Tips for Parents About the SAT, ACT and AP Tests

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Testing, Testing, One, Two Three….

The two big tests needed for college admissions are the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing Assessment (ACT.) How much time and effort your kids put into preparing for these tests is up to you and your kids. Some kids are great test takers while others are not. I have one of each in my family and our approach to test prep was based on their individual needs. In my opinion, too much emphasis can be placed on test scores. A perfect score doesn’t mean your child will get into the school of their dreams, and likewise, a low score doesn’t mean your child can’t get into college.

Here’s a simple checklist of what to do to prepare for the tests:

1. Take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) the sophomore year. This is a good practice for the SAT. Plus, they’ll take the PSA again in their junior year in October to qualify for honors in the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.*

2. Check out sample questions on the SAT website (collegeboard.com) and the ACT website is actstudent.org.

There is a question of the day for the SAT, which if your child answers starting in their freshman or sophomore years, they’ll get plenty of test practice.

3. Plan when to take the tests during the junior year. Most people take tests a couple of times. If your kids are happy with scores the first time around, don’t take it again.

SAT tests are offered in August, October, November, December, March, May and June.

ACT tests are in September, October, December, February, April, June.

For example, if your child takes a SAT test in November, you may want to wait several months to retake the test, like in March, so your child has time to get their results and take some practice tests.

4. There no longer is a penalty for guessing. It used to be that if a student guessed on an answer and got it wrong, they’d lose .25 of a point. That’s no longer the case and it’s okay to fill in answers and guess. There’s a 20% chance of getting the answer correct.

*The National Merit Scholarship takes the top scorers in the PSAT their junior year and sends out commendation letters to about the top 3 percent. The very top kids move onto semifinals and finals, and the finalists, selected by their high schools, then submit applications and enter into competition to be named National Merit Scholars.

From the website National Merit Scholarship Corporation History and Facts:
National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) was established in 1955 — a time in which there was concern that the United States was lagging behind in the cold war scientific race, but the public was indifferent to rewarding intellectual accomplishment. In response, the National Merit Scholarship Program was founded to identify and honor scholastically talented American youth and to encourage them to develop their abilities to the fullest. Through this nationwide competition, National Merit Scholarships are awarded to program Finalists and Special Scholarships are awarded to other high-performing participants who meet a corporate sponsor’s eligibility criteria.

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After the tests are done–graduation.

AP TESTS

Should your child take AP Tests? There are only two choices to answer this question. Yes and no.

One reason to take AP tests includes saving money in college. Each AP test costs upwards of $80, but if students score a 3 or higher (AP Tests are scored 1 – 5), they may earn college credit and not have to take that class in college. Please check with each college to find out how they treat AP tests. If a quarter tuition costs $5,000, say for three classes, then your student will save more than $1,500 per class if they score a 3 or higher.
Another reason to take the test is if your child scores a 3 or higher on three or more AP tests, they’ll earn an AP Scholar award. That will look good on the college application.

More information about AP Scholars can be found on the college board website.
Why wouldn’t your student want to take an AP test? Two reasons. First, it may be too expensive, at $80 a test, and second, they may not be prepared. If they struggled with the AP Class, the last thing they may want to do is take the test and get a lousy score. It can be time-consuming to study for the AP Test, and if they didn’t cover the material in class during the school year, it can be very difficult to get a 3 or higher. There is no shame in getting a poor score and it won’t reflect badly on your child, but then neither would not taking the test. My best advice is to talk it over with their teacher and your child.

imgresWhat advice do you have for parents of kids taking the big tests?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Three Things to Tell Your Daughter on Graduation Night

One year ago today….katwideToday my little girl graduates high school. What a joy she has been to raise, teach and hang out with. I remember her kindergarten interview where she had to be tested for one of the coveted spots at St. Theresa’s. She had fun buns on her head and ankle high “Britney Boots,” marketed for little girls dreaming of becoming Britney Spears. She boldly entered the kindergarten class and announced to the world that she was “Robert’s little sister.”

IMG_4888Today, I have a tall, wise-cracking young lady with a big smile and sparkle in her eye. If I could tell my daughter three things she needs to know for her next adventure called college, what would it be? 

katpromharryFirst…

“To thine own self be true.” Don’t worry about what other people think. Do what you know is right. This famous quote is from Polonius to his son Laertes, before Laertes boards a boat to Paris in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Even though it’s pretty old, it still resonates today.

katsurfSecond…

Happiness is not having a boyfriend or being thin. My mom would tell me the worst things when I was my daughter’s age — mainly focused on the need to “have a man” — or that “a man would make me happy.” This must be a throwback to my mother’s generation, where a woman’s identity and self worth were wrapped up in a spouse. Instead, I will tell my daughter that happiness is found within yourself — by doing something that you love. Once you find happiness in yourself, only then can you share it with others.

swimmer4Last…

Don’t worry about what your career or major will be. You will figure it out. Don’t feel pressure about it. Most people going into college that have a major, change their minds anyway. Get your basic requirements out of the way and then after taking different classes you will discover what you don’t like and what you do like.katandrobert

And most importantly, not even on the list — I love you.

