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As parents of rising seniors plan standardized testing schedules for the summer and fall, one very important standardized test for most highly selective colleges sometimes gets forgotten: the SAT Subject Tests.  The majority of the nation's highly selective colleges and universities require or strongly encourage students to take 2-3 of these tests to demonstrate their subject knowledge.  The actual content is unlikely to be much of a cause for concern for students who are competitive for these colleges, since it is likely to overlap with an AP course, but students should still make time in their schedules to take the tests if they wish to aim high in their admissions.  Now is the time to check websites of your preferred colleges to see whether they require or advise the SAT Subject Tests, and whether they have any specific guidance for which subjects they would like to see.  As general advice:   If only 2 tests are required, they should preferably... read more

Given all the publicity around the new SAT, families need to be aware that it is NOT being implemented immediately.  If your child is currently a rising senior, he/she will still be taking the old SAT this summer or next fall.  I will update my profile to reflect New SAT when it becomes an issue, but for the coming testing season, the SAT we all know and either love or hate is still with us.

Please examine the evidence for yourself at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/to-remember-a-lecture-better-take-notes-by-hand/361478/.  However, the upshot is that, while I'm a big advocate for technology in many things, for some reason, handwriting seems to be a better retention tool than typed notes for most students.  (Though I myself had great success in college initially writing my notes, then reshaping them into a polished version on a computer when the material was still fresh and I remembered what all my own shorthand meant).  Take a look.

The College Board has revealed the nature of long-suspected changes to the SAT.  Please note that this new-format test will NOT be given until 2016.  So if you're on here right now looking for SAT prep, you're probably still taking the old test.  Students who are currently freshmen will be taking the new test for the first time in their junior year, assuming normal patterns of taking a first SAT in junior year.  (By the way, I do not recommend the practice I've seen in some families of taking a first SAT in sophomore year.  The test has content which is beyond most sophomore curricula.  The PSAT is a much better diagnostic vehicle at that age than the real SAT.)   This article explains the new SAT in the best way that I have seen.  In short, guessing will no longer be penalized, the essay will become optional (reverting scores to the familiar 1600 range), some math questions will not have a calculator, and the reading passages... read more

One topic on college choice that hasn't been discussed on this blog is out-of-state public colleges.  This can be tricky territory.   On the one hand, there are a small number of extraordinary public colleges at which you can get a top-tier education.  Some of the University of California campuses (especially Berkeley and UCLA), the University of Michigan, or some colleges of Cornell University (which is a unique hybrid of private and public--check the website for the complicated details) are good examples.  These are well worth considering if you can get a scholarship, though, because of bad state finances, this may be more difficult than at a comparable out-of-state private college.  Also, if a student can somehow LEGITIMATELY make a case for residency in another state with better public colleges (divorced parents are the most likely scenario), then this can be a huge savings.  Or if your plans involve a PhD, these can be very good aspirational... read more

One thing for students and parents to think about, when planning how much foreign language to include on a high school transcript, is that the AP test in Latin is not the only possible standardized test which can be a capstone experience and show linguistic achievement to colleges in a commonly-agreed-upon way.  I would advise students to also strongly consider taking the SAT II in Latin, if they have gone through at least a rigorous Latin 3 (or 4, depending on how your school breaks it down).   In short, the AP Latin test isn't a good equivalent of what most people normally think of as the "AP Spanish test", etc.  When people say "AP Spanish", they usually mean "AP Spanish Language", not the rarely attempted "AP Spanish Literature", which is more advanced and requires a great deal of literary analysis in addition to language proficiency.  However, in Latin, all that the College Board offers is a literature test... read more

