Fewer Students are Taking Them. Few Colleges Require Them. How SAT Subject Tests can Greatly Increase Your Competitive Advantage
Why take the Subject SAT Tests if fewer students are taking them? Well, precisely because fewer students are taking them!
Remember, college admissions are very competitive. The acceptance rates have fallen precipitously in recent years, as the number of seats remain the same while the number of applicants have increased dramatically--from all over the world. So how do you compete?
According to the Washington Post, there is a problem with Subject SAT tests. People do not see the value of them, especially given the existence of AP classes. Why take the SAT subject tests when you can take AP classes and showcase them in your scores? Well, one reason is that not all high schools offer AP classes, while SAT subject tests are available nationwide. Another reason is that the subject tests enable students to stand out by showing mastery in a given area. This is important for schools like MIT. It asks applicants for one score in math and one in chemistry, biology or physics.
“We do find they’re helpful and predictive,” said Stuart Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions and student financial services. Some students perform better on a math subject test than on the math section of the SAT or ACT, Schmill said. In such cases, he said, additional scores can “give us more confidence to admit those students.”
What about AP Tests, which are designed to measure college-level work? Schmill said students often take the AP tests in May of their senior year, too late for applications. He said that MIT publicizes the subject tests in marketing materials because many potential applicants are unaware of them.
Top schools require the subject tests. Harvey Mudd College requires one subject test in math and one in any other field a student chooses. Some major universities recommend that students with engineering ambitions send math and science scores. Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities, and a few others, recommend sending two subject test scores. Georgetown University strongly recommends three.
The lesson here is that if you want to get into a top college, you should take the subject tests. And given the fewer students are taking the SAT subject tests, you can increase your chances of standing out and getting into the school of your choice.
The main reluctance of students to take the subject tests is the stress of taking tests. This is primarily due to a false premise that tests are useless. Nothing can be further than the truth.
Testing is a great way of studying. In fact, experts now say that testing is better than studying, with the latter consists of re-reading the same or similar text over and over again. So studying for tests helps you become a better student and you learn faster.
If students eliminate the premise that tests are primarily to measure their IQ, or their worth, they will become better test takers. If there is one thing you can take away from this blog it is that testing is better than studying. Do not look at tests as a test of your self-worth.
If you need help in learning faster, testing smarter and scoring higher on your standardized tests, do not hesitate to contact us.
You Got into Your Dream College. Now What? How to Avoid Confusion and Stress and Successfully Navigate College and Live Happily Ever After
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There are many articles that talk about how to get into college. They talk about the importance of test scores and GPA. And the dreaded essays to the college. People, including us, advise to stand out by taking interesting internships, playing a niche sport, or just being different. But what do you do when you do get into the college of your dreams? How do you navigate college? What are the optimal ways of learning skills critical to your future, of socializing, of making the most out of college? Here are some tips of what not to do.
1. Denying the Overwhelm
You will be overwhelmed! You are in a new environment, and perhaps for the first time, away from home living on your own. It can be exciting but overwhelming at the same time. There are so many things to consider. The housing. The logistics of getting to school. The class requirements. New people to deal with. Lunch. Dinner. Etc.
We recommend that you should, if possible, visit your college a few times before starting your first semester (quarter). Get to know your college as your housing ahead of time. Know where the bookstore is, and the library.
2. Using College for the Credential Only
Eric Johnson, guidance counselor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says, “The more you regard college as a credentialing exercise, the less likely you are to get the benefits.”
The wisest students, he said, “move into a peer relationship with the institution rather than a consumer relationship with it.” They seize leadership roles. They serve as research assistants.
We recommend you follow Johnson's advice. Find the leadership roles. Leadership roles are not just about being a club president or a team captain. You can become a research assistant to a professor you like. You can tutor students. Etc.
3. Ignoring the Most Important Relationship
Most students don’t fully understand that perhaps the most important relationships they can form is with the faculty. It is often hard to identify professors worth knowing, especially those who are accessible to students. Often top professors are too busy to mentor students. However, students must identify professors who can mentor them and help them navigate college.
4. Failure to Introspect
“You have to ask yourself what lies closest to your heart,” said Jim Gates, a renowned theoretical physicist at Brown University.
Many students going to college do not know what they want. They fail to introspect an ask themselves what lies closest to their hearts. But how do you introspect? It is easy to give a lecture about and actually doing it. Here are some tips. Ask the following questions:
5. Worrying About the Wrong Things
Many students worry about the wrong things in college. They worry about finances (you can always get a loan). They worry about what others, especially their peers think (they are not going to pay your bills!). Etc.
Your job in college is to learn and make the most of this privilege and opportunity. In today's world, too many students have an entitlement mentality, that they are entitled to things, including a college education. That is a wrong and bad attitude. You should focus on learning and making the most of the precious years you have in college.
If you focus in college and do your utmost, you will blossom in your career. As Professor Gates said, “If you are fortunate enough to find something that you’re totally obsessed with, you’re likely to work very hard at it. If you’re a human being of average intelligence and you work very hard at something, you’re likely to become very good at it. And if you become very good at it, people are likely to notice.” That means they’re likely to employ and reward you as well.
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Are you stressed about your payments for college? Do you think you cannot afford the college of your dreams? We suggest that regardless of your financial circumstances, you should apply for the college of your dreams. The question is, how will you afford it?
One, you can apply for financial aid. Anyone can get a unsubsidized FAFSA loan, regardless of income level. Unsubsidized means that interest carries from day one, versus an subsidized loan, where interest starts only when you have graduated.
Two, you can try for merit based financial aid, if you have stellar grades, test scores and a strong application. Most universities will offer you some sort of a financial aid; some compete to get you as a student.
If you are unable to get merit scholarships and do not qualify for subsidized loans, we suggest to apply for an unsubsidized loan. Then consider the following often overlooked ideas.
A Side Hustle
Consider a side hustle. Perhaps, you have a hobby that you can monetize. For example, you can mend clothes. You could charge a fee to do that your fellow students. For example, Jessie Baren, from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, earned almost $100,000. As a result, and with his parents' help, he made his way through Michigan and $65,000 – without needing financial aid. He did that by selling apparel for Fresh Prints, a national custom-apparel company started by college students in 2009.
Assemble Multiple Scholarships
Consider assembling scholarships from multiple sources. There are a plethora of scholarships available. Check out Hillview Prep's scholarships page here for more information.
Ask College for more Money
Yes, you can! Don't be shy. If you are a strong candidate you can write an appeals letter to the college and request more money as financial aid. In your letter, paint a clear picture why you would be a good fit and a strong candidate. If your family have other expenses, like medical bills, that aren't already taken into consideration, explain how that is having an impact on your college finances.
We recommend that you should visit the college of your dreams a few times, and if available, even take summer classes in your sophomore or junior years. Get to know the professors and staff of the area of your interest. Make sure you know why you are going to college. Be focused.
These are part-time jobs on or nearby campus for eligible students, like the Work-study programs. Undergrads earn hourly wages, but the amount you earn can't exceed your work-study award for the year. Graduate students are also eligible for work-study programs.
If you don't qualify for work-study, check out Websites like QuadJobs and WayUp post jobs online for college students looking for odd jobs like babysitting, tutoring and dog walking, as well as work related to their studies.
Colleges, states, and the federal government give out grants, which don't need to be repaid. Most are awarded based on your financial need, and determined by the income you reported on your FAFSA.
According to The College Board, in 2016, undergrads at public colleges received an average of $5,000 in grant aid and those at private colleges received about $16,700. The biggest grant awards usually come from the the college itself.
If you want, we can help you with designing a plan for your college financial support. Just let us know!
How can you prevent a big loss in tuition fees if your child suddenly withdraws from college due to unforeseen circumstances?
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College tuition is rising and there seems no respite from high tuition fees. In addition from buying a house and saving for retirement, college tuition is a huge investment for families. In 2016-2017, average tuition and fees plus room and board cost $45,370 at private colleges and $20,090 at in-state public colleges, according to the College Board.
Unforeseen Circumstances and Tuition Fees
Insurance companies are quite happy to provide you with insurance coverage. For example, Allianz provides reimbursement for tuition, housing and other fees in the event of a covered withdrawal. Also, tuition insurance is provided by hundreds of schools, mainly through third-party sellers such as A.W.G. Dewar and GradGuard.
Before you decide on whether or not to buy tuition insurance, consider the main reasons for withdrawal from college.
Every year, many students face the difficult decision of continuing to go to school while being seriously sick, or withdraw and lose tuition payment? If they withdraw they lose their tuition and working hard during illness could lead to serious short term or potential long term harm. It is best to leave and take care of your health. This is where tuition insurance can help.
Studies show that 80% of students feel overwhelmed and more than 50% face anxiety so severe it affects their academic performance. Many students drop college or get depressed. According to data, 1 in 3 students leave college for at least one semester. In such cases, tuition insurance can help pay or offset your tuition fees and other payments.
How it Works
In general, plans can cost as much as 6 percent of the tuition tab and are purchased a semester at a time to cover in-state and out-of-state nonrefundable tuition as well as housing and other fees. As with other types of insurance, the more extensive the coverage, the more expensive the policy. At Allianz, for example, if a student's annual tuition, fees and room and board were $30,000, the midlevel "preferred" tuition insurance plan would cost about $200 per semester.
How to Decide?
You Might Already Have Coverage
Before you rush to buy tuition insurance, keep in mind that most schools have a refund policy and don't limit reimbursement to medical issues if your child withdraws during the school year.
For example, at Boston University, a student who withdraws in the first five weeks of school can get 20 percent to 100 percent of tuition back, depending on when she leaves school. There is a deadline for this, so you have to check.
Even if a student withdraws later in the semester and doesn’t have tuition insurance, she hasn't necessarily wasted her money, says Jane Klemmer, an independent college consultant. “You can take an incomplete and make up the work when you come back to school.”
History is important
What is your child's history: medical, behavioral, etc? How does she handle stress? If she is sickly and/or cannot handle stress well, be prepared that she may leave college for at least a semester. Don't rush and get insurance though. First, check if the college offers reimbursement, partial or full, and if she can mark the semester courses as incomplete and make up the work later. Second, after you have found the information, if there is a shortfall and you cannot afford it, buy some insurance.
In any case, if you need some consultation and a sounding board, we would be happy to help. Just sign up below for a consultation!
There are some overlooked ways of paying for college. One such overlooked funding idea is the topic of this blog.
Often families choose tax-free 529 plans. The reasons are plenty. 529 plans are a fabulous way to pay for college due to their tax free structure and high dollar number. Note, however, that you fund it with after tax dollars, but the growth and withdrawal is tax free. We can summarize some key advantages of 529 plans as:
A big disadvantage of a 529 plan is that investment options in 529 plans are limited to mutual funds or preset portfolios that are designed to get more conservative as a college admissions date nears. If you use assets in your plan for expenses that aren’t education-related, you face paying taxes and a 10% penalty on earnings. So if you overfund it and are unable to transfer it to other family members for educational purposes, you are faced with paying taxes and a penalty.
An important overlooked way of funding college education is a trust--and many families are choosing a trust due to its flexibility. While a 529 plan limits how much you can invest, where you can invest, and how the assets must be used, a trust is more of a blank slate or a canvas that can be structured, funded, and invested however you like.
There are however good reasons to use 529 plans and trusts simultaneously, to get the best of both, financial advisors say.
How it works
A trust can be much broader in scope than a 529 plan, and there are no limits on how much you can put away.
“Your trust can just be for education costs, or it can also be for other purposes, like to start a business or purchase a home,” says Jeanne Sun, head of the advice lab at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
While assets in trusts can’t be withdrawn tax-free, there are no limits on how they can be invested, creating the potential for higher returns. A trust fund can ensure that the grantor’s wishes are carried out, which can be useful if the grantor is concerned about whether the beneficiaries can make wise decisions. For example, a trust fund can prevent a child from spending his or her college savings on a sports car or a vacation.
Consequently, annual exclusion gifts that otherwise would have been utilized on 529 plan contributions can be used to make contributions to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of the child, resulting in a more efficient, flexible and robust transfer of wealth to the next generation.
J.P. Morgan’s Sun often recommends that clients use both 529 plans and a trust. The idea is to fund the 529 plans conservatively so they are no unused assets subject to taxes and penalty, while the trust can pick up education costs where the 529 plans fall short. That way, you get some tax-free investing, and the flexibility and benefits that come with a trust.
When heading off to college, you want to do everything in your power to make sure the first semester is stress-free. College is a massive change, one symbolic of a coming-of-age moment and adulthood. It’s the first time the bird leaves the nest and must fend for themselves in the real world. Creating a stress-free first semester has a lot do with preparation. You need to ensure that you have the proper items and tools to navigate the new terrain that is your college life—otherwise the environment can quickly turn chaotic.
The better prepared you are, the more you ensure that your livelihood, anxiety, and happiness are at their most optimal levels. Embrace the change, let excitement fuel your days, and know that your first college semester is going to be one of the most memorable epochs of your life. The tips below will help you stay stress-free during this riveting and joyous time.
Create a List
Chaos begets stress. The new environment that college provides might make you feel out of place. Things you once took for granted are no longer available and, for better or worse, everything is foreign. That’s why it’s important to make a list of the comforts you have now. What’s your routine like? What sort of products do you use in your everyday life? This can be as mundane as your morning walk, to as unique as the specific type of soap you love. By creating this list of your everyday ‘necessities,’ you can pack them up and take them with you. There’s nothing like having little pieces of home when moving to an unfamiliar place.
According to recent studies, 70% of students gain weight during their time in college academia. The freshman 15, while an exaggerated measurement, is absolutely rooted in truth. Weight gain isn’t the focus here, though, it’s the lifestyle. In this new fast-paced environment, it’s easy to forgo eating well or exercising in exchange for hitting homework deadlines and maintaining a social life. But a healthy lifestyle equals a healthy mind, and stability fosters productivity. Remember to stay active, eat well, and focus on your overall health even when the pressure of difficult deadlines fills you with stress.
Keep a Schedule
Now that you’re in a new environment, with classes and obligations piling up, it’s easy to lose track of a consistent schedule. But professionals recommend ironing one out. Structure this schedule around your classes and take into consideration time spent on homework. Identify places where you can take care of yourself (like exercising, meditating, or napping) and work to make it happen. Ensure that this schedule can complement a healthy sleep cycle, since negating your body’s natural rhythm will create a higher propensity for stress.
Bring the Right Stuff
Packing for college isn’t easy. You need bedding, school supplies, bathroom essentials, and a myriad of other day-to-day items. Yet, you want to be sure to check off as many things as possible before shipping off. Overpacking is a good thing in this case. Make sure to also look into the best HP laptop for college so you’re prepared to pound out essay after essay. These days, most professors upload important documents and materials online so you can access your class necessities anywhere at any time.
Keep a Keen Perspective
College is exciting! From the friends you’re going to make, the extracurricular activities, the nights out and Greek life, it’s a place that keeps on giving. Yet, your biggest goal here is no longer passing the standardized test. You’re taking four years of your life to achieve a college diploma—and gain important life skills in the process. Remember, your education is the priority. While everything that surrounds this pursuit may be intoxicating, it’s important to keep your perspective fresh. Every year students drop out of college because they were too consumed by the exciting environment. It’s easy for the fast-lane college lifestyle to derail students—don’t let it be you.
The first semester of college is, for most of us, the beginning of our ‘adult’ lives. Remember, this is a massive change. You’re literally inventing yourself alongside your peers. Embrace the new terrain, open yourself up to new opportunities, but stay focused and healthy to ensure you’re both effective in academia and stress-free. If you’re feeling stressed, worry not. It’s all part of cutting your teeth.