What three things would you tell your daughter on graduation night?

8 Tips On How to Be Recruited as a Student-Athlete

 

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My daughter in a race as a Piranha.

My daughter started college a little over a month ago as a student-athlete for a PAC 12, D1 university. She signed her letter of intent in November 2013. She’s now hosting recruits at her college. As exciting as it was to go through the recruiting process, it’s even better to look back on it!

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Three teammates from Kat’s club team on the blocks in yellow caps.

Looking back there was so much to know. I’m sharing my 8 tips on HOW to be recruited to help you and your swimmer wade through pools of confusion and make it less overwhelming. A lot of these tips can be used for your student-athlete’s sport — even if it’s not swimming. Have fun! Enjoy the recruiting experience — because it’s an exciting time in your swimmer’s life — and in yours, too.1554486_780165738665332_1948124021_n

  1. Join a USA Swim Club. If you want to swim in college and you’re swimming in high school — join a club team right away! Most swimmers at the collegiate level have been USA Swimmers for years. It’s rare for college coaches to recruit high school only swimmers. Click here to find a local club! usas_logo
  2. Go to practice! Every single day. College coaches will call your club coach and ask about your character and work ethic. If you’re trying to be the best you can be, your club coach will recommend you wholeheartedly.
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    Teammates racing.

     

  3. Register with NCAA Clearing House. If you have questions, ask your high school counselor. It’s something all athletes have to do who want to participate in college sports.
  4. Take the right classes, SAT or ACT, and get good grades. Again, meet with your counselor. He or she can make sure you’re on track and doing everything you need to do to be eligible.
  5. Make a list of the schools you’re interested in:
    Dream schools — where have you always wanted to go.Geographic location — do you want to be close to home? Or in an entirely different part of the country?DI, DII or DIII? There is a division, conference and school for every swimmer. Determine where you fit by looking at the NCAA Division results.
    Do you score points in conference? When you have a list of schools, check out the results from their conference meet. Where would you finish in their conference? Chances are if you’re in the top 8, you’re a good candidate for a scholarship. 

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    My daughter diving in during a championship meet in LA during her age-group years.

  6. Email coaches or schedule unofficial visits. Start early, sophomore or junior year. Most schools have online questionnaires for athletes. Be sure to fill out the ones you’re interested in. And email the coach and tell them you’ve filled it out. Tell them something specific about why you’re interested in their school. Ask them questions about what they look for in a swimmer, or what their time requirements are.
  7. Ask your club coach about the rules of talking to college coaches at swim meets. Rules change, but generally, a college coach cannot approach you  — until after you’ve swam all your events at a meet. Again, your club coach can help with this.
  8. Be polite. Return phone calls and emails. Once the official recruiting season begins, be sure to be respectful of all coaches and colleges — even if they weren’t on your list. You never know where or when you’ll run into these people again. Coaches move around — and they tend to have friends they talk to that are coaches! 545889_698369856844921_1745782073_n

If you want more information, or have specific questions, I’ve linked several stories. Or, leave a comment and I’ll answer your question.

Here’s a great article about preparing for recruit trips from SwimSwam.

Two more articles: Swimming Recruiting – 5 Tips to Swimming in College and Quick Tips For College Swimming Recruits

3 Things My Son Did Wrong Applying to College

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son applied for college four years ago. Yes, he got in. But, it wasn’t to his first choice school. Nor, to his second. It was more like his 9th. Yes he got into one out of nine schools — his fall back school.

So what did this smart, kind, valedictorian, athlete, musician student do wrong?

First, the list of schools he applied to were all big-name top tier schools, ie. Harvard, Columbia, Yale, CalTech and Stanford, to name a few.

Please, do your research and apply to a wider variety of schools. Each application costs you money. Pick each school you apply to with care. There are many great state schools, small private schools and everything in between.

imgres-4Second, he freaked out about the essay. 

He sat for countless hours worrying about what to write staring at the blank computer screen. Looking back on it, he said it terrified him because he thought the essay was going to be the definitive work of his life.

Trust me. It’s not. Keep it simple, write in your own voice and give yourself time to rewrite, revise and rewrite again.  Let someone — a parent or teacher — read it before you send it in.

Robert with bandmates at the scholarship banquet

Robert with bandmates at the scholarship banquet

Third. He refused to show need of any kind. One of the 14 factors colleges look for in admissions is:  “Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.” I wrote about that here.

He truly had struggles with asthma. He had so many setbacks with swimming and missing school because of his health that most kids won’t experience. But, he said he wasn’t “playing that card.” My advice? Play whatever cards you’re given!

With upwards of 75,000 applying to a school that accepts less than 5,000 incoming freshman — it’s a numbers game. I wrote more about the numbers here in “My Son Wrote About His Crazy Mom for His Senior Project.”

Just for fun, you can listen to his highschool band, The Saucy Stenographers here. The song is called Desert Nights, written by Robert and sung by Marilynn Wexler.

With my son at the beach

With my son at the beach

7 Tips for Move-In Day for Parents of College Freshman — Or, You Too Will Survive.

Move-in day for the parents of college freshman can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips I wrote when we moved my daughter into her dorm room.

 

The check-in table at Move-in day.

The check-in table at Move-in day.

Yesterday was move-in day for our youngest. It was easy to spot check-in with bright red pop-up tents, a field of red carts and dollies, and a line of students ready to help move us in. Not us, but my daughter. It sure felt like us, though.

Being 15 minutes early was an excellent idea. There was parking. There were carts. There was a small line. Later in the day — parking was in the outer limits — and it was wall-to-wall students and parents making their way to the dorms with car loads of matching “Big Box College-Bound” gear.

In her dorm room getting settled.

In her dorm room getting settled.

Once in the room, we began lifting bedding, towels and clothing out of the cart. I wondered if I’d be strong, without tears, and how I’d get through the day. 

Here’s what worked and didn’t work:

1. Don’t try and unpack for your kid. Don’t try and put things away. This is their space, their new home. They need to make it their own.

2. Don’t hover and stay in their room. Make sure they have what they need and leave them alone. Be sure to be nearby for when they will invariably call.

3. Be prepared to shop multiple times during move-in day. We made one trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond, Home Depot and Costco — and five to Target. This was after we drove a packed-to-the-hilt Sequoia through four states with everything she needed.

4. Make lists. The large stores have lists for your student to make shopping easier. Of course, they have way more things on their lists than you actually need, but it’s a good starting point. Make your own list with the store’s list as a guide. After you move in your freshman’s things, you’ll discover what you didn’t think about or forgot — like strips to hang up pictures and art. Revise and rewrite your list as the day goes on.

5. Don’t try to stay up with the roomie. Some roommates will come equipped with flat screen TVs, $1,000 bikes, and the best and latest technology. Don’t worry about what they have and you do not. In a dorm room, keep remembering the mantra — LESS IS MORE!

6. Don’t go out and buy a router for the dorm’s WiFi until you read the section on technology on the college’s website. Most likely routers are not allowed and it’s a simple passcode that is needed instead.

7. Feed your student. He or she may be so intent on getting unpacked and settled and meeting dorm mates, that he or she won’t take time to eat. Make sure to stock bananas, apples, yogurt and other healthy snacks in their room and fridge.

The swim tee shirt quilt I made for my daughter's dorm room. Years of memories.

The swim tee shirt quilt I made for my daughter’s dorm room. Years of memories.

I made it through the day without tears — mostly. It was a long, busy and tiring day. When my husband and I stopped for lunch — alone — and I realized that we were truly alone — the tears ran down my cheeks. I wiped them off and prepared myself for battle for the next stop at Target. When it’s time to say good-bye — well, I’ll tell you how that goes. You can read about how I said goodbye here.

18 years ago.Here’s a song “Teach Your Children Well” that fits my mood today. Listen and enjoy!

14 Factors Colleges Look for in Admissions

I recently read an interesting article by Peter Kuo about state bill SCA-5. He believes the bill will discriminate against Asians in college admissions. It’s called reverse discrimination by many. Because of this, he’s running for the state senate.

images-7His article hit home, because of my own kid. We thought every school would be clambering for him to come to their schools, but he received small letters — instead of big packages — by 8 out of 9 universities. I don’t know for sure, but it seems this phenomenon called reverse discrimination might have been at play for him, too.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.


He had a resume as a high school student that most adults would envy. Things like top 10 student in the county, Boys’ State, a talented swimmer and musician, a tutor in math and english, president of the Latin and JSA clubs, awarded honors for academics by John Hopkins. Add to that valedictorian and high SAT scores, and community service — who wouldn’t want him? Well, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Cal, UCLA and USC to name a few.

imgres-1Because of his GPA, the UC’s had to take him. (It’s called Identification by UC as being ranked in the top 9 percent of your high school class at the end of your junior year Eligible in the Local Context or ELC). So, he ended up at UCSB. At first he didn’t like it, because he was sorely disappointed with the flood of rejections. But, after getting through his freshman year, he began to thrive and love his new home.

Personally, I think I would have chosen UCSB over all the other schools he applied to. There’s something to say for being surrounded by the gorgeous majesty of mother nature every single moment of your day!  Also, I’m not sure the “big name” schools are all they are cracked up to be. Here’s an interesting article on this subject.  Of course, it’s up for debate, and if he’d been accepted to Stanford, I’m sure we’d have loved it!

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

So, what do universities look for when reading applications? There are 14 key factors that the UC schools use. Each UC campus has a few extras they consider  Here’s one point that stood out for me that my son didn’t have in the list of 14:

  1. Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.

You can read about all 14 factors here

At Cal Berkeley they add another factor that my son didn’t have:

In addition to a broad range of intellectual interests and achievements, admission readers seek diversity in personal background and experience.”

On the UC websites  it specifically states: “Race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are excluded from the criteria.” But in the factors I’ve highlighted, I see a large loop-hole to do just that — diversity in personal background?

So what could my son have done differently to be accepted? Intern at a major university with a professor and be published in journals? Or begin the ‘comic con of the desert’ he talked about?

Or, he could have stuck with his 12 years of swimming. Swimming can and will open doors to higher education. I’ve written a lot about swimming and college admissions in my blog.

Swimming opens doors for college.

Swimming opens doors for college.

On the other hand, my son studied, loved learning, was hard working and followed his passions.

In the end, you have to learn to be happy where you are. Making it into a name brand school, or being denied admissions to the school of your dreams isn’t the end of the world. Your four years in college — where ever you may be — are only as good as you make them.

Do you have any experiences with rejections from colleges? Please comment. I’d love to hear about them.

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before The Kids Went to College

imgres-9This week I made the trek to the University of Utah to attend orientation with my daughter, who is an incoming freshman. Class of 2018 — does that sound scary or what?images-1

I spent two days in the pristine mountainside beauty of Salt Lake City with clear blue skies and intense sunshine. Parents attended most meetings without their kids, who were similarly engaged with topics angled for teenage consumption.summerFun_FrisbeeGolf_LBoye_067

Having been to college orientation three years prior with my firstborn, I didn’t think I’d learn anything new. However, in “Supporting your College Student” presented by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Development, I wished I’d heard her advice before I sent my first child to college.

“I think she’s met my son — the one who’s going to be a senior in college,” I whispered to a mom next to me. (He’s also the son who tried to give away the cat on FB.)

She answered, “No, I’m sure she’s talking about my oldest daughter!”

What did Dr. Ellingson have to say that we wished we heard the first time around?imgres-10First…

Children go through changes. But, if it’s your first child going to college, or your last, you will be going through changes, too. We are in the process of changing our relationship from parent to child to adult to adult. We go through transitions, pushing them away and holding them close.

Second…images-2
A student who works 10 to 15 hours on campus will do better in school than someone who works off campus, or doesn’t work at all. Students working on campus are making connections with the campus, student, and staff. They are completing their identity as a student first.

Students born from 1980 to 2000 are known as millennials. They don’t like to suffer —  they love nice things — and they don’t mind working for them. Unfortunately, this can interfere with their education. So, if they want spending money, suggest a job on campus.

Third…images-3
Cell phones according to Dr. Ellingson, are “the world’s longest umbilical cords.” Some students call home 5, 6, 7 times a day. In our day, we waited in line for the phone down the hall on Sundays — when long distance was cheaper — and horror of all horrors — there wasn’t such a thing as a cell phone!

Don’t let your child’s crisis become your crisis. Let them problem solve. Ellingson’s example was a daughter who called her mom and said, “I flunked my midterm. The professor hates me…” After consoling her crying daughter, the mother called back later with more advice. The daughter was like, “Huh? What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.”

images-5Fourth …
They are learning to become themselves. Making new friends. They will be grieving and letting go of high school friendships, but will build new and deeper ones. A main developmental issue is finding their identity. Their core stays the same, which has been developing over the past 18 years. But, how they express themselves changes.

They may try on new identities by copying new friends to see how it fits or feels. You may say to yourself, and hopefully not to your child, “Who the hell is this?” Then you meet their new friend, and say to yourself, “Oh, now I see who this is!”

Intellectually they are still developing. They see things differently than before. They love to debate. They will try out their debating skills, or how to express themselves by choosing opinions contrary to yours, even if it isn’t what they truly believe.

And Fifth…imgres-2
Dr. Ellingson talked about independence: “Their first steps as a toddler are towards you. Every step after that is running away from you.”

They need to discover how to be on their own — and this is one of their fears. Delayed maturation is common. It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28. They will say to you “Leave me alone!” Then, “bail me out!” This is normal. The pendulum will swing back and forth.

Just remember to love them, guide them, but let them figure it out. The more we solve their problems, the more we delay their growth into independent, responsible adults.

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And one more thing…”GO, UTES!!!”


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