College Planning | Frequently Asked Questions
- Enjoy yourself. Take advantage of a broad range of courses if you can. That helps propel you to internships, summer jobs, and eventually colleges that coincide with what you really like.
- There is no need to take the SAT or PSAT during freshman year. Some students might want to take an SAT subject test at which they are proficient in June of freshman year, at the conclusion of a course they are currently in. If this is the last year of a language in which you have done very well but don’t care to continue with, then June might be the best time.
- Do make sure you are taking Algebra I or Geometry, if you have not yet had both. If you are in a school where 9th grade is still middle school and one of these courses is not offered, insist that you be allowed to take one of these courses at the high school. And if your school is trying to place you in an “Integrated Math” program, get out. Their track records in helping kids for standardized tests and college level math are poor.
- During the summer – READ! Too few kids read for pleasure and it hurts when it comes time to take the verbal sections of the SAT.
- If you’re one of those who wants to be ahead of the curve AND have had a semester each of Algebra and Geometry, consider taking the Ivy Bound course over the summer or summer/fall in preparation for the October or November SAT in 10th grade. Some of the skills we work on, particularly in reading, are beneficial for the rest of high school.
- If you prove to be a high-flier with a chance at winning a National Merit Scholarship award, consider taking the PSAT in October of Sophomore Year. There is no need to take a separate course for the PSAT; the skills tested there are the same as those tested on the SAT.
- This year is KEY. Mediocre freshman year grades are often dismissed, but sophomore grades are not. Do well. Take challenging courses where you like the subject, especially if they carry extra GPA weight. Kids who have the chance to take “AP” courses and resort to the lower challenge course often regret it.
- Do make sure you are taking Algebra I or Geometry, if you have not yet already had both. Note to students stuck in a “blended math” course – for most kids, they do a terrible job at preparing for the SAT. If the teacher is anything less than stellar, consider getting into a traditional math class.
- In the winter or spring, try to line up a good summer experience. A job, an internship, or a summer enrichment program is not only beneficial for college admissions, it’s usually rewarding in itself, and often fun. If you still want to spend most of your summer playing recreational golf at Dad’s country club, make sure you get at least three solid weeks of volunteer experience or academic enrichment. Admissions officers are punishing qualified kids who don’t seek to improve themselves over the summer.
- Assuming you’ve had a semester each of Geometry and Algebra I, there is nothing wrong with preparing for, and taking, a spring SAT. Generally we suggest that that only be an SAT II (subject test). With preparation, however, there is no inherent reason why that SAT I score would not be strong. Whether you want to spend a lot of time preparing is your decision. Since SAT I prep takes time away from academics, we lean toward waiting until the summer. Colleges do not hold it against you for having multiple SAT test scores. The Sophomore year SAT can thus be a “practice test” or an attempt to nail a good score early.
- Given that every college accepts multiple SAT score reports, the PSAT is of little use. Though it’s considered a practice test, the format differs from the SAT. Unless you are a real high flier with a shot at a National Merit scholarship, or a recruitable athlete, there is no reward for doing well on the PSAT. For most students, our advice is to prepare for and take the SAT test instead, and not get worked up about the PSAT. Some colleges prefer not to see students take SAT I more than three times. The best way to do a practice SAT without it counting is to come to an Ivy Bound Practice SAT session. In many locales, we offer these free of charge two and three weekends prior to the October, November, December, and June SATs. (Taking an SAT and cancelling has merit, but you do not get to see your scores.)
- Some students might want to take an SAT II subject test at which they are proficient in May or June of Sophomore year, near the conclusion of a course they are currently in. If this is the last year of a language in which you have done very well but don’t care to continue with, then June might be the best time. We don’t like seeing kids take more than two SAT IIs on a single test date. If you feel a need to take three, prep for each – don’t “wing it”.
- During the Summer following Sophomore Year:
- Enjoy yourself, but be businesslike in doing some academic enrichment AND having a game plan for the fall. A job, an internship, or a summer enrichment program not only benefits college admissions, it’s usually rewarding in itself and often fun. If you still want to spend most of your summer playing recreational golf at Dad’s country club, make sure you get at least three solid weeks of volunteer experience or academic enrichment. Admissions officers are punishing qualified kids who don’t seek to improve themselves over the summer.
