FAQ - and Answers!
Q. What does Ivy Bound do?
A. We prepare high school students to do well on the SAT and ACT. The SAT is the biggest single test for determining whether good colleges will select the student.
Q. If a teenager doesn't aspire to an Ivy League school, (or if a parent won't let the child to go to the East Coast so soon), why does the kid need Ivy Bound?
A. Whatever university a child wants, a good SAT score will help. If there's no desire to attend an elite school, there almost always is a desire to get money, and merit scholarships are largely based on SAT scores. Even if a kid right now wants to go to a trade school, taking the SAT while in high school will at least open up options if he later decides he likes the college idea.
Q. When should a teenager start preparing for this test?
A. 10th or 11th grade, as long as s/he has had a semester each of algebra and geometry.
Q. What makes the SAT so hard?
A. It's not hard. The math is composed of basic skills, but the questions are asked in ways that require logic and sometimes creativity. Those are courses kids don't learn in school. As for the verbal, it's a test of reading comprehension and vocabulary. And when were those skills stressed in school? I went to an elite prep school in New England, but nobody drilled me in vocabulary, logic, or creativity.
Q. So... if it's not so hard, why are so many kids afraid of this test?
A. Because it means so much. 3 years of hard work can go out the window if a student with a high GPA does only mediocre on the SAT. And the trends are more dire - colleges are getting even more competitive.
Q. Can you give any free advice here?
A. Yes. Start preparing early. And that means READ a lot. I hold a one hour "How to be a Great SAT Parent" session to start off each class. No matter how smart he is, a kid who reads very little is at a huge disadvantage on the SAT. Now my course can combat that, by intensive scrutiny of commonly used SAT words, but it's much harder.
Q. Your course is intensive. How do busy teens, with sports and plays and part-time jobs, fit this in?
A. Our students make this their number one priority for 2-3 months. They know that if they can pop a great SAT score in junior year, they can cruise through senior year with far fewer burdens, so they make the sacrifice. Some find it's not a sacrifice at all, because I tell them to turn off the TV for six weeks. Even a middle course - limited TV - can give the kid 40 free hours a month. I run a semi-militaristic class, so a lot of kids respect that, and it's something many parents have wanted to do for a while.
Q. Your course is expensive. How does a family of moderate means afford Ivy Bound?
A. We encourage families who want tutoring to do semi-private
tutoring. Enlist with another student who has similar goals and is
academically compatible. This becomes 1-on-2 tutoring, and the
families split the tutor cost.
For families with deep financial need, we give tuition assistance for regular standing classes. It can be as much as 85% off. We don't want to keep anybody out based on need, so parents shouldn't be afraid to call. We're at 860-975-1600.
Remember, at many schools even a 100-point increase vastly improves a student's chances for both admission and merit scholarships. In the long run, many parents find that the value of Ivy Bound far exceeds the cost.
Q. I understand Ivy Bound holds pro bono classes for students with limited means?
A. We encourage community groups who have diligent students to contact us about holding a low-cost class.
Q. How much does taking honors and AP classes matter?
A. A lot.
Q. Is it worth taking AP and/or Honors courses if the kid will be spending twice the study time?
A. Probably. Honors and AP classes on a transcript attest to rigor of coursework, depth of learning, and to some extent a willingness to accept challenge. When college admissions officers choose to look beyond numbers, they strongly appreciate these factors. At schools where there is a grade inflator for taking AP or Honors courses, the kid's GPA is unlikely to suffer; indeed, for the hard-working kid, the GPA may be helped. To become more assured, find out from upperclassmen who took X course with Y teacher how the grade distribution went. You probably want to avoid a teacher who awards as many C minuses as As.
Assuming the GPA aspect is a wash, the main decision comes down to workload and intellectual interest in the subject. Taking honors classes in an elective you hate is just not worth it. Avoiding honors classes altogether is a mistake though - it's very easy for a college admissions officer to say "no" to a kid whose transcript rings of "just getting by", "had the opportunity to challenge himself, but didn't".