Guest post by: Adam Pepka
Adam enjoys a comfortable life in Tucson, Arizona but is proud of the humble beginnings from which he came. Growing up reading authors such as Timothy Ferris, and feeling inspired by their bootstrap beginnings, Adam was determined to find financial freedom himself. He soon became a successful real estate mogul after one deal led to another, and not long after Adam began his own fix-and-flip enterprise. Aspiring investors and HGTV fans alike enjoy reading his blog about the various challenges and accomplishments he finds in each property renovation, as well as the tips and tricks he suggests for those considering their own fixer-upper. In between remodels, Adam enjoys teaching his audience about various investment strategies and how any Average Joe like himself can build a profitable portfolio. Apart from real estate, he’s very much interested in Silicon Valley, venture startups and the technology industry. He watches that arena with a careful eye, and is the first to alert his readers to major news or events.
10 Things Most People Don't Know About a new IRS Rule that can help them pay down their Student Loans
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Standardizing testing is a fact of life. It’s one of many factors used in the selection process, especially for those looking to apply to top colleges and universities. While there’s a growing number of top liberal arts colleges opting to go test optional, which means SAT or ACT are not required, the Ivy League and comparable schools have yet to join the test optional movement. As such, it’s essential that you plan and prepare to take a standardized exam, whether the SAT or ACT. The choice is yours. Colleges do not have a preference for one or the other.
The first standardized exam you’ll face as a high schooler is the PSAT 10, which is typically administered in the fall of your Sophomore year. The PSAT 10 is a practice test for the SAT but it also has other added value such as measuring your readiness for college in addition to identifying gifted students for merit recognition and scholarship.
In your Junior year, most high schools will recommend waiting until late Spring to take your first SAT or ACT. Start sooner, perhaps taking the first one in December of your Junior year and the second one in March or April. If a third examination is needed, an early fall test date in August or September is your best bet. The benefit to following this testing plan is that it will allow you to dedicate time and energy towards your AP exams in May. Additionally, it affords you the opportunity to take SAT2 subject tests in May or June with less stress. For schools that recommend or require SAT2s, you should plan on taking 2-3 subject tests, preferably one in math, science and humanity. Put your best foot forward by scoring in the upper 700’s to show mastery of subject. However, keep the October SAT2 dates in your back pocket if you want to improve on previous scores.
The ideal plan is to be done with all standardized testing requirements before your senior year so that you may dedicate fully to the demanding college application process, with special attention to Early Decision and Early Action deadlines of November 1. So, plan accordingly and wisely to balance school and life.
Guest post by:
Solomon Admissions Consulting is an international college admissions consulting company. Most applicants blend into the crowd. We'll help you stand out and get in. Over 90% of our clients get into one of their top 3 choice colleges.
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This is an amazing app. I just tried it. I scanned in a quadratic equation, and viola, it solved it instantly. Wow! It showed me the steps as well as created a graph of it. Then it neatly summarized the roots of the quadratic equation, the domain and the vertical intercept.
With Photomath simply point your camera toward a math problem and it will show the result with a detailed step-by-step instructions. It supports:
• Operations with: Integers, Fractions, Decimal numbers, Powers, Roots, Logarithms
• Algebraic expressions
• Equations: Linear, Quadratic, Absolute value, Rational, Irrational, Logarithmic, Exponential, Trigonometric
• Inequalities: Linear, Quadratic, Absolute value, Rational, Irrational, Logarithmic, Exponential
• Solving Systems using: Comparison, Substitution, Elimination, Gauss-Jordan method and Cramer's Rule
• Calculus: Derivatives, Integrals
• Trigonometry: Converting Angles, Calculating trigonometric values, Finding Periods of trigonometric functions, Calculating with trigonometric expressions
• Graphs of Elementary Functions
GradeProof offers automated high-quality spelling, grammar and rephrasing corrections to improve the quality and eloquence of your writing - just like a spellchecker, but on steroids. If you are not sure of your writing, try this app and let us know if it really helped you.
With StudyStack you can create your own unique flashcards and share them with your fellow students and teachers. You can ever search thousands of flashcards made by others and use them for your study. Check out this app. I just did and it quite good.
Fill the Artkive Box with your kids’ art, and it will be professionally photographed and turned it into a stunning, keepsake book. You can then access these memories from any connected device. Try it out and let us know if you like it.
If you have questions like:
You need this app. It will help you organize your life around your study. Try it and let us know if you like it.
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1. Know What You Want
Do you know what you want to do in college? Which major? Are you looking to do research, join a company after college, or start your own venture?
Most students have never asked just questions. They don't know what they want to do in life. They are going to college because, well, everyone is doing it.
You can get a huge advantage by knowing what you want to do in college. Once you know that, you need to find the selectivity of your major at colleges. For example, if you want to pursue English or Psychology, virtually every college offers these classes. However, if you want to study Japanese or Moroccan art, your choices are limited and you have to find the schools that offer such courses. Also, some schools have a high acceptance rates, but much lower for a specific program. For example, Carnegie Mellon has a general acceptance rate around 24%, but the rates for computer science and drama are 7% and 3% respectively.
2. Quality of Faculty
Once you know what you want, find out the quality of faculty in your target schools. Are there a lot of Nobel Laureates? Are the professors interested in teaching, or do graduate students do a lot of the teaching? What are the opportunities of learning at the school? The quality of laboratories/libraries? Can you work for a professor during summers? Etc.
Are you adventurous? Most students do not go further than 200 miles from their homes! But you can open the world for you if you venture out. Go out there and explore different places. Do your research on the computer and then check out the place in person.
If you are not adventurous and also do not have money to pay for college, you are better off staying home, to avoid the out-of-state tuition fees. However, if you can get good grades and excellent test scores, you could get financial aid and go and venture out.
4. Financial Aid
If you are looking for financial aid, do your target schools offer strong financial aid? If so, find out the qualification criteria. Perhaps, they want to see a strong interest in your subject area. Prepare accordingly. Do an internship in that area. Improve your test scores and GPA, etc.
If you don't have the money and cannot find the necessary financial support, then go to a local community college and transfer to a four year school. Community colleges are quite affordable and often have better teachers, since the focus is teaching and not doing research.
5. Career Support
Given the rising cost of college education, you need to make sure that your target schools offer strong career support. You should ask the following questions:
6. What Kind of Schools Attract You?
Are you looking for exposure to international students? Are you interested in studying a semester or year abroad? If so, check the quality of study abroad programs. Check how many international students attend the school. Check the relationships of your target schools with schools abroad. Do not hesitate to contact the study abroad office at your target schools for more information.
Or, are you looking for a small college in a strong local community? Do local companies hire a lot of graduates? Do you get good internships at local companies? You need to find this out.
We have created a small check list (see below). Let us know if we missed any important factors.
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The cost of college is a serious issue in the United States. Remember though, that the US has the best colleges in the world, and like anything else, there is a price to pay for that. Nevertheless, the true cost of college is misleading. Top colleges are cheaper than you think, says the New York Times, which compiled data from an online calculator.
The key finding is that top colleges are more affordable than many people realize – both for poor and for middle-class students.
Low-Income, Middle Class, and The Affluent
How much do lower-income students pay? Lower-income students – defined as families with $50,000 or less in annual income – pay only $6,000. Students can often cover that cost through part-time work and a small annual loan.
Middle-class families pay a higher price, but nowhere near the list price. Only affluent families pay close to the list price. New York Times defines affluent families with an annual income of at least $175,000 and a net worth of a half-million dollars or more. College bill at many private colleges, including tuition, fees, room and board, has reached the sum of $70,000 a year. For affluent families this can be unpleasant, but not enough to disrupt their lives, which is what colleges look at.
The findings are summarized in the figure below.
High vs Low Prices
The New York Times argues that colleges with huge list prices aren’t the biggest problem because they often offer substantial financial aid and have high graduation rates. Low-income students at least graduate with manageable amounts of debt and get good jobs.
