Posts Tagged ‘college admissions’

Does Test-Optional Really Mean Test-Optional at Colleges?What are the Pro and Cons of Submitting Scores?

January 3, 2023

Test-optional policies at colleges and universities mean that applicants are not required to submit scores from standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT as part of their application. Here are some potential pros and cons of applying to a test-optional college:


  • It allows you to focus on other aspects of your application, such as your transcripts, essays, and extracurricular activities, which may better reflect your academic and personal achievements.
  • It may be especially beneficial for students who have faced challenges such as economic hardship, disability, or illness, which may have affected their test performance.
  • It can also be a good option for students who are strong academically but do not perform well on standardized tests due to test anxiety or other factors.


  • If you have strong test scores, they can often be a significant factor in your favor when applying to competitive colleges, so not submitting them may put you at a disadvantage.
  • Without test scores, it may be harder for the college to accurately assess your academic abilities and determine whether you are a good fit for their institution.
  • Some colleges and universities may still require test scores for certain programs or majors, even if they have a test-optional policy for general admissions.

Ultimately, whether or not to apply to a test-optional college is a personal decision that should be based on your individual circumstances and goals. It is always a good idea to research the specific policies and requirements of the colleges you are considering and consult with your guidance counselor or other trusted advisors before making a decision.


A Wild Ride for College Admissions

April 15, 2022

There may never have been a wilder ride for college admissions than this past admissions cycle. It has left parents, students, high school counselors and college consultants confused and wondering what is happening. More students than ever before were wait-listed, denied or deferred from schools across the United States.

Many suspect that colleges received far more applications this year than any in the past. Part of this could be due to schools being test-optional. Students often felt that they stood a chance at a competitive university because they had a near perfect academic record, activities and essays to support their applications. Unfortunately, this is often not enough!

This year there was also an influx of international students which added to the college competition. Colleges have also begun hard to push for more first generation and low income students which sometimes means that other students might be overlooked. And then there is the factor of institutional needs that a student has no control over. These can include a college’s desire for more students from a particular geographic area, applicants interested in a certain major or an athletic team that needs more participants.

My advice to students is to make sure they have a balanced list and only concern yourselves with what you can control, not those factors that you cannot!

5 Tips to Improve Your ACT Score

August 5, 2021

As a test prep coach, students frequently ask me how they can improve their score on the ACT. Since I have been providing test prep for high school students for more than twenty years, I have a few tips that will help students succeed on this important test.

The ACT consists of four sections: English, math, reading, and science reasoning. Each section requires its own individual approach. Take time to understand the format of each section and the best way to tackle it. Read and make sure you understand the directions so you do not need to waste time on them when you take the actual ACT. The more comfortable you are with the test, the easier it will be to improve your score on the ACT.

There is no penalty foe guessing on the ACT so I suggest you waste no time on questions if you don’t have a clue what the question is asking. See if you can eliminate some answers and then make a guess between what is left. You can always circle the number of the question and come back to it later if you have a minute or two at the end of the section.

Most students find the time constraints on the ACT a problem. You need to decide what questions can be answered more quickly and which you should leave until later. The science section seems to be the most difficult to finish on time. I suggest students skip one passage on the science test and try to be more accurate on their answers on the other six passages. When practicing on the ACT, it is important to time yourself on each test and figure out how to pace yourself.

Most colleges are interested in the ACT composite score. Your goal is to do what you can to improve that score. If you are strong in English, try to become even stronger. If math is your weakness, don’t try to learn new math at this time. Make sure you do the math questions you know how to do and don’t make stupid mistakes.

There is no substitute for practice if you want to improve your score on the ACT. Practice on real tests and go over every question you miss. Make sure you understand the reasoning behind the correct answer. On the reading section, check any questions you miss and return to the passage to find the supporting information for the right answer. If you are motivated enough to be successful on your ACT practice at home, then do it. If you need a class or some individual test prep, Google “test prep” and the city you live in and find out what is available.

Is Your High School Junior on Track with College Planning?

October 24, 2020

College admissions has changed dramatically this past eight months due to Covid-19. It is important that high school juniors get on track with their college planning in order to be prepared for the college application and admission process.

