College Related,College-bound seniors , 2 comments

This article is written by my one-of-a-kind college advisor colleague, Gary Canter.  Gary is currently accepting seniors and juniors (classes of ’09 and ’10) to help with the college admissions process.


Researchers have identified certain things students can do to ensure success in college. Ironically students are often unaware of what these “persistence factors” – or keys to success – are and how much they really matter. Here are 22 basic things you can do to thrive in college.

1.   Find and get to know one adult on campus who knows who you are and who cares about your survival. One person is all it takes. It might be the leader of your freshman seminar class or some other professor, an academic advisor, or someone at the career or counseling center.

2.   Learn what helping resources your campus offers and where they are located. Most campuses have career planning offices, personal counseling centers, and academic skills centers, as well as many other resources.

3.   Understand why you are in college. Your college experience will be much more productive if you can identify specific goals you wish to accomplish.

4.   Set up a daily schedule and stick to it. When no one is around to tell you when to study or when to sleep, you need to do this for yourself. If you can’t do it alone, find someone on campus who can help – perhaps someone in your academic skills or counseling center.

5.   If you are attending classes full time (12 – 15 hours per semester) don’t work more than 15 hours a week. Most people begin a downhill slide in the quality of learning beyond 15 hours. Don’t be one of them. If you need more money borrow it from a reliable source or talk to a financial aid officer.  Try to work on campus. Students who work on campus tend to do better in classes and are more likely to stay enrolled than those working off campus.

6.    Treat your academics as your job. Follow this rule of thumb: for every hour you spend in class or lecture, plan to spend 2.5 hours in outside study. Thus twelve hours of weekly class time will require 30 hours of additional study.

7.   Assess and improve your study habits. In integral part of your success in college involves assessing your own learning style, taking better notes in class, reading more efficiently, and doing better on tests. If your campus has an academic skills center (most do), visit it.

8.   Choose professors who involve you in the learning process. Attend classes in which you can actively participate. You will probably learn more, more easily and more enjoyably.

9.   Know how to use the campus library. The library isn’t as formidable as it might seem, and it offers a wealth of information and resources.

10.   Improve your writing. Your writing skills will serve you well throughout your life if you take some pains now to improve and secure them. Write something every day – the more you write, the better you’ll write. Remember writing is for life, not only for Eng. 101.

11.   Develop critical thinking skills. Challenge. Ask why. Look for unusual problems. There are few absolutely right and wrong answers in life, but some answers come closer to being more “truthful” than others.

12.   Find a great academic advisor and fight to keep him or her. The right advisor can be an invaluable source of support, guidance, and insight throughout your college years. It’s common to switch your advisor, from the one you were initially assigned to one of your own choosing, after a semester or two or three, once you’ve gotten more familiar with your college’s departments and faculty members.

13.   Visit the career center early – don’t wait till your senior year. Even if you think you have chosen your academic major, the career center may offer valuable information about careers and about yourself.

14.   Make one or two close friends among your peers. College represents a chance to form new and lasting ties. It also offers great diversity in terms of the people on your campus. Choose your friends for their own self-worth, and not for what they can do for you. Remember in college, as in life, you become like those with whom you associate.

15.   Learn how to be assertive. Standing up for yourself is an invaluable skill. You can learn how to respect the rights of others and have others learn to respect your rights.

16.   Get involved in a least one campus activity outside of the classroom. Work for the campus newspaper or radio station. Play intramural sports. Join a club. Most campus organizations are looking for new students. Check them out during orientation / new student registration periods.

17.   Take your health seriously. How much sleep you get, what you eat, whether you exercise, and the kinds of decisions you make about alcohol, drugs and sex all contribute to how well or unwell you feel. Get in to the habit of being good to yourself and you will be both a happier person and a more successful student.

18.   If you can’t avoid stress, learn how to live with it. While stress is an inevitable part of modern life, there are many ways of dealing with it. Your counseling center can introduce you to techniques that will help you worry less and study more.

19.   Show up for class. Professors tend to test on what they discuss in class, as well as grade in part on the basis of class attendance (and participation). Take your new freedom seriously and responsibly.

20.   Remember that you are not alone. Thousands of other first year students are facing the same uncertainties as you are facing. There is strength in numbers, Find a support network and use it.

21.   Learn to appreciate yourself more, and to forgive yourself for mistakes you will make. Hey, you got this far, you can do the rest.

22.   Try to have realistic expectations. At first you may not make the same grades you made in high school. Or if you were a star athlete in high school, you might not be anything special in college. You can still expect the best from yourself and learn how to deliver it.  

Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families
assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application
and financial aid process.

Put it in writing January 20, 2010

Posted by Jason McDonald in : College Related , 1 comment so far

dohLike father, like daughter. I recently got a call from a student asking if we were meeting at 4 or 4:30. Good for her, calling to clarify instead of showing up late. Considering she’s paying me nearly $2/minute, it was a call well worth it. However, I do have one complaint — this type of call happens too often!

