If you’re taking the SAT this weekend: Read this

In the last week, I’ve received several calls from parents who are worried about their son’s or daughter’s preparation for the SAT. My first response is to allay their fears that this one test will doom their teen’s future admission to college. While it’s true that these standardized test are reviewed in the college admissions process, it is only one of several factors considered. (Sigh! Thank goodness it’s not the only one, right?)

There is a growing number of test-optional colleges. If you don’t test well but you do write well, those colleges should be considered.

If you’re still reading this post, you’re probably already registered for Saturday’s SAT exam, so I’d like to offer you this invitation:

Please join me on BlogTalkRadio this Thursday, December 1 at 9 pm EST

We’re hosting the first segment of our two-part series on standardized tests, which will focus on Last Minute Tips and Strategies for the SAT. My guest will be Jim Meany of Insight Tutors in Greenwich, CT. Jim has over 25 years of tutoring experience. He is a graduate of Stanford University and University of Southern California.

If you have any questions for Jim, you are welcomed to send those to radio at compasseducationstrategies.com.


P.S. Jim will join us again next week to discuss the ACT!


Where are the Occupy Colleges Campuses?

Over the last 15 days, I have visited 12 college campuses from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to Texas and only saw one group of protesters. I expected to see more activity given all the media attention on the Occupy movement spreading the country.

Today’s event may increase the momentum on college campuses:

On November 17, Occupy Colleges will coordinate a national day of action and student strike on campuses across the United States. Unlike past student actions in Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street,these college demonstrations specifically target issues surrounding tuition increases, financial aid and the diminishing quality of education and student services. This strike was called on by the schools that comprise the State University of New York SUNYnetwork. It is supported by the ASL-CIO labor movement and the California Faculty Association. Occupy Colleges and Occupy Wall Street have joined SUNY in order to make this strike a nationwide event.

On November 17th, students, faculty and administrators concerned with these issues will gather at a central campus location or a nearby Occupy Wall Street camp at 3:00 pm EST in strike. Over 80 colleges signed up for the last call to action on November 3-4. Occupy Colleges expects a similar turn-out for this event. Colleges already signed up to participate in the Occupy Campus StudentStrike include, NYU, Rutgers and most CUNY and California State University CSU campuses.

via Press Release : Occupy Colleges : PRICES TOO HIGH, STUDENTS STRIKE : Occupy Colleges.

I will continue to watch for colleges that are added to this list of protesters. I am curious about which campuses view themselves as aligned with these issues of tuition, financial aid, academics, and student services. An interesting report on NPR this morning about the Occupy Harvard protests quoted this senior:

There’s a perception among people that if you’re at Harvard you should be trying to be in the 1 percent and if that’s not what you’re aiming for, you’re kind of doing it wrong.

via Occupy Protests Spread Across College Campuses : NPR.

Perhaps that explains the lone two students I saw manning the Occupy Dartmouth station in the photo.


SMU reaches beyond ‘Southern’ and beyond ‘Methodist’

Southern Methodist University is a college campus located in the heart of Dallas. I don’t refer to it as an urban campus because the city surrounds an academic culture, spirited athletics, and a thriving social life. Likewise, Dallas is more a business and residential town, than a college town. Beyond having ‘Southern” in its name, SMU boasts a student body from around the US and world. (SMU’s student body is less Texan than other Christian colleges in the state.)

The academic core of SMU focuses on liberal arts and sciences. Students can also major in programs across SMU’s five colleges:

  • Arts
  • Business
  • Education and Human Development
  • Engineering
  • Humanities

Two additional colleges offer post-graduate courses only – Law School and School of Theology. However, undergraduates can study in the law library…nice perk for pre-law students!

Student Life features Greek and Athletics

An active Greek life with over third participation and numerous student clubs keep students busy. SMU has a strong sports culture as does the surrounding Dallas metropolitan area. The sports museum at the stadium features the Heisman Trophy won by SMU graduate, Doak Walker in 1948. Students provided input to the fitness center and it’s quite an impressive facility with a rock climbing wall, billiards, basketball courts, and even a tanning pool! The tour guide stated that “the girls are happy about the tanning pool and the guys are glad that they’re happy.” 🙂

Although the university was founded by Methodists, there are no required religion courses, no required chapel attendance. With the exception of an on-campus chapel (where the most weddings in Dallas are held), there is no semblance of religious affiliation. Just as Federal Express became FedEx, perhaps Southern Methodist University may consider SMU as its official name!

SMU also has a satellite campus in Taos, New Mexico. I look forward to visiting there in the upcoming years.

Anonymity not allowed at Austin College


“We admit more students than we deny!” rang like music to the ears of high school seniors visiting Austin College. As one of the 40 colleges featured in Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College likely gets a lot of visitors throughout the year who decide to apply. When students self-select into the Austin College application process, it’s likely that they may have read about the special features of this liberal arts college in north Texas.

There are 3 features that bring a unique flavor to Austin College:

  1. Faculty mentors – Each student is matched with a faculty mentor that remains with them for their four years. The faculty mentor supports the student through all aspects of navigating the academic and social life of college. In order to register each term, the student must meet with faculty. This ensures that you speak with your mentor each term, but many students are meeting with their mentors much more frequently than that.These strong faculty-student relationships then support the high rates of graduate school admissions for Austin undergraduates. Despite its small student body of 1,300, each year Austin ranks highly for its number of Fulbright scholars.
  2. International experiences – A majority of Austin students study abroad for at least one term during college. Austin makes these opportunities available to its students through an office dedicated to international study and the January Term. During the month of January, students devote their studies to 1 course which can be offered anywhere in the world. The faculty designs this intensive course which is only taught during January Term.Recent January term courses have included a “Kilts and Castles” tour of Scotland, environmental research in Brazil, plus volunteerism and non-profits in South Africa. What exciting opportunities for Austin students!
  3. Career services – The career service offerings begin in freshman year for Austin College students. You may be surprised that many colleges do not start this process until Junior or Senior year. The admissions officer noted that “Starting early is key to figuring out what you want to do!”Starting early with internships also positions Austin College students to get engaged with its community and strong alumni network during this exploratory phase.

