Helping Your Child Get Into Their Dream College
Part One, The Tests
It’s that time of year again, with college students heading back, seniors preparing to apply to school, and parents pulling out the tissue boxes. As I return for my junior year of college and my sister prepares to graduate from high school, I’ve seen all the emotional responses in my own family. “My baby is growing up so fast! They’re moving away! How often will they come home? Will they have everything they need? Are they really ready? Am I really ready?”
Parents, if your child is looking towards applying to their dream schools, you have the opportunity to help them make their goals achievable. College may be overwhelming, but if you stand by your student, then this can be an adventure you embark on together. In this article series, we are going to be examining some of the most common questions, concerns and confusions regarding the college application process. As a student myself at the Christian liberal arts school Wheaton College in Illinois, I know from experience how to prepare for standardized tests, apply for private scholarships, gather letters of recommendation, give a winning interview and write a memorable entrance essay. At the end of my college prep, I got my ideal test scores, earned over $42,000 in private scholarships and made it to my dream school. So let’s get started! ￼ ￼1. What is the difference between the SAT and ACT? Does my child need both? Both the SAT and ACT are official standardized tests that most colleges accept and require. The SAT is a logic and critical thinking style test that will examine your child’s problem solving skills. The subjects on the test are Math, Critical Reading, Writing and the Essay. The Math section will cover basic Algebra and Geometry, but not Precalculus and Trigonometry, and your child can use a standard calculator on this exam. Critical Reading will provide your child with a passage based response section examining their comprehension. Writing is actually a grammar section testing their knowledge of parts of speech and vocabulary. Lastly, there is the essay; your child will have 25 minutes to respond to a prompt in a short written exercise. The number one key to this is having a succinct thesis (single argument or main point) which they then support with logical analysis. If a question is answered incorrectly on the SAT, there is a deduction of 1/4 a point. The highest possible SAT score is a 2400. The ACT is similar, however the Math section does have Precalculus and some Trigonometry. The benefit, however, is that there is no point deduction for incorrect answers. In addition, there is a Science section — this part of the test does not necessarily ask questions based on high school science classes, but instead asks your child to analyze graphing and data provided in sample problems. The highest possible ACT score is a 36. When applying to colleges, students typically need scores from at least one of the two options, but you will want to check each school’s requirements individually.
2. How do I know when the SAT and ACT are being offered? How do I register my child? You can find the dates for the SAT online at the official CollegeBoard website here https:// sat.collegeboard.org/register. Instructions are provided on how to register your child. You can sign up for the ACT on the official website here: http://www.actstudent.org/regist/.
3. What is super-scoring and how might it help me? Super-scoring is the standardized testing miracle! It allows you to combine your highest scores form different times the test was taken. For example, if your student gets a 25 on ACT Math and 32 ACT Writing on their first try, but then takes the test the next year and gets a 30 ACT Math and 29 ACT Writing, you can show only the highest scores from each category on your transcript. It will only show 30 ACT Math (from the second try) and 32 ACT Writing (from the first). Talk to your school guidance counselor about super-scoring.
4. How can I help my child study for the tests? The best way to help your child is to actually make them study. A high majority of students don’t practice or do any sample problems before walking in on testing day. This is like trying to ￼win a sports championship without ever showing up for a team practice! Here are some easy tips. A) Have the SAT Question of the Day delivered to your child’s Inbox every day. The official CollegeBoard website provides this wonderful study tool and will send an email with a practice question to you and/or your student. It’s definitely worth subscribing! When I was in high school, my parents assigned this question to me every day and I was required to do it, but the continual review kept me prepared. B) Buy the official SAT Practice Book. There are so many SAT guide books out there from Princeton review and other text book companies. I would recommend getting the official CollegeBoard book, since the CollegeBoard is the organization that actually administrates the official test. This book comes with instructions, tips and several sample tests. My recommendation is to have your student do all of them. C) Sign up for an SAT Workshop. My favorite was the CollegePrep Genius course taught by Jean Burke. She helps students learn how to think like the test writers and analyze the questions appropriately.
5. How many times should my child take the SAT or ACT? They should take the test as many times as they need to get the ideal test scores for their school of choice. You can look online to find the average accepted SAT and ACT scores for each school. If your child is applying to Vanderbilt, then make sure their scores are in the goal range for what the school accepts.
6. What is an SAT Subject Test? A Subject Test is similar to an AP exam. This is where a student can demonstrate expertise in a specific category that is not on the general test. Options include American History, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, foreign languages and many others. Some schools allow high scores in these tests to exempt freshmen from 100 level intro courses.
7. What is National Merit and how can my child qualify? The National Merit scholarship is a prestigious honor given to students whose standardized test scores meet a specific requirement. This is only given for students who have taken the PSAT, which is the pre-SAT. Students can only qualify during their junior year, but they should definitely take it as a freshman or sophomore to practice. If your student is a junior, then have them study for and take the PSAT. If they qualify, they could receive full ride scholarships to college. Preparing for college may be a busy and confusing time. For the students, it’s a new challenge and threshold, one that will push them farther than they knew was possible and give them the chance to define their own identity. For you parents, it’s a time to help your student achieve their goals and start a new life. Stay tuned for tips on writing the application essays, winning scholarships, delivering interviews and helping your child set off on the great adventure of college.
“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
Bio: Ciera is a unique blend of academic and artistic: she is a writer and world traveler, a lover of old books and swing dancing, and a student at Wheaton College in Chicago. She shares her culturally-engaging outlook on literature, education and social hot topics for the Christian millennial on her blog, www.cierahorton.blogspot.com.