- READ! Too few kids read for pleasure and it hurts when it comes time to take the verbal sections of the SAT.
- If you’re one of those who wants to be ahead of the curve AND have had a semester each of Algebra and Geometry, consider taking the Ivy Bound course over the summer or summer/fall in preparation for the October or November SAT in 11th grade. Some of the skills we work on, particularly in reading, are beneficial for the rest of high school.
- Say hello to the college guidance office by early fall. Find out the exact dates when SAT I and SAT II will be given and schedule yourself to prepare for and take both. Preparing for most SAT IIs is a matter of opening your textbook and enlisting a teacher to prep you for the few areas you did not cover well. Familiarize yourself with the format and consider taking a mini-course for the SAT II.
- The PSAT is of little use as a practice test. The format differs from the SAT test, and unless you are a real high flier or a recruitable athlete, there is no reward for doing well on the PSAT. The best way to do a practice SAT without it counting is to come to an Ivy Bound Practice SAT session. We offer these free of charge two and three weekends prior to the October, November, December, and June SATs.
- In enjoyable subjects, take challenging courses, especially if they carry extra GPA weight. Kids who have the chance to take “AP” courses and resort to the lower challenge course often regret it.
- Visiting college campuses is a matter of choice. Many students already know they are going to apply to a bunch of highly-ranked schools and will make visits only to the ones where they receive acceptances, in senior year. If you do want to make visits prior to then, make sure you note the college’s schedules. You don’t want to visit during finals time. September (or even late August for schools that start then) is a good time as the students are not under academic pressure that early.
- In the winter or spring, try to line up a good summer experience. A job, an internship, or a summer enrichment program is not only beneficial for college admissions, it’s usually rewarding in itself, and hopefully fun.
- During the summer – A full time internship, volunteer work, job, or study program has become almost standard for college bound kids following Junior year. If you can afford a foreign study program, we highly recommend it. Foreign programs are among the most broadening experiences possible, particularly when the participants have daily interaction with non-American students and families. Kids who come back from even a one-week program often have a lot to talk about in college application essays.
- If you have yet to nail down a great score on the SAT test, sign up for a summer class. You don’t need to study for Math, Critical Reading and Writing if one of those sections is already solid. Concentrate on the one that’s lacking by doing a partial course.
- Hopefully, you’re all done with the SAT test and can devote yourself again to school academics and school activities. Some kids even take on an after-school volunteer position one or two days a week. Whether you have a current work or volunteer activity or not, assess your past experiences and ask one or two of your supervisors to provide a recommendation. Do this early in the fall semester. Your goal is to get them back by mid-October so they can be part of an early admission packet.
- You have fall semester for a final crack or two at the SAT. If your SAT scores are already strong, concentrate on making senior fall the best set of grades so far. Colleges respect improving GPA trends (but not as much as overall strong GPA). If both GPA and and SAT scores are not where you want them to be, at this point your guidance officer is the best person to help you structure your senior fall. Keep in mind that some college admissions offices are more GPA-oriented and some are more SAT-oriented. All other things being equal, recognize this: even perfect grades in one final semester can only do so much, since at least 4/5 of your record is already set in stone. By comparison, a good score on the SAT test can greatly compensate for mediocre GPA.
- If SAT scores are not yet strong, but you are still aiming high, we typically suggest October and December. Though too late for “Early Decision,” all colleges accept SAT scores from December. If your child cannot take the October test, I encourage signing up for BOTH November and December. Frame the situation as –
A) “We’re scheduled for November and December. If you do great on the November test, you don’t have to take the December; you’re done and we’ll just cancel for December” or
B) “We’re scheduled for November and December. You have two opportunities to shine, so there’s no pressure on this upcoming test.”
- Students sometimes resent the fact that after working hard for 2 or 3 years they STILL have to prove themselves on a test like the SAT. At most competitive four-year colleges, the SAT and SAT Subject Tests combined are as important as three years of GPA. The high schools that recognize this and that foster targeted test prep are doing well for their kids. Schools that eschew “teaching to the tests” can rightfully be scorned as doing a disservice for their college-bound kids.
