Personal Insights

Personal Insights

Personal Insights: a note from Ken

I present here a collection of personal insights for your edification and enlightenment. Included are observations about the testing and college admissions process, the state of education, hints and tips to improve your performance in school and on admissions tests, and general philosophic musings about attaining one’s goals.

College Admissions: Where do I start, and how do I get there?

This is indeed the ultimate question for students aspiring to a college education. I can answer that question. My website is a compilation of first-hand experiences, helpful tips, and sources for information that will aid you in your quest.

  • It provides a synopsis of how to get through the rigorous and tedious process of college admissions, testing and financial aid.
  • My goal is to empower you with information to help you feel that you are in control of the processes of college admissions, financial aid, and testing, and not the other way around.
  • There are over 3600 colleges nationally and no single college is the only perfect match for you or your student. There are several perfect matches that can be found if you do your homework.

It is a buyer’s market in the college world. Your market!

Colleges cannot afford to have empty seats in their classrooms, and they will compete for admission of your son or daughter. You are in control of this process more than you may know. When the dust settles in April of your student’s senior year and it’s time to make a decision, invariably, things go your way and there are usually many college choices from which to choose. If you have answered the question “Where do I start and how do I get there?” you will be eminently prepared to take advantage of this opportunity.

Some motivational advice

As a former math teacher and counselor for many years, I have learned how the test makers think and how they make up their problems. I have seen how they confuse students and trap them into selecting wrong answers. I will share 50+ secrets for beating this test, and examples that can help you if reviewed regularly and used consistently. Think of it as a supplement to your favorite SAT prep book.

As with anything, you get out of something what you put into it. My father always said, during my football and track days, “You play like you practice.” If you practice halfheartedly, you will not perform at your best during the big game or track meet. So it is with the SAT. You need to make a commitment and put in the time. Visualize success, visualize yourself doing better than the previous test, and then work hard to make it happen.

This is a critical time for you during which you embark on your journey toward your goal of attending the college of your choice. To do so, it is best to take advantage of every opportunity available to you, including the advice and tips that I can offer. Remember, what you commit to now will pay off down the road! “Set your goals high, and you will come closer to reaching them than if you set no goals.” my father always said. How true.

I wish you well with your college journey and hope that I can help guide and assist you in fulfilling your college dreams.

Falling through the cracks in the college admissions process

In addition to empowering you in this process of college admissions, financial aid, and testing by giving you hands-on expertise information and tools to help you, another goal of this web site is to keep you informed and keep you and your students from “falling through the college admissions cracks.” Unfortunately, many high school counselors are overloaded and overextended. Some of my public school counselor friends have caseloads of 400-500 students. Sometimes students are seen their freshman year and then not again until their senior year. Many students have not been able, or haven’t taken the time, to build a relationship with their college counselor. It is important to do so.

In the real world, this is sometimes difficult. Many counselors not only have large caseloads of students, but also, teach, coach, and serve as club moderators. In the last high school that I worked , for a few years, I had counselee caseload of 200 students (grades 9 – 12), taught three different levels of math classes, served as head J. V. football coach, head varsity track coach, and was a club moderator for Peers for Peers. It was extremely difficult to meet all the students’ needs, and yet it was highly expected. I am sure some kids “fell through the cracks” when it came to having their needs met. So don’t wait for your counselor to call you … go to them and seek out their wisdom. They are there because they want to help.

The other day a mom told me that her daughter missed an upcoming SAT registration deadline, and now has to pay extra money and hopes her daughter can take the test somewhere on a standby basis, thus creating more stress for her daughter. She was upset because the school didn’t inform her of the test registration deadline. Perhaps it was not the school’s fault or the counselor’s fault, but there was somehow a lack of communication.

School counselors have a wealth of experience and expertise, and strive to keep you informed and updated, but may, for whatever reason have trouble disseminating it to you. This website is intended to complement your school counselors, not compete with them. My goal is to help keep parents and students from “falling through the cracks.”

The Decathlon of Academic Criteria for College Admissions

Through the many years when I was a guidance counselor in various high schools, I asked college representatives what they sought in their prospective college applicants. This is what they told me they looked for:

  • Where did the student go to high school and what percentage of its students went to college. That gave them a good idea of what type of course curriculum the student went through. In other words, was it a rigorous curriculum or an easy one.
  • Did the student take honors and advanced placement classes? If the school offers them, a student should take as many of them as he or she can. Having B’s in honors and A.P. classes can many times mean more to colleges than A’s in regular classes.
  • What kind of grades and class rank did the student have? Hopefully, a cumulative B average or better was attained over the four years of high school. A strong finish can partially compensate for a weak start. Class rank is also important. Students should strive to rank in the top half of their college bound class.
  • How good was the student’s application essay? Many colleges now rank this criterion as one of the top five in importance for admissions acceptance (along with grades on college prep courses, class rank, test scores, and GPA). Students really need to take some time with this essay. Edit, read, and revise this 500-word essay to perfection, giving the reader some insight into who you are and what’s important to you. Don’t write what you think the reader wants to read; there isn’t any one thing they want you to say. Just be yourself and be honest.
  • What kind of SAT or ACT scores did the student have? Many colleges know that some students don’t test well. If a college has a choice between a student with a 3.5 GPA and an average SAT score, and a student with a 2.5 GPA and a stellar SAT score, which one do you think a college will take? [the student with the higher GPA] This shows a student has worked hard for four years in the classroom, versus someone who has done well for four hours on a test.
  • In what activities did the student participate? They don’t have to be involved in a million things, but should show consistency and commitment to activities through the years.
  • What kind of recommendations did the student get from teachers and counselors? These can be very important, so the student should solicit recommendations carefully, choosing those who can write positively and strongly on their behalf.
  • How did the student do in an interview (if required) with a college counselor? The student should prepare for an interview if possible. I can help you rehearse for these sometimes unnerving face-to-face meetings.
  • Is there legacy with respect to the university? That is, has any family member or relative attended the university in the past? This can be an advantageous factor, but not necessarily, depending on the school.
  • Is the student an athletic prospect? Admissions standards are sometimes lower for top athletic recruits than for the average student. Take a look at this PDF document summarizing the latest NCAA freshman eligibility standards.

So there are several factors involved when it comes to what college representatives and counselors look for in prospective college applicants. It’s like a decathlon of criteria, and no one is perfect. Certainly it takes a very exceptional student to meet all the criteria well. As in a Olympic decathlon, you don’t have to win all 10 events to win the decathlon. One can be strong in six or seven areas, off in a couple, and maybe weak in one, and still win. The same is true with the college admissions decathlon.

On the SAT essay writing requirement

Bottom line, this essay represents only 10% of your total score on the SAT. Don’t panic! I understand how many students have a fear of writing, especially under the high-pressure conditions of the SAT testing process. Rest assured there are proven techniques for beating this essay component, all based on simple logic and organization. I can’t write your essay for you, but I can coach you to be prepared and do well on it. In addition, we’ll review basic writing techniques, common errors, and essay composition strategies.

Observations on the SAT test

Given the parameters of the revised SAT, administered since March 2005, I have made several observations regarding the fairness, time constraints, and preliminary score results that I’d like to share with you here.

There have been changes that make the test more challenging, especially in math. Students and statistics agree. The national average for the revised test, as of Nov 2006, was as follows:

Reading: 503
Mathematics: 518
Writing: 497

for a total of 1518/2400. By comparison, the 2005 SAT average was 5 points higher in Reading, and 2 points higher in Mathematics. The class of 2006 was the first to take the new Writing section. Scores had been on the rise in recent years, but this reversal supports my contention that the new test is indeed more difficult.

Although the actual test time has increased only 45 minutes (from 3:00 to 3:45), the test is too long. Students are in the testing nearly 4½ – 5 hours. Such over-testing leads to fatigue and affects student performance. Initially, from March – June 2005, students were allowed no snack food for the two 5-minute breaks and the two 1-minute stretch breaks. Snack food is now allowed, since changes to the College Board guidelines in October 2005. Nevertheless, such breaks are insufficient for the rigor of the testing process. The revised SAT is now longer than the LSAT, GRE, and GMAT, all of which are taken by college or graduate students.

Possible changes to how the SAT I is administered were the primary topic at a meeting of the College Board’s SAT Advisory Committee in New York. Some Guidance Counselors have called for the College Board to allow students to take separate sections of the exam on separate days.

Finally, you may not be aware that not all schools use the SAT, and some that did use it have dropped it. UC President Richard Atkinson speaks on this issue in the following article. You can access a list of schools, by state, that shun the SAT at:

Take Both Tests

I believe students should take both the SAT and the ACT. Here’s why:

Many colleges will allow students to combine their best SAT critical reading, math, and writing scores from the SAT’s taken. If a student does better on math on the first SAT, but not as well on critical reading or writing, and then does better on a later SAT in the two lower areas, a good number of colleges will consider the best score in each area, thus giving students a combined best score from both tests.

ACT scores can also be mixed together with SAT scores for a combined best score. For example, a young lady that I tutored for both tests was admitted to Washington University in St. Louis, a top tier school, because here best scores were in the English and reading areas of the ACT and in the math area of the SAT.

Students should take both tests and let colleges do with the score numbers what they want to. The best thing is to show colleges several test scores. A good test plan is to take the SAT and the ACT, and then do again whichever test the student performed better on. In fact, taking the SAT and ACT a couple of times each is not a bad idea. A student should not be afraid to show test scores. Colleges are looking for a student’s best scores across the board. A low test score is not necessarily indicative of low ability since students can sometimes have an off-day, or be sick, or have experienced a death in the family recently, or be under stress from a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend etc.

As of March 2007, all colleges recognize the ACT as a nationally administered and accepted standardized test for college admission. The ACT has been around for over 65 years and the SAT for over 70 years. The ACT was predominantly a Midwest test based in Iowa City, Iowa. The SAT, produced by ETS in Princeton, New Jersey, flourished on the east and west coast and spread inland, while the ACT has spread to the coasts through the years. There is a perception among students and parents that the SAT is the preferred test by colleges. This is not true. College guidebooks show that a great majority of colleges list test requirements as follows: (SAT or ACT with writing). Many also require SAT Subject tests, but will allow students to substitute the ACT for the SAT Subject tests.

With the revised SAT being longer (students are in the test center about 4 ½ hours), the ACT is gaining popularity with students and colleges because of not only the shorter length (3 hours without the writing portion), but also because it is a curriculum based test. The ACT is a concrete test that measures what students have learned, not an aptitude test like the SAT. In 2006 alone, 1.5 million students took the SAT compared to the ACT’s 1.2 million students. Each year, more and more students are taking the ACT than the year before.

Going Holistic:

UC President Richard C. Atkinson has called for abolishing the SAT in undergraduate admissions. Ironically, it was UC’s adoption of the SAT as an admissions requirement, back in the 60′s, that legitimized the device as a “national test.” Atkinson would prefer a more holistic approach to selection, judging each applicant on the basis of grades, test scores, athletic or artistic talent, handicaps overcome, social background, community service, and what the candidate can contribute to the college and, ultimately, society. Of course, this idea also has its detractors. For an insight into the highest echelons of admission policy, I highly recommend this article by Peter Schrag in the April 2001 issue of The American Prospect.

You can read the whole article here: (The American Prospect-