The Austin College community has a lot to offer for the right student. In fact, here are the students who would NOT fit well here:

  • Students who want to be anonymous – the strong faculty-student-peer-administrator relationships will out you! There are no auditorium classrooms, either.
  • Students who want do class only – you’re limited to 4 classes per semester and there are numerous activities for expanded involvement
  • Students who want a 24/7 “big city” life  – the Sherman community is approximately 40K and about 118K with surrounding community. Dallas is about an hour away so you’re not far!

As another sign of the campus community, my information session and tour actually started a few minutes later so that we could wait on another family to arrive. That’s never happened during any visit I’ve joined. Cheers to Austin College hospitality!


What if you change your mind about attending/applying to Penn State

If you’re like me, you’re deeply disturbed by the recent arrest at Penn State. The media reports have been alarming and unsettling. Although I’ve heard about the 23-page indictment report, I can’t bring myself to read it. Some things are just better left to the imagination, without all the sordid details. In other words, I don’t want it in my spirit.

A few weeks ago, when I was visiting schools, a young man mentioned that he would be attending Penn State next year. When the news broke days later, my heart sank for this young man and his family. Is he really going to attend? The campus vibrancy and its culture is forever altered. The only good news is that the news broke in early November and there are still many colleges that this young man could still consider.

Given the horrendous nature of these accusations and the fact that the president of the university is out, this family should strongly question whether Penn State is a place where their son should attend college for the next 4-6 years. (Graduation rate: 84.6%) If families are having second thoughts about Penn State, they should contact the university immediately if the student is a committed athlete. You should know whether you are obligated to still attend. Although, it’s hard to imagine that you would still be bound to matriculate.

Once the university’s admissions team learns of your decision, they can offer a spot to another student who may be still eager to attend. About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the hiring and placement records of Penn State. There may be a large number of students who may want to attend Penn State for this reason alone.

As for me and my firm . . . it will be a long time before I can include Penn State on any of my students’ college lists.

Are you a fit for Southwestern University, near Austin TX?

Southwestern University

As one of two colleges in Texas included in the book, “Colleges That Change Lives,” Southwestern University

thrives on small classes sizes and offering a rich, diverse learning experience for its 1,350 undergraduates. There are no master’s or doctoral programs at Southwestern, so all attention is on the undergraduate experience. With this undergraduate emphasis, there are numerous research opportunities for students.

The most popular majors at southwestern include business, psychology, and communications. Another impressive offering of the campus is the multitude of fine arts and music programs. Students can even minor in architecture.

Southwestern is primarily a residential campus with 80% of students living on-campus. Although 90% of students have cars, there are plenty of activities to keep students on campus. The campus is located about 30 minutes from Austin, which gives students endless activities to explore nearby.

If you are interested in this campus, consider whether you are a good match with this profile of students who thrive at Southwestern:

  • Intellectually curious
  • Socially conscious – Southwestern will soon have a social justice requirement
  • Active learner
  • Believes in a 24/7 experience of college

How to Meet the 500-word count on College Application Essay

It’s much more difficult to write a short essay than a long essay. Each year, my students struggle with cutting their college application essays to meet the 100- or 500-word count prescribed by the colleges, particularly on the Common Application. In fairness to the admissions readers and the other applicants, students should make every effort to stay within those guidelines as a recent post from the NY Times suggests:

Unlike other parts of the application, which, in its online version, cuts students off midword if they exceed character limits, the personal statement will not be truncated, raising the question in school corridors: Does 500 really mean 500?In a word, no. In two words, kind of.

“If a student uploaded a 500,000-word essay, there’s nothing we could do,” said Rob Killion, executive director of Common Application, which is accepted by more than 400 colleges and universities. “However, we do ask that all students follow the same rules their peers are following.”Mr. Killion said the limit was reinstated after feedback that essays had grown too long. But colleges are not told if essays exceed the limit. Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, agreed that concise writing was laudable but said the implication of a strict limit was misleading. “I worry about that kid who’s written 530 and thinks he has to cut 30 words,” he said. “It just puts another stage of anxiety in front of these kids.” Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, said he did not stop reading if an essay ran long, but “if they go over the limit, the stakes go up.”

via College Application Essay as Haiku? For Some, 500 Words Aren’t Enough – NYTimes.com.

If the word count is over the limit by about 10% in words, that’s not so bad. However, when students add an additional 50% or more, it shows a lack of judgment and an arrogant pen.

To determine the interest of your essay and where to delete:

  1. Read your essay aloud for any redundancies. Delete any and all redundancies, which includes information that is repeated from other parts of your application.
  2. Focus on showing, instead of telling. When you “show,” your essay is more engaging to read.
  3. Picture an admissions officer lying in the bed at 1 am, after reading 50 applications that night. Then ask yourself if your essay will be compelling enough to keep them awake or put them sleep.
  4. Read your essay aloud again. It may feel uncomfortable, but think about it this way. If your essay isn’t interesting enough for you to read aloud, how do you think it will “sound” to the admissions readers?

Please let me know what other tips/tricks have worked for you in streamlining your college application essay!