- We don’t contend that it’s good that the SAT carry so much weight. But given the reality of school admissions, the fact that it does carry so much weight means we want to give every teenager possible the opportunity to maximize her or his score.
Ivy Bound offers three $1200 college scholarships to the three students who show the greatest percentage improvement from pre-Ivy Bound to post-Ivy Bound test.*
* Students may use the best ACT result. ACT composite scores will be translated onto the most recent ACT-to-SAT conversion table. For example an ACT 31 = SAT 1380, and ACT 27 = SAT 1220.
Award is for current high school students based on best pre-Ivy Bound SAT/ACT to best post-Ivy Bound SAT/ACT through December 2015. Where no SAT or ACT was taken prior to starting the Ivy Bound course, we use results from the October 2014 PSAT. “Percentage Improvement” is the additional points divided by the points separating your best pre-Ivy Bound score from 2000. Thus a 1000 score that improved to a 1250 (250 points out of a possible 1000) will have a 25.00% improvement. A 1200 score that improved to 1400 (200 points out of a possible 800) will have a 25.00% improvement. An 850 score that improved to 1160 (310 points out of a possible 1150) will have a 26.96% improvement. A 1420 score that improved to 1570 (150 points out of a possible 580) will have a 25.86% improvement. In case of a four-or-more way tie, the $3600 will be split. Where two or more tests are taken after the start of the Ivy Bound course, the percentage improvement will be based on the BEST math combined with the BEST Critical Reading. (For this tally, SAT Writing is not included). For ACT it is the best composite single-day score (which is still how most competitive colleges evaluate ACT scores).
This does not apply to students whose pre-Ivy Bound SATs were all prior to 9th Grade. Should these rules not cover all nuances of the awards, a discretionary decision will be made by Ivy Bound that is final
Regarding the recently published Princeton University study that questions the value of elite college degrees, research and a bit of just plain common sense tells us the Berg Dale – Kreuger study is either very wrong or that the media is drawing the wrong conclusions from it.
Common sense says that when corporate recruiters seek out elite schools for on-campus interviews, it’s difficult for the motivated successful student at a lesser tier college to compete for that first full-time job.
Common sense says that a tight alumni network gives the student more opportunities for landing that first full-time job with a well-paying employer.
Common sense says that since graduate schools have a predisposition for undergrads from recognized high caliber schools, the equally meritorious students at less-recognized schools have a higher hurdle to overcome. It does not take a scholar to know that income correlates very highly with level of graduate degree.
Irrespective of the training students receive at the top-ranked colleges, the imprimatur of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and CalTech carries significantly into the market for the first job, for graduate school, and perhaps even for promotions thereafter. Ask recruiters who unabashedly state that they have discrepant thresholds for interviewing candidates based on their school. Ask Nicholas Lehmann, who said in a PBS Frontline interview – “a good school puts you in the way of more opportunity”.
Even the college drop-out has more access to funds for building his own business when his freshman year roommate is the child of a successful businessman or banker. Like it or not, the odds that that roommate falls into this category are markedly higher when attending a college that has been highly ranked for decades.
Professor Caroline Hoxby studied the financial returns to men who entered colleges of differing selectivities between 1960 and 1982. She concluded that the reward from attending the more selective college occurred in every age group, from those several decades past graduation, to those within one decade of graduation. The study accounted for differences in tuition, and her conclusion held true even for students who attended a less selective school on a “free ride”, i.e. a full scholarship. Hoxby’s study did not account for non-remunerative benefits of attending the college. Nor am I considering them here; it is clear that many students can find better opportunities for growth, diversity, enrichment, or academic course of study at a less selective school. The question for which many college-bound students need clarity is the financial return.
Many deplore a meritocracy based so greatly on grades and standardized test scores. And many regret what the pressures to gain admittance to top-ranked colleges do to teens. In the area of education, media reports too often confuse reality with what the reporter wishes reality to be. Publicizing a study that does not fully account for the prominence of these top-ranked colleges does a disservice to anyone seeking the truth.
It is wrong to cloud students’ futures with bad advice, and that can easily come from studies like Berg Dale and Kreuger’s.