Sophomore & Junior College Prep Checklist

Calling all 10th & 11th graders! Here is your check list and game plan for applying to college. With proper planning you will have acceptance letters that you will make you proud. ***

If you are in 11th grade, hopefully, you have visited a few schools and taken eitherChecklist the SAT or ACT. If not then register now for both the ACT  and SAT.

What to Know and Do

Your grades and course load are the most important measures when colleges evaluate your application. If you are falling behind, work hard, get good grades, and get tutoring (especially in math and science). It could save you $1000s of dollars if you win academic scholarships.

Don't be "Deer in headlights"! Be prepared.

Get a summer job. This can start as early as 14 years old. The more work experience you have, the more you impress the admissions departments. Note that during the school year a part-time job should not compete with your schoolwork.

Get involved – Your resume should show that you have participated in community service and have had some type of leadership role in any activity i.e.; sports, work, scouts, volunteering, or school club. Summer is the perfect time to focus on this.

The quality of your extracurriculars are more important than the quantity. Take your passion or interests and develop it in these three areas:

  • Leadership – You are Captain, Leader, or President of your “passion”.
  • Community Service – Share your talents, give back to the community.
  • Enjoyment – Do it, because you love it (music, sports, robotics). This is what makes you interesting!

Visit colleges – Go on official tours and attend information sessions. Every college visit will help you determine where you want to go. The more schools you visit, the better decision you will make.

Read extensively – or take summer community college classes in subjects that interest you. Take them for non-credit or if your high school allows for credit.

Take both SAT and ACT in January, February or March of junior year. Better to collect your test scores early rather than waiting for the May and June tests.

If applying to highly selective colleges  note that they require the “ACT with Writing” or SAT II Subject Tests. The advantage of ACT vs. SAT,  is that it does not have separate Subject Tests (SAT IIs). If you are submitting SATs, then you need to sit for additional SAT II Subjects tests. The Saturday test offerings are far and few, so it becomes quite complicated taking multiple test requirements.

If you will be submitting SAT scores (not ACT) then think about taking SAT Subject tests in both Sophomore & Junior year, when the material is fresh. Note that AP exams can sometimes substitute for SAT II in rare cases.

Once you have a test score benchmark, you’ll know if you need to study more and what types of schools are in your target. You can retake your preferred test (ACT or SAT) again in June. Do not wait until senior year.

Create a list of colleges. Go to ‘s “Super Match” or “College Search” to help you create your list that include two reaches, six likely s  and two safeties. You will input your GPA, SAT or ACT scores, desired geographic location, size of school, major, etc.

Create your resume. A resume is helpful for many reasons and it is easy to do. This will be helpful when completing college applications, for teachers who write your recommendations and for college and job interviews. Parents can help you with this task by collecting and organizing your information.

Recommendations! At the end of junior year, ask two teachers to write your college recommendations. Many teachers cap the amount of number of recommendations they will write, so ask early!

If your school uses Naviance become familiar with the college “Scattergrams”. The scattergram profiles college’s acceptance rates in that high school based on the students SAT scores and GPA.

***If you do not want to stress out about applying to college, you can postpone doing many of these tasks. However, this may mean that you end up going to less selective colleges, miss out on receiving merit awards, and miss deadlines for big flagship universities. Less selective colleges can be fabulous learning institutions and experiences and can be perfect for many students.  ***

Be a college geek and get it done! 


Pondering SATs, ACTs and Test Optional Colleges

Are you troubled with high-pressure, expensive standardized testing for college admissions? You are not alone.


 There has been a ground swell of support for the nonprofit organization, FairTest – The National Center for Fair and Open Testing whose mission includes ending the misuses of testing practices.  maintains a list of approximately 850 Colleges and Universities that are either deemphasizing the use of SAT & ACT or have gone completely test optional.

If a college or university has moved away from requiring SAT or ACT test scores it means that they will be evaluating the applicant’s GPA, class rank, course load and extracurricular activities more intensely. Many of the colleges believe that this increases the diversity of the student body. Furthermore,  admission departments see that test optional colleges have become more appealing to a greater audience of students. If you are interested in one of the colleges on the FairTest list, be sure to verify the school’s specific admissions guidelines.

Although it is not recommended that students eliminate all standardized tests (test scores maybe be required at a later date for scholarships, job internships, etc.) it is a liberating to know that they can be taken out of the equation for some college applications.

Surprisingly, if one is going to put effort into achieving high scores, before they even go the route of hiring private tutors, standardized tests are expensive.

Typical Standardized Testing Expense incurred by middle-income students:

Standardized Tests Potential Fees*  
SAT exam $55- most students take at least twice $110+
Sending 3 additional scores** (either ACT or SAT) $50+
SAT Study Guide $32
1 ACT exam, with writing sample*** $56.50
ACT Prep Book $30
SAT Subject Tests may be required for highly selective Universities $26
Total (without test rep classes) $305.50****

* Both ACT and SAT offers fee waivers for low-income students.

** If  applying to more than 4 schools, you pay an additional $11 fee per school. This example demonstrates applying to 7  schools (4 + 3 paid ) .

