Sunday, February 10, 2013

Changes to Common App 2013-14!


Big news!  The Common Application Board of Directors has changed the questions for the common application essay beginning next fall.  If you haven’t applied to college before, it shouldn't really matter, but if you have older siblings/children who have, it’s a good idea to preview the new questions.
Actually, it’s a good idea for all high school juniors to read over the questions now to get an idea of the five different options and have a chance to reflect on past, present and future experiences you might wish to write about.
How are the questions different from previous years?  Gone is question #6—write on whatever topic you wish--so now every applicant has to present a more specific and focused essay.  The 500 word limit has been extended to 650 words, though some counselors still recommend sticking as close as possible to 500 words.  The questions focus less on achievements and more on struggle.  They ask more specifically for reflection and evaluation, especially questions 2-4.  Question one is still pretty open ended—a “background or story . . . central to [your] identity.”  And overall they seem to direct students more toward narrating one event or story rather than stringing together several vignettes.
Here’s a link to the new questions:
I suggest investing in a notebook or opening a file on your computer where you can jot down ideas and reflections during the next few months.  Don’t forget you can sign up for a college essay writing workshop or for individual help with essays through my website:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

To Test Prep or not to Test Prep. . .

That is the question. . . . 

Lily started an SAT test prep class call “Revolution Prep” at the end of January.  We debated about whether or not she should take a prep class and finally decided that given her absolutely chock-a-block schedule, it was actually better for her to have a scheduled time to study for the exam rather than try to carve out extra time on her own, constantly having to choose among homework, piano and swim practice and test prep.   

Now we’ve paid the tuition (around $600; luckily, there are scholarships available) and so the time is committed. Every Tuesday evening from 6-9 and Saturday morning from 9 to 1 for six weeks. 

I think there are actually three good options for preparing for the SAT:

1) Take a prep class offered by Revolution Prep or similar company such as Princeton Review or Sylvan Learning Center.  Some places also offer online classes.  Revolution Prep is offered on many area high school campuses, which makes it convenient, but not necessarily any better or any cheaper than others.

One less expensive option is through the San Mateo Community College District’s Community Education Classes.  It offers an SAT prep course for four Saturday afternoons beginning on March 23 from 1:15-5:15 pm.  Cost is $189 plus $30 for materials:

2) Study on your own using test prep books published by College Board, Princeton Review or others.  These are available for purchase and at libraries.  I also have a considerable stash at my house, donated by a former advisee.  You are welcome to come peruse my collection and take what you’d like.

3) Hire a private tutor. Some academic tutors also offer test prep or you can contact tutoring centers like Sylvan.  An up and coming and very popular tutoring company in Palo Alto/Menlo Park is AJ Tutoring.  It also offers free practice tests for current and “prospective” clients:

As well as deciding how to prepare for the exams, you need to decide when and which to take. College counselors now often advise students to take both the SAT and ACT, but I’m not sure it’s necessary.  One good way to decide between the two is to take a practice test in both and see which one yields the higher score.  Local public high schools offer practice tests; sometimes libraries schedule dates, and also see AJ Tutoring above. 

Most students take the SAT and/or ACT sometime during spring of junior year and again possibly senior fall if they want to improve their score.  Be sure to check the College Board and ACT testing schedules and sign up well in advance: