I recently read a Wall Street Journal article

By Chuck Hughes

Former Harvard Admissions Officer

I recently read a Wall Street Journal article that discussed an analysis of 30,000 college graduates that explored the correlation between college selectivity and future job satisfaction or well-being. The students, in fact, showed little to no correlation in that area, and one of the key points to the article was to provide us with a reminder that our team has been sharing with parents for years: attend a college that will inspire you, allow you to develop mentoring relationships with faculty and advisors, engage you in the classroom, provide practical real world experience through research or internships, and allow you to grow into an independent adult ready to make a contribution to society. 

The WSJ article highlights six areas that can help students thrive in college:

Take a course with a professor who makes learning exciting

Work with professors who care about students personally

Find a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals

Work on a project across several semesters

Participate in an internship that applies classroom learning

Be active in extracurricular activities

When I think about my Harvard experience, I'd make the case that I found myself active in at least four of these areas, and maybe this is why I found my time so wonderful and life changing. I lived with 9 diverse and interesting people from across the country. I participated in a varsity sport at a nationally competitive level. I developed relationships with 2 faculty members and received great mentorship from several people who worked at the university. I pursued a teaching certificate beyond my psychology major over two years, which brought me to a 12-week full day teaching practicum at a Coalition of Essential Schools high school an hour from Cambridge, and I thrived as a person with all I explored beyond the classroom. 

So, as we continue to discuss schools with our students, those are the questions we should be exploring as we try to differentiate the many incredible college options that await. 

To read the article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-right-way-to-choose-a-college...

Online Scholarship Opportunity

Have you heard of RaiseMe? I hadn’t either until recently. What I love most about my job is the opportunity to learn new things everyday. I can never rest on my laurels thinking that I know everything about this profession and its peripheral players. And I absolutely adore learning new things from my students, one of whom recently introduced me to RaiseMe, an online platform designed to identify and match micro scholarships with prospective college students.

I may be late to the game, but if you haven’t already, I highly encourage you (parents and students) to check out RaiseMe. Introducing students as young as 8th and 9th graders to this site will help them to better understand what goes into a college application and how their achievements can be tracked for greater success. Join a club, increase your chance for scholarship money. Improve your grades, increase your scholarships potential. Take on a leadership position, more opportunity for scholarship funds to increase.

The concept of RaiseMe is pretty straightforward. Students use an engaging, teen-friendly platform to input their achievements (course grades, clubs, sports, volunteer activities, etc.). For each achievement students can see scholarship money earned from colleges, which will be awarded upon attendance. Important point— a student must go through the standard admission process to receive scholarship funds. This is not a short cut to admission, rather it’s an opportunity for students to see how their achievements directly correlate with scholarship potential. Students can learn more about hundreds of colleges across the country— some institutions of which they may already be quite familiar and others that are just waiting to be discovered.

RaiseMe can be a good motivator and a concrete way for students to see how their actions directly impact the college admission process. In fact I’m going to encourage my daughter, a rising high school freshman, to start using RaiseMe as a means of connecting with the amorphous and nebulous college process that seems so very far away but will get here before we know it.

While I understand that everything poses a potential downside, from the research I’ve done I’ve been unable to find a significant negative to oppose my promotion of RaiseMe. I encourage you (parents and students) to look into RaiseMe to see how it might augment your college admission process.

Lisa Cynamon Mayers

Senior Admissions Consultant

A Potato Gun, A Glass Eye and the Burden of the Personal Statement

So it’s that time that rising seniors really should start thinking about the dreaded college application personal statement. (Cue the spooky music here.) Nothing seems to strike fear in the hearts of students more than discussion of the essay topic. Everyone wants to know what you’re going to write about, if you’ve started writing, how many essays you need to complete. Mom and Dad are suddenly Pulitzer Prize winning writers, eager to help you draft that perfect, compelling, acceptance generating essay. 

After many years of reading applications, making admission decisions and now coaching students on the essay writing process, I can say one thing for sure-- everyone, and I mean everyone, has a story to tell. You are probably 17 or 18 years old and lamenting why you haven’t yet discovered the meaning of life or been fortunate enough to have a truly life changing experience. You don’t need to have had anything major, life altering, earth shattering happen to you to write a terrific essay. Your everyday experiences will allow you to write an essay that will enlighten the admissions committee about who are, what you believe and why you would make a good asset to Dream U.

