ACT Section Retakes Coming Soon

Another big change is coming this fall! Starting in September the ACT will allow for sectional retesting. After taking a complete official ACT, students can opt to retake one, two or three individual sections rather than retaking the whole test. All retakes will be computer based, and testing will take place at a testing center where each student will be taking his or her own sections with distinct timing.

Potential Pros:

I have to believe students will love this. They can shift their focus from the full test with four sections to tackling one session at a time. Once they lock in a good score on a section, they will never have to look at that content again. It has yet to be seen if this will benefit students in terms of increasing their scores.

Potential Cons:

Kids who are perfectionists may shift into perfection mode, trying to ace particular sections even after they have attained a solid score. Will this drive students to be better, work harder, and as a result add more stress?

We also don’t yet know how colleges are going to respond. Colleges are in the process of determining their policies regarding retakes. Some will accept retake scores, some will not. Georgetown for example announced it is unlikely to accept single retakes. They are doing further research. Students will have to monitor retake policies of each of the schools they are applying to.

If this is something that interests you, the first opportunity for retakes will be in September; registration will open in July. Test centers are likely to fill quickly so mark your calendars!

Changes Coming to the ACT

There are big changes coming to the testing world in 2020. Starting in the fall ACT will go to computer-based testing, and if history is any indication SAT won’t be far behind. While the shift will take time, everything is eventually going to go to a computer. ACT has already been using computer-based testing internationally exclusively for a year, and graduate exams (MCAT, LSAT, etc.) have already made the change as well.

Test security is driving the change. Paper tests make it too easy to cheat as test forms are recycled and used across time zones and geographies. With computer-adaptive testing there are massive problem banks too large to memorize and no two students will receive the same test.

There will be several tools available that can support good test taking strategies. A line-reader making tool will help you focus on what you’re reading. An answer masking tool will allow you to cover the possible answers, determine your answer and then uncover the choices. You can also use an answer tool eliminator to narrow your attention as you eliminate answers. One of the most helpful tools is a bookmarking tool so you can bookmark questions you want to come back to. There will also be a built-in timer and 5-minute warning that pops up on the screen so you will no longer have to rely on a proctor to give you notice. There are always those nightmare stories of proctors forgetting to let students know that time is running out. Maybe the best part is that you will typically receive scores within 2 days!

While there is no doubt it’s coming, the shift to computer-based testing will take time. We don’t know how many sites will offer computer-based training and there may be issues with supply and demand of seats, staffing and digital infrastructure. It will be important to register early. Registration opens in July for September 2020 tests. Mark your calendars!

5 Types of Application Deadlines

When it comes to submitting your applications, there are several application deadline options out there to choose from. Here is a basic overview of those deadlines:

Regular Decision (RD)

The deadline for regular decision applications is generally somewhere between January 1 and February 1. You will receive an admissions decision no later than April 1 and have until May 1 to make your final decision and confirm your enrollment.

Early Action (EA)

With Early Action you generally need to get your applications in by either November 1 or November 15. The nice thing is you will hear back from the schools as early as December or January, and still have until May to make your final decision.

Restrictive Early Action (REA)

This is similar to Early Action in that you apply to your school of choice and get a decision early. The catch is that you are restricted from applying ED or EA or REA to other schools. If you go this way, you’ll have until May 1 to confirm that you’ll attend.

Early Decision (ED)

The deadlines for ED are similar to Early Action; the difference is that Early Decision is a contract between you and the college. You agree that if the college accepts you, you’ll attend that college and withdraw all other applications. Because of this commitment, you can apply Early Decision to only one college.

Rolling Admission

With Rolling Admissions schools review the applications when they are submitted and make decisions throughout the admission cycle (usually within four to six weeks after they receive the application).

Keep in mind that admissions deadlines will vary from school to school. The only way to be sure about a college’s deadlines is to confirm the dates with each school you are applying to.

Where Are All Those Scholarships?