The real problem is with lower list prices -- private and public colleges -- because of lower graduation rates. So students emerge with debt and no degree, which is a terrible combination. You can find more info here.
Costs at colleges are not identical. Not surprisingly, colleges that charge more tend to have smaller endowments, giving that they have fewer resources to pay for financial aid. Some of the least expensive selective colleges for poor and middle-class students often have the largest endowments. Amherst, Dartmouth and Williams are all examples. Yale stands out for providing the most financial aid to middle-class students, charging them only slightly more than poor students. Harvard, Princeton and Stanford have similar policies.
For both poor and middle-class students, such colleges tend to be significantly cheaper than even four-year public universities! So don't assume that private colleges are more expensive than the public ones. Often they are not. Do your research and find out.
Are you prepared for college? Many high schools do not adequately prepare students for the rigor of college, and many students struggle during their freshmen year. Some burn out. Some quit. If high school was easy for you, make sure you take more advanced classes, including programming in Python and Java, if you are pursuing an engineering, math or science degree. There are many college courses available on Coursera and edX. Check them out to see if you are ready or not for college. We at Hillview Prep would be happy to guide you through the process.
It is important to plan carefully for college, as you very well know. However, given people's busy schedules, it is easier said than done. We at Hillview Prep specialize in college test prep, scholarships and applications. We would be happy to help you with college consulting -- from finding the best scholarships to financial aid to choosing the colleges that fits you the best. If interested, sign up below!
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There are numerous smart students who fail to score their best and come in short--and they don't why. One of the biggest mistakes students make is misunderstanding how to prepare for the GMAT. The GMAT is a unique test. It is not testing your knowledge; rather, it tests your abilities. In a very short amount of time you have to find clever strategies to answer questions.
Your first step is designing an effective study plan, so you avoid wasting your time and effort on the wrong strategies.
1. Don’t Underestimate the GMAT
Many students underestimate the GMAT and what it takes to prepare for it. They think it is like any other test and give themselves only a few days to prepare--or prepare the wrong things. They leave a week or a month for preparation. Unfortunately, that does not work with GMAT. According to GMAC, the average prospective MBA student spends a year on the process. If you don’t, you may find yourself trying to cram for the GMAT. And that will not work.
2. Don't Underestimate the Competition
GMAT students typically are ambitious and have degrees. They believe in doing their best and usually do. Unfortunately, the GMAT is cut-throat!! It is very competitive and pits you against other test-takers from all around the world. Your score is determined by how you perform in relation to your peers. And it is getting more and more competitive as strategies (like the ones here) and test material are now available to more people around the world. You better believe that you are in a very competitive ring, with invisible and smart opponents. You have to put your A game on--always!
3. Don't Study; Practice
GMAT tests your skills and not your knowledge. You already have enough knowledge, so spending time rote learning the concepts is a waste of time. Most of your learning will be problem solving the GMAT style questions. It is almost like learning a new language. You build your cognitive abilities through practice and you build your skills little by little and over time.
4. Don't Rely on Substitutes
The GMAT is very specific, and you can get trapped if you use material made by others. Be careful! Use the official test questions, and use them wisely. This is not to suggest that you should only prepare with official test questions. Look at other publishers to gain an understanding of the GMAT, and then use the official test questions to understand where you are having problems. Use your official tests strategically. Don't use them early on, and don't use them to get comfortable. Use them when you think you know enough of what is asked on the GMAT. Then test yourself with the real questions and learn what problems you are having. And then practice.
4. Don't Forget to Know Thyself!
Know thyself sounds like a cliche, but it is true. You have to know what kinds of questions you get wrong and why. You have to know what is easy for you. Each person's decision making is unique. You have to understand how you make decisions and how you think. Is inference hard or easy for you? That is particularly important as GMAT is very inferential. Improve your inferential thinking by studying great fiction! Yes, reading is a big deal.
5. Don't Forget to read, read, read
University of Virginia professor Mark Edmundson argues eloquently that reading should not be an academic exercise, but should be for the purpose, in words he borrows from Keats, of “soul-forming.” The value of reading is “the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than [we ourselves] are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense—more alive with meaning than you had thought.”
So go read some great fiction and improve your expertise in grasping inferences!
6. Don't Neglect the Verbal Section
Many test takers are intimidated by the GMAT’s quantitative section, especially if they don't have a strong analytical background. But don’t neglect the verbal section. Your final score out of 800 is weighted slightly more in favor of the verbal section.
The verbal reasoning section tests your reasoning ability. It is not about business English. It is not about vocabulary. Many native English-speakers have found out the hard way that being native speakers is not sufficient to get a good score. You will be challenged on your verbal reasoning ability. There are GMAT-specific rules that are not always intuitive, so be careful.
If you want to work on your GMAT preparation, give us a shot. Sign up today!
Have you heard of “dockets,” “the lop list,” “tips,” “DE,” the “Z-list” and the “dean’s interest list”? The last term probably gave you a hint. It is about college. What does these mean and which college?
We are talking about Harvard, arguably the most elite and prestigious college in the world.
These terms are part of the secret language of the Harvard admissions team. Students who apply to Harvard work very hard and believe that if they have checked all the right boxes, they would be admitted. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A recent lawsuit has revealed the real deal of the Harvard's admissions committee. It is a Wizard of Oz experience! The lawsuit reveals that Harvard uses racial balancing to shape its admissions in a way that discriminates against Asian-Americans. According to the New York Times, the plaintiffs accuse Harvard of jiggering its selection process to create a stable racial profile from year to year: this year is was about 23 percent Asian-American, 16 percent African-American, and 12 percent Latino.
But if Harvard were race-blind, the plaintiffs say, its freshman class would be about 40 percent Asian-American, like the University of California, Berkeley, a public institution that has to abide by a state ban on racial preferences.
More than a dozen elite US institutions say it is essential to consider race and ethnicity as part of the admissions process – but supporters of the lawsuit say the treatment of Asians parallels the exclusion of Jews in the 1920s
The Trump administration has taken an interest in the issue, opening a parallel investigation based on a separate 2015 complaint to the Justice Department by a coalition of Asian-American organizations.
The stakes in the admissions have never been higher. About 40,000 students apply each year, and about 2,000 are admitted for some 1,600 seats in the freshman class. The chances of admission in 2018 were under 5 percent. Of the 26,000 domestic applicants for the Class of 2019 (the lawsuit is not concerned with international students), about 3,500 had perfect SAT math scores, 2,700 had perfect SAT verbal scores, and more than 8,000 had straight A’s.
Harvard divides the country into 20 geographic “dockets,” each of which is assigned to a subcommittee of admissions officers with intimate knowledge of that region and its high schools.
Generally two or three admissions officers, or readers, rate applications in five categories: academic, extracurricular, athletic, personal and “overall.” They also rate teachers’ and guidance counselors’ recommendations. And an alumni interviewer also rates the candidates.
The proverbial Picket Fence:
The plaintiffs say that the private score — which considers an applicant’s character and character — is essentially the most insidious of Harvard’s admissions metrics. They are saying that Asian-People are routinely described as industrious and clever, however unexceptional and indistinguishable — characterizations that recall painful stereotypes for many individuals of Asian descent. (The applicant who was the “proverbial picket fence” was Asian-American.)
DE stands for “distinguishing excellence.”
“Tips” are admissions advantages. The college gives tips to five groups: racial and ethnic minorities; legacies, or the children of Harvard or Radcliffe alumni; relatives of a Harvard donor; the children of staff or faculty members; and recruited athletes.
The 'Dean's Interest' List:
These lists are named for the dean and director of admissions, and include the names of candidates who are of interest to donors or have connections to Harvard, according to the court papers.
The final decisions are made by a committee of about 40 admissions officers over two or three weeks in March. Meeting in a conference room, they argue over candidates who are “on the bubble” between admission and rejection.