Allow me to share one of my favorite stories. Several years ago I was working with a small town Wisconsin student on essay brainstorming. Obviously before you can write that first draft, you need to do a little brainstorming. Writing process. This young man and I had spent about forty-five minutes on the phone trying to unlock good ideas for his essay topic. We spoke of extracurricular involvements, travels, growing up in a small town, academic interests, etc. I could tell nothing was resonating with him.  Glimmer of fear-- what if he has nothing to write about? 

Then out of the blue, he mentioned that this was probably nothing but he had lost his eye in a freak potato gun accident. WHAT?! Hmmm, tell me more. Turns out he and some friends were goofing off. A potato gun accidentally discharged, hitting him square in the eye and causing so much damage that his eye had to be replaced with a glass eye. (Side note: Mom is right, those things are dangerous and you can indeed lose an eye. I may be the Admissions Ace but I’m a mom too.) So this is all very interesting but even more fascinating, this student’s lifelong dream was to attend the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot, just as his father and grandfather had done. Glass eye=fighter pilot dreams crushed. Wowzers! If that doesn’t scream essay topic, I don’t know what does! He hadn’t mentioned that story earlier in our conversation because he didn’t think it was all that important or terribly interesting. Right...

Takeaway message: We all have a story to tell. Every one of us. If you are completely stumped on how to start brainstorming, think about your life, your experiences, your interests, your dreams. Think about what you want the admissions committee to know about you that they won’t find anywhere else on your application. And if you need a little help, just holler. I can get a good story out of anyone.

Lisa Cynamon Mayers

Senior Admissions Consultant

Decisions and Choices

Decision time.The notifications have arrived and choices need to be made. So much anxiety pervades this time of year. Questions keep students and parents awake late into the night: What if I wasn’t admitted to my first choice? What if I’ve been admitted everywhere? How do we decipher different financial assistance packages? What if I make the wrong choice?

Some advice from a seasoned veteran:

  1. You will make the right decision. Go into this part of the process with this attitude and you can’t go wrong. I know it seems oversimplified to offer this kind of advice but you are a smart, accomplished, capable high school senior (or the parent of one) and you are equipped with the wherewithal to make this decision. Using your research skills, past experiences, future goals, heart and mind, you will pick the school that will be the right place for you. 
  2. You can transfer. i.e. You can change your mind. Where you begin your studies is not necessarily the school that will become your alma mater. Keep this in mind if you were not admitted to any of your top choice schools or if you are stricken with a full blown panic attack surrounding the need to make a decision. In my experience I’ve worked with students devastated by a denial from their first choice school. Forced to attend another school on their list, they ultimately found complete satisfaction and by the fall of their freshman years they had no interest in attending their former dream colleges. 
  3. Pick up the phone and ask questions. Confused about your financial assistance package? Concerned about academic/social/extracurricular opportunities? Wondering how to submit certain forms? I can’t stress enough that you are entitled and encouraged to pick up the phone and ask questions. Call the admission office. Call the financial assistance office. Talk to a dean, an advisor, a coach. The ball is now in your court-- you are allowed to ask as many questions as you want.
  4. Make your own decision, part I. Once the admission decisions arrive, everyone will come out of the woodwork offering suggestions and advice. That random relative you haven’t heard from in ages will have an opinion. Your mom’s business partner will quote the US News and World Report rankings. Tune out the noise. Turn off the chatter. As mentioned above, you will make the right decision. You don’t need to concern yourself with everyone else’s biases, thoughts, comments, worthless drivel, etc. This is a decision between you and your parents. No one else.
  5. Make your own decision, part II. As much as you may be in love with your boyfriend or girlfriend, try to make the decision while separating your emotional connection. Same advice goes for best friends. Relationships end. Don’t have your college decision, probably the biggest decision you’ve ever made, predicated on other people’s choices. Good friends will stay in touch despite the distance. Love affairs can continue at different universities.

In conclusion a college admissions blessing: May you see that you have the strength and knowledge and self-awareness to make this decision.

Lisa Cynamon Mayers

Senior Admissions Consultant

Waitlisted... Now what?

You may have discovered by now that there is a lot to still be figured in terms of where students will be going to college next year. Seniors will be going on accepted students days to try to finally determine where they want to spend their next four years. And some of those same seniors will be notifying colleges that they want to stay on their wait lists.  Here are a few tips to do your part in moving things along. 

  • If you know for certain that you will not attend a school where you have been admitted, then notify them asap to decline their offer and make room for other students. What may be just another one of your safety schools, is a dream school for someone else. 
  • If you know for certain that you will not attend a school where you have been waitlisted, then graciously decline the spot on the waitlist. Remember, that there are other students desperately waiting for that message from that college saying that they have been admitted off the waitlist. 
  • If you are on a waitlist of a school that you hope to get in to, then notify them immediately (typically through their official notification form) that you want to stay on the waitlist. Then you'll be asking yourself: Now what can I do to let them know that I really want to get in!?  There is no single perfect answer to this. The bottom line is to be yourself. Remember you are trying to find a way to distinguish yourself from other qualified students on the waitlist. Find a creative and genuine way to let the admission officers know who your are as a person. If you are a painter, then paint a picture! If you are a singer, then write a song! If you are a writer, then write something. And in the meantime, put your deposit down on another school and get excited about the possibility of going there! 
Becky Georgenes
Senior College Counselor 
Road to College
Former Princeton Admission officer

Visit Colleges Without Considerable Travel

Spring break is rapidly approaching. And with the arrival of high school spring breaks comes a marked increase in the number of college visits students make. Juniors and even some sophomores will take time over their school vacations to visit colleges across the country. But what if you don’t have the resources— time, finances, travel ability— to visit campuses? Never fear, there are great ways for students all across the US to experience college visits without expensive, time consuming travel.

Especially for the highly undecided student, but applicable to all students, I recommend local visits. The majority of high school students live within driving distance of a college. With over three thousand colleges and universities in the US, there are plenty of options close to home. Rather than spending time and money visiting campuses that may or may not be of interest, I would encourage you to explore one or more campuses within driving distance of home, even if you think you have no intention of attending said college. Visiting any campus will help you to better understand your preferences. You’ll gain familiarity with the process of visiting a college so that when you visit your top choice schools you will be a seasoned campus visiting veteran. Make your visit official by scheduling it through the admission office. Sit in on the information session. Take the tour. Wander around campus. Ask questions. A visit to a nearby school that may not be on your radar is a great way to practice asking questions, learn the lingo of a college visit, and hone your preferences.

College websites are an excellent resource for research purposes. Rather than spending considerable time and money to visit every school on your preliminary list, use college websites to visit colleges across the country from the comfort of your own home. Organize your research and take notes. Jot down the details that interest you— interesting courses/majors, unique learning opportunities, pertinent aspects of the application/admission processes, etc. Keep your research in a central location so that you can refer back to it as you virtually visit campuses or ultimately make in-person visits.

There are other incredible online resources to facilitate a virtual campus visit. Check out the resources below to take virtual tours of hundreds of campuses across the country. 

You Visit


600+ easy-to-search free college visits



Online college video tours and searches.

College Click TV


Allows students to watch exclusive videos of college students from campuses across the country speaking frankly about their colleges. 

Have fun exploring from the comfort of your own home!

Newsflash: Recent Article About the SAT & ACT

The March 10, 2018 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured a fascinating article on its Review section cover. This article, written by industrial-organizational psychology professors at the University of Minnesota, explores several test related myths the authors have identified. While we may not agree with every aspect of the article, the bottom line is that testing matters. It matters for admission. It matters for future success. And it matters for students to take the tests seriously. Read the article and see what you think.

The Truth About the SAT and ACT

Myths abound about standardized tests, but the research is clear: They provide an invaluable measure of how students are likely to perform in college and beyond

The Truth About the SAT and ACT

This Saturday, hundreds of thousands of U.S. high-school students will sit down to take the SAT, anxious about their performance and how it will affect their college prospects. And in a few weeks, their older peers, who took the test last year, will start hearing back from the colleges they applied to. Admitted, rejected, waitlisted? It often hinges, in no small measure, on those few hours spent taking the SAT or the ACT, the other widely used standardized test.

