College Admissions Support – In-Depth

It’s Time for My Child to Start Thinking About College, but Where Do We Start?

Junior year is the most common time to begin the college application process. By “process,” we mean (typically in this order): determine whether the ACT or SAT is right for your child; begin test preparation; identify a list of potential colleges; tour as many schools as possible; determine whether the schools that interest you accept the Common Application; start a scholarship search; compile a list of required essays and supplements; attend college fairs or college informational nights at your school; and (perhaps most important) keep track of deadlines and complete the applications. Within this timeline are multiple opportunities for your child to take the SAT or ACT and possibly SAT Subject Tests as well, and we can help flesh out that timeline.

When Do We Start?

The beginning of junior year is the ideal time to initiate the process of researching options and developing a strategy, which includes sussing out whether the ACT or SAT is the better test. Most students are better suited for one test or the other, making it imperative to determine which is the better fit as quickly as possible. Next Level Learning instructors utilize a variety of methods to help students determine their preference. (See below for more details.)

Families typically begin test preparation at some point during the student’s junior year (the earlier the better) because later in the year students will start making a list of appropriate colleges with their college counselor. The spring of junior year is also the time to take the first (and possibly second) standardized test. One might think summer is an opportunity to take a break from college preparation, but years of experience helping students prepare for college has proven that stress levels at the beginning of senior year can be very intense, and continue increasing as the year progresses.

High school students are applying to more colleges every year, which complicates the college admissions process. To prevent some of this stress buildup, Next Level strongly suggests all rising seniors use the summer for focused test preparation and to write a draft of the Common Application essay. Next Level is open over summer, and our professional instructors are able to work around students’ camp, travel, and work schedules. For those who are out of town for the summer, SAT and ACT instructors can provide video conference sessions. Since all our sessions involve one-on-one tutoring, there are no class schedules to coordinate with other students..

The beginning of senior year is reserved for one or even two final sittings of the ACT or SAT and for finalizing essays and supplements. Because all this work comes at a time when grades are still important (to colleges they’re always important!), fall can be an exceptionally stressful time. Next Level instructors can assist in alleviating last-minute panic caused by changes to planning or the timeline. For example, our writing instructors can help with a new essay if a student adds another college and has a new topic to write about. And if a student hasn’t started test prep as early as recommended, we can help accelerate the process.

How Do I Know Whether the ACT or SAT Is Right for My Child?

Next Level Learning’s professional instructors can help determine which test is better by presenting material from both exams during one or two tutoring sessions. By observing how a student processes and works through specific problems an instructor can generally discern which material is a better fit.

In addition, Next Level Learning offers a proctored hybrid ACT/SAT test that can also help make the determination. If the student has time and needs further clarification about which direction to go, we also offer both ACT and SAT practice tests in a proctored setting. Next Level provides flexible practice test dates and times to accommodate students’ busy schedules.

After working through material from both exams, students almost always have an intuitive sense of which test is a better fit. They frequently report feeling a higher comfort level with one test or the other, based primarily on the style of questions, the overall strategy, the length of time allotted for each section, and the types of sections. The student’s opinion is generally definitive, and the very act of making a decision for themselves will often help mitigate anxiety.

How Are the ACT and the SAT Different?

For an overview of the differences, click here for our ACT vs. SAT page. During one-one-one test prep sessions, our ACT and SAT instructors will delve into the differences in far greater detail.

How Many Colleges Should My Child Apply To?

The recent trend has resulted in students applying to more schools, ostensibly as a means of improving their chances of getting into a school they want. The Common Application has made it easier for students to apply to multiple schools. While in the past a typical student might have applied to six to ten schools, today it’s not uncommon for students to apply to dozens. We suggest the following considerations when determining how many applications to submit:

  • There is almost always a correlation between the number of schools a student applies to and the quality of each submission. Often times, the more schools a student applies to the more the quality of each application tends to decline. For example, after writing many supplements, it becomes easier to simply copy and paste from other applications rather than fully and properly consider the rubric proffered by the admissions criteria of each school. Or, for example, an applicant may decline an interview option for a school because it’s not mandatory and they are busy applying to other schools. And sometimes, an interview can make or break an application. Further still, a candidate may not take an SAT Subject Test because it’s only “recommended” by the school, which can hurt an application. In other words, if a student is going to bother applying to a school, it’s imperative to make each and every application count!
  • Properly preparing and submitting applications takes time, substantial effort, and generates considerable stress. With each additional application, the student encounters additional pressure to get it completed and submitted before the deadline. Senior year and transitioning into college are stressful enough without adding additional pressure.
  • Many students are afraid of not getting accepted into a college they want and assume they will stand a better chance by significantly increasing the number of “wants.” What they often don’t recognize is that applying to more colleges also significantly increases the likelihood of being rejected, which can be difficult for some students to contend with during the hustle and bustle and emotional turmoil of application season.
  • One of the reasons acceptance rates have been driven down in recent years is precisely because students are applying to significantly more schools. So the trend of more applications per student actually increases the number of rejections per student. As a result, applying to more schools often doesn’t improve the odds of success as much as increase the odds of being rejected.
  • Many colleges aggressively market their admissions because national school rankings are based on the raw number of applications they process. The more applications they receive (and reject), the more exclusive they appear.
  • The number of schools a student applies to directly correlates to the amount of time students commit to substantive research and ensuring they are truly interested in a given school. It takes considerable time to properly evaluate a school and decide whether it’s a good fit, and spreading oneself thin and reducing the investment in vetting schools can hinder getting a clearer, stronger sense of the handful of schools that truly interest the student.
  • We strongly recommend students visit EVERY college campus to which they have applied because actually being at the school, seeing the facilities, speaking with staff, faculty, and students, hopefully sitting in on a class, and perhaps even spending a night in the dorm and experiencing the culture firsthand, as well as exploring the nearby community, can have a substantive impact on a student’s opinion of a particular school. Visiting schools is time-consuming and, depending upon the location of the school, expensive. When students apply to 10, 20 or more schools they are less likely to tour each of them, which increases the possibility they might end up attending a school that feels unfamiliar and presents obstacles they hadn’t considered.
  • Application fees can range upwards of $100 per school and add up quickly.

Many high schools throughout the country have set 10 colleges as an appropriate number to target. In fact, some high schools have actually established 10 as a limit. Our recommendation is for students to apply to fewer schools and focus on making each of those applications as persuasive and compelling as possible.

A common arrangement is to choose several schools that you consider a strong “match” for your aptitude and interests, two or three “reach” schools where your qualifications are on the lower range for the school, and several “safety” schools where you are most likely to be accepted. Staying close to 10 applications makes sense for most students but of course our college admissions instructors will help students with all their applications.

My Child Doesn’t Know What Kind of School to Apply To. How Do We Figure This Out?

Our professional college admissions instructors are well versed in helping students brainstorm options for college and identify appropriate schools to target. We start by examining the student’s interests and academic profile and then take into account factors such as whether the student wants to stay in the vicinity or consider moving to another city, state, or country. Some students are explicit about matriculating to a large school and others prefer a smaller, more intimate experience. Brainstorming is a wide-ranging process that takes many factors into account and enables students to make informed decisions about where to apply.

Please contact Next Level Learning to obtain more information about how we can help ensure your child is well positioned to attend a college that is an ideal fit.

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