This is a sort of back door to admissions. The list consists of applicants who are borderline academically, the plaintiffs say, but whom Harvard wants to admit. They often have connections. They may be “Z-ed” (yes, a verb) off the wait-list, and are guaranteed admission on the condition that they defer for a year.
About 50 to 60 students a year were admitted through the Z-list for the Classes of 2014 to 2019.
You have to ask the question if merit is really important to Harvard and other schools? It does not seems to be. Well, in one way, you should not be surprised. You assume people and institutions are rational and make rational decisions, but even Harvard does not.
So, if you didn't get into Harvard, despite having perfect test scores, GPA and other requirements, don't blame yourself. Find another route towards your dream.
Angry parents and students have taken to social media to vent their frustrations about the June 2018. The issue seems to be that the math portion of the test was too easy, which resulted in a harsher curve. That meant that getting even a few questions wrong could result in significantly lower test scores. The College Board has sent the following information to students:
“We understand your questions about your June SAT scores. We want to assure you that your scores are accurate. While we plan for consistency across administrations, on occasion there are some tests that can be easier or more difficult than usual. That is why we use a statistical process called ‘equating.’ Equating makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date. So, for example, a single incorrect answer on one administration could equal two or three incorrect answers on a more difficult version. The equating process ensures fairness for all students. The June scores we reported are accurate – the result would be the same even if we rescored it."
But frustrated students and their parents are struggling to understand that explanation. They believe that the College Board should not have administered a test that varied so much in difficulty compared to other versions.
Marguerite Saunders, 17, said she answered 51 of 58 questions correctly on the math portion of the exam in March and received a 740. In June, she said she successfully answered 54 out of 58 questions and received a 700.
“It’s not the most accurate representation of my math ability and the whole reason people take the SAT is to have an accurate representation,” she said.
Leslie Rives, a parent in Kennedale, Tex., said her son’s score dropped by 20 points in June — to 1390 — despite answering six more questions correctly than he did in March.
“It was so disheartening,” Rives said. “This one test could potentially just change this year of college admissions.”
What can you do?
1. Our advice has always been to take the ACT as well. Do not rely on one test! The ACT has been also the more consistent test than the SAT. People put more emphasis on the SAT, but we believe you should seriously consider the ACT. Full disclosure: we are not getting paid by the ACT.
2. If you are unhappy with your June 2018 SAT scores, take the SAT again or take the ACT. Yes, it is a hassle. Yes, you have pay more money. Yes, it will impact other things you are doing. We recommend to take the ACT and if given time, take the SAT again. However, if you score well on the ACT, you don't have to retake the SAT.
3. What is the big issue with the SAT? Why are they inconsistent? Well, the SAT is more abstract than the ACT, so it is not surprising that some tests may end up easier than others, because often abstract things are hard to pin down. That is why we recommend to take the ACT first. Also, if you didn't do well on the June SAT, well, maybe it is because you struggle with more abstract tests. We recommend that you take the ACT.
We will be happy to help you out if you choose to do so. You can enroll in our ACT and SAT classes. Please signup below.
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It is a common phenomenon where students are not able to get their test-day scores to match their practice test scores. To them the gap seems unsurmountable. No matter how much they work hard, or how many practice tests they take, they underperform at the actual test.
If you are one of such students, we suggest to read this blog. There are a few common reasons that official scores remain persistently lower than practice scores.
1. Test taking anxiety--fast and slow
It is natural for you to feel anxious on a test. That can manifest in many ways. You could freeze and lose confidence and try to over thing thus missing a few questions. Or, you could speed up, trying to do everything as fast as possible and start making mistakes.
If you are a slow test taker, speed up. Don't over think. If you are a fast test taker, slow down. There is usually more time than you think.
At Hillview Prep, we use an interval based strategy to teach you the right pacing for your test. Test taking is mostly about learning how to take tests when you know the material. Our methods will train you how to pace yourself correctly and bridge your performance gap.
2. Are you taking the wrong tests?!
Third-party tests (Kaplan, Barron’s, Princeton Review, etc.) are not interchangeable with the real thing. They are good to improve your understanding and abilities, but they are not the real tests. The questions they ask are different and that may be one reason why your official test scores are different than your practice ones.
At Hillview Prep, we carefully plan your learning. We interleave the third-party tests with the real tests so you build your stamina and experience in answering test questions. We make sure that you see different publishers, but not lose sight of the real tests. We also make sure you are not just using old tests.
3. Are you second guessing your answers?
Often students second guess themselves. They go back and check and double-check their answers, and end up changing the right answers to wrong ones. Many students lose points this way.
At Hillview Prep, we teach you how to guess when you are unsure of your answers. Our deducting reasoning methodology limits the number of pure guesses, so you don't have to go back and second guess your answers all the time.
4. Beware the distractions!
At home you can concentrate easily, as long as you put away your digital devices and other distractions. During the official tests, many students get distracted because their concentration got thrown off by the test taker in front of them. Maybe they were kicking their chairs, humming a tune or tapping their pencils. If someone in the room is really being loud, you can obviously ask your proctor to stop the distractor.
At Hillview Prep, we organize bootcamps and classes which mimic real test conditions. You will be taking tests with other kids, which means distractions. You could take tests using earplugs, but they may not be allowed in the real test centers due to past cheating scandals.
5. Can you sustain your focus?
Real tests are long, and unlike studying at home, you don't have access to your phone, or frequent breaks, etc. If you are not used to focusing for long periods, your performance in the real test will suffer.
At Hillview Prep, our interval pacing strategy trains you to focus for longer periods of time, thus building your test taking endurance. We teach you how to pace yourself, how to take short mental breaks without losing the flow of the test. Just like you would train for a marathon, we train you to build your endurance for the grueling test.
6. Are you being stubborn and not applying better test strategies?
We have seen smart students underperform in actual tests. The reason is that they are stubborn and refuse to implement the strategies we teach. A case in point. A bright, straight-A student came to us for ACT test prep. We coached him in better test taking strategies. He refused to use your strategies and ended up scoring a 30. We believe he could have scored a 34, given his high level of knowledge and expertise, but he refused to implement better strategies.
At Hillview Prep, we try to match our strategies with your strengths and coach you how to use your strengths to conquer your weaknesses. However, if you refuse to implement good strategies, you will underperform in your tests.
Contact us if you need help on your test prep. Call today!
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How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?
There are many answers, but experts suggest that you should have no more than eight or nine colleges on your list. We recommend three target schools, three safety schools, and three reach schools. Safety schools are colleges and universities that are almost certain to admit applicants. Pick two four-year colleges, and one community college if your GPA and test scores are low. Also, if you cannot afford a four-year school, a community college is a good alternative to save money and transfer to a four-year college later. Target schools are likely to take applicants and reach schools are those that are highly competitive and is going to be tough getting in, but well worth it and usually are the 'dream' schools. You can determine which category a school falls into based on the average test scores and GPA for its incoming students.
If you apply to too many school, it will cost you money (application fees, visits, etc.) and loss of focus. And it can be quite challenging when it's time to write application essays, which is one thing where you can differentiate yourself. You want to do a great job with your application, including visits and on going communication with schools of your choice. Having too many schools poses a challenge to your time, money and energy.
Although the Common Application has made college application easier, you still have to pay admissions fees for each institution. And we recommend visiting the specific campuses of interest and to make connections with faculty and staff. All of this takes time, money and energy.
Preserve your money and energy and focus only on a few schools. Applying to colleges takes work, and submitting applications to a large number of schools may ruin the quality of your applications. If you don’t know the school really well, then it’s hard to write really good essays and stand out from the thousands of applications the school receives each year. Remember, the acceptance rate is very low nowadays, mainly because anyone with a computer from around the world can apply. So standing out from the crowd is really tough. So focus on a few applications.
However, do not apply to a very small number either, say one or two. This may prevent you from maximizing your financial aid offers. If you apply to more schools, you are likely to get multiple financial aid offers, and you can use those offers to negotiate aid with schools.
Also, consider the academic quality and range of schools. If you apply to only two or three schools, and if they happen to be academically similar, you might risk getting rejected from all of them.