Yes, test stress is definitely an issue, and I don't want to be accused of adding to it.  However, in the spirit of cold, hard reality, this article from the Wall Street Journal on use of SAT scores by employers deserves some attention.  Whether you agree with this or not (and the HR department at Google has clearly decided to disagree, for example), there are still many big corporate employers who use the SAT as a convenient proxy for an IQ test, which relatively few Americans have ever taken.  Whether IQ is a good predictor of job performance is a whole other mess that you can put in a college essay if you've researched it, but which you really can't do anything about as a high schooler (or parent of one, unless you're also a Ph.D-level researcher in psychology or management science).   That said, when you break it down, the SAT has a lot in common with an IQ test, and that's worth knowing.  It's best not to really think about it as a test... read more

This is an awkward place in the financial aid process.  As I've mentioned before, for a student capable of attending a top-tier private institution with a huge financial aid budget, this is often the best option financially, even beating state systems in many cases when the cost of room and board is considered.  However, for students in the high-middle and middle, the private v. public question is a little more complicated.   This article from Yahoo Finance explains the reduction in genuinely need-blind admissions at lower tier private colleges in much more detail.  http://finance.yahoo.com/news/column-asking-aid-could-hurt-130000939.html   In short, if you are a strong applicant for a second- or third-tier private college, you still stand a chance of getting in regardless of your aid status, and hopefully getting some decent aid.  But if a less than first-tier private college is your stretch school and your family income is on the... read more

I've said this before on this blog, but it's useful to see it reflected in a purely financial source such as The Motley Fool.  If you have the ability to get in, an elite university is probably the most cost-effective college choice you can make.  It usually outranks state universities in actual out-of-pocket costs, except for children of affluent parents.  So if you are a high schooler from a family of average or below-average means, do NOT reject top colleges because you're scared by the sticker price.  You will never, ever pay it.   (Just a note: while this article focuses on the literal Ivy League, always keep in mind that the Ivy League is not a group of the best universities in America; it's a sports league that happens to include many of the best universities in America.  But the same principles apply to an elite and wealthy university that isn't in the Ivy League simply because it's too far away for its students to play Harvard... read more

Though admissions filing season for 4-year colleges is over for the coming school year, it's tax time, and so for parents of juniors, that means that it's the ideal time to start thinking about financial aid down the road.  To be blunt, you want to look as poor as is legally possible at FAFSA time.  It's a lot like tax time.  However, there are legal strategies for keeping assets that you can't afford to spend on college off the FAFSA.  See link http://finance.yahoo.com/news/column-seven-ways-help-child-120000918.html.

For all students applying to college, even though your regular applications are likely done at this point for traditional four-year institutions, there's still one critical piece that may not be: the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  You can complete it online at https://fafsa.ed.gov.   The FAFSA is relatively easy, and, to be blunt, in most cases your parents will be doing most of it.  To a large extent, it's a matter of copying the information off of their tax forms onto the FAFSA, and though no one likes doing their taxes, everyone has to.  (Students who have income or assets of their own will, of course, need to disclose those, but in most cases student aid is calculated primarily based on how much money your parents have; they may or may not want to share that with you, so you may need help.)   Don't make the mistake of thinking that your family won't qualify for financial aid.  This is rare.  The... read more

Please consider following this link to learn about the growing trend in "need-aware" rather than "need-blind" admissions.  This may be a factor for you or your child if you are applying to a private school that is not hugely wealthy, particularly if it is a stretch school rather than a place where your child is probably a top applicant.   For truly exceptional students, this needn't be an issue: either they can get into a prestigious and wealthy school which covers their need, or they can be a highly-sought-after candidate somewhere further down in prestige.  But for more average and above-average students, make sure that the college you are applying to has a large enough endowment to realistically bring its sticker price into the range you can afford, and always be aware of declared "need-aware" programs if your family has a low income.  This doesn't by ANY means imply that low-income students shouldn't aim high--if... read more

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/education/online-application-woes-make-students-anxious-and-put-colleges-behind-schedule.html?src=rechp&_r=0   If the problems with Common App software are affecting you or your child, perhaps the easiest way to do an end run around it is. . .don't use Common App.  Elite colleges all have their own application forms as well, and with more money behind them, they won't be subject to this level of software-based misery.  In addition, particularly if you are interested in quirky or liberal arts schools, I'd advise using the college's individual form in preference to Common App anyway.  It will show commitment to the school, and you, the student, can read between the lines of what questions they ask to get more insights into whether a particular school is a good fit for you.  This may be helpful come April if you have multiple offers and need to make a good choice with the information to hand.   Yes,... read more

