Test Optional is Not Really Optional

Due to the pandemic and school closures, many high school students found themselves without SAT/ACT test scores.  While some kept on getting their test date postponed and eventually canceled, other students were unable to find a test center located in their own state!  To make things easier for everyone involved, most colleges decided to make standardized test scores optional. At first glance, not requiring test scores seemed like one less thing to worry about. However, taking out this requirement increased the competitiveness of applications as a whole.  Feeling emboldened, students applied to more places than ever before, with applications soaring as high as 48% at UC Berkeley and UCLA. Applicants who did have great scores certainly had some objective advantage.  Applicants without test scores had to shine brighter in other areas and had their grades, activities, and essays more heavily scrutinized.  Overall, this 2020-2021 college admissions cycle was perhaps the most competitive year to apply to college in modern history.

Applying to College during the Pandemic

Our lives have been turned upside down since Covid-19 arrived here in the U.S.  Most notably for our students, school became online learning, and standardized testing came to a halt.  Both the SAT and ACT canceled tests this spring when many high school juniors plan to take these exams.  While both SAT and ACT have scheduled summer and fall testing dates, we are not certain if these scheduled dates will even happen due to the necessity for social distancing. Will test centers, many of them high schools, be open?  Even if they are open, there may be fewer testing slots available if students have to be separated six feet apart from each other.  What if my child isn’t able to get a chance to take a test?  For this reason, many colleges and universities are going test optional for the 2021 admissions cycle.  Test optional means that applicants are NOT required to send a SAT/ACT score.  What does this mean?  How will it impact me?  Is not sending an SAT/ACT score a good strategy for my situation?  Again, there are no easy answers as it really depends on each applicant’s personal situation. 

Walking My Talk

When I was a junior in high school, I was invited to join a friend to visit her older sister at Wellesley College.  At the time, I had no interest in attending an all women’s college but was excited to hang out with this friend and to see what a college looked like.  Prior to that experience, I don’t think I’d ever been on a college campus before, aside from a trip to Harvard University with my mom when I was a toddler.  Upon my arrival, I immediately fell in love with the campus, especially how pretty it looked in the spring time.  You can only go so far doing online research. Walking on campus and getting a real feel for the place can help to finalize a student’s college list.  Part of my job as a college counselor is to emphasize the importance of college tours, and I decided to walk my talk this past April.  Over April vacation week 2017, I went on a college road trip and visited Dartmouth College, University of Vermont, Champlain College, and Middlebury College.  It was a whirlwind three days, but I took some good notes and want to share one thing that stood out to me about each place.  Every college has something unique and notable about its history and/or campus.  Feel free to learn more by clicking below.  Enjoy!

Dartmouth College – Peace Corps and CIA use Prof. Rassias’ method of language learning

University of Vermont – Environmentally conscious campus, sale of water bottles prohibited on campus

Champlain College – Upside down curriculum, you dive into your major freshman year and take core requirements last

Middlebury CollegePeterson Family Athletic Complex has everything, including an ice skating rink

My Community Service Story

shutterstock_236961268When I was in high school, I was president of the Key Club, which was my high school’s community service group.  I’ve always enjoyed helping others and was ecstatic to have been voted president by my peers.  From the college admissions perspective, I was thrilled that I could showcase my leadership skills through giving to the various communities from which I belonged.  During the school year, I worked with young children in the public school’s after school program, and over the summers, I volunteered delivering flowers to patients at the New England Medical Center (renamed as Tufts Medical Center) in Boston’s Chinatown.  Through this experience I learned about myself and even met my first college roommate as we both applied, got accepted, and decided to room together!  I’ve always valued community service and am glad to know that colleges will be paying even more attention to it now.  Earlier this year, a Harvard University report pointed out problems with the American college admissions process, that the focus is too much on personal success and achievements and not enough on caring about others.  There is now a movement toward making the college admissions process more thoughtful and less stressful by asking students about community service and how they are giving back to society.  There is a focus on quality instead of quantity.  Taking fewer A.P. courses to pursue a personal passion is encouraged.  High school students are told to be more purposeful about extracurricular activities and to choose ones that they really care about as opposed to having a laundry list.  Here are some web links to understand what this new change all means :

New York Times article:


Harvard University professor interviewed:


News video about two students going through the process:




SAT or ACT or neither?

School testAs I’m taking some time to gather my thoughts before the beginning of the next admissions cycle, I’m reminded of all the changes happening in the field. Changes with the new SAT this year have prompted students to consider taking the ACT instead. Last spring, I attended the Sudbury Educational Resource Fund’s annual college fair and became more informed about the differences between the two exams. The SAT is more like an IQ test consisting of tricky test-type questions. The ACT is more like the tests that you take in school and contains a science section. Since both exams are accepted by colleges and universities, which one is the best one for you? Many test preparation companies offer free practice tests and/or can provide analytics letting you know which test is better suited to you. In some cases, students may take both exams and decide later which one to use as part of their application strategy.  Then in other cases, students may be applying to test optional schools which means that no test scores, neither the SAT nor ACT, are required.   What makes perfect sense for one student may not be the case for another. 




