Once students hit sophomore year in high school, the pressure is on. Suddenly, the difficulty factor associated with working to achieve A’s and score seats in Honors and AP courses is compounded by the stress of beginning the college search and prepping to take the SAT or ACT college admissions tests.
“… Many students feel tremendous pressure to achieve and résumé-build in all aspects of their young lives. In the pressurized ecosystem of high-achieving schools, driven students must out-compete each other for few coveted spots, whether it’s a seat in AP calculus or a spot on the debate team,” said a recent Washington Post story about students in high-achieving schools being named an at-risk group.
“Even activities that once were stress-reducers, like playing a musical instrument or a sport, have become a means to an end, that end being a spot at one of the country’s most competitive colleges and then on to a prestigious, high-paying career,” the Post’s story said.
Bulldog Tutors’ Lead Academic Coordinator Madison Masters, a veteran test prep tutor and Yale graduate making plans to attend medical school, understands the stress and the challenges well. Success ultimately comes down to adopting and optimizing effective time management skills, she says.
Madison’s expert tips for balancing high school, college admissions test prep, and the beginning of the college search process are built on a foundation of setting defined times and defined goals. And the tips come with an important prerequisite: Mute your cellphone.
Top 5 Tips for Balancing High School, College Search, and Test Prep
- Use a calendar, whether it’s a paper agenda or a calendar on your phone. Put everything in the calendar. If it’s on a phone, iPad or laptop, set up reminders. If it’s a planner, check it every morning and again every evening.
- Block out set times that will be devoted to priorities, and be specific, not general. For example, you have to say, “Today from 6 to7:30 is SAT studying time.”
- Give yourself a concrete goal for each task. For example, say, “I’m doing this chapter and these study problems.”
- Break your tasks up into manageable small chunks. This apportionment, combined with specific times for specific tasks and establishing goals, will help you achieve each goal—and each achievement will prove empowering.
- Look into the Pomodoro Technique, which uses a timer to divide work into blocks of 25 minutes, with the blocks separated by brief breaks. It works.
Monitor your success rate for all five parts of the time and task management system, and tweak your own personal approach as necessary.
Madison knows first-hand the challenges of multitasking that commingles the stresses of academics and life. This past year, she pushed her time-management skills to the limit as she applied to 20 medical schools, worked a full-time job, and volunteered in a hospital.
“First, figure out what your overarching goal is and what you are ultimately hoping to accomplish,” Madison says of establishing factors in the “how do I balance all this” formula. For a high-achieving high school student, big-picture goals will include achieving and maintaining outstanding grades, building a three-dimensional résumé to favorably impress colleges, and prepping wisely and sufficiently to score highly on the SAT or ACT.
Once the big picture is set, say to yourself, “If I really want to do this, I need to figure out how,” Madison advises. “If you are motivated, that’s the biggest factor in inspiring your success.”
Balancing the Relationship Between Building a College List and Test Prep
Balancing the relationship between test prep and building a college list is one particular challenge that can be approached in different ways.
“If you know which college or university you want to attend, now you have a goal for your SAT score,” says Madison. Top schools have established score percentiles for acceptance. To get in, a student has to hit that mark.
Madison didn’t think about which colleges to put on her list until she took SAT for first time. She scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT, the highest score ever in her Connecticut community. That helped her get accepted by Yale University.
“If you don’t know which colleges and universities should be at the top of your college list, start with the SAT and then you can see which schools accept students whose scores are in that percentile,” Madison says. “Then make a list of preferences.”
Once you have an idea of which colleges you’re looking at, it’s time to start visiting, advises Jessica Magro, Bulldog Tutors’ Director of Admissions Consulting. “School vacations are a great time to do this, particularly spring break and long weekends when colleges are still in session,” Jessica says. “Try to see as many schools as possible before senior years starts so that you can focus on completing applications, retaking the SATs or ACTs (if needed), and maintaining high grades and extracurricular participation.”
While college admissions tests are offered on a year-round schedule—SAT dates are coming up in March, May and June, for example—Madison says many students struggle with handling test prep simultaneously with studying, tests, extracurricular activities and general life factors.
“If you can’t handle test prep during the school year, you are not alone,” she says. “Most students prep in the summer, especially if you’re a sophomore going into junior year or junior going into senior year.”
School is always the top priority, Madison stresses, saying, “You can retake the SAT, but you cannot retake your grades.”
Focusing on Extracurriculars Is a Priority for College-Bound Students
The next priority for college-bound students is extracurriculars. “If you’re a one-dimensional student, it’s going to be hard for a school to look at your application and decide you would be a good fit,” Madison explains.
“Colleges are looking for students who will contribute both inside and outside the classroom, so extracurriculars are a great way to demonstrate how you would contribute to the college community,” Jessica elaborates, adding, “To really stand out, aim to have some level of participation in each of the following categories: academics (e.g. debate, model UN, French club, etc.), arts (e.g. piano, choir, art club, etc.), athletics (e.g. school sports team, community rec team, private lessons), and community service (e.g. volunteer at a local hospital, organize a fundraiser, join a local youth group, etc.).
When the time comes for test prep, Madison oversees Bulldog Tutors’ group classes and private and semi-private prep tutoring. Even the classes are kept small so all participating students have access to individualized attention from the group instructor. The approach fosters a healthy mindset and helps students focus on the priorities for scoring well on the ACT or SAT.
Reach out to Madison by email at [email protected] or call the New Haven office at (203) 720-6499 for additional information or to discuss the test prep process. Reach Jessica by phone at (203) 720-6499 or by email at [email protected] to discuss enhancing your student profile or building the right college list.
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 that 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.
Call the New Haven office at (203) 720-6499, or see the Bulldog Tutor website, bulldogtutors.com, for additional information.