Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
    (1964-1969)
  • Stanford University
    (1969-1984)
  • Princeton University
    (1988-2003)

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    (1966-1977)
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    (1977-1987)
    International Office Director
    (1987-2002)

ePrep’s Reaction to WSJ Article

Karl Schellscheidt

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comI few people asked me to comment on yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article by J. Hechinger. I will make comments from two different perspectives.

Lawyer Perspective: The lawyer in me enjoyed discussing, with friends and colleagues, the article’s double standards, flawed assertions, inconsistencies, and contradictions. For the calls I received from some old friends, I thank Mr. Hechinger.

Educator Perspective: The teacher in me happens to agree with the article’s thesis wholeheartedly: Many families do spend way too much money on SAT preparation services that simply do not deliver results. This is exactly why I founded ePrep back in 2005. After spending 15 years as a teacher and private tutor, I decided to create a low-cost preparation product that would effectively and efficiently do two things: (1) help students increase their SAT scores and (2) help students prepare for the academic challenges of college and life beyond. I am glad to say that ePrep does both.

Today happens to the be the day that May 2nd SAT scores became available online. By noon, I had already received dozens of emails and phone calls from parents who spent around $200 on ePrep study programs that helped their children increase their overall SAT scores by more than 200 points on average. While “average coaching” may yield only modest results as Mr. Henchinger points out, “eprepping” with an expert certainly bucks the current trend.

Need Blind Up to a Point

eprep test prep videoAccording to a New York Times story running today, “many colleges are looking more favorably on wealthier applicants as they make their admissions decisions this year.” Colleges across the US have begun downsizing their administrations and school budgets in line with the economic climate, but financial aid has long been considered a safe haven. The past decade has witnessed an increase in “need-blind” aid by colleges in the effort to attract the most diverse student body. However, the current economic decline is driving more families than ever to request financial aid. Something has to give.

Impact of Dropping the SAT

Catherine

eprep test prep videoOne of my former students sent me this article from insidehigered.com. While the results of the study described are not too surprising, I must say that I really enjoyed the posted comments. They were, for the most part, thoughtful, and they covered a healthy mix of viewpoints.

Last-Minute Help for the ACT

Karl Schellscheidt

eprep test prep videoIt’s a good idea to do some prep before the ACT, even if it’s last-minute.

At $69, ePrep’s Express ACT course may be just what you need.

Science: For students familiar with the SAT, the ACT’s Science section may come as a big surprise on test day. While the Science section is not terribly difficult, most students mismanage time the first time they try one. (To help with time management, skim the passages (one at a time) and quickly get to the related questions. The questions will only require that you refer back to, and fully understand, specific sections of the text. Thus, reading the entire passage in detail is not the best use of the time allotted.)

Math: The ACT math section is much more straightforward than SAT math. Unlike the SAT, however, the ACT covers more advanced topics like trigonometry. (Practicing before test day is a great way to refresh your memory on concepts you may have forgotten over the years and to learn essential topics that you may not have covered yet in school.)

Reading: The ACT Reading section does not include sentence completion questions like the SAT. The ACT Reading section includes only a series of passages with linked questions. Unlike the SAT passage based questions, however, some ACT questions go beyond reading comprehension. They require the test-taker to make decisions regarding the structure or function of specified portions of the text provided. (It’s a really good idea to expose your mind to these types of questions before test day.)

English: In concept, the ACT English section is much like the SAT Writing section. (Because the format is different, however, it would behoove you to take a practice test before you sit for a real ACT.)

Good luck on Saturday to all taking the ACT!

Some Colleges Reject “Score Choice”

Karl Schellscheidt

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comIt seems that Stanford and a few other colleges have rejected Score Choice — the College Board’s new policy that will allow students who take the SAT multiple times to send colleges only their best scores. Stanford’s Dean of admissions claims that Score Choice gives students who can afford to take the SAT several times an unfair advantage over those who cannot afford to do so.

Harvard University and The University of Chicago, among other colleges and universities, have accepted Score Choice.

A few thoughts:

1. It seems that Score Choice will make taking the SAT a less stressful experience for students. (In other words, it allows students to “have a bad day.”)

2. The College Board offers fee waivers for students with limited financial resources.

3. The ACT Corporation has always maintained a similar score-reporting policy.

Admissions and the Global Financial Crisis

Karl Schellscheidt

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comA few of my private-tutoring students recently asked me whether colleges today are strongly considering the financial need of applicants when making admission decisions. My response: With college endowments plummeting across the nation, I don’t see how most schools can ignore the financial need of applicants. After all, colleges and universities are businesses.

When I recently asked Peter Van Buskirk of The Admission Game to comment, he offered to share a blog he recently posted on his website. His blog post appears below:

How Should You Check the Financial Aid Box?
The line on applications for admission that makes parents shudder most is the one that reads, “Do you plan to apply for financial aid—Yes or No?” As eager as one might be to check “yes” with the hope of receiving some type of assistance, there is a growing reluctance to do so for fear that checking “yes” might compromise the student’s chances of gaining admission.

This conundrum hits close to home in the current economy when even families who live in relative comfort are suddenly faced with uncertainty regarding cash for college. As the need for some type of assistance (merit scholarships, loans, campus work study) becomes more acute, so does the angst with regard to how that expression of need might be interpreted in the admission process.

Will institutions discriminate in the admission process with regard to a family’s ability to pay? Sure. However, they are not likely to do so based solely on the response to the “Yes/No” question. Rather, they will discriminate at the back end of the process when they have a full view of all the candidates they like as well as the respective financial needs for those candidates. It is at this point when they can see the big picture that they determine how to use available funds to leverage the enrollment of the students whom they value most.

Discriminating against students solely on the basis of who checks “Yes” to the financial aid question would be foolish. Roughly one-third of applicants for admission who check “Yes” indicating that they intend to apply for financial aid either never apply—because they realize they don’t need it—or they do apply and demonstrate that they don’t need it! Discriminating based on a “Yes” response means an admission committee will arbitrarily eliminate one-third of its applicants—many of whom would not have required institutional assistance.

So, what do you do? First, respond honestly. If you think you need assistance, say so. By acknowledging the possibility you enable an admission officer who is interested in your candidacy to track the progress of your financial aid application. If anything is missing, late, or incomplete, s/he can let you know in a timely fashion. And second, trust in the fact that colleges that value you for what you do well will admit you and give you what you need financially in order for you to enroll.

What you DON’T want to do is scheme the process. Don’t pretend to be “rich” by putting all of the money you have saved for college into your first year in order to improve your chances of getting in—and then expect to receive financial aid in subsequent years because you’ll be so darn poor you need it! Colleges budget financial aid for years two, three and four of your enrollment based on the expectations of year one. If you look “rich” when you apply, they expect you to be “rich” in the years that follow. If you plead poverty after your first year without evidence that something catastrophic (serious illness, injury, death, or loss of employment) has affected your family’s financial picture, don’t be surprised if the response of your financial aid officer is simply, “That’s your problem.” This is when families—and students in particular—start borrowing beyond their means to stay in school.

I would like to offer a couple of related thoughts. One, if you know you don’t require institutionally funded need-based assistance but anticipate applying for a Guaranteed Student Loan (Stafford) or you hope to secure a part-time job on campus, be prepared to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as institutions will use that to determine your eligibility for federally subsidized programs on their respective campuses.

Two, if you would like to be considered for any merit scholarships offered by a college or university, look for evidence that the school in question may actually offer such awards. If they do, find out about the eligibility criterion and protocols for placing yourself into consideration for an award. Most schools will have separate evaluation processes in place to determine merit scholarship recipients apart from the “Yes/No” question discussed previously.

Finally, when in doubt about what to do, check with the financial aid officers of the school(s) in question. It is better to move forward with good information than to discover too late that you have misinterpreted the process.

Special Note! The Best College Fit Membership program is about to launch! Watch for details to learn more about how you can go inside the college planning process with me to find and get into the schools that best fits for you! www.theadmissiongame.com

Advice on How to Answer an Unusual Application Question

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comCollege applications require a lot of information that is ultimately useful to admission committees as they determine whom to admit. As a result, applicants routinely–almost mindlessly, complete forms that ask about home, school, family, extracurricular activities and unusual educational experiences. After all, it is usually easy to imagine where each piece of data might be useful to admission officers as they put your candidacy into a broader context.

Occasionally, however, there will be a question that gives the applicant reason to pause–a question that seems to have little bearing at all on the student’s personal qualifications. One such question asks applicants to “List the names of the other colleges to which you have applied.”

It turns out that this request and others like it show up in other places as well (interviews, meetings with alumni, recruiting sessions with athletic coaches, etc.) during the application process. Is seems innocuous enough; however, the savvy applicant is left wondering, “Just how will this information be used? Why do they want it and do I really need to give it to them?”
The answer is quite simple. Admission officers are pretty savvy about collecting information that can be used to predict the likelihood of your enrollment. This is particularly important in institutional environments where improving the yield on offers of admission and becoming more selective are criteria used to measure the success of their admission operations. As a result, admission officers are constantly trying to calibrate the yield on their offers of admission. The more they know about where you are applying (and likely to get in), the easier it is for them to determine the likelihood that you will enroll at their college if admitted. While the information you provide has no bearing whatsoever on the strength of your credentials, it can influence the status of your application if a college suspects that you are likely to pursue other options.

When you think about it, there is really nothing good that can result from providing such information. Therefore, I counsel students to leave the space blank. Unless you want admission officers to know where you are applying, keep that information to yourself. The same is true when the topic comes up conversationally. Give them only what you want them to know about your interests and intentions.

An interesting variation on this theme is found on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application–the form you must complete in order to qualify for financial aid administered by the state/federal governments and–in some cases, the colleges themselves. You see, the FAFSA will also ask you to list the colleges to which you have applied in order of preference. This information is required to complete and submit the FAFSA–and the resulting need analysis as well as the reported data will be forwarded to the colleges listed on the form. It is not uncommon for admission officers to cast side-long glances at such lists as they make their final determinations about whom to admit.

When asked for this information on the FAFSA, consider the implications of your response. You can list the schools in order of preference or you can confuse the issue by listing the schools in alphabetical order. While the ordering of schools on the FAFSA will not affect your eligibility for financial aid, just remember that it might have a bearing on how admission officers assess the likelihood of your enrollment.

The thing to remember about this whole discussion is that it is important to get on–and stay on–the “radar screens’ of the colleges that interest you. By making sure the authenticity of your interest in a college is clear and undeniable, you force admission officers to make decisions based on the strength of your academic and personal credentials.

For more advice from Peter Van Buskirk on college planning, visit TheAdmissionGame.com.

Are Selective Colleges Sweating?

Karl Schellscheidt

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comI read an article (click here for full article) the other day that essentially claims the following: Now that selective colleges have sent out acceptance letters, it’s their turn to sweat it out as they wait to see how many students actually decide to accept their offers of admission.

While some may find pleasure in imagining admission officers sweating with anxiety, the reality is that they’re not sweating at all.

If fewer students than anticipated accept, admission officers simply go to their wait lists. On the other hand, if more students than anticipated accept, they (i) offer accepted students a sweet deal, if they agree to defer for a year, and/or (ii) they call upon on-campus housing departments to solve the problem for them. Neither scenario involves sweat.

Sprint to the Finish!

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comWhether they realize or not, high school seniors are entering one of the most critical phases of the admission process. This is the time of the year when admission officers watch to see what students do when it would seem the spotlight is no longer on them. They want to see how students respond down the “stretch run” of the senior year.

Consider, then, the mile race. It is an apt metaphor for your high school experience. In order to complete the race, you need to make it around the track four times. Winning requires that you endure the grueling pace and still have what it takes to sprint when the race is on the line.

Let’s suppose, then, that your race has gone exceedingly well through the first three laps. You jumped out to an early lead and have maintained a strong pace. With only one lap to go, you are by yourself. You can’t even see the competition! This is a critical stage of the race because you begin to ask yourself, “Do I really need to work that hard in running the last lap? Should I save myself for the next race and spare the inevitable agony that otherwise comes with a sprint to the finish?”

The question you really need to ask yourself, though, is: “What have I won?” The answer is simple. “You haven’t won a thing!” You may have a “feel-good” feeling about where you are in the competition, but the race isn’t over. Moreover, changing your approach with a lap to go could prove costly as other runners are bound to be pushing hard to catch up.

The same is true of your high school experience in which each year is like a lap of the race. Each year was important academically as it prepared you to step up and meet the challenge of the year that followed. In all likelihood, your Junior Year really put you to the test as the work was harder and the expectations were greater. But you made it and that may have been cause for celebration in itself!

Having done well through your Junior Year may have left you feeling good about your prospects of graduating and getting into the colleges of your choice. Nonetheless, you need to ask yourself, “What have I accomplished? How many colleges have accepted me?”

The Senior Year is the all-important “last lap” of your high school experience. If your objective is to not only graduate but to get into colleges that can make choices among hundreds if not thousands of compelling candidates, you need to be attentive to how you are finishing the “race.” Even now, in mid-March of your Senior Year, the outcome of the race has yet to be determined. And, believe it or not, admission officers at selective institutions are waiting and watching to see who among the competitive applicants will sprint–or stumble–when the race is on the line.

So, stay focused academically. Continue to get the most out of your high school experience–even when it would seem that doing nothing is a viable option. In doing so, you give admission officers every reason to be excited about you as you sprint to the finish!

For more advice from Peter Van Buskirk on college planning, visit TheAdmissionGame.com.

Anti-SAT Protest at UC Berkeley

Karl Schellscheidt

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comAccording to an article that appeared on the website of The Daily Californian, a group of protesters marched through campus demanding the elimination of the SAT as factor in UC Berkeley’s admission process. The protesters claim that the test discrimiates against minority students, making it more difficult for them to compete for admission spots.

Whether the SAT really does discriminate against minority and/or low-income students, I am not sure. (I hope it doesn’t.)
Whether the SAT really does add nothing to the admission process at UC Berkeley, again, I am not sure.

There are, however, a few things of which I am certain:

1. The SAT does test mastery of subject areas (math, reading, and writing) that are critical for success in college and life beyond;
2. Success on the SAT requires the kind of problem solving and critical thinking skills that are generally rewarded in the real world; and
3. Public dialogue in generally a good thing. (That’s why I decided to share the article.)

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