The first time she called she couldn’t remember which day of the week we were meeting. I figured hey, it happens to everyone. After the second time, I had her write our appointment times down. Well, here we are many moons later and I just realized why she had to call! I set this appointment via her dad and HE couldn’t remember what time we agreed to meet. He didn’t write it down!

Put it in writing. This gem was introduced to me by my aunt when my wife and I were planning our wedding. My aunt warned us how contractors will say one thing then do another. You need to get everything in writing, she told us, even if it’s uncomfortable to end our phone conversation with “would you mind shooting me a fax with those details?”

moneyReal money. Sure enough, one of the musicians tried to charge us for more than we agreed to pay. She told us she played longer than planned. The fact was, we agreed on a time and rate (and got it in writing), then she went over, even though we asked her specifically to play for a certain time. That was her mistake, so we payed what we agreed to ahead of time.

Getting in the habit of writing information down serves several purposes:

  1. It frees your mind for more important things
  2. When you show up at 4:30 and your tutor claims you should have been there at 4, you’ve got proof you’re right!
  3. It can put money in your pocket!
  4. If you get something wrong on a test in school, you’ll get partial credit for what you’ve written and nothing for what you thought!
  5. Although there’s no partial credit on the SAT, by writing stuff down you’ll get more problems correct. If you’re not convinced, be sure to read my post on thinking with your pencil.

contractThe real world. So whether you’re confirming appointment times or negotiating with a teacher for extra credit, be sure to get it in writing. Remember, you don’t have to be as blunt as saying, “will you put that in writing?” as that can offend people. Instead, try something discrete like, “I’ll send you an email to make sure I got the details right.” Or better yet, don’t say anything and just do it!

Whether you’re taking a test in school or a standardized test like the SAT, get in the habit of putting your thoughts on paper. If you start this habit now, I can assure you it will do far more than get you into a better college. You’ll have better chances of succeeding there as well as in the real world.

What is a good SAT score? May 31, 2008

Posted by Jason McDonald in : College Related , comments closed

For years past, many dynamics have played a part in the admission process . . . essays, interviews, community involvement (i.e., extra curricular activities), recommendations written by teachers or community leaders, your high school GPA, and your SAT scores. More and more colleges in the last decade or two are questioning the validity of SAT scores. Do good SAT scores really predict success in college? Do bad SAT scores predict failure? Of course not.

So who cares about your SAT scores? Colleges. Most do, anyway. There are three sections on the SAT: Writing, Math and Critical Reading worth a possible 800 points each. An average SAT score is around 1540 out of 2400 points. Students with an average SAT score have many options, but a score above 2100 would place you in the 90th percentile (meaning you scored better than 90% of the test takers) and might cause the “name brand” schools to take a closer look at your admission application.

Listed below are some colleges that require SAT scores and “rough, unofficial estimates” of the SAT scores for those admitted at each school.

Iowa State – 1825
Ohio State – 1800
DePaul – 1750
Arizona – 1700
Indiana University- 1650
Brown University – 1380
Harvard – 2200
Williams – 2125
University of Virginia – 2000
UCLA – 1900

There are many colleges that are “SAT optional.” In fact, some of the administrators at these SAT-optional schools claim that the test is not a good predictor of success in college. They also argue that the SAT exaggerates the difference between wealthy students whose families can afford expensive SAT prep courses and poorer students who see the exam for the first time on test day. If this is true, then the SAT isn’t serving the purpose for which it was designed, which is to give equal opportunity to all students.

Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest (a research center that is opposed to standardized tests) says, “SAT-optional, it seems, is no longer a euphemism for ‘second-rate.’ Many of the most selective campuses in the country are concluding that they can make better admissions decisions without the SAT.” Students who don’t necessarily score well on standardized tests would be relieved to know that their admission to certain colleges could be based on other strengths, such as personal interviews and serving in their community.

Many colleges and universities have gone the way of SAT optional in their admissions process. For a complete list visit SAT optional schools. The schools listed below are just a few who consider the SAT scores only if the minimum GPA or class rank requirements are not met. As you’ll see if you visit the above link, there are hundreds and hundreds of schools that are SAT optional.

University of Texas
George Mason University in Virginia
Black Hills State University (SD)
Iowa State University
University of Wisconsin-Stout (Menomonie, WI)
Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
Texas A&M University (Galveston, TX)
Tennessee Temple University (TN)
University of Michigan (Flint, MI)
East Tennessee State University

Remember, just because a school is SAT optional does not mean it is easier to be admitted there. It simply means they rely more heavily on the other factors for your admission (essays, interviews, extra curricular activities, recommendations & GPA).

So, what is a good SAT score? We can conclude that a good SAT score is different for each student and college. Many schools often accept students with average SAT scores while others rarely do. We can also conclude that, depending on which colleges are candidates, SAT scores may not even be necessary for admission!

If you ARE looking into schools that require SAT scores, be sure to maximize your score by preparing for the test. A good SAT score for you is about 200-300 points higher than your score the first time you take the test.