Standardized tests are only part of the mix, of course, as schools make their admissions decisions. They also rely on grades, letters of recommendation, personal statements and interviews. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves: The SAT and ACT matter. They help overwhelmed admissions officers divide enormous numbers of applicants into pools for further assessment. High scores don’t guarantee admission anywhere, and low scores don’t rule it out, but schools take the tests seriously.

And they should, because the standardized tests tell us a lot about an applicant’s likely academic performance and eventual career success. Saying as much has become controversial in recent years, as standardized tests of every sort have come under attack. But our own research and that of others in the field show conclusively that a few hours of assessment do yield useful information for admissions decisions.

Unfortunately, a lot of myths have developed around these tests—myths that stand in the way of a thoughtful discussion of their role and importance.

Myth: Tests Only Predict First-Year Grades

Longitudinal research demonstrates that standardized tests predict not just grades all the way through college but also the level of courses a student is likely to take. Our research shows that higher test scores are clearly related to choosing more difficult majors and to taking advanced coursework in all fields. At many schools, the same bachelor’s degree can be earned largely with introductory courses or with classes that approach the level of a master’s degree. Students with high test scores are more likely to take the challenging route through college.

Tests also predict outcomes beyond college. A 2007 paper published in the journal Science presented a quantitative review across thousands of studies and hundreds of thousands of students, examining the predictive power of graduate-school admissions tests for law, business, medicine and academic fields. It showed that the tests predict not only grades but also several other important outcomes, including faculty evaluations, research accomplishments, degree attainment, performance on comprehensive exams and professional licensure.

High-school and college grades are excellent measures for selecting students who are prepared for the next level. But we all know that a grade-point average of 3.5 doesn’t mean the same thing across schools or even for two students within a school. As high-school GPAs continue to go up because of grade inflation, having the common measure provided by admissions test scores is useful.

Students in an SAT prep class. Tests are generally more valid when everyone has had preparation.
Students in an SAT prep class. Tests are generally more valid when everyone has had preparation. PHOTO: BRIAN A. POUNDS/HEARST CONNECTICUT/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Myth: Tests Are Not Related to Success in the Real World

Clearly there are many factors, beyond what is measured by tests, that have an impact on long-term success in work and life. But fundamental skills in reading and math matter, and it has been demonstrated, across tens of thousands of studies, that they are related, ultimately, to job performance.

2004 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at results from a test that was designed for admissions assessment but was also marketed as a tool for making hiring decisions. Though originally intended as a measure of “book smarts,” it also correlated with successful outcomes at both school and work.

Longitudinal research has demonstrated that major life accomplishments, such as publishing a novel or patenting technology, are also associated with test scores, even after taking into account educational opportunities. There is even a sizable body of evidencethat these skills are related to effective leadership and creative achievements at work. Being able to read texts and make sense of them and having strong quantitative reasoning are crucial in the modern information economy.

Myth: Beyond a Certain Point, Higher Scores Don’t Matter

Some might concede that these skills are important—but only up to a point, beyond which higher scores don’t matter. It’s an understandable intuition, but the research clearly shows that, all else being equal, more is better.

If anything, the relationship between scores and success increased as scores went up.

One of us examined four large national data sets and found no evidence, in either work or academic settings, of a plateau where all relatively high scorers were roughly equal. If anything, the relationship between scores and success increased as scores went up. One theory for why this occurs is that people who score higher are more likely to seek out highly complex academic and work settings, where their cognitive skills are especially important.

A remarkable longitudinal study published in 2008 in the journal Psychological Science examined students who scored in the top 1% at the age of 13. Twenty years later, they were, on average, very highly accomplished, with high incomes, major awards and career accomplishments that would make any parent proud.

Yet, even within that group, higher scores mattered. Those in the top quarter of the top 1% were more likely than those merely at the bottom quarter of the top 1% to have high incomes, patents, doctorates and published literary works and STEM research.

Cognitive skills are not the only factor in success, of course. Our own research has demonstrated that, with certain elite cohorts, like applicants for executive positions, the abilities measured by tests are still important but less so than other characteristics. This is the same phenomenon as in professional basketball, where differences in height become less important among the extremely tall. This highlights the need to assess multiple characteristics with high-quality measures.

Myth: Common Alternatives to Tests Are More Useful

Admissions staff often rely on letters of recommendation, interviews and student essays and personal statements to create a complete picture of a student. It’s a worthy goal. Success is not just a function of high-school grades and test scores. 

