Tag Archives: SAT

Familiarity Breeds Comfort by Jennifer Karan

1 Dec

Today many high school students around the country and more overseas, took their SATs. Last month, super storm Sandy forced many testing centers to close and those affected had to postpone taking the exam. The storm created additional stress on top of what was already a stressful experience.

Ms. Jennifer Karan, executive director of the SAT Program at the College Board, is the guest blogger for this post in which she offers some advice on how to prepare for the SAT.

Every so often I find myself speaking to some high school students who, upon finding out that my work involves the SAT, look at me in awe. (At least, I like to think it’s awe). 

And then they take a big step backwards.

Unfortunately, to them the SAT represents some huge and inscrutable test that they fear, some Goliath that they are going to have to conquer in high school for which nothing can ready them.

Relax, I tell them, the SAT is nothing to be feared; and when the time comes, you will successfully conquer it. In fact, there are things you are probably doing right now that are preparing you that you don’t even realize. 

The best preparation for the SAT, I counsel, is to do well in school. First, make sure you are on the path to completing a core curriculum; then, make sure those courses are truly challenging – don’t take the easy way out. Study hard and read as much as possible.

There are little things that students can do early on. Create an account on the College Board website which has a bunch of free planning and preparation resources. One of my favorite tools is the SAT Question of the Day, or QOTD for those in the know. It’s an actual question from a past SAT and it’s a great way to become familiar with the exam content as well as get your brain up and running in the morning. 

I receive the SAT QOTD each morning in my inbox. If you don’t want to register for the email, you can visit the site each day and “play”. 

Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer, once wrote, “Practice is the best of all instructors.” The Question of the Day is a great way for underclassmen to engage with the SAT in a fun and less intimidating manner, and for those who are practicing more seriously. With practice and familiarity the SAT won’t seem intimidating at all. 

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Asian: To Check or Not To Check

7 Dec

When I read Jesse Washington’s revealing article “New Asian Strategy: Don’t Check ‘Asian,'” I found myself nodding with a sense of recognition.  He writes that many Asian American college applicants, especially those from mixed heritages, are declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications for fear of being discriminated against.  In the story he interviews some applicants who chose not to check off the Asian box because of a pervasive belief among Asian Americans that they are not being evaluated individually but against each other.  Studies have shown that Asian Americans need higher test scores than applicants of other ethnicities to gain admission to the top colleges.

For those reasons, I advised my daughter not to check off her race on the Common Application, especially since it was optional.  Her last name is not obviously Asian-sounding either; she wrote about getting in touch with her Chinese heritage in her personal essay so it’s moot.  And when she goes on interviews, her ethnicity becomes immediately obvious.  But my motivation is the same as that of some of the candidates interviewed for the article.

My husband, who is also of Chinese descent, said that he did not check off “Asian” either when he was applying to colleges because he did not want to be evaluated against other Asian Americans.  He declined to check any boxes.

I suspect that when colleges select their class, it is a nuanced exercise.  I once heard a talk given by the dean of college admissions of an elite midwestern university, who spoke to parents at our high school about how top colleges put together a class.  Because there are many more eligible candidates than there are spaces, a college has to do the hard job of paring down the final list of acceptances.  He gave an example: if there were too many football captains in the pool, they would cut a percentage of football captains and put them on the wait list.  The same holds true if there were too many pianists, violinists, tennis players, or those from one region of the country and so on.  He didn’t say it but it’s not hard to imagine a college needing to cut back on the number of qualified Asian applicants to maintain the college’s vision of racial balance and diversity on campus.  As one interviewee in the article puts it: “…a lot of Asians, they have perfect SATs, perfect GPAs, … so it’s hard to let them all in.”

I’m interested in hearing from readers: what would you advise your child to do?

Montclair State University – Public Option Part I

30 Nov

Monkey Mama is willing to risk an onslaught of vituperation from the Tea Party movement when she avers that the United States of America owes a great deal of its success to its early commitment to public education.  Montclair State University (MSU) began life as a “normal school,” in 1908, dedicated to training teachers.

Today MSU is a full fledged university located on 252 acres in Essex County, New Jersey, 14 miles west of New York City.  Those miles may be traversed aboard New Jersey Transit directly into New York Penn Station.  The original architects balked at the ivy-clad traditions of other northeastern colleges and opted in favor of whitewashed, Spanish Mission-style buildings.  Some newer buildings, including University Hall and the Student Recreation Center, mimic the older architecture, and even the imposing Alexander Kasser Theater, host to many concerts and performances by world-class artists, attempts to meld the Mission motifs with its modern design elements.