Q. Does an improving GPA trend make up for a mediocre first two years?
A. Maybe. Many "numbers-oriented" colleges, particularly large state universities, do not take the time to make minute discernment at the "first cut". Now, even the most impersonal admissions office will look at trends, essays, and letters of recommendation for the candidates who made the first cut and are "on the bubble". But making the first cut there may be difficult if a poor freshman year has slapped the kid's GPA well below the school's median.
The best solution for kids in the medium-but-rising category is to get a second recommender to call attention to the strength of the last few semesters. An extra recommendation can never hurt.
Q. What's the difference between the PSAT and the SAT?
A. First, the SAT is seen by the colleges. The PSAT is not seen by colleges. Unless you get a tremendous score (top 1%), the PSAT is unimportant. The top 1% in each state qualify for National Merit recognition, and approximately half of these students ultimately win a "National Merit Scholarship" as a result.
Second, the format differs. The PSAT is shorter.
Third, the scoring differs, though not significantly. PSAT gives two-digit scores from 20 - 80 and SAT gives three-digit scores from 200 - 800.
There is no discernible difference in level of difficulty between PSAT and SAT. However we do find that SAT scores move towards the median - i.e., high PSAT scorers score slightly lower on the SAT, and low PSAT scorers usually improve. Since the SAT tests the same level of reading, the same type of vocabulary, and with a few exceptions the same math skills, we surmise that this "norming" owes to the SAT being a longer test.
Q. What is the difference between ED and EA?
A. An ED (Early Decision) applicant is allowed to apply to only one ED school, and if the word is "yes" the applicant cannot matriculate elsewhere. Colleges like this because they get a certain portion of the class committed early, reduce their workload for the regular round, and in some cases get earlier cash flow. Early Action (EA) is not a binding commitment; it only allows students to hear early. Some schools offer "Single-Choice Early Action" (SCEA), which is identical to EA except that applicants may apply to only one SCEA or ED school.
Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages to applying ED (Early Decision)?
A. One possible advantage of Early Decision (ED) is that almost all colleges that offer ED have higher acceptance rates in the ED period than the regular time period. While that could owe to the best prepared students being more prevalent in the ED applicant pool, many colleges report a lower average GPA and SAT in the ED pool than the regular pool. For the student yearning to attend a school for which his numbers are slightly below the school's average, the ED tradeoff may be worthwhile. On the other hand, the ability to apply to a multiplicity of schools means the chance for multiple offers. Occasionally a "reach"" school comes through; occasionally one college awards not only an acceptance, but a significant merit scholarship as well. ED is a good option for kids who have enough zeal for a college that if accepted, they will have no regrets about spending four years there. ED is not good for students who need significant financial aid awards.
Q. Is there any relationship between ED and the SAT?
A. The availability of ED affects the SAT in terms of scheduling. The November test is the latest time a senior can take the SAT for ED purposes, and I recommend October as the latest test just to be safe.
Q. How does ETS (Educational Testing Service, the SAT people) treat students with learning disabilities?
A. ETS "flags" any score achieved under special conditions, including extended time or private testing. The percentage who applied for and received extra time has always been very small (under 1% of SAT takers). ETS has recently announced that it will review this policy regarding the SAT with the College Board. Should the policy be changed, there will be an incentive for many parents to get a child "classified" by ETS as having a learning disability. I predict a brief window of time under which that will be advantageous, after which the standards under which a disability is recognized will require higher scrutiny, and more (expensive) documentation.
Q. Do you have any advice for students with learning disabilities?
A. My advice to a student who may have a learning disability has always been "see how much difference the extended time makes". With students whose disability is so severe that extended time means getting an additional 20 questions right, then almost assuredly the extended time is warranted. But a student who routinely covers all but two or three questions per section under regular timed conditions should not seek extended time and be visited with the automatic "flag", unless he/she has a tremendous GPA.