Applying to College

Seniors: Free Test Prep Resources


The best preparation for testing is to take rigorous courses, work hard, and read, read, read. But familiarity with the SAT and ACT and taking practice tests can improve scores. So, seniors, if you're taking the SAT or ACT this fall, here are some resources for free practice tests and test prep:


ACT Sample Test


SAT College Board Practice Test 

Spark Notes SAT Practice Test

You can find more information about testing, including information on the essay, testing accommodations, test-optional schools, and how colleges view testing in Chapter 7 of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, "Taking the Tests."

Juniors: Resources for Your College Search


There are many resources available to you as you research schools in order to create an initial list of colleges to which you may apply -- guidebooks, brochures, blogs, websites and even YouTube videos.

Here are the objective guidebooks and websites we recommend -- these are comprehensive reference resources for basic information about colleges and universities. The books listed here are available in most bookstores, public libraries and the office of your high school college or guidance counselors.  Websites are available to everyone free of charge.


College HandbookThe College Board
Four Year CollegesPeterson’s
Four Year College Admissions Data: Index of Majors and Sports available from Wintergreen Orchard House


Seniors: Finding Your Voice in the Essay


Seniors, as you work on your essays, we strongly recommend you avoid books hawking application essays that “worked.” You won’t find the story that says the most about you in someone else’s work. Colleges want to hear your voice in your writing. You’re much better off investing your time— and money— in some good writing. Here are some recommendations of engaging essays written in the first-person:

• David Sedaris:  Santaland Diaries and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

• Sloane Crosley: I Was Told There’d Be Cake

• Gayle Pemberton: The Hottest Water in Chicago

Juniors: Giving Your Best Effort in The Classroom


Juniors, you should be giving your best effort in all your classes. Take a strong academic courseload and challenge yourself academically. If you are doing less than three hours of homework each day, talk with your counselor about enrolling in more advanced classes. First and foremost, what colleges will want to know about you is what you are like as a learner – your grades and courses,  as well as teacher recommendations, of course,  show them that.


Check out Chapter 5 in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step for more information about what defines a challenging curriculum and achieving balance between grades, challenging courses, and personal time.


Seniors: Forging ahead on Finalizing Your List


Seniors, your ongoing task over the new few weeks should be finalizing the list of the eight to ten schools to which you will apply. You will see and hear a lot in the media and in the hallways of your schools about the low admit rates at many schools. But while many colleges have low admit rates, don't be daunted. There are great colleges out there that are right for you. The average selectivity rate in fall 2010 at four-year colleges and universities was 65.5 percent (Clinedinst, Hurley & Hawkins, 2011).  Keep forging ahead; just make sure your list includes enough schools where you are likely to be admitted. 


You can find more information on admit rates (defined on page 248) and on narrowing your list to the eight to ten schools to which you will apply  (Chapter 10, page 155) in our book, College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

What a Bug Can Teach You about Colleges


Today's column is from John Carpenter, author of  Going Geek: What Every Smart Kid (and Every Smart Parent) Should Know About College Admissions. Read on to learn what mustachioed caterpillars can teach you about finding a great college.


Many people know that I’ve been living in Costa Rica for the last year, and that I work at an amazing school with people from 65 different countries.  Sometimes I can’t believe how cool things are here.

The campus is home to some incredible bio-diversity.  There are more trees, flowers, and plants than I’ve ever seen.  Most days I just walk right by them and don’t really pay much attention to the huge variety of growing things around me.  But I’m beginning to learn that there’s more to a bunch of leaves than I thought.

About a month ago, our new teachers arrived on campus, and one of them is this very cool guy called Isaac.  He’s a Wesleyan grad, and he’s really smart--a geek who loves biology.  What sets him apart is that he will stop to look at any random plant on campus and instantly find very cool stuff living on it.  He caught a giant moth, for example, just to see how long its tongue was.

Monthly Financial Aid Checklist for Seniors

Paying for college is a concern for most families. This post marks the first of a monthly series for seniors on what you should be doing with regard to financial aid, written by college advisor Alice Kleeman. Remember, while in most families it is up to the parents to provide the bulk of the money for college costs to the extent of their ability to pay, it is the student who applies for student aid. Read, save and use these monthly reminders!

Juniors: Preparing for the SAT or ACT


This marks the first in our weekly reminders for juniors starting the college application process. Each week, we'll be providing information, checklist items and advice on applying --  testing, researching colleges, first college visits and more.

First up?

Keep your eye out for an opportunity to take the PSAT or PLAN. The best preparation for the SAT and ACT is to challenge yourself with rigorous courses in the classroom and read, read, read.  But familiarity with the tests and practice can increase scores up to a point. The PSAT, offered by the College Board, and PLAN, offered by ACT, are practice tests meant to prepare you for the SAT and ACT. Your answers and the correct answers are available with the score report -- good feedback that will show you where you need to improve. The PSAT is offered every October by the College Board, but you register through your high school.  The PLAN is administered at the discretion of the high school or school district. Stay alert for announcements about the PSAT and PLAN and follow up. If you haven't heard of anyone taking these tests at your school, check with your guidance counselor about them. 

Seniors: It's Not Too Late to Test


This marks the first in our weekly reminders for seniors. Each week, we'll be providing information, checklist items and advice on applying to college --  testing, essays, deadlines, college visits, letters of recommendation and more.

First up?

It's not too late to take the SAT or ACT this fall.

SAT Deadlines:

Register by September 7th for the October 6th test

Register by October 4th for the November 3rd test

Register by November 1st for the December 1st test

You can register online for the SAT here

ACT Deadlines:

Register by September 21st for the October 27th test

Register by November 2nd for the December 8th test

You can register online for the ACT here

Or visit your high school college or guidance counselor for registration materials.

Remember, the best preparation for the SAT and ACT is to challenge yourself with rigorous courses in the classroom and read, read, read.  


We'll be posting for Juniors, as well. Look for our first item for the Class of 2014 tomorrow.

Aliza Gilbert, Highland Park High School


Our Counselor of the Month for September is Aliza Gilbert, College Counselor at Highland Park High School, a public high school serving more than 2,000 students in Highland Park, Illinois.  A graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago, Gilbert also holds a Master in Education from Loyola University Chicago and is working on her Ph.D. in Higher Education, also at Loyola. Formerly Associate Director of Admissions at Lake Forest College, Gilbert joined Highland Park's Counseling Department in 1998.

Located about 25 miles north of Chicago, Highland Park High School serves a diverse student body, including significant numbers of children from military and Hispanic families, a characteristic that drew Gilbert to the school. She has a particular interest in college access and undocumented students -- her Ph.D. dissertation explores how high schools influence undocumented students’ college process. (The state of Illinois is ranked sixth among states with the largest undocumented populations.)