Although traditional pedagogical training is still prominent within the university, there are undergraduate colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, Business, the Arts, and Education and Human Services.  MSU is in the process of remodeling several dormitories and constructing a new residence hall.  The main campus is small and students can easily walk around.  There are many dining options, including a traditional-style diner with 24-hour service during the school year.  Tuition and fees for New Jersey residents in 2011-2012 is $10,646 with room rates ranging from $6,802 for a triple in the irresistibly-named Frank Sinatra Hall, to $10,140 for a single.  Meal plan options range from several hundred dollars to about $4,000.

Monkey Mama and Son had arranged for a personal meeting with a representative of the theater department following our campus tour.  She showed us the main theater, “black box,” and rehearsal spaces, and shared some insights regarding the audition and application process.  MSU’s overall acceptance rate is about 50%, with roughly one-third of its accepted students enrolling.  The average composite SAT score for admitted students is 1500 out of 2400, and the average unweighted G.P.A. was listed as 3.2.

The acting B.F.A. program, on the other hand, only accepts 14 to 16 students each year, and is considered highly desirable.  MSU holds some auditions on campus and also participates in the regional Unified Auditions.  The Unified Auditions give the university an opportunity to view a wider pool of the most talented candidates but as a state-funded college, it is not able to offer generous financial aid packages to out-of-state applicants, thus giving an advantage to private conservatories.

Tisch School of the Arts – New York University

17 Nov

Monkey Son has expressed a desire to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University ever since middle school.  Tisch’s roster of celebrity graduates, and its panoply of resources buttress its worldwide reputation in the performing and film arts.  The undergraduate film school is said to have the lowest freshman acceptance rate of any college in the country.  Thousands audition for the roughly 250 to 300 slots available in the acting B.F.A. program.  Those figures indicate that Tisch has a somewhat higher acceptance rate than some other acting schools, but that the competition is fierce, and it is the first choice for many applicants.

Theater majors do not receive most of their training on the NYU campus.  They are assigned to one of seven outside studios by the admissions committee.  Students may attempt to transfer out, but most are confined to their designated studios for three days a week throughout their freshman and sophomore years at Tisch.  Those studios include the renowned Meisner Studio, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, the Atlantic Acting School (founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy to promote “Practical Aesthetics”), Experimental Theatre Wing, Playwrights Horizons, New Studio on Broadway (for musical theater majors) and Production and Design Studio (for those focusing on other stagecraft areas).  The other two days are spent fulfilling general studies requirements at the university.

NYU is an undeniably exciting and attractive institution, but we never had an opportunity to hear from undergraduates at Tisch, to gain their perspectives, nor were we given an actual Tisch tour.  We had a general campus tour, but left feeling that it would not provide the intimate, ensemble environment that other college theater departments carefully cultivate.  For Monkey Son, Tisch is the equivalent of the long-time, remote object of a crush, whom he discovered to be less-than-scintillating in person, but whom he’d happily date just because she’s crazy hot.

We were not shown any residence halls at NYU but our tour guide rhapsodized about some of his lucky lottery assignments and fortunate roommate choices.  For all of Greenwich Village’s culinary sophistication, the guide took particular pride in boasting that NYU hosts New York City’s only Chick-A-Fil franchise.

Tisch is a 50/50 theater school, meaning that it gives equal consideration to a student’s audition and academic record.  Monkey Son’s grades fall well below the norm, and his board scores are close to average for NYU undergraduates, which means his audition would have to dazzle the auditors for them to push for his acceptance.  The university professes to practice holistic admissions, considering the applicant’s entire profile, but they also like to post impressive numbers.  Their current university-wide acceptance rate is somewhere between 35% to 40% with a similar percentage of accepted students enrolling.  Those rates vary among divisions, as do the average GPA and SAT scores.

Monkey Son will apply and audition for the Tisch School, but it has descended from the top of his list to somewhere in the middle of the top ten.

 

A Visit to Rutgers University

21 Jul

State universities often lack the aura of prestige that go with the Ivy League and comparable brand name schools.  Hence, many a high-achieving student sees them as safety schools.  But in this day and age, when economic times remain uncertain at best, state universities may offer a better bet over some lower tier private universities for its cost effectiveness and access to resources.

I came to this conclusion when my daughter and I took a tour of our home state university, Rutgers University in New Brunswick.  The university is so large that it spans five campuses and we had to take a bus tour of it.  During the school year, students use the Rutgers bus system – I was told it is the second largest