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Some Stress Relief for College Applicants

January 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A frequent feature of this year's college application season has been discussion and debate surrounding the CollegeBoard's new Score Choice program, which allows students to select which SAT scores they want to submit as part of their college application packets.  Schools are beginning to announce whether they will still require students to submit all SAT scores, and much ado is being made about whether students will use Score Choice and expensive and extensive standardized test prep to game the system.  At the same time, a number of college admission officials are talking, or in some cases cheering, about de-emphasizing standardized tests in the admissions process.

Meanwhile, numbers are emerging that suggest much of the hype surrounding the competitiveness of the college application process is a bit overblown.  As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported today, just over half the students who take the SAT take it a second time, and the vast majority stop there.  A study discussed last week in Inside Higher Ed says that despite the relatively small number of repeat test takers, 88 percent of college students surveyed were admitted to their first choice school.  In addition, students typically apply to only three or four colleges on average.  The high school students who spend years testing and retesting and compiling an extensive list of reach schools and safety schools may be well-represented in media, but prove to be scarce almost everywhere else.

To summarize, getting into college may involve a lot of work, but it doesn't have to involve a lot of worry. If you're a high school senior waiting nervously for an acceptance letter or a high school junior starting a college search, try not to stress.  If you write a strong application essay, maintain decent grades and some kind of extracurricular or community service activities, land a solid test score, and apply to a few colleges that seem to be good fits for you, or even if you just do most of these, you will most likely find yourself in the majority of students who wind up going where they want to go.  Now all that's left is figuring out how to pay for school.

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Study Shows Standardized Test Prep Can Pay Off

May 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Standardized tests area huge part of the college application process, and one of the biggest issues college-bound students and their families face is whether and how extensively to make use of ACT and SAT test preparation services. Standardized test prep can range from taking a practice test online to spending hours in intensive one-on-one tutoring sessions, with countless options in between.  Debate has raged for years over how much test preparation courses actually pay off, and a new study published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling represents perhaps the most ambitious effort to quantify these gains.

Through analysis of previous research, the NACAC study concludes that a consensus has emerged that score increases for students who use test prep services tend to be fairly small, often only 5 or 10 points on the critical reading section of the SAT and 10 or 20 points on the math section.  Evidence is still inconclusive as to ACT score gains, according to the study.  However, the study also surveyed college admissions offices to determine the impact of score gains and found that score increases on the upper end of this average range can have a significant affect on a student's chances of being admitted to a top college.  Inside Higher Ed has a more detailed breakdown of the study and its implications.

With many high school juniors already signing up to take, or in some cases already awaiting scores from, the SAT and ACT, the release of this study is timely.  It is not a ringing endorsement of extensive and expensive test preparation programs, but does provide an argument for at least taking some time to familiarize yourself with the standardized test you will be taking before you show up for the test day.  If you're competing for admission at your dream school or vying for an academic scholarship, those few extra points on your test score could make all the difference.

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Conference to Explore Standardized Testing Debate

September 24, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Thousands of college admissions staff, high school counselors, and higher education professionals will gather in Baltimore today through Saturday to discuss topics that include the economy's effects on colleges and the much-debated topic of standardized testing and its relation to the admissions process.

>The focus of the annual National Association for College Admission Counseling conference this year is the many different views on college admissions entrance exams. A study from NACAC released earlier this year showed that while the impact of extensive test prep tutoring programs was not very significant on standardized test scores - minimal on the SAT and inconclusive on the ACT - that impact was enough to suggest that lower-income students who couldn't afford tutoring were still at a disadvantage. The handful of extra points on a standardized test could mean the difference in whether you're accepted into a school that has a minimum cut-off in their admissions standards.

Prior to that study, NACAC had released a report suggesting the standardized testing system was broken, and that colleges should consider doing away with test scores as part of their admissions processes. That report found that standardized test prep benefited the wealthy and those who could afford it, and made high school students focus too much of their energies on testing strategies rather than the rest of their academic profiles.

On Saturday, the conference will host a "mega session" to revisit those studies and reports, and to come up with recommendations and potential alternatives to the existing standardized tests. The session will also revisit the recent release of "Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities," a book that analyzes graduation rates at state colleges and the disparities that exist among different races and socioeconomic statuses.

This afternoon, the conference features a session on strategies for SAT preparation. Tomorrow, the schedule includes a session on curriculum-based tests and their effects on students and the admissions process. The association will also be discussing the release of its new textbook, Foundations of Standardized Admission Testing, which is targeted at admissions professionals and explores both best practices and the controversies surrounding standardized testing. This is the 65th year of the conference. If you happen to be attending on any of the days, visit Scholarships.com, an exhibitor at the event.

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SAT Score Choice and the Common Application

October 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For high school seniors entering the last leg of the college search this fall, questions and frustrations are bound to arise, and the early source of confusion this year appears to stem from standardized testing. The final SAT and ACT test dates before college applications are due take place this month, meaning more students will soon have their first encounter the College Board's SAT Score Choice program, which allows students to choose which SAT Scores they want to report to colleges.

On the surface, Score Choice seems like a great innovation and a source of stress relief for students, and it might prove to be such if it were accepted by all colleges. However, a number of colleges and universities require applicants to report all scores from all standardized tests taken, and this is where students are running into problems.

Specifically, not all schools that require the Common Application, an application shared by many private colleges and intended to simplify the application process, share policies on reporting SAT scores, yet the Common App currently doesn't allow students to self-report different SAT scores to different schools. This has left students unsure of how to address what should be one of the easiest sections of their college application (after all, it's just transcribing numbers).