The only exception is if you are going for an early decision school. Schools like Duke University and University of Chicago offer early decision admissions, which requires you to attend the school if you are accepted early! This is different from the early action admissions, which allows you to apply before the regular admissions cycle, but does not require you to enroll if you are admitted.
And finally, you should think of the fit. Which schools will really prepare you for success? Are you really excited about going to the school? Or, are you going there because of family and peer pressure, or because it is well known? What is the campus size? Where is it located? Etc. You have to think of your own values and make a decision. Be motivated by love of your values and not by fear from peer pressure or anything else.
In college applications, quality trumps quantity. Focus on nine schools and create a compelling application for each. Even the safety schools should be the ones you would want to go to. Don't short change yourself. If you work hard, you deserve to go to a school of your choice.
And we at Hillview Prep are here to help you guide through your journey if you need some test prep or counseling help. We will work hard with you to maximize your chances of getting into your target and dream schools. Do not hesitate to contact us!
List of reasons why applicants overreach and are disappointed in April with their college admission outcomes:
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The Graduate Management Admission Council announced that it was cutting the length of the GMAT by 30 minutes.
The new shortened exam will last for three and a half hours instead of four starting April 16, 2018. There is no change in the content of the GMAT itself.
Why the change? It seems that the change is in response to the growing competition from the GRE, as more business schools are accepting the GRE. There is a market share battle between the GRE and the GMAT, just like there is a battle between the SAT and the ACT. Admissions trends are showing that business schools are looking for applicants with more than just a business background, and that means that the GRE has become popular for admissions to business school.
The GMAT’s time savings targets the two two long sections of the exam: Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning. It reduces the number of un-scored, research questions in those sections. Several tutorial and instruction screens have also been simplified. There are no changes to the Analytical Writing or Integrated Reasoning sections.
“This change will not affect GMAT exam scoring as the number of scored questions will not change,” said Vineet Chhabra, senior director of product management for GMAC. “The scoring algorithm will be the same.”
What does this mean and how does this change impact the GMAT takers? Chhabra of GMAC said that candidates will be “less anxious and feel better prepared” for the test as a result of the time reduction. So endurance becomes less of an issue.
The GMAT might still give MBA applicants an edge at some business schools over the GRE. According to a 2017 Kaplan survey, 21% of MBA programs said those who submit a GMAT score have an advantage over those who submit a GRE score. Only 1% said GRE takers had the advantage. Will that advantage hold that the GMAT is easier? Only time will tell.
What would we recommend?
We believe that if you have test taking challenges, consult with us to learn test-taking skills. And take both the tests! Fundamentally, GRE and GMAT have more in common than they have differences. To succeed at either, you will need to master math--algebra, arithmetic, geometry, data analysis—as well as language--reading reading and critical reasoning skills. And you need to hone them with efficient test-taking strategies. We suggest to take the GRE first, and if you do really well, take the GMAT. You have nothing to lose. The key is to prepare well and to take these tests seriously as many smart students underestimate the challenge in taking these tests.
If you want to work for management consulting firms or investment banking firms, they require job applicants to submit their GMAT scores. MBA applicants who plan on working for management consulting firms or investment banking firms.
After learning test-taking skills, if you still lean towards either math or verbal, stick with your strengths. The GMAT is considered tougher in the math department due to its data sufficiency questions, while the GRE Verbal section's emphasis on vocabulary.
Test drive our GRE/GMAT bootcamp. Sign up below.
Most students (and parents) make several seemingly benign errors in their college admissions process that can cost them dearly. Below are nine ways families make common mistakes and suggestions how to avoid them. If you like the tips, do let us know what you think.
1. Dropping Context
Context is critical in the admissions process. What is context? It is your background. Your family's background. For example, applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds are measured with a different yardstick than affluent applicants who have had numerous opportunities for personal and academic growth and exploration. Those who have to work to help with family finances simply do not have the time to take extracurricular activities or even AP classes. Some students may have a learning disability or a physical handicap, or a difficult family situation. Colleges look at all of this information.
Make it easy for colleges to know your context. Where do you live? What kind of family responsibilities do you have? What kind of difficulties do you face? What opportunities you have had that you made good use of? Do not leave our vital personal story. If you do, you will lose out in the admission game. You want to stand out and therefore make sure that the admissions committee sees the real you.
2. Lack of Balance
Be mindful of the number of times you use “I” in your essays. Do you give credit to teachers, mentors, parents, and others who have helped you along the way? Of course, you have to write about yourself and talk about yourself as the unique individual you are. At the same time, however, you have to talk about how you can contribute to the college. For example, if you an art major and the school of your dreams has a great theater program, think of how you can add to the value of the program. Or, if you have an interest in science, think of what unique work you want to do that will help the science program at your college. Etc.
3. Lack of Ambition and Vision
If you are applying to a top school, you must demonstrate ambition and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish there. Don't say that I just want a job after graduation. You can go to a community college (and save a lot of money) and do just that.
Think about what you want to do after college. What will you learn in the school that will help you achieve your goals? Which courses? The more specific you are, the more you will impress the admissions officers. Plus, it will show that you know what you want and have done your homework about the school.
4. Not Improving your IQ (Interest Quotient)
Today, college admissions are ultra competitive. Many students have similar GPAs, test scores, and even extracurricular activities. You will need recommendations and your Interest Quotient (IQ)--your demonstrated interest--to tip the scale in your favor.
According to the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC), from 2003 to 2011, the percentage of colleges rating demonstrated interest as a “considerably important” factor increased from 7% to 21%.
Schools want to admit students who genuinely know and like the school, and if admitted, want to attend the school. How do you then demonstrate your interest? First, you have to increase you IQ (interest quotient).
5. Writing One Essay for All
It’s tough applying to 10 schools while you’re juggling a busy school schedule. It’s tempting to try to answer the essay prompts for all 10 supplements with that one great essay you worked so hard on -- but be careful. You can score low marks on the demonstrated interest test if it is obvious to the reader that you have repurposed an essay for another school. Admission officers usually know the prompts from competitive institutions, so they could notice and be unimpressed with your essay.
6. Poor Grammar & Punctuation
You are expected to have a strong command of proper grammar and punctuation. In today's age, you have no excuse given the grammar tools available. You don’t want to give the admission committee ANY reasons to put your application in the reject pile, but poor grammar and punctuation will get you there quick. Even if English is your second language, try to have a native speaker review your application for glaring errors in grammar, word choice, and punctuation. Use a grammar and spelling tool to correct obvious mistakes.
7. Not Proofreading
Having mentioned spell-check and other word processor tools, don't just rely on them. They can also fail you. There is a lot riding on your college application. Treat it as very important and not a chore you got to do. That is not the attitude you should have. And that is why we advise to focus only on your top 10-15 -- one by one.
8. Forgetting the Admissions Rubric
Admissions officers use a “rubric” as a guide. They differ from school to school, but their function is to evaluate core components of a student’s profile:
Be aware of this rubric. Make sure you have addressed the rubric in your application.
9. Not Understanding the 'Yield'
Yield in college admissions is the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after having been offered admission. [Source: Wikipedia]
Schools like to manage their yield, or the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll, and IQ can be a great predictor for that. Many students do not enroll due to various reasons: money, girl or boy friend, family, fear of the unknown or distance from home, etc. The top, top students may not go to a specific college, given they have a plethora of choices. You can increase your opportunity by helping the school increase its yield. Increase your IQ (interest quotient) for the colleges in your list.
If you need support and have questions, do not hesitate to consult with the Hillview Prep team!
“I am absolutely, unequivocally and categorically scared to enter the college admissions process. And chances are that if you are a rising high school senior, you are too. In the increasingly competitive milieu that is college admissions, no college is a “safe school.” Acceptance letters from dream schools couldn’t be more hard found, nor rejection letters more prevalent.”