I often have people asking about scholarships, and for good reason. Scholarships are the best form of aid available because unlike loans, they don’t need to be repaid – they are free money! Most people don’t realize that the largest amount of scholarship dollars comes from the colleges themselves in the form of merit scholarships. Merit scholarships are awarded to students based on strong academic abilities, leadership skills, artistic or musical ability, and athletic abilities. And students can be awarded merit aid regardless of the family’s overall income or how much the family has saved for college. Unfortunately not all schools offer merit scholarships. You can find out if they do by looking on the websites or by contacting the financial aid office of the schools you’re interested in.

There are also “outside scholarships” – scholarships not awarded by the government or the school – and they exist for nearly every characteristic you can think of.  Outside scholarships tend to be for small amounts of money, are a one-time award, and can require a significant amount of work in the form of an application, essays, etc. The best way to find these scholarships is to use an online search tool that compares your background with a database of awards. There are several free databases available online: The College Board; Fastweb; and Scholarships.com to name a few. You can also ask your guidance counselor about local scholarships.

Be aware that every college has an “outside scholarship” policy that specifies what happens to your need-based financial aid package when you win an outside scholarship. Outside scholarships are considered resources, meaning that they reduce your financial aid package dollar for dollar. Check the college’s website for their policy.

When it comes down to it, the best strategy for finding scholarships starts with building your college list. Apply to schools where you are likely to qualify for merit aid.

Making the Most of Your Summer

The needed break is on its way for students. The temperature is rising, motivation is dropping – only weeks remain in the classroom until school is let out for summer recess. While days spent sleeping in and heading to the pool are undoubtedly deserved, it is important for students to continue shaping their college applications during the summer months. Colleges want to see that students are spending their time doing something valuable and constructive, and unfortunately binge watching Netflix does not fall into this category. However, this isn’t to say that the summers need to be painful. Rather, the key is accentuating strengths and demonstrating involvement – preferably in areas that the student is passionate about.

One of the greatest fallacies that has spread amongst parents and students looking to “strengthen an application” is the belief that quantity trumps quality in the never-ending pursuit of being “well rounded.” However, the key to a constructive and beneficial summer in terms of the college admissions process is not to dive into a plethora of activities that you think “would look good,” but rather to involve yourself in areas that demonstrate something about yourself to a potential admissions counselor. The easiest way to think about this is to ask the “why” for the activities that you partake in. “Why did you volunteer at the children’s soccer camp?” “Because I enjoy kids and may want to major in Child Development.” “Why did you take a trip to Buenos Aires?” “Because the opportunity to volunteer also helped me advance my skills in Spanish.” The answer to these “why” questions should never be “I did it to build my resume” or “I did it to get my volunteer hours.” If the involvement feels empty and tiresome your summer will be miserable, and most admission counselors will see right through that anyway. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that to draw attention to your application you must partake in a mission trip halfway across the world, or the engineering camp at an Ivy League school (admissions counselors at these schools don’t take this into account anyway!). Community involvement is just as, if not more, valuable on a college application, and a student that pursues an internship tells a greater story than the expensive flight to Ethiopia for a week.

A couple of quick notes – because I know that a number of students will read the word “passion” and freeze up, discouraged by the stress of having to find their life’s calling before their biological clock strikes 18. For one, your summer involvement does not have to be your “life’s passion,” as many of you will be glad to know – especially should you be flipping burgers at the local restaurant or lifeguarding at the community pool. If the word “passion” gives you hives, think of it more as a consistent “story” or “theme” to your application. Think about what your involvement demonstrates. If you work the entire summer, an admissions counselor can draw the conclusion that you are hardworking and dedicated. If you read a lot of books, keep track of them in a journal and demonstrate that you are an avid learner. In the end, the summer should be rejuvenating and worthwhile. Invest in your passions, demonstrate involvement, and make a statement about your strengths. The only real killer is lethargy!