Early Application Deadlines Looming

The tension is mounting for tens of thousands of seniors applying early to their first-choice schools. November 1, a popular early deadline, is looming just around the corner, and students are scrambling to polish their essays and send off their applications. Other students are worrying about their test scores, and wondering whether or not they will be good enough.

The New York Times' Choice Blog is answering common questions about the application process this week, and regarding test scores, Kathryn Juric, vice president of the SAT program, advises, "The most important thing for students and families to keep in mind is that college entrance exams represent only one part of your overall college application." Jon Erickson, president of the educational division at the ACT, adds that in cases where a student feels that her scores are not reflective of the rest of her accomplishments, she can explore the following: "retaking the test, after more thorough academic preparation; highlighting other aspects of her academic profile (personal recommendations, course work, grades, other accomplishments); and, if the opportunity exists, meeting personally with an admission officer to demonstrate her personal qualities." We, at College Essay Organizer, also know that using your essays to show who you are can be the most important way to stand out even if your scores fall short.

For more questions and answers on the college admissions process, click here.



Deciding to Take the ACT or the SAT

Which test will you take?

At some point in their high school careers, students usually consider which standardized test to take. Depending on which part of the United States you live in, one may be more popular than the other, but since they are both accepted by colleges, it is a good idea to take each test at least once to see if you have more of a natural gift with one or the other.

This recent article gives a good overview of the ACT including reasons to take the test. And if you are looking for additional services, the ACT may be worth investigating: "ACT Assessment provides a comprehensive package of educational assessment and career planning services for college-bound students at a modest fee that is lower than the fee for the competing admission test."

Posted in News | Comments Off on Deciding to Take the ACT or the SAT

What Can You Expect When You Take the SAT?

Not the most exciting thing to look forward to...

For juniors, spring is the most popular time to take the SAT, followed by another round of testing in the fall if necessary. So as seniors are making their final calculations on which school has the greatest merit, juniors are nose deep in SAT prep books and practice tests.

No matter how much time you have spent preparing, there is always that anticipatory anxiety, and one item on everyone’s mind, as this informative article suggests, is the essay section. The mid-march SAT launched an unexpected essay prompt with a focus on pop culture leaving many with mixed feelings. While some felt it was a step in a positive direction allowing the test to appeal to its teenage audience, others had a quite different reaction:

“There was a hue and cry that the question put some of the best students at a disadvantage because they were often too busy with other, worthier pursuits to be watching Snooki and The Situation. Some students complained they'd been blindsided.”

According to the College Board, which creates and administers the test, the topic was broad enough to encourage good writing, and the essay itself is much less about the topic than it is about the quality of writing. Michael Kuchar, the superintendent of schools and guidance director at Bergenfield High School, states that you can still do well without any knowledge of the topic as long as you follow the right recipe which includes four paragraphs: a thesis, two supporting paragraphs, and a summary which refers back to the question.

As you cram in those last days of study, remember that while there is no way to predict the questions in advance, knowing the formula that the test makers are looking for will give you an advantage.

ACT or SAT: 10 points of comparison

Stephanie from Knewton addresses your standardized test questions.

Today's post is again from our friends at Knewton - this time from test expert Stephanie Wertkin.

Most high school students planning to go to college know that they probably have to take some kind of standardized test. Often, the only question is: Which one? Many schools accept both the SAT and ACT. Before you make your choice (or decide to take both!), it’s a good idea to compare the ins and outs of each test.

Here are a few basic points of comparison:

1. Cost

SAT exam registration costs $45. The ACT exam alone costs $32 – but if you want to take the optional writing test as well, it will set you back $47.

2. Length

The SAT consists of a 25 minute essay, six 25 minute sections, two 20 minute sections and a 10 minute multiple choice writing section. That means the whole test is 3 hours 45 minutes – not counting the 3 short breaks you get in between.

The ACT consists of 4 sections that total 2 hours and 55 minutes. If you take the Writing Test as well that will add an extra 30 minutes, for a total of 3 hours and 25 minutes.

3. Number of Questions

The SAT has 140 questions; the ACT has 215.

4. Subject Matter

This is one of the most important distinctions between the two tests. The SAT tests reasoning and problem-solving ability. The ACT, on the other hand, is a curriculum-based test, meaning the questions are designed to test a student’s knowledge of high school work.

The SAT covers mathematics, critical reading, and writing. The ACT covers English, mathematics, reading, and science. There are some differences in the way each test approaches the subject matter: for example, the ACT contains basic-intermediate algebra, geometry, and four trigonometry questions, while the SAT only tests basic algebra, word problems, and geometry. While the verbal sections of the SAT emphasize vocabulary, the ACT focuses on grammar and punctuation.

5. Scoring:

SAT – Aggregate score 600 – 2400, based on total of 3 scores (Reading, Math, Writing, each scored on a scale from 200-800); Score of 0-12 for Essay
ACT – Composite score 1-36 based on average of 4 sections (English Math, Reading Science);  Score 0-12 for Optional Essay.

6. The Essay

The ACT essay is optional, while the SAT essay is mandatory. The SAT prompt is usually abstract and open-ended (i.e., do people learn from their mistakes?), while the ACT prompt is more specific and high school-centric (i.e., should more schools adopt uniforms?). On both tests, you’re expected to write an essay that makes a strong argument and uses specific examples to support that argument.

7. Scoring

The ACT only counts the answers you get correct, whereas the SAT deducts 1/4 of a point for all incorrect multiple choice questions.

6. Difficulty

There’s a prevailing myth that the ACT is easier than the SAT. However, there’s not much truth to this: The vast majority of test-takers score in the same percentiles on both tests. Since both tests are scaled (that is, your final score is based on how you do compared to everybody else), that’s really all that matters.

On the SAT, questions increase in difficulty level as you move through that question type in a section (except reading passage questions, which progress chronologically through the passage). On the ACT, the difficulty level of the questions is random.

7. College Requirements

The majority of colleges in the U.S. now accept both the ACT (+ writing section) and the SAT.  However, just to be safe and to avoid confusion (and possibly despair) near application deadline time, make sure you know which scores the schools you are applying to require for admission. If you are confused about a school’s requirements, contact that college or university’s admissions office for clarification.

In addition to SAT or ACT (with the writing section), some  schools also require 2-3 SAT Subject tests.

8. Administration dates

The SAT is offered seven times per year: January, March or April, May, June, October, November, and December
The ACT is offered six times per year: February, April, June, September, October, and December (note that some states offer the ACT as part of their state testing requirements; these tests are not administered on the national test dates)

9. National Averages

For the Class of 2009 the average SAT scores were: Critical Reading – 501, Mathematics – 515, Writing – 493
The 90th percentile scores were: Critical Reading – 670, Mathematics – 700, Writing – 650

The ACT national averages in 2009 were: Total – 21.1, English – 20.6, Math – 21.0, Reading 21.4, Science 20.9
The 90th percentile scores were: Total – 28, English – 29, Math – 28, Reading – 30, Science – 20

10. Score Choice

Students can select which scores they send to colleges by test date for both the SAT and the ACT. Scores from an entire test are sent—scores of individual sections from different test dates cannot be selected independently for sending. Some colleges and universities (particularly the more competitive schools) require students to send all of their scores.

The way that admissions offices deal with multiple SAT scores varies from school to school. For more on College Board’s “Score Choice” program and more information about how colleges evaluate your SAT scores, check out our blog post decoding Score Choice.

Posted in Guest Bloggers | Comments Off on ACT or SAT: 10 points of comparison

SAT Writing Help: How To Be A Pro At Pronouns

Matthew Busick from Knewton

This week brings another guest post from our friends at Knewton - this time from writing expert Matthew Busick.

You’ve heard of the Ten Commandments, the G8, the Big Ten, Top 40 Pop, the Three Musketeers, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the 1001 Things to Do Before You Die. The lists of impressive numbers are endless. But at Knewton, we’ve compiled the most impressive list of them all: the SAT Freshman 15 Grammar Rules. These are, in all their splendor, the top fifteen most commonly tested grammar rules on the SAT. Learn these, and your whole life will fall into place (that is, if your whole life is the writing section of the SAT).

Today, we’re going to talk about just one of these illustrious rules:

Rule 15. A pronoun must refer to a specific noun or a group of nouns (no matter how correct the pronoun may sound in a sentence.)

In everyday speech, we break this rule all the time. It allows us to express ideas easily and generally causes little confusion. Consequently, we often overlook ambiguous pronouns when they appear on the SAT. Rule 15 is meant to remind you that every pronoun on the SAT must logically refer to a noun or group of nouns in the sentence. These nouns, or groups of nouns, are known as “antecedents.”

Keep these three sub-rules in mind:

1. A pronoun cannot refer to an abstract idea. The most common offenders are the pronouns itthis,and that. These pronouns are often used to refer to broad ideas expressed in entire sentences or clauses. For example: “Devon broke his knee playing basketball, and because of this he had to quit the team.” This sentence is flawed because this must refer to a noun, but the only previous nouns in the sentence areDevonknee, and basketballThis might be attempting to refer to a general idea, such as the fact that Devon played basketball, or the fact that his knee was broken, but specifically which idea is not clear.

These sorts of sentences can be revised either by replacing the pronoun with a noun or by supplying a clear antecedent for the pronoun. If we say, “Devon broke his knee playing basketball, and because of this injury he had to quit the team,” the pronoun this now logically refers to the injury. This construction clarifies that the injury caused Devon to quit the team.

2. The pronoun “it” at the beginning of a sentence is not preferable. When the pronoun “it” begins a sentence or is part of the phrase “it is,” be on the lookout for a better option. Sentences that begin with “it” tend to be unnecessarily wordy, and the pronoun “it” is usually ambiguous. For example, in the sentence: “It is not typical for an adult to prefer cartoons,” the antecedent of the pronoun it is slightly unclear. Exactly what is not typical? An adult who prefers cartoons? The occurrence of an adult preferring cartoons? A better way to phrase this sentence would be: “An adult typically does not prefer cartoons.”

3. When a modifying phrase begins a sentence, the pronoun “it” can never be the first noun after the comma. In the sentence: “Traveling across the country in an RV, it is the first vacation that Edna is able to go on all year,” the pronoun it does not have an antecedent. It does not logically refer to the gerund traveling or to the nouns country or RV. The sentence should read: “Traveling across the country in an RV, Edna is on vacation for the first time this year.” In fact, the pronoun “it” will neverhave an antecedent when placed immediately after the comma. “It” cannot be modified by an opening phrase; without a prior subject, it doesn’t stand for anything.

The same rule applies to personal pronouns. Although a modifier may strongly imply a pronoun’s antecedent, it cannot itself function as that antecedent. Check out this example:

Incorrect: In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he weaves a tale of death and deceit.
Correct: In Hamlet, Shakespeare weaves a tale of death and deceit.

The possessive modifier Shakespeare’s cannot function as the antecedent of he. The rewritten sentence eliminates the pronoun and inserts its implied antecedent, Shakespeare.

Well, there you have it: rule number 15, last but certainly not least on our Freshman 15. Tune in again to learn about subject-verb agreement, verb tense, modifiers, and sentence fragments. For now, go practice the skills you’ve gained from rule 15 on your friends and family. It… I mean, your proper use of pronouns is guaranteed to blow them away.

Posted in Guest Bloggers | Comments Off on SAT Writing Help: How To Be A Pro At Pronouns

SAT Essay Prompts: What They Look Like And How To Approach Them

Alex Khurgin from Knewton Advises on the SAT Essay

This week brings another guest post from our friends at Knewton - this time from essay expert Alex Khurgin.

First on the list of Cailey Hall’s recent post, Top 10 SAT Essay Do’s and Don’ts: Take the time to read the essay prompt and make sure you understand what it’s asking. Knewton recommends that you devote a full minute of your total 25 to reading and thinking carefully about the prompt before deciding on an answer to the question.

A minute might not seem like a long time, but if you’re familiar in advance with the types of prompts you’ll see on the test, it should be all you need.

Every SAT essay prompt begins with a short paragraph, 50-80 words long, that touches on an issue of broad relevance to the studies and experiences of a typical high school student. About half of the prompts will be adapted excerpts from books. For example:

Information is now so cheap and abundant that it floods over us from calendar pages, tea bags, bottle caps, and mass e-mail messages from well-meaning friends. We are in a way like residents of Borges’s Library of Babel—an infinite library whose books contain every possible string of letters and, therefore, somewhere an explanation of why the library exists and how to use it. But Borges’s librarians suspect that they will never find that book amid the miles of nonsense.

- Adapted from Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis

…and half will be passages written especially for the test by the College Board. For example:

Of all the millions of children in the United States today who play and show an interest in athletics only a few thousand of them will ever become professional athletes and of that number only a handful will become truly successful at the top level of their respective sports. The same goes for virtually any pursuit. Rather than succumbing to long odds one would be better off setting more realistic goals.

The issues presented in the passages above —how technology affects access to information, and how the unlikelihood of achieving a goal should affects its pursuit—will be familiar to most test takers and not just because of their studies. It’s hard to be alive and not sometimes feel bombarded by information or frustrated by a seemingly unachievable goal. Other favorite topics for SAT essays include courage, honesty, independent thought, and facing adversity—emotionally charged words for many high schoolers.

If after reading a passage, you don’t have a perfect grasp of the issue it presents, the question that follows will lay it out clearly. For the two sample passages above, the assignment might read:

(1) Is it true that the more information people have access to, the less knowledge they can obtain from it?

(2) Is an unrealistic goal worth pursuing?

As with all SAT essay assignments, the questions above can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” You may notice that the authors of the two sample passages seem to be leaning one way or another; Jonathan Haidt would probably answer “yes” to the first question and the author of the unrealistic goals passage would probably answer “no” to the second question. Or maybe, in response to such broad questions, both authors would answer “it depends on the context.” However, since you, the test taker, only have 25 minutes to write an entire four- or five-paragraph essay, save the nuanced “depends-on-the-context” responses for your school assignments. On the SAT, pick a side and stick to it. And remember: you don’t have to agree with the passage.

Practice the first step of writing an SAT essay with the five examples below:

Traditionally, the term “originality” has been applied to those who are the first to see or discover something new. But one of the most original things you can do is to see as new what is old and long familiar, to re-imagine something that has been overlooked by everybody. The discoverer who can only see new things is too common of a creature, lacking spirit and addicted to accidents.

- Adapted from a philosopher’s Mixed Opinions and Maxims

Is “originality” better defined as discovering new things or discovering something new in the old?

The more we are aware that we are lost and confused, the more eager we are to be guided and told; so authority is built up in the name of the State, in the name of religion, in the name of a Master or party leader. Authority is the great limiter of personal freedom, because it places an intermediary between you and reality.

- Adapted from J. Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living

Does obeying authority always limit personal freedom?

Thoughts are like friends for most of us: close, constant, intimate as breathing. Why not, then, choose good ones instead of bad? If we torment ourselves, sooner or later we torment others; family, friends, neighbors, other nations. It is inner war, that inner conflict of all the judgmental, nagging, angry voices in our heads that eventually explodes in outer war, as we take our anger out on others.

- Adapted from Dale Carlson, Who Said What?

Are external conflicts caused by negative thinking?

The term “beautiful” is used by surgeons to describe operations which their patients describe as horrific, by physicists to describe methods of measurement which leave romantic people cold, by lawyers to describe cases which ruin all parties involved, and by lovers to describe the objects of their love, however unattractive they may appear to the unaffected spectator.

- Adapted from George Bernard Shaw

Can something be considered beautiful by everyone?

As awful as it may seem when young people around the world are asked what freedom means most of them say the freedom to buy what you want, when you want it, and to use it how you want. Although we don’t usually admit it, this was at the heart of our American Revolution. Recall the Boston Tea Party. We did not like to be told what to buy and how much to pay for it.

- From James B. Twitchell, 20 Ads That Shook The World

Does freedom mean the freedom to be a consumer?

For even more practice, check out the four essay prompts from the most recent batch of SATs (June ’10).

Posted in Guest Bloggers | Comments Off on SAT Essay Prompts: What They Look Like And How To Approach Them

New York Times Writes About the Common Application

Cree Bautista! Congratulations, you're on CEO blog! Weird, right?

This new article in the New York Times' Education section talks about unlikely hero to college applicants everywhere, Cree Bautista. Mr. Bautista saw fit to apply to NYU just a few hours after the Common App went live at the beginning of this month, and in so doing became the first applicant of the year through the site.

Cree's eagerness, though exceptional in degree, isn't uncommon in practice. The Common App's directors have already started talking about the speed of this year's applicant pool, and the sheer number of applications students are managing. From the Times' article:

"Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application, said he was particularly unnerved by the flood of early submissions through the organization's website because he feared that students were rushing their essays. (This year’s Common Application was actually posted several weeks later than last year’s — not as a prod to get applicants to file later, but instead to allow high schools extra time to send final documents before the new year begins.)"

Remember, your top choice is not your only choice! There are many applications to be managed, and sites like CEO are here to get that work out in front of you and help you keep it under control from the get-go. While we can't all be like Cree, we can all save ourselves from those last-minute crushes of papers and apps.

Amherst College Essay: A Little Help From Our Friends

All the leaves are something, something, something...

Fun Fact: This picture was taken in February. Amherst's physics department can change the weather locally.

Amherst College is a Common App-exclusive school, but unlike many of its peers, it has gone ahead and released its 2011 essay requirements to the general public. They're quite lengthy, so we won't reprint them here, but Amherst's decision to put them out ahead of the Common App's August update points out a few great things about top schools like Amherst and what its actions mean for other schools that follow.

1. The more open a school is with you, the more open you can be in return. By putting out such a complex series of questions early in the admissions season, Amherst is showing you that it's worth preparing to write your application essay. Amherst's questions are challenging, and they require quite a bit of thought. Go ahead and put in the time it takes. Write multiple drafts. Get it right.

2. You have more work ahead of you than you think. Amherst recognizes that senior years are busier than they get credit for. So take advantage of the time the school has afforded you by putting this info out ahead of time. With opportunities like this and tools like CEO, your workload can be a lot more manageable than, say, those of your overworked and underprepared friends.

3. The college essay is the most underrated and under-appreciated part of the application. The admissions officers at Amherst know what it's like to read half-baked and ill-conceived essays. Sure, they see writing from a lot of the top students in the country, but they also see it from people that have rushed themselves through a pile of applications, regardless of their grades and resumés. This is your opportunity to speak to the college - your chance to create something of a dialogue and show them who you are. Make the most of it.

If we were hard pressed to add a fourth element to this list, it would be that Amherst appreciates how many movies you have to watch this summer. That vampire flick ain't gonna watch itself. Thank the school for its foresight and watch all the movies. There are so many. Then fire up CEO and get back to work.

Congratulations Rising Seniors!

Class o' '32

We really did not do as much for the class of 1932 as we could have.

Congrats to those of you wrapping up your junior year this month! And to those of you with a little bit more to go, hang on, you're almost there.

Finishing your junior year is all about getting the hardest classwork behind you. The most important exams and papers - even the SATs - pass quickly, leaving what looks like a cakewalk: senior year.

The last big push of work comes this fall with your college applications. We've posted before about the need to diversify your selection of schools, and to help you do it, we've set up a whopping 20% discount for all juniors who sign up for CEO's Essay RoadMap before July 1.

Head on over to our juniors page and have at it!

And in the meantime, enjoy prom, your summer vacation, and whatever summer plans you've got. We'll be updating our requirements throughout the summer as they become available and answering all your questions about how best to handle the application process through the end of the year. Stay tuned.

Washington Post: Applicants Apply to Many, Many, Many Schools

Washington Post. Get it? A post? Me neither.

Washington Post. Get it? A post? In Washington? I guess? You have no idea how long we spent looking for an image to put here.

This terrific article over at the Washington Post describes in detail the process that CEO simplifies every day. Top applicants, facing ever-increasing odds against their getting into top schools, diversify their applications and increase the chance they'll land an acceptance from a school at or above their academic level.

Sounds like a plan, right? And why not? There are plenty of horror stories to be had in that article. Perfect SATs. Top grades. Conservatory-level piano skills. A deferral.

But what the Post doesn't address here is that if the process is being made easier and top schools are becoming ever-more selective, what's the downside to applying to more schools?

There isn't one, except for the cost of the applications, which is far outweighed by the potential reward of ending up at a school that brings you up academically, and eventually, professionally and financially.

Take a look at the last line from the article: "I'm feeling it was really smart of me to apply to so many," she said, "because now I have enough options." Speaks for itself.

And with CEO, you can get this work done before that rerun of Seinfeld comes on.

Keep your eye on the ball and you'll see that tools already at your fingertips like CEO make this task easier than ever, often at a very low cost.