The college admissions and financial aid process is daunting. Our Class of 2019 is trying to lock down their plans for next year, and current juniors should be scheduling their SAT and ACT. There are so many tricks, tips, and slips out there that college feels impossible to get a handle on it. What do colleges even want?
In my junior-level AP English classes as well as my Adult Roles and Responsibilities elective, I explain the basics of financial aid and the college admissions process. For many seniors, applying to colleges feels like the workload of an extra class their senior fall semester.
I recently listened to an excellent podcast on the college admissions topic from a show called ChooseFI, a financial podcast that focuses on “life optimization” strategies. This particular episode interviewed Brian Eufinger who runs a tutoring company called Edison Prep down in Georgia.
Here are some takeaways from the podcast that I think are especially relevant for our parents and students in grades 9-11:
- 80% of the admission equation is based on an applicant’s GPA, number of AP or IB classes (CLHS offers AP and dual-credit courses), and scores on the SAT or ACT. Extracurricular activities, application essays, interviews, and recommendations make up a much smaller portion of application importance.
- Since many schools grade on different scales (for example, CLHS weights grades of honors and AP courses for a possibility of a 4.0+), colleges use the SAT and ACT as a way to standardize across many different high schools. This is why these test scores are so important for applications.
- A “good” SAT or ACT score depends on the college a student is looking at. Top schools (think Harvard or Notre Dame) have much higher average test scores in their accepted class that bigger, less selective schools. You can use the CollegeBoard college search tool to see where your test scores fall in an applicant pool (from their College Search page for a given school, look for the Applying section and then the SAT & ACT scores tab).
- CLHS generally encourages students to attempt both the SAT and ACT if possible, and retake the one they score better on (here’s a link to convert scores between tests). In the podcast, Brian Eufinger recommends taking a full-length practice test of each somewhere between sophomore spring and junior fall, and then focusing on all preparation efforts on the practice test that students score better on.
- Get the right calculator: a TI-84+ CE or at least a TI-83. Showing up to the SAT or ACT with a 4-function calculator (or worse, no calculator!!) will hurt your ability to succeed on the math portions.
- The biggest issue students have with the SAT and ACT is finishing on time, so practicing is as much about content as it is about strategy. Timed practice is essential.
- Most of the financial aid students receive comes directly from the college or university, not outside scholarships. Merit-based aid is who a student IS and what he or she DOES (athletics, additional essay applications, extracurriculars, etc.), while need-based aid is awarded based on the family’s income and assets. This is why it is so important to get applications and the FAFSA completed as early as possible (often by Nov 1 of senior year) to be eligible for the most scholarship dollars.
I strongly recommend listening to the entire episode. It is a little over a hour, but it is worth it. I’m on a mission to get students to listen to more podcasts to help broaden their knowledge of the world, and this episode is a great place to start!
English, Sociology, and Life101 Teacher