Following is a list of students' concerns:
1. What if I don’t get accepted?
Admission rates at the 100 or so most selective colleges have declined significantly over the past 30 years, from 54 percent in 1984 to 32 percent in 2012. Numbers at the Ivies are daunting: 6 percent at Harvard, 6 percent at Yale, 7 percent at Columbia. It is 5 percent at Stanford.
However, top colleges have gotten a lot bigger. Many of the universities have added seats (like Michigan, Berkeley and Boston University), while some huge schools have joined the ranks of the elite (think NYU, USC and UCLA).
There are 55 percent more seats available today than there were 30 years ago. Even considering the increase in international applicants, there are 44 percent more seats for every American student than in the early 1980s.
While it's more difficult to get into any one top college, getting into one of the top colleges is much easier. We suggest to apply to several schools and not to set your heart on one or two schools only.
2. Am I SMART enough?
“My biggest fear was not being good enough. I knew that I was going to a big college where many brilliant students were going to attend, so competition for scholarships was going to be tough. I overcame this fear by focusing on my learning. Instead of thinking about average exam scores or grades in a class (which can be easy to compare yourself to), I thought about how I could improve my test scores and focused more on what I wanted my grade to be, regardless of others.”
If you got into the college, the admissions department obviously thinks you can handle the work. So don’t sell yourself short. Surround yourself with people who want to succeed, too. They’ll be the people to turn to when times get tough. Start by getting organized: follow the course syllabus and meet your professors.
3. How am I going to pay for college?
Fill out the FAFSA form, even if you don't qualify for the Federal needs based criteria. Did you know that any student who fills out a FAFSA—no matter how wealthy—can take a federal “unsubsidized” loan? The key word here is “unsubsidized”. Check out Advice from Students About Paying for College for some great tips.
Finally, check out Hillview Prep's Ultimate Guide for Scholarships. Here you can find many different scholarships that you can apply for and help pay for college.
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"They need to fall in love with you."
College admissions @Duke
“I tell kids that their job is to make the [officer] fall in love with you,” Toor says. “I’ve written many notes to students asking them to meet me as soon as they get to campus.”
~ Hillview Prep: Showcase your unique personality with your essays. Contact us if you want our help.
Assistant Director @USC
"Become familiar with what the university can offer you in terms of academic and extracurricular experiences, but then think one step further. What do you offer the university? Imagine being here--how will you spend your time? What do you want to explore or improve? What will be your contributions to the community? Don't underestimate yourself! Articulating your potential impact will give us a better sense of who you are and whether USC is a good fit for you."
Dean of Admissions @MIT
“What I tell students, and my own kids, is that you don’t have to take every advanced class. My high school daughter, for example, is taking advanced math and science courses but chose not to take advanced English and history. You should challenge yourself. For some students this might mean taking the most advanced classes, but it also might mean taking the most advanced classes appropriate for that student, and not spreading themselves too thin.”
Applicants do not need to tick off a laundry list of engagement in every field, like art, music, sports, Mr. Schmill explains. “M.I.T., and other highly selective colleges, want students who prioritize quality over quantity.” Mr. Schmill offers high school students this litmus test when choosing extracurricular activities: “If you couldn’t write about this on your college application, would you still do it?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Assistant Director @USC
"Identify all of your strengths and interests, and do your homework on how you could fit in here at USC. Do not be afraid to step out of your box and be unique."
Associate Director, Office of Admissions @Texas A&M University
"I wish students knew to contact their universities of interest and research the steps of the application process before their senior year. Pre-planning can eliminate some of the trials and errors of applying to school. The sooner students conduct research on the application process and what it takes to be admitted, the better they understand which classes they need to take and how they should organize their past, current and future activities."
Senior Assistant Director @USC
"Take chances. Allow your application to be a true representation of who you are, not who you think we want you to be. By demonstrating your individuality – your quirks, your unique perspective, your heart – you will set yourself apart from other applicants."
~ Hillview Prep: How do you set yourself apart? Contact us if you want our help.
Former Admissions Officer @Cornell
Friedfeld says universities are essentially looking for community residents with a four-year lease. “As an admissions officer, you’re picking people to enroll in your community, your space, for the next four years. They’re going to choose who they like and who they want to get to know.” At AcceptU, Friedfeld hands out sample essays, then asks students their thoughts. “They’ll say they liked the writing. It’s not about that. It’s about whether you liked who wrote it.”
Senior Assistant Director @USC
Choose a major that you are actually passionate about and want to pursue. Your interest (or lack thereof) for that field is obvious. If you don’t know what you’re interested in, or are still deciding, then choosing “undecided” is okay, you have plenty of time to figure that out.
"I’ve run into many students over the years who are not aware that some colleges to which they are applying track every contact point the students has had with that college or university as a way to gauge a student’s “demonstrated interest.”
My advice to students is to do whatever you can do to leave a paper trail that demonstrate interest in the colleges you to which you apply (i.e. visit, email their admissions offices, call them, join their mailing lists, open their emails, interview etc.)."
Micah A. E. Canal
Chief Admission Officer @Antioch College
College ‘Fit’ Goes Both WaysI wish more students applying to college understood just how important “right-fit” is. Do we want to see people who were successful in high school and had a bunch of extracurricular activates? Yes, absolutely. But you can make an even better case for admission by showing us that you are going to be able to be highly successful and benefit most from the uniqueness of our institution.
Do your research. Don’t only make the case that you’re great, make the case that you’re a great match great for us.
International Admission Officer @USC
"Tell us your unique and individual story – and if you don’t think you have one, I promise you that you do. Consult your friends, teachers, parents, counselors if you’re stuck. Don’t tell me what you think I want to know to hear, because I have probably seen it before and it will not help you stand out. Have confidence in yourself and your story and convey it to us with passion and enthusiasm. These small things can make a huge difference!"
College admissions @Duke
“Two letters of endorsement are enough,” she says, “unless a third can really shed new light on the student.” The record at Duke was 32 letters, though Toor once heard Georgetown had an application with 70. “We used to joke that the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.”
"The three rates that give parents and students peace of mind"
Associate VP and Dean of Admission @University of Richmond
“As my son prepares his college list, I’m going to hand him a spreadsheet. Across the top will be the schools, and down the side will be the list of things he feels are most important to him in a college. When he visits these schools and does his research, he’ll fill in the spreadsheet, and it will be a nice road map for him. At some point, once you visit two or three schools in a day or five schools a week, they begin to blend, and you definitely want some bread crumbs to remind you of where you’ve been.”
“On the same spreadsheet, I’ll have him track what I call the ‘three rates’ for each college. The first is the retention rate: Are students returning as sophomores? Because if they are, then I make the argument that they have had a very good experience, their needs are met. Next is the graduation rate. A fifth year or a sixth year in a college represents forgone income or time that you are not in graduate school — and you are not going to get that back. The last rate is the placement rate or ‘student outcomes.’ What are students doing six months, a year or five years after graduation? Are they employed, are they in graduate school, what type of companies or organizations do they work for? The three rates gives parents and students peace of mind that they’ve done their research.”
VP of Enrollment Management @Valparaiso University
"Choosing a college is a long but rewarding process. It takes time to find which college is the best fit for you. The sooner you complete your application (including transcripts, test scores, personal essay, and so on) the sooner you will receive a decision and your merit scholarship award. This provides you more time to investigate and weigh your options."
The 2018-19 Common Application Essay Prompts
Now you have the prompts. How should you proceed? If you need help, please do not hesitate in contacting us for help in writing your essay. Remember, you get only one chance to impress the college admissions committee!
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When a colleague puts down the phone and exclaims, 'That person was rude!,' I would immediately ask which applicant or prospective student was involved. Once the applicant or prospect is identified, a note gets promptly placed in the student's file. Duly noted!"— José Román, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Yale University.
1. You are Tracked!"
Your and your family interaction matters. Be aware that treating people poorly has consequences. As the quote about shows, people will note it and hold it against you. Especially, be nice to the administration staff. They are there to help you. A kind gesture can go a long way.
College admissions is a stressful process because the outcome is uncertain. Do not fall into the trap of "resulting". Do not focus on just the results. Trust your process. You cannot control the results. Someone else has to make a decision for the result to go your way.
College admissions is a stressful process. But that never means you can be rude or pushy to anyone (ANYONE) working in or near an admissions office. Many schools track your or your parents' communication with that college, and even if they don't actively track your interest, admissions officers still take notes!
Even on the phone with administrators, make sure you present yourself the way you want to be viewed by your application reader. This one is good life advice in general: Be nice.
"As an admissions evaluator at Brown, we really had to keep up a rigorous reading pace with the regular decision applicant pool. We were expected to read 5 applications per hour, which equates to twelve minutes per application. In those twelve minutes, I reviewed the application, standardized test scores, the transcript, the personal statement, and multiple supplemental essays—all while taking notes and making a decision on the admissibility of the applicant."—Erica Curtis, Former Admissions Evaluator, Brown University
2. You have only 12 Minutes!
Think of the admissions officer! She has only twelve minutes to read and make a decision. Knowing this, how would you construct your application? What should come first? How organized should you be? How many extra letters of recommendation would you send? How much more do you want to convey in 12 minutes? Or, should you be precise and up to the point?
Let us know if you want craft a laser sharp application material. We will be glad to help you with your essays and application material.
"At Stanford, when reading applications, we did use one acronym in particular—SP ("standard positive"), which indicated that the student was solid and had an overall positive application, but unfortunately was just standard."—Anonymous, Former Admissions Reader, Stanford University
3. Don't be a "Standard Positive"!
Given that there are thousands of applicants from all around the world, how do you stand out? You do not want to just be 'standard', or in another words 'good'. You want to be memorable, or to use another Stanford lingo - angular!
"Before a student gets her admissions decision, she can go from admit to defer/waitlist or vice versa. Until the Dean of Admissions starts to shape the class, nothing is final. Sometimes admissions officers get lucky and can add back in one or two of their favorite students (who made it through committee, but for one reason or another were moved to "defer" or "waitlist" along the way). Admissions officers really care about the students for whom they advocate, but often it comes down to the needs of the school and the desire to have a well-rounded incoming class."—Natalia Ostrowski, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, University of Chicago
4. Beware of the Shaper!
Even if they expect you be 'angular', the schools want to develop a well-rounded class. You can be an outstanding candidate, but because of the desire to shape the class, you will go into the defer or waitlist.
If you find yourself in such a predicament, talk to us. We have some advice for you.
"As an admissions officer, I analyzed students' personalities. If I read an admissions essay, and the student came off as arrogant, entitled, mean, selfish, or, on the flip side, funny, charming, generous, witty, I wrote that exact trait in my notes. It's not enough just to be smart at top schools. Students must also show that they'll be good classmates and community builders."—Angela Dunnham, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Dartmouth College
5. Showcase your Personality
Personality matters to admissions officers. They want to know you. Unfortunately, they have only twelve minutes to make a judgment. Don't come off as entitled or arrogant. Be polite and come across as passionate about your interests and goals. Take a look at this story of Eni here. We are sure you will be inspired by her.
If you need help with your essay, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to show you how to write an essay that can make you stand out.
"If you are assigned an MIT alumni interviewer, definitely take advantage. There is a slightly higher admit rate for those applicants who take advantage of the interview." --Vincent James, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, MIT
6. Interview Matters
Just like for job applicants interviews matter. And getting an interview is a key to getting a job or admissions to a college. If you got called for an interview, do not blow it. A college interview is your chance to bring some more color and personality to your application. Conduct a great interview and you can potentially get into the college of your dreams.
"My biggest pet peeve as an Admissions Officer was when a kid would visit the office, expect to have an audience with me, and then have no questions at all. Not even easy ones the website could answer! That tells me a lot about the student, not much of it good."
7. Be Curious. Ask Questions!
Ask questions! A big mistake students and job applicants make is not asking questions. You make a big impression on the other person or people. Remember, a lasting impression lasts more than a first impression, and you can leave a lasting impression by standing out -- with questions.
What questions should you ask? Well, that depends on your goals and the schools. We would be happy to help you craft some great questions that will not only impress your interviewer but also inform you where you stand in the admissions process.
Do not hesitate to contact us, if you need any help with your college admissions.
Words have the power to influence your audience.
If you are applying to college, your audience is the admissions committee. They receive thousands of essays each year. Many of them are boring and the language is cliched. You can make your essay stand out by using the power words and avoiding weak words.
Remember, when it comes to language, less is more. In your essays, avoid the following words.
1. Stop protecting yourself with “Just”, "I think..." and "Arguably"
You may be using words that protect yourself, words like "just', "I think" and "arguably". You are either afraid of offending someone or bracing for a strong disagreement. You may not realize it, but these words broadcast to the world that you may be wrong but that is okay because it is only what you think. It projects that your view is not important. It is a way to protect yourself from an attack, should someone hold a different opinion, or may dislike you. This can come across as passive aggressive, which can create resentment and lessen your value, or simply confuse people what you are communicating about.
The words you use to protect yourself from a verbal attack or negative impressions are undermining your power. You are entitled to your opinion. Don’t undermine your viewpoints. Sharing your opinion without hesitation, even if others disagree, can help you garner respect and influence people. This is really critical in your essays for college admission. You want to come across as a critical thinker and a good communicator. Remember, you are communicating your value to the college. What is in for them to have you as a student? If you are not clear about that, you will reduce your chances of getting in.
2. Stop the Drama with “Very,” “Absolutely” and “Totally”
Words such as “very,” “absolutely” or “totally” do not add value to the noun you want to describe or highlight. You do not need to say, “I’m very afraid.” Saying “I’m afraid”, or better, "I'm terrified" does the trick. Superfluous adverbs and adjectives can add unnecessary drama, but they do not convey much. Here is a list of words to substitute "very". Reviewing the list will also improve your vocabulary.
When you appreciate the power of words, you use less of them to communicate the same thing. When you use fewer words, each word becomes more powerful and can be better appreciated by others. So stop using"very", "absolutely" and "totally" in your writing.
3. Stop using filler words: “Like,” “Whatever,” “Etcetera” and “…and so on and so forth”
Keep the “likes” and similar phrases to a minimum. These are common filler words used in everyday speech. They are not for writing essays because they dilute the potency of the words you use. Remember, spoken language is different than formal, written language.
4. Don't act superior. Avoid “Actually” and “Obviously”
Words such as “actually” and “obviously” can rub people the wrong way. "Obviously" makes an assumption that they overlooked something simple. They may feel stupid or inferior. "Actually" doesn't really add anything except pointing that the other party overlooked something. Do not make assumptions about people. You could come across as someone who shows a lack of understanding and can annoy or frustrate others and cause people to disrespect you.
5. Avoid common crutches like "That"
"That" whenever possible. “That” is a handy word that isn't always useless. However, it's also commonly a crutch without a purpose. Whenever you're about to use the word, ask yourself if there is a better way to avoid it. Consider this sentence: “I found a gem that is beautiful.” The sentence is weak. "That" here is similar to "very" here. Change “that” by rewriting it to “I found an exquisite gem.” The sentence sounds much more powerful and conveys the message clearer.
6. Avoid the credibility killers: "Basically", "Probably", "Definitely", "Virtually", "Certainly"
These "credibility killers” -- fluency disruptions -- communicate doubt. Also, some people use these words, especially "basically" repeatedly. That sounds annoying as well. Avoid such language in your essays. It makes people think you don't know what you are talking about.
College Selection Questions
College Admissions Questions
Standardized Testing Questions
High School Class Questions
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Interests & Activities Questions
Character & Personality Questions
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If you feel you are not getting appropriate guidance at your school, or would like another view, the Hillview Prep team would be happy to help you with your preparation for college, from choosing wisely to writing essays. Please feel free to reach out to us as below.