Unfortunately, most of these tools are not stellar indicators of future success. Letters of recommendation have some modest utility, but research shows that evaluations of student essays and personal statements have almost no relationship to how students ultimately perform. It is well known that traditional interviews are poor predictors (though structured interviews are much more effective). Problems with traditional interviews and letters of recommendation are so pervasive that many schools are looking for better options.

We know from extensive longitudinal research that many aspects of a person’s personality are associated with important life outcomes. Unlike typical personality measures, new measures that are resistant to faking in high-stakes settings are being developed. These measures can more accurately test a student’s character, getting at critical characteristics such as curiosity, empathy, resilience and determination. In addition, “situational judgment tests” that evaluate a person’s judgment in key school situations have been successfully used for medical school admissions and are being developed for admissions at all levels.

Myth: Tests Are Just Measures of Social Class

Admissions tests aren’t windows into innate talent; rather, they assess skills developed over years of education. They evaluate a student’s capacity to read and interpret complex prose, think critically and reason mathematically.

How well students develop these skills is influenced, of course, by many factors, including educational quality, high expectations, stable communities and families, and teacher behavior. It is a tragic reality that these factors are not equally distributed across social class and race in the U.S.

Studies have documented, for example, that the number of words and encouragements spoken to little children varies by socioeconomic status and that these differences are related to the development of verbal reasoning skills. Obviously, some kids from less well-off families grow up in a home environment where they encounter complex vocabulary and sentence structures, but many more do not.

Though we see exceptionally skilled students from all walks of life, the reality is that there is a correlation between test scores and social class. This doesn’t mean, however, that success on standardized tests and in college is simply dependent on class.

Our own comprehensive look at the issue, including a review of the existing literature and analysis of several large national data sets, showed that the tests were valid even when controlling for socioeconomic class. Regardless of their family background, students with good tests scores and high-school grades do better in college than students with lower scores and weaker transcripts.

Standardized tests are not just proxy tests of wealth, and many students from less affluent backgrounds do brilliantly on them. But the class differences in skill development are real, and improving the K-12 talent pipeline would be a huge benefit to the country.

Students at the University of Pennsylvania in September.
Students at the University of Pennsylvania in September. PHOTO: CHARLES MOSTOLLER/REUTERS

Myth: Test Prep and Coaching Produce Large Score Gains

If tests were easily coached and coaching was only available to the wealthy, there would be an equity problem, even if tests are generally useful. Commercial test prep is clearly expensive, so this is a critical issue. 

Researchers have conducted a mix of experimental studies and controlled field studies to test this question. They have generally concluded that the gains due to test prep are more on the order of 5 to 20 points and not the 100 to 200 points claimed by some test prep companies. 

One review found a typical gain of 15 to 20 points on the math portion of the SAT and 8 to 10 points on the verbal portion. One of us conducted a more in-depth analysis of 4,248 high-school students and, after controlling for prior scores and the differing propensity of students to seek coaching, we estimated a gain of 14 points on the math test and 4 points on the verbal.

These are just averages, and among students who prep, a small percentage do realize 100 point gains. Why? The research suggests that they fall into two overlapping groups. The first consists of students who are fundamentally well prepared but are rusty on some basic concepts. The second group has not put even basic effort into understanding the questions and the flow of the tests. Gaining simple familiarity is one of the surest ways to achieve quick increases in scores.

Most experts want students to prep. Tests are generally more valid when everyone has had preparation because scores then reflect the application of fresh skills and not differences in basic familiarity with the test. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has partnered with Khan Academy to offer free test prep. Such training is valuable, and having accessible prep materials helps to improve both student scores and the validity of the test.

Myth: Tests Prevent Diversity in Admissions

Do standardized tests have a negative impact on the admission of a racially diverse student body? A good test of this would be to look at schools where admissions tests are optional for applicants and compare them to schools that use the tests. Recent research demonstrates that testing-optional schools have been enrolling increasingly diverse student bodies. But the same is true of schools that require testing.

Similarly, in a 2012 study, we examined a sample of 110 colleges with a total of 143,000 students to see whether the admitted student body consists mostly of those from wealthier families or reflects the socioeconomic profile of the applicant pool as a whole. It turned out that the social class of the enrolled students mirrored the applicant pool.