Although many colleges are test-optional for the class of 2021, that does not mean that colleges are test-blind. Most will still accept test scores from the SAT or ACT and consider them as part of the college application if they are submitted. Many colleges will also consider SAT and ACT scores for merit scholarships. For students who choose not to submit test scores, essays will carry more weight than ever before because they allow a school to determine how a student will contribute to theIr college community.

Colleges will be more flexible with who writes the recommendations, because they too will help a school get a picture of a student’s character, which is a big thing this year. Whether getting into college will be more difficult or easier for 2021or 2022 high school graduates remains to be seen. However, students need to write the best college applications and essays in order to be competitive. The more planning that high school juniors do, the more successful their college admissions oportunities will be as a high school senior.

Susie Watts is a college consultant with 30 years experience. She begins working with high school juniors once they are into their first semester. You can contact Susie at 303-692-1918 or with questions.Love

Who Cares about College Rankings?

November 8, 2018

Quite frankly, I am sick of college rankings. If it isn’t U.S. News, it’s Forbes, Money or endless other publications ranking what they consider the best colleges and universities.  The college rankings can tell us anything from the most connected schools to the best value universities. These college rankings measure different attributes that may or may not be important to a family when they are considering schools for their child. Often they are more confusing than helpful.

Many college rankings are oversimplified and downright unfair. They can be the result of professors, students, or even the universities themselves answering questionnaires that have been sent to them by a magazine or newspaper.  Many times college administrators are asked to evaluate colleges with which they have no knowledge, not just their own school.

Rankings often lead to misleading conclusions. Some colleges will spend money to improve something that will help their ranking, but may not benefit the students at all. Many use college rankings in their marketing materials.  These rankings often ignore factors that are of concern to prospective students.  Too frequently, they contain the same schools over and over.

As a private college counselor, I pay very little attention to these rankings because I want my students to consider colleges that are right for them. The highest ranked schools may not be the best fit or a college where they will have a successful academic and social experience. That to me is what is far more important than any ranking.


How to Support Your Child During the College Admissions Process.

October 29, 2015

The college admission process is not easy for teenagers.  It has become far more difficult than ever before with different test options or test-optional schools, a multitude of deadlines from early decision to early action II, to finding the hook in a college essay that will work for more than one college. Most teenagers need their parents support and encouragement during this time. They need parents to provide guidance and advice when they are asked, but not to interfere more than necessary. It is important to remember that your teen is going through the college admission process, not you. When visiting colleges, don’t be the one to ask all the questions. College essays should be in their voice. It is fine to help your student brainstorm different topics that could help a school to get to know him or her better. But, college admissions officers can detect when parents have overstepped their boundaries with the college essays. Parents should not try to persuade their teen to look at particular schools because that is where they attended or they have a bias either in favor of a particular college or against it. Encourage your child to look at a variety of schools so that they will have options in the end from which to choose. Your goal should be to help you child choose a college that offers the best fit: Academic, social, and financial. Where will your child be the happiest?

How to Get the Best Teacher Recommendations for College

May 21, 2015

Teacher recommendations are an important, but sometimes overlooked part of the college admissions process. They are one of the few opportunities that an admissions committee gets to read about a student’s character, motivation and personality. Teacher recommendations are not always mandatory, but they often provide the admissions committee with positive statements about a student as a college applicant.

Teacher recommendations are important for college admissions because they give a picture of a student in an academic setting. Students should make sure to ask a teacher who teaches in the core classes: English, science, math, social studies, or foreign language. Many schools like to have two teacher recommendations, each from a different subject area.

Teacher recommendations are intended for colleges to get a better picture of how a student might fit into their freshmen class. Colleges read all of your recommendations and factor them into the college admissions decision. Although it may not feel like students have much control over this aspect, they probably have more control than they realize.

Students should not wait until their senior year to request teacher recommendations. Teachers get busy in the fall and the more recommendations they have to do, the less time they will have to spend on them. Meet with two teachers before the end of your junior year and talk about what you would like them to write on your recommendations. Make sure the teachers know about you both inside and outside of the classroom and what you feel you can bring to a college campus.