*** Many students will take both the SAT and the ACT exam since a student may score higher on one verses the other.

**** More expenses are incurred if the student takes a test preparation course. A Google search found that in a New Jersey zip code a 30-hour, in class Princeton Review SAT class is $999 and an 18-hour Kaplan prep class is $599.

Another consideration is the amount of time each exam involves, which is 4 hours long, plus factor in another hour for traveling to and from the test center. A student will spend more than half of a Saturday for one test. Many students will take at least 3 tests since they may take both ACT and SATs, take the SAT subject tests or retest to improve their scores. This is time that could be spent at a part time job, doing homework, playing on a team or looking at colleges. The  SATs and ACTs are big business and they are both a financial and emotional drain.

Although it is unlikely that your complete list of targeted schools will include all test optional schools, knowing that many of your top choices are Test Optional, may eliminate some of the stress and help you decide how much you want to invest into the standardized testing ordeal. Unfortunately, most large state flagship universities rely heavily on the standardized test, which may be used for both admissions consideration and merit scholarships.

Check out to see if any of your favorite colleges or universities are test optional.  However, for good measure sign up for the free SAT and/or ACT Test question of the day. A daily dose of these questions is truly a painless way to tackle your test preparedness. :)




Swag Giveaway # 5 – Villanova!

Congratulations Laurel N. for winning the Villanova T-shirt! Thanks everyone for entering!!!

Next contest coming soon…

You got to be in it to win it! Enter you name to win this Villanova, classic  navy blue 100% cotton, medium tee shirt. Contest ends March 20, 2013

Villanova tshirt

Villanova’s beautiful campus is set in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Admissions criteria is highly selective for this Catholic school founded in 1842 which is known for small classes, community service projects, caring professors, intense alumni support, job networking, and dedicated basketball fans. Undergraduate enrollment consists of 6,000 who are enrolled in either the College of Engineering, Nursing, Business or Arts and Sciences. The school boosts a freshman retention rate of 94%.

To enter the contest go to the Swag Giveaway tab to enter your email address.

nova campus

To learn more about Villanova go to Or even better, gather a few friends and go to a home basketball game! The “Wildcat” school spirit is contagious.

Tick, Tock…Early Decision or Early Action?


Submitting college applications Early Action is a no brainer. Why? Because this is a non binding application. But sending an application Early Decision is a BIG deal!  Why? Because you are signing a contract that you will attend if accepted.

Early Action or EA means that you submit the application for usually a November 1st or November 15th deadline and then Admissions will notify you in mid-December  whether you have been accepted, deferred, or rejected and need to find another favorite college. Additionally, EA applicants are usually considered for merit scholarships  which is completely different from the financial aid that is based on need. Essentially the school, with no consideration to you financial need, may say “Gee, you super and we really, really want you to come to our college. You qualify for Merit award!” :)

Take advantage of schools that offer Early Action and submit the majority of your applications by this deadline. There are no limits to the amount of Early Action applications you may submit.

Submitting an application Early Decision is more like a marriage proposal. You are professing your love for the college. Basically saying “College, if you accept me I am yours…  till death do us part…” A hard decision for an 17 or 18-year-old make.

You can only apply to one college Early Decision (ED). It is a binding decision, usually due Nov 1st or 15th and the only circumstances which will release you from an ED acceptance is if the school’s financial aid offer is incompatible with the family’s financial situation. Thus if you apply ED and require financial aid, be sure to disclose that need. ED’s require that you, your parents and guidance counselor sign a ED contract saying that if you are accepted, you will attend and you will retract all other applications. Your ED school is your absolute favorite.

Although most colleges follow these aforementioned deadlines, each college is different so be sure read each college application requirements. There are other types of application deadlines and restrictions which are discussed below.

JACKPOT!  You have  been accepted to your Early Decision school AND you simultaneously are accepted to EA schools who are offering you a big Merit Scholarship… bye-bye scholarships. You signed the contract for Early Decision to your favorite college. This is the primary reason why you would not want to apply ED. However, your ED school may still offer you a financial package.

Why would anyone submit an ED Application? The best reason, besides getting the whole process completed, is because if you are applying to a very selective school your chances of being accepted are far greater with an ED application vs. Early Action or regular admission.

For example check out the 2012 acceptance rate :

College            ED Accept Rate          Regular Decision Rate

Lehigh              63%                             32%

J, Hopkins        30%                             17%

Colgate             51%                             26%

Dartmouth       25%                             7%

U Penn             25%                             9%

Duke                25%                             11%

Note that many ED accepted students then often worry, the rest of their senior year, if they made the right decision. A little buyer’s remorse could kick in.

A few more application deadline terms, that are not so widely used:

Restrictive Early Action — If you applied ED to a school, then you cannot apply Early Action to this school (i.e. Boston College).
Restrictive Early Decision — If you apply ED you cannot send  EA applications to other schools (i.e. Brown).
Single Action, Early Action – For example: Yale, unlike Brown, is a non binding EA application, but you still cannot apply to others schools.
Rolling Admissions Early Decision  –  send in Sepembert and you may know a few weeks later. Binding. Example: Wake Forest
Early Decision Round II – Still an Early Decision application that is binding, just sent in later around usually Jan 15.  One reason a school may offer this is to pick up highly qualified students who may have been rejected by their first choice school.