If there is a social-class filter, it affects who is prepared for college and who chooses to apply. This deserves national attention, since there are many talented and hardworking students who, as we have said, are not getting the sort of education that would prepare them for college. 

Ideally, students applying to college should be evaluated on many different pieces of information, including their academic skills, curiosity, drive and teamwork. But test scores should have an important role in admissions decisions. Differences in skill investment and development over the course of many years cannot be overcome quickly. 

Some schools take addressing these gaps as their mission, while others assume an advanced baseline of skills and focus on pushing their students toward higher levels of achievement. Not all schools have the same goals, and that’s fortunate, given the realities of talent development across students in the U.S. 

Standardized tests are just tools—very effective tools—but they provide invaluable information to admissions offices. They identify those students who need help catching up with fundamental skills and those who are ready to tackle advanced material and rapidly accelerate in their learning.

Drs. Kuncel and Sackett are professors of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Minnesota. This essay is adapted from their chapter in “Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Future of College Admissions,” a new edited volume published by Johns Hopkins University Press. In the past they have received research funding from the College Board, which administers the SAT.


Finding Time for Activities - by Becky Gerogenes

“I play 3 sports…  I have no time for any other after school activities.”



I often work with students who are extremely dedicated athletes – either playing three different sports a year or focusing on one sport on varsity and club teams.  Ultimately, they all tell me the same thing:  “I don’t have time for any other extra curricular activities.” 

And that may be the case for you because all of their after school time is already filled up.


But we all know that it is important to have some other interests outside of sports – and not just because “it looks good on a college application.” It is also important to have other interests and passions in the event that you are no longer able to play the sport.


Here are some ideas of how you can pursue other activities despite having a busy sports schedule.

·      Start with your school electives. There are often wonderful opportunities for specialization in a given field of art. In some cases, that can even involve Honors, AP or intensive classes.  This could also lead to opportunities to TA in that discipline. But start thinking about this within the first two years of High School. That way, you have time to develop a real expertise --- all during the regular school day.

·      READ! Find books that support your interests (either academic or non-academic) and use your free time to read them. And if you feel like you don’t have the time or patience for books, try Audible. Download a book on your cell phone and listen to it during a run, during a workout, or while you are cleaning your room.   

·      Volunteer at a 1-day or 1-time event.  Volunteering can be meaningful even if it is not a regular commitment. See what is available in your community.  It could be helping re-stock a local food pantry. Working at a holiday event at your town’s Senior Center. Or raking leaves for a neighbor in need.


By taking a look at what you are already doing and putting a little effort into some non- sport activities, you will be enhancing your college application --- but even more importantly, you will be enriching your life.

2018-2019 Common App Essay Prompts

By Becky Georgenes - Senior College Counselor

A few weeks ago, the Common App released their essay prompts for the upcoming application season - and they are exactly the same as the prior year. According to their data, just over 2/3 of students using the Common App chose prompt 1 (background), 2 (challenge) or 7 (topic of your choice).  And I would say that that is similar to the choices made by students I worked with. 

It is certainly too early for students who are juniors to start working on or worrying about their essays. That being said, parents often like reading the prompts and ponder potential topics that they think their kids could do a good job writing about. And, depending on your child's anxiety level and their interest level, you might want to go over the topics with them, just so they have them in the back of their minds.  

So take a look.  Enjoy thinking about it. But remember, nobody needs to start writing yet.  Juniors should be focusing on doing a good job at being Juniors. 

2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. 

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? 

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 


The most popular essay prompt of the 2017-2018 application year (through January 5, 2018) is "Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth..." (23.6%), followed by the topic of your choice option (22.5%), and "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful..." (21.4%). 

"Through the Common App essay prompts, we want to give all applicants - regardless of background or access to counseling - the opportunity to share their voice with colleges. Every applicant has a unique story. The essay helps bring that story to life," said Meredith Lombardi, Associate Director, Outreach and Education, for The Common Application.

Standardized Testing Q&A

Standardized testing. A simple phrase that has such a powerful impact on the psyche of high school students. Two little words that embody the power to predict the future for a vast number of students. While we can heartily agree that none of us would like to relive the high school years of standardized test taking, we can offer some words of wisdom that might help you to navigate the process of understanding the basics. This blog post will not cover every nuance of test taking— there are many topics that we will not get into here but will likely cover in future posts.

Upon completing this post, we want you to understand some timely information about standardized testing. We’re going to give you some relevant facts to ponder. If you are left wanting more information about standardized testing, please reach out to us. We’d be happy to offer additional advice. It’s what we do best!

When are the SAT and ACT offered?

Starting this year ACT will begin offering a July test date. This is to keep the ACT on par with the SAT which started offering an August test date. These summer dates will be best utilized by rising seniors. We are not recommending that rising juniors (students between 10th and 11th grades) sit for the summer test dates. 

There is one important detail you might miss in the fine print. The July ACT will not be offered in California. The July and February ACT dates are not offered in New York. This is due to state laws regarding testing and disclosure. If you seek to take the ACT in July you will not be able to do so in California or New York.

For the best information about test dates and registration go straight to the source. Click this link to get the upcoming SAT dates for US locations. Click this link for upcoming international SAT dates. Click this link for ACT dates.

SAT Date

Subject Tests Available?

Registration Deadline

Late Registration Deadline

Deadline for Changes

March 10, 2018*


Feb 9, 2018

February 20 or 28 depending on type of registration

February 28

May 5, 2018*


April 6, 2018

April 17 or 25 depending on type of registration

April 25, 2018

June 2, 2018


May 3, 2018

May 15 or 23 depending on type of registration

May 23, 2018

August 25, 2018 (anticipated date)





October 6, 2018* (anticipated date)





November 3, 2018 (anticipated date)





December 1, 2018* (anticipated date)





 *Confirmed international test dates

ACT Date

Registration Deadline

Late Registration Deadline

April 14, 2018*

March 9, 2018

March 10-23, 2018

June 9, 2018*

May 4, 2018

May 5-18, 2018

July 14, 2018

June 15, 2018

June 16-22, 2018

September 8, 2018



October 27, 2018



December 8, 2018



 No test centers are scheduled in New York for February and July test dates. No test centers are scheduled in California for the July test date.

*Confirmed international test dates

When should I take the SAT and/or ACT?

We recommend that all students take at least one full length practice SAT and ACT at the beginning of the junior year. Some students test better on one exam or the other. While colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT, and no preference is given to one exam, it benefits students to see which test best suits their skill set. Once the determination is made SAT, ACT, or for some students both, students should start with official testing in the winter/spring of the junior year. Additional testing can be done over the summer or in the fall of senior year. 

We’ve found that sitting for the test more than three times does not show a significant increase in test score. Keep in mind that some colleges want to review scores from EVERY testing while others only request the highest score attained by the student.

Should I take the SAT or ACT with writing?

We frequently get this question from students. It has been our experience that at least one testing should be taken with writing as students will probably not have their full college list completed at the time of testing. Some colleges continue to require the SAT or ACT with writing, and it would be a shame to learn this information late in the process. Colleges that don’t require the writing section will disregard the score if it is sent with a student’s application. So, my answer is yes – take the SAT/ACT with writing – to make sure you keep as many college options open to you as possible.

What is score choice?

Score choice allows students to submit the scores from the test dates they select. Had a bad day and a weaker test score as a result? No need to send those scores. It’s important for students to realize that all of the scores from a single test date must be submitted— for instance students can’t pick and choose math from one date and reading from another.

However as mentioned above some colleges require students to submit ALL test scores from all test dates. It’s important to research each college’s requirements individually.

What is superscoring?

Superscoring is just as cool as it sounds. For the colleges that super score, test sections are looked at individually and the highest test scores are used for admission purposes. For instance if a student has taken the SAT three times, the highest scores for math, reading and writing (if applicable) will be considered even if they were received on three different dates. Superscoring for the SAT is far more common than for the ACT. Check individual college websites for specific details.

What about test optional schools?

There are a growing number of colleges that allow for test optional admissions. That means that applicants are not required to submit standardized test scores in order to be considered for admission. Applications are reviewed without test scores. Transcript, recommendations, extracurricular activities and essays are used for determining admission. Some of these colleges will request additional information from applicants— additional essays, a graded writing sample, an interview. Click here to link to FairTest, a great site that outlines test optional and test flexible colleges.

As always if you have further questions reach out to our team of counselors. We’d love to speak with you and answer your questions.