One topic which can be transformational for students preparing for standardized testing, especially logical-mathematical students who are underperforming on the writing SAT, is formally learning English grammar.  A large proportion of writing MC questions in particular focus on the sequence of tenses, and tense sequence errors or unintentional tense shifts can greatly harm submitted writing.  The English language does not have a "past tense".  It has multiple past tenses which are non-identical and which all have their uses.  Working with a tutor on grammar can be a great help to the student who is not well served by whole-language and literature-centric approaches to English class (i.e. the students most likely to seek SAT verbal but not math tutoring in the first place).

While this article takes in many issues relevant to high school education and the college process, the point made about halfway down by Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby is hugely important.  An expensive college degree AT A GREAT COLLEGE will pay off; an expensive degree at a middling or substandard school may not.  Especially here in Florida where most students are physically isolated from the country's top universities (news flash--even UF is nowhere remotely close to many states' flagship public schools, and there is no Florida school in the current US News and World Report Top 50), it's critical for high performing students to look outside their comfort zones.  Read college websites.  Talk to your school counselor, and not just when you have to.  Don't be afraid to apply to a school you haven't physically visited.  But make sure that your expensive education is the best that your high school record can manage.  And if your high school... read more

Very interesting article for parents of younger students about likely changes to the SAT in line with Common Core curriculum alterations.  Please note that all of this is INFORMED SPECULATION at this stage, not an absolute plan, so if you are a junior/senior or the parent of one, prepare for the SAT as expected.  However, parents of younger students seeking enrichment should take note.   http://www.iecaonline.com/blog/2013/09/18/preparing-students-for-a-new-era-of-admission-testing/

This is EXTREMELY out of fashion, but from experience the author is absolutely right.  I've come to conclude that if students never write in Latin, then a lot of the claims about Latin's value get lost.  What the author calls "busking" (that literally means singing music on the street or in the Tube, for non-Brits) I call the "magnetic poetry approach" to Latin; find all the English equivalents and rearrange them to make an English sentence without looking at the Latin grammar.  I've been experimenting with having students write Latin from the beginning this year, with very encouraging results.   Parents seeking acceleration for their children in Latin, particularly higher levels, might want to consider out-of-school instruction in "composition" (i.e. writing Latin) to firm up grammar understanding through another pathway.   http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harrymount/100070694/the-tragic-dumbing-down-of-latin-in-our-schools/... read more

While taking both can also be a valid strategy, it does limit time for taking the SAT II, which can be important strategically.  This article provides some beautifully clear insights into the deep structure of both the SAT and ACT.   http://news.hamlethub.com/ridgefield/life/39936-sat-or-act X

This is ESSENTIAL information that all college applicants need to know.  The article lays it out well, but in a nutshell: if you're not super-rich, but the best college you can get into is, then you are likely to actually pay LESS at an elite institution than you would in-state.  This isn't true for higher net worth families, but if you're below six figures, then you are likely to pay radically less for the top tier than for in-state.  Especially important to know in Florida, which really doesn't have the greatest state university system (not a single "Public Ivy" here). Plus the resume line and the instant networking through alumni groups lasts forever.  Just make sure you know the difference between a genuinely elite school and one trying to make itself look better than it is. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/real-people-cost-ivy-league-115416481.html

Good summary of changes to the FAFSA for this year.  Particularly helpful for parents who are sending a second or later child to college after doing FAFSA before.  Unless you are multimillionaire-type wealthy, do NOT miss out on the FAFSA.  The number of families in the Central Florida area who would not qualify for any need-based aid at all, especially at private colleges, is small. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/student-financial-aid-changes-fafsa-110200587.html

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