Don’t Assume Anything

shutterstock_694831As I start working with students on choosing schools for this upcoming admissions cycle, I am reminded of an incident during my first year at Tufts.  I was standing in line waiting to get dinner when I overheard one friend telling another that she wanted to study business.  However, Tufts didn’t have a school of business and didn’t offer business majors.  When she decided to come to Tufts (all the way from Taiwan too), she assumed that our school offered business.  Even though I was a young undergraduate still trying to find my way, I knew something was really wrong with this picture.  How could a student pick a school that was half way around the world and not check things out beforehand?  Back then, in 1994, the internet wasn’t mainstream yet.  Nobody used the Common Application, and we didn’t have Naviance.  Today, with all that we have at our fingertips, there is no excuse for not doing due diligence.  The college admissions process can be daunting and having a coach can make all the difference in narrowing the choices and making good decisions.

Small, Medium, or Large?

I was recently asked about theshutterstock_239606935 (2) blog small medium or large 3.11.15 difference between small colleges and large universities.  Both types of school environments possess pros and cons.  Having attended a medium sized school myself, I got a feel for a little of both.  Firstly, let’s talk about class size.  At smaller schools, the student to staff/faculty ratio is a much lower, allowing for more class discussions and contact with professors.  Professors are more likely to be teaching the classes as opposed to graduate students.  Personally, I never took an introductory biology class at my university, but was told that over 300 students sat in a theater style hall where the professor stood on a stage and lectured through a microphone.  While enormous class size is a con of bigger schools, universities offer more majors, including schools of business and engineering.  Students who are unsure of what to pursue would have more opportunities to explore career options at a large school.  Finally, universities often possess more students from diverse backgrounds with varying interests.  Part of going to college is learning more about who you are and finding a group to belong.  Just in the sheer numbers alone, attending a big school with all kinds of people will allow students to explore and find their place in the university.

Finding the Right Fit

Shoes blog 10.30.14Recently a parent called to ask if I had ever assisted a “C” student get accepted into a tier one school.  When I asked the parent which type of tier one schools she was referring to, she answered, “Harvard.”  I told the parent that unless they had a significant connection to the school or were major financial donors that there wasn’t much that I could do.  Yes, I have many years of experience helping students with the college process, but I am by no means a miracle worker.  I reminded the parent that there are over 350 colleges and universities across the country and that finding the right fit was more important for her child than the U.S. News and World Report rankings.  Due to the skyrocketing costs of a college education nowadays, finding the right fit has become ever more important in making decisions.  What exactly does right fit mean?  The answer to that question has to do with a student’s personality, needs, and wants in a college experience.  Will your child survive in a large university environment where there are over 300 students sitting in an auditorium while a professor lectures using a microphone?  Or, does your child perform better in smaller classroom environments where there is more discussion with teachers and fellow students?  Being a parent myself, I want my daughter to thrive in a school where she is challenged and feeling confident that she can do the work.  Even if an average student was admitted into a tier one institution, would that student survive academically?  I would not want my child to scrape by and graduate at the bottom of her class.  Does your child enjoy the excitement and attractions of the city?  Or, does your child prefer the picturesque view and serenity of a traditional college campus?  Wants can be just as important as needs in making sure our children have the best learning and living environments for the next four years.  Choosing the right school, not just the closest one or the most well-known, multiplies your child’s chance for success and allows him/her to blossom and grow both in and outside of the classroom.

Don’t Forget to Spell Check!

Don't Forget to Spell Check 9.27.14When I was working at a non-profit in Boston, I was often approached by high school seniors who wanted an informed and educated adult to look over their college essays.  I would take a look at what appeared to be a first draft and tell students that they should take a few more days to work on it.  However, students would tell me that they couldn’t because the application deadline was tomorrow or even that night at midnight!  I was shocked to learn that this behavior was common practice with many of the young people who came to the youth center.  The college essay was being treated like any other essay written for a school assignment.  Knowing how important these essays are, I helped to launch a mentoring program where students got started on their essays early and had a trusted member of the professional community assist them with the writing process.  College essays take time and then some.  Firstly, you have to figure out what it is that you want to write about that is true to you but also will make you stand out.  Aside from making sure that your content is coherent, you must not forget writing mechanics, including capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar.   Missteps in mechanics can make the best writers appear careless.   Even the best writers can benefit from having an extra pair of eyes review their work.  Grades and S.A.T. scores are pretty straight forward.  Allow your personality to shine through in the essay and to impress those college admissions officers.  I’m pretty sure it worked for me.  Contact me for a free consultation, and I’ll share my personal story with you…

Is College Worth the Cost?

Is College Worth the Cost 7.15.14I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for quite a while.  This most recent article from Business Insider is fueling my need to comment on the situation now: http://www.businessinsider.com/50-colleges-charge-60000-dollars-2014-7 The price of attending college in this country has skyrocketed to the point of costing more than $60,000 per year for many private schools.  As the mother of a toddler, I often wonder how much college will cost by the time my child graduates from high school.  Over the years through helping students from various socio-economic backgrounds, I’ve realized a few things about how financial aid works.  Colleges and universities can be very generous with financial aid depending on many factors.  Students coming from lower to middle income families can receive scholarships if they apply to certain schools.  How does one figure out which schools?  College admissions is a complex equation of many things coming together for a student that will make him or her more desirable to a specific school.  What about you stands out?  What makes you unique?  Working with a college counselor will steer you in the right direction in terms of where to apply.  Considering how expensive college is nowadays, it only makes sense to get assistance from an experienced professional.  Every family is different, and speaking with a neutral party about your situation can help you to gain clarity and make sound decisions.