Colleges prefer teacher recommendations come from teachers you have had for at least one semester because they want an honest evaluation of how you compare to other students in your class. If you have a teacher who also knows you outside the classroom in athletics or extra-curricular activities, that can give a college an additional perspective on you as a potential college applicant. Unless a school specifically requests it, don’t use a coach or someone who cannot speak to your academic achievements and capabilities.

Make sure your teacher recommendations focus on the academic issues related to your college choices, so that the teacher can provide specific information to support your applications. Or, if the colleges are known for their debate team, the teacher could mention that you have excelled in a particular area in your high school speech and debate club.

According to recent research, teacher recommendations are the fifth most important factor in the college admission decision. Of the top five factors – grades in college prep courses, SAT and ACT scores, class rank, essay or personal statement – this one give an admissions committee something more personal than grades and test scores are able to provide.

Teacher recommendations often give a school some idea of how students will fit into their particular campus and how successful they will be completing four years of study. As colleges continue to receive increasing numbers of applicants each year, the need to stand out from the competition is also increasing. Teacher recommendations might be that piece of information that distinguishes you from other applicants in college admissions.

How to Find Test Prep that Works

January 17, 2014

I am a firm believer in test prep for the SAT and ACT.  It is time right now for high school juniors to get prepared for the two admissions tests coming up this Spring.  I usually suggest students take both tests to see how they do.  If they score higher on one than the other, they can concentrate on that one if they wish.  Colleges do not need to receive scores from both tests and would rather get the highest score that the student can get.

College Direction has been offering test prep for the SAT and ACT for over twenty years.  The classes meet once a week for six weeks for 2  1/2 hours.  The classes are limited to nine students.  The six week course help students gain practice on real tests and the score improvements have been impressive, but realistic.  All this and test prep is affordable too.

I have been able to answer  “yes” to the following questions posed by this article as to what parents and students should look for in a good test prep course.  College Direction offers all this and more.  If you want to improve your opportunities for college admissions and scholarships, test prep is the place to start.

College Admissions and the Overly Involved Parent

January 7, 2014

Parents are constantly criticized for being overly involved in their child’s college admission process. Some of the criticism may be for a good reason, but some may not. When a college admissions office reports that they received a phone call from someone claiming to be an applicant, they knew for sure it was the parent calling. The voice was definitely not that of a prospective student and the question was the kind that only a parent would ask. Overly involved, yes!

Many parents, however, are going through the college admission process with their child and they realize how dramatically things have changed since they applied to college. They are right. College admissions has become far more competitive than it ever used to be and there are just too many students applying to schools with too few spots available.. Perhaps, for this reason, parents want to help their child be as competitive as possible and think that assisting with the college applications and essays might help. Some parents also realize that most high school students don’t get the college advising or attention they need from the high schools they attend. Thus, the parents take over and offer the best advice they can.

As a college consultant, I find that most of my students’ parents are very supportive of their children and try not to interfere but let their teenager be in charge. They call with their concerns, but this is usually a conversation between the two of us and they simply have questions that need clarification. This is how it should be. The college admission process is a big step for high school students, but it is also a wonderful opportunity for self-assessment and growth. Parents should be involved, but not obsessed.

Now for the parent who is over the top. This is a quote from the Director of Admissions at a well known university. “We always have parents who open the decision letters while their child is still at school. They call and ask, ‘What am I going to tell her when she gets home? She will just be devastated.’ We always reply, ‘Well, you might want to start by explaining why you’re opening her mail.” Overly involved, yes!

What do colleges receive from high schools for every college applicant?

September 4, 2013

Most students apply online to colleges and universities.  The applications they send include their basic information, extracurricular activities, and college admission essays.  The high school is no longer responsible for sending out applications.  It is strictly the responsibility of the student.  Two things that high schools mail to colleges for every college applicant are the official transcript and the school profile.

We all know that the official transcript includes all of the classes and grades that a student has received up through their last completed semester.  Many do not know what the school report includes.  Here is a link to a good explanation: