5 Common Lies & Misconceptions about the College Apps Process
Have you ever received conflicting advice?
One person says that you should take ABC steps while the other says you should do XYZ?
Usually, you would judge based on each individual’s experience and credibility.
But, what if both people seem equally credible from your point of view? Then what?
THIS is the issue in the college apps process. From testing to admissions, every “professional” has different ideas as to how to approach this process.
Said “professionals” constantly give out false advice that families have no way of really knowing if it’s true.
So, in an effort to reduce that, I’m going to highlight some of the most common misconceptions I’ve heard over the past few years.
MISCONCEPTION #1. TAKE THE ACT…IT HAS LESS MATH.
I’ve recently had a potential client tell me that her daughter might be taking the ACT because a test prep advisor from a tutoring company – someone who should be credible – swore up and down that it doesn’t contain precalculus. Since there’s less math involved, it’s the better exam for a student currently taking Algebra 2.
The ACT has precalculus…. the SAT doesn’t.
Maybe the person misspoke and got the tests mixed up or maybe that’s what he/she truly believes.
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve heard this. It’s just the most recent (from last week).
Advice to families Google-searching: When I refer to “quick Google-searching”, I’m talking about professionals who should run the search – guidance counselors, tutors/advisors, etc. – NOT families. If you don’t know where to look, it’s really easy to find wrong, conflicting, or outdated information. For SAT-related info, please use Collegeboard or Khan Academy as your resources, and for ACT-related info, please refer to the ACT website.
MISCONCEPTION #2. SINCE THE SAT HAS A 20 QUESTION NO-CALC SECTION, UNLESS YOU’RE A MATH NINJA, YOU SHOULD TAKE THE ACT.
If you’re aiming for a slightly above average score – average for the SAT is ~1060-1070, for ACT a 21 – then it really doesn’t matter which test you take.
Because, you don’t have to know 100% of the content to do well. You just need to do well on about two-thirds of the test and guess on the rest. Yes, that’s an actual strategy that test-prep tutors use.
If you’re not aiming for a seriously above average or Ivy League-level score, then figure out how many questions you need to answer and dedicate your time and energy to locating & solving that many problems. Guess on the rest, do NOT leave any blank.
With that said, if you’re shooting for an above average and you’re not a good math student, then having a calculator, in addition to the extra precalculus/trigonometry topics thrown at you on the ACT, isn’t going to save you.
A calculator isn’t magically going to spit out the right answer for you. You’re just going to find the wrong answer faster.
PLUS, the math on the No Calculator section is all doable, assuming you know the concept.
The whole point of using a calculator is to compute…however, the questions in the No Calc section contain simple numeric calculations, so a calculator isn’t necessary.
MISCONCEPTION #3. I NEED TO HIRE SOMEONE TO PREP MY KID FOR THE PSAT.
I’ve met parents been told by test-prep advisors from so-and-so company that their 9th grader should prep for the PSAT….
… safe to say, the companies/tutors are trying to help you relieve the absolute burden of holding on to your cash.
The “P” in PSAT stands for “Practice” … so unless you’re applying for a specific summer program or scholarships, you really don’t need to pay someone to prep you for your freshman year PSAT…or your sophomore year ones.
The junior year PSAT is also called the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). A student would have to get a near-perfect or perfect score to then qualify to receive the National Merit Scholarship. After the initial stages, Collegeboard checks your grades, etc. to get a full picture of the type of student you are… so you’re basically competing against almost every junior in the enter country for a couple hundred scholarship spots. Instead, I would recommend applying to private scholarships where you’re not competing against 50,000 people…maybe just 10-20,000 J.
By the time that PSATs roll around in junior year, my students have already spent their 10th-11th grade summer prepping for the real SAT…so technically, you don’t need to pay someone to prep for that PSAT either. You might as well prep for the real deal.
Bottom line: PSAT scores are only important if you have plans to apply to any specific university summer programs (although a lot don’t require them), scholarships (some, not all), or with COVID, athletic recruitment (if you haven’t had the chance to take the actual SAT or ACT due to cancellations). That last one was really only for the current seniors, since the second half of their junior year was a challenge in navigating online-schooling.
MISCONCEPTION #4. THE SAT (OR ACT) IS A SPRING EXAM.
This is unfortunately a common misconception, even by professionals in the field.
See, I met a second-semester junior last year who when asked why she hadn’t started testing in the beginning of the year said, “Because my guidance counselor said that the SAT is a Spring exam.”
So, we’re talking about a student who proactively sought information to ensure that she was on-track and doing everything that she needed to…. and then went on to receive flawed advice from her guidance counselor.
The truth: SAT and ACT scores are valid for FIVE YEARS!
Technically, they don’t have an expiration date, however, most universities prefer submitted scores to be from within the past five years.
So…you can technically take the test in 9th grade if you really wanted to!
Realistically, I recommend taking the test either after completing Algebra 2 (SAT) or after Pre-Calculus (SAT or ACT).
Now you’re probably wondering: Ok, Priyanka, so if the tests are valid for 5 years, then why are you so annoyed that guidance counselors are recommending that students test in the spring?
Here’s why: it takes approximately 3-5 months to prep for the SAT or ACT, especially when schoolwork and extracurriculars are tossed into the mix. Any tutor, course, program, etc. IS going to give homework, it’s inevitable…so student have to take the time to do it using the correct strategies.
Now, in the Spring semester, the SAT is in March, May, and June, whilethe ACT is in February, April, June, & July.
Well, if you started prepping – even by yourself- in January…. you’re not going to be ready for the February ACT.
March SAT = ok, great, you’re prepped and taking it your first time…except most student don’t get the scores they want the very first time, so you still have to bank on a retake.
April/May = most AP teachers are hardcore exam prepping in April, so we’re talking more essays, exams, and reading. AP exams are usually in the first two weeks on May. Considering that the ACT is in mid-April and the SAT is in early May…..when are you going to spend time reviewing and prepping?
So sure, the July ACT might work, but again, you may or may not have had sufficient time to prep.
….so then, testing carries over into senior year….
Ideally, we don’t want that, because there is A LOT to get done starting the summer of junior-senior year. Test-prepping is an added stress.
Of course, that was just schoolwork I mentioned, not even the extracurriculars.
Most families start going on college tours during their junior year winter and spring breaks…tours that also continue into the summer.
Now, as a parent, I don’t expect you to think of these events when you plan – in fact, you probably won’t, simply because you haven’t been down that crazy road as often.
But the professionals who’ve had to guide hundreds of students through this every year? They should be able to see the logic.
Hell, it didn’t take me that long to figure it out, there’s a pattern!
So, the best time to start test-prepping? The summer between sophomore and junior year.
It’s okay if you have trips planned. Aim to get as much of the review & practice completed as possible over the summer to reduce your during–school workload. Then when actual exam times comes around, there’s less you actually have to do because you’re caught up.
MISCONCEPTION #5. IN ORDER TO GET INTO A GOOD COLLEGE, MY KID HAS TO BE GOOD AT EVERYTHING!
All the sports, clubs, APs, awesome SATs/ACTs……EVERYTHING!
Yeah, tt’s a very common misconception.
Before you jump to the graph below, I wanted to give you a bit of context:
Niche.com is a cool website that helps you research & rank the best schools, neighborhoods, companies, and in this case, colleges in the nation.
The data provided is from over 16,000 Niche users all responding to the question “Will I Get Into Yale University?”
Let’s take a look at the data, shall we?
Notice the SAT/ACT scores and high school GPAs. The highest are at the top right corner….. yet, if that’s all universities wanted, wouldn’t that entire section be green to indicate acceptance?
Why are the acceptances speckled all over the place?
Answer: universities want students who genuinely tried to grow and explore. Students who enjoyed participating in the activities they’ve done or tried to discover their likes/dislikes.
They don’t just want the students who simply crossed off checklists. The ones who did the sports, APs participated in student organizations because they had to…
….and if you did find something that you enjoy doing, did you take it a step further? If so, how? What was your project?
Of course, this does not mean that students should sleep-deprive themselves and run themselves ragged trying to show the universities how amazing they can be! Pick the 1-2 things that you legitimately enjoy doing or exploring and go from there.
Yes, grades and scores matter….to an extent. Most universities will claim that they take a “holistic” approach to student admissions. That is, every part of your application is considered to paint a picture of the individual that you are.
[Of course, a lot students don’t exactly present themselves in the best of lights, so that can be an issue…but we’ll talk about that another time].
Time and time again, I come across families who’ve received crappy information from people who should been reliable.
I’d love to help clear up shady advice, so what are common misconceptions you’ve had about the college apps process? I’d love what’s been floating around.
p.s if you’d like to learn more about SAT & ACT testing, this out this post.