Prep Talk Blog > May 2009

Worried that the recession means fewer opportunities for summer jobs? Get some advice on how to find and land a great gig on this week's roundup of the web's best college admissions resource:
  • says employers are hiring at the same rate this year, but the competition for these jobs has risen. The hospitality and retail sectors will be employing the most seasonal workers.
  • myUsearch offers practical advice on how to find a job through networking and online classifieds.
  • Kidzworld gives a rundown of some traditional summer jobs for younger teenagers, including lifeguarding and dog-walking.
  • Debt-free Scholar suggests several worthwhile, little-known pursuits (besides a job) that high schoolers can take on during their vacation. It's the perfect time, for example, to pick up a hobby or even start a small business.
  • CampusCompare discusses the importance of internships and gives tips on how to land your first one.

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If you’ve ever dreamed of the SAT or ACT vanishing into thin air, you’ve got your wish . . . sort of. Many colleges and universities who believe that these standardized tests are not the best way to determine a student’s potential have voiced their opinions in a pretty big way: they are removing the SAT and ACT from their application requirements.

If you are a strong student but freak out when it comes to major tests, this is definitely a time to rejoice. In fact, you are the reason that more and more schools are moving towards making the SAT and ACT optional. These schools question the validity of standardized testing in assessing a student’s future success in college. When you think about it, it does make sense—how could a three-hour test possibly sum up all the skills you have learned during years of schooling? Critics of these tests also point out that standardized testing is prejudiced toward minority and economically disadvantaged students. Much has been said about establishing a test that will be a fairer assessment than what is currently in place with the College Board and the ACT.

Stop doing your happy dance for just a moment and check out this list of SAT-optional schools from Fair Test, an organization dedicated to creating fair and effective admissions standards. Pretty impressive, huh? There are dozens of small liberal arts colleges across the country that are shedding the SAT and abstaining from the ACT, but what’s really making people’s tongues wag is the fact that there are also more and more competitive schools that are appearing on the list, such as Bard College, College of the Holy Cross, and Bowdoin College.

Although the list of test-optional schools is getting longer each year, that doesn’t mean that you should burn your SAT or ACT practice books just yet. There are still plenty of schools—including the Ivies—that are not ready to budge on the testing issue. You may find that you’ll still have to take the SAT or ACT, but you’ll only have to submit scores to a few of the schools on your list. It’s enough to take a bit of the nervous edge away, now that you know there are colleges and universities out there that will look at you as a person and not just a verbal or math score.

You may resume your happy dance now.

Image by
dieselbug2007 and used under a Creative Commons license.

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Listen up! There's a new blog in town called “The Choice” and it's designed just for you…and your parents… and your high school guidance counselor… and your college admissions officer.  “The Choice” is a 360° view of college admissions with advice that is right on target for every player in the admissions game.  Jacque Steinberg, the blog's lead writer, says the goal of the new project is "to demystify and illuminate an American rite of passage that typically occurs behind closed doors, whether it’s the doors to the university admissions office, or those of the homes of the applicants themselves.”

In reading “The Choice”, you'll gain much-needed perspective, instead of scary headlines and insider details, instead of sensational statistics. For instance, Steinberg goes against the grain to discuss how admissions is super competitive, but only at the nation’s top “four dozen” colleges and universities. He points out that there are literally thousands of colleges that admit more students than they reject and some of them admit nearly everyone that applies.

I'm so excited to have a new kind of resource to share- one that promises well-rounded advice from students like you, parents like yours, and admissions experts who present facts behind the statistics.

What’s in it for you and your family?

  • The Envelope, Please”: Six real college applicants share their college selection experiences from acceptances to rejections to waitlists. You'll see how each of these students makes their big decision. If you want to share too, you are invited to post a comment or email your story for a chance to have your post published on “The Choice."
  • “Your Money”: Students and parents learn how to plan for the costs of tuition and receive timely articles related to paying for college in the “Student Loan Guide” drawn from the “Times Topics” business section.
  • A “Question and Answer” section: You and your parents can submit your burning college admissions questions to an expert panel. Get your questions ready about financial aid, the college selection process, how to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist and popular college admission advice and tactics. The expert panel will also talk about recent college admissions headlines and the latest news in higher education.
I hope you are as into “The Choice” as I am. Check it out and let me know your thoughts! 

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Spring is here, and with warmer temperatures and greener grass comes something that has plagued many soon-to-be high school graduates: senioritis. Even the most hardworking students feel the urge to ditch the books in favor of any little distraction that comes their way during the final weeks before graduation.

Chances are, you have been hit with your own strain of senioritis, particularly if you have already been accepted to college and have sent in your enrollment deposit. What’s wrong with celebrating by kicking back and relaxing a bit? Nothing at all, provided it doesn’t get in the way of finishing your final semester on a high note. Many seniors write it off as urban legend, but it’s true: colleges have indeed been known to revoke scholarships and, in some extreme cases, rethink acceptances when they receive the abysmal final transcripts of seniors who checked out early.

Even though you are in the home stretch, it can feel like the longest few weeks you’ll ever have to endure. So what’s a senior to do? Here are a few ideas to tide you over until you can slam your locker for the very last time:
  1. Get plenty of rest. You don’t have to be majoring in rocket science next year to know that when you are well rested, you can pretty much handle anything. If you can get a full eight hours of sleep per night, you’ll be more refreshed and will finish your homework much more quickly than if you’re dragging your feet. The quicker you finish your homework, the more time you’ll have to do whatever it is you’d rather be doing.
  2. Get some fresh air. It’s been a long winter for many of us, so be sure to enjoy the good stuff that Mother Nature is starting to throw us. Take a break every so often from homework and go for a short walk, even if it’s just around the corner. Better yet, kill two birds with one stone and take your books outside—sunshine and a warm breeze while you study might be just the trick to help you get through that last act of Shakespeare or that massive list of Spanish vocabulary.
  3. Keep your eye on the prize. Stick your acceptance letter to the refrigerator door. Start wearing your soon-to-be college tee shirt. Paint your room in the colors of your chosen school. Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you worked hard over the past four years to get where you are today, and that you will NOT allow the few remaining weeks of school to undo it all. If you have to program your alarm clock so that you wake up to your college’s fight song, do it. Start each day knowing that it’s one more day closer to the summer, when you can finally take a break from your schoolwork.

Don’t let senioritis get the best of you. Make a strong push to get through the rest of the semester and then you’ll have the whole summer to do as you please.

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Everyone wants to do well on standardized tests, but what's considered a "good" test score can vary dramatically from person to person. If you're wondering, "What is a good score on my ACT or SAT?", there is no hard and fast answer to the question. The notion of good depends on what you want to accomplish and, in the case of college admissions, getting in to the college that is right for you is good.

A good score is pretty much defined as the score that puts you in the top 25 percent of the incoming class and a not-good score places you in the bottom 25 percent of the applicant pool. Remember, not all colleges rely on the score much (or at all) in deciding who gets in. College admissions counselor Todd Johnson recently wrote a great article addressing the question: “What is a good ACT score?” Here are a few points from his blog:

Private colleges tend to take educational background into account when deciphering test score strength. Johnson says that kids from small rural high schools might have their scores viewed with a little more lenience than kids from top private schools whose privileged backgrounds give them an edge on the ACT in general.
Public colleges tend to just evaluate the ACT scores without considering educational background.
To find out how your test score fits within your top college choice’s admission range, Johnson recommends using College Navigator, a tool developed by the US Department of Education, to find the published ACT/SAT score ranges for the top 25 percent of enrolled students and the bottom 25 percent as well.
I took Johnson’s advice about using College Navigator to find the score ranges from my alma mater.

Here is how you can find out too:
1. Go to College Navigator.
2. Type in the name of the college that you are considering.
3. Click on the college title link in the results.
4. Find "Admissions" in the options.

Under “Admissions Considerations”, you will find the 25th percentile scores which are the average scores for the top 25 percent of the freshman enrollments. You will also find the 75th percentile that reflects the score averages for the bottom 25 percent of enrolled students.

So, what is a good ACT or SAT test score? If your scores are the same or higher than the 25th percentile, then you have favorable odds of getting in. If your scores are comparable or lower than the 75th percentile, then you have a lower chance of being accepted to a college that relies heavily on test scores to determine admissions. Keep in mind, however, that it all depends on how much individual institutions emphasize test scores.


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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.


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Don Munce