“The more you do now, the easier your college search will be later.”
That headline on an Indiana University Office of Admissions website page parallels advice Bulldog Tutors’ Director of Admissions Consulting Jessica Magro stresses in working with students preparing for the college admissions process.
Indiana University’s top six tips for sophomores include basics such as taking the PSAT to determine areas where you need test prep and making sure you take the high school courses necessary to meet college admissions requirements.
The list highlights the importance of starting to build a college list, a priority for Jessica, as well as signing up on mailing lists of preferred schools, and looking into attending a pre-college summer program aligned with your primary areas of interest.
Bulldog Tutors’ Top College Admissions Tip For Sophomores:
Take SAT Subject Tests
Jessica, who was accepted by all five Ivy League schools to which she applied and attended Yale University, offers this expert advice for the Spring college admissions agenda of sophomores: prep for and take SAT subject tests this year.
“Many students will be required to take two or three subject tests for college admissions,” Jessica says, especially if they hope to be accepted by top-tier schools. The material on several of these subject tests is typically covered in courses sophomore year.
“If you’ve done well in subjects like chemistry or history, take those subject tests in May or June, which is when you know the material best,” Jessica advises. Some prep may still be recommended, but the amount of prep necessary only increases as time passes between the end of course work in a tough subject and taking the SAT subject test.
The potential to score highly is the first reward of taking subject tests at the optimum time. The second is getting the tests out of the way so you can focus on college admissions and SAT or ACT prep during junior year. “Most people take subject tests at the end of junior year, but that’s when everything else is happening too,” Jessica says.
If you’re not sure what subject tests to take, guidance can be found on individual schools’ websites. “The better the school, the more certain it is they will want subject tests,” says Jessica. Any school with technology in its name is likely to require specific math and science subject tests. For example, MIT requires two subject tests in addition to the SAT or ACT; Math I or Math II, and biology, chemistry, or physics.
Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Princeton generally recommend subject tests. Schools that don’t require or recommend subject tests typically will consider them, however, boosting your chances of acceptance if the scores are high.
Jessica offers an important caveat about the end-of-sophomore-year timing for subject tests. “If you don’t have enough time to prep, definitely don’t do it, but you’ll never have more time to prep than in your sophomore year,” she says. The best gauge is a one-hour practice test administered by Bulldog Tutors.
Working with Jessica on an overarching college admissions strategy is the best way to prioritize all the necessary college admissions elements in the most advantageous order. “Most high schools, public or private, wait until mid-junior year to start the college counseling process, but by that point it’s really too late to make significant changes to who you’re going to be as an applicant,” Jessica cautions.
A Spring College Admissions Agenda Admissions Checklist
Seniors: March is when decisions start being announced. Before that, write and send letters of continued interest. These aren’t only for students who have been waitlisted; you can update an admissions department on what you’ve accomplished since sending the application.
Freshman, Sophomores and Juniors: Finalize summer plans, apply to prestigious summer programs, go on some college visits, and start prep for upcoming tests. For juniors, this is the most important time to be visiting colleges. You can do it over the summer, but you won’t get a true sense of the school when classes aren’t in session. For sophomores and even freshmen, gaining exposure to different colleges inspires excitement about the admissions process.
“It can be a really useful motivational tool,” Jessica says. “There are a lot of different kinds of colleges. The earlier you start, the more informed you’re going to be about that process. If you’re going somewhere on spring break, schedule a college visit as part of the trip. When you’re visiting, take notes and bring a camera. If you don’t, they’ll all start to blend together.”
A Critical Pursuit to Focus on Throughout the Year
Constantly ask yourself the question, “How can I be taking my activities to the next level?” Write an essay for essay competition, log extra volunteer hours, or plan and conduct a fundraiser.
“It’s always a great time to bolster your activities,” Jessica says, stressing that ideal projects are things that directly contribute to the overall admissions package and mesh with what you enjoy doing. While pursuits that are both marketable and hold your interest are best, Jessica notes, “Anything is better than nothing.”
The Bottom Line in the College Admissions Process
Nothing else matters if the grades aren’t where they should be. In terms of grades and college admissions broadly, “Junior year is the most important year, other than, perhaps, first semester of senior year,” Jessica says. “You can recover from a bad freshman year, showing continuous improvement, but you really can’t recover from a bad junior year.”
The other focus for juniors is the SAT or ACT. Those who have been prepping since fall term may have taken the test by this point, but most are still coming up to it. Even though public schools are required to sit in March for the SAT, students don’t have to use those scores.
In a typical flow, students will take either the SAT or ACT in March or April, then AP tests in May, and subject tests in June. “If they’re not ready, that whole schedule can be delayed,” Jessica says. “The most important thing is deciding if you’re ready for it.”
Students and families who want to get more of Jessica’s accumulated wisdom on optimizing the college admissions process can attend her upcoming presentations in conjunction with the Scranton Memorial Library in Madison. A test prep presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 17 and the college application presentation follows on March 31 at 7 p.m. Both presentations will be at the North Madison Congregational Church across the street from the library.
About Bulldog Tutors
With offices in New Haven and Guilford, Bulldog Tutors provides the highest quality private tutoring, test prep, and college admissions counseling in Connecticut. Bulldog’s Ivy League-educated tutors have achieved top scores on every exam they teach and take a personalized approach to instruction that targets students’ weaknesses and helps them succeed on admissions tests and in subjects where they may have been under-served by traditional educational settings.
For additional information, call the New Haven office at (203) 720-6499, or see the Bulldog Tutor website, bulldogtutors.com.