New York Times writer Jacques Steinberg took up this question for the paper's blog The Choice, and his answer should help students get over this bump and onto the more difficult parts of the Common Application, like the application essays. The advice he received when posing this question to the executive director of the Common Application was to simply leave the section blank. The College Board echoed this in a written statement.

Basically, since colleges will receive the official SAT scores (or ACT scores) you report to them when you take the test, they don't need you to also self-report on the Common Application. The question is asked only because some colleges take self-reported scores into account to get the ball rolling on the admissions process while waiting for your official scores. So if you're completing the Common Application and have multiple test scores that you don't plan to report to every college on your list, you can safely abstain from self-reporting your SAT scores.

However, the jury's still out on whether Score Choice will ultimately be worth the hassle it's begun to present to schools and students this year. Opting to withhold your lowest test scores may not make that big a difference in your admissions prospects, anyway, since taking the SAT multiple times was popular before withholding scores was even an option. In fact, some schools use your highest scores from all test dates, even dates with lower composites, when considering your application for admission or university scholarships, so withholding the test score where you finally nailed the verbal but completely tanked on the math section could conceivably hurt your prospects slightly in some cases.

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New GRE Questions Coming in November

October 2, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the GRE administrators, will be making small changes to the GRE next month. After dropping their plans to vastly alter the GRE, the ETS decided to go for something smaller.

Instead of creating a new grading scale, different formats and a new time limit (as was originally planned), ETS decided to begin by introducing two new question types, one for verbal reasoning and one for math. The remaining questions will remain the same, and the students’ answer to new questions will not count towards their score—at least not yet. David Payne, Associate Vice President of Higher Education at ETS, announced that, “We will begin counting these question types toward examinee scores as soon as we have an adequate sample of data from the operational testing environment."

But for now, students are safe.  Those who encounter the new math question will be asked to type their answer in a box rather than to select it from a set of provided choices. Those who see the new verbal reasoning question will be asked to choose two or three, rather than the standard one, answers to complete a phrase. Each test taker will only be shown one new question, if any.

Both changes, once officially employed, will make the test harder for most. Because many graduate schools heavily weigh GRE scores when making admissions decisions, it is best to prepare as early as possible.
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SAT Under Scrutiny Again: Scores Drop Further

August 31, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

College Board has been dealt another big blow. Just days after it was revealed they had bought their way into spots on preferred-lender lists, College Board announced a drop in SAT scores. College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the SAT and AP tests, announced on August 28th that the average combined scores for 2007 graduates dropped by 1 point in critical reading and by 3 points in math and writing. Since 1967, average reading scores dropped by 41 points and math scores by 1 point (writing scores were not reported). College Board stressed the positive saying that more students, minorities in particular, were taking the test.

Earlier this year, the SAT was scrutinized after research released by the University of California revealed that the correlation between high school grades and SAT scores may not be as accurate as once thought. Although the test was a good indicator of first-year grades, the following three did not match up. Eventually, ambitious students adjusted to the University of California’s difficult curriculum, regardless of initial preparation.

The study was a continuation of a 2003 study which showed that SAT performance was better than GPA in predicting first-year college performance. Apparently, after catching up with the 80,000 students sampled, things had changed. In fact, findings showed that the longer students attended college, the greater the value in using high school grades as a means of predicting future performance. Such findings indicate that the strong correlation between SAT scores and socioeconomic factors is eventually watered down. The implications of this research are yet unclear. It is, however, becoming clear that the SAT may not be as good of an indicator of college performance as was once thought.

The question of whether the SAT & ACT tests should continue to be administered was one of two issues addressed in Scholarships.com’s annual Resolve to Evolve essay contest (the second dealt with the population’s effect on the environment.) To read what students had to say, you can visit the Scholarships.com 2007 Resolve to Evolve Award Winners page. To find sample questions and advice on preparing for standardized tests, you may visit the Resources section at Scholarships.com.

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Don’t Object to Pre-Law Classes

August 9, 2011

Don’t Object to Pre-Law Classes

by Thomas Lee

My major was political science but I took some pre-law classes in preparation for law school. Taking pre-law classes or attaining a pre-law minor looks great on a law school application; if you’re interested in taking this path, here’s what you can expect.

My pre-law classes included Constitutional Law, Intro to Law and Criminal Justice. Students participated in mock trials during Criminal Justice class, which involved class members acting out the various roles portrayed in a real trial. I played one of the witnesses and had to field a series of questions from the defense and prosecution. I found it to be a very enriching experience and gained a better understanding of what legal proceedings really involve.

While I did not pursue a pre-law minor – and somewhat regret not doing so – I am still glad I took pre-law classes in order to gain at least a basic background of the legal system. I also wish I had taken a class entitled Legal Research and Writing, as I found it would have gotten me on the fast track to an internship. When deciding what classes to take, keep in mind which classes will advance your career the most and opt for those ones over fluff courses.

Pre-law classes will also prepare you for the Law School Admission Test, aka the LSAT. It works similarly to the SAT or ACT, as it is used to determine your aptitude for success in law school and is a requirement for admittance to most law schools. I have already taken the LSAT and scored a decent 149 out of 180, but a score of at least 160 is considered an achievement for the schools I’m interested in. Because of this, I am in the process of studying and plan to retake the LSAT this October.

Once I achieve the score I desire, it’s law school application time. Then, it’s three more years of schooling, countless hours of research, a few internships and a passing score on the bar exam until I can achieve my goal of becoming a civil lawyer and eventually running for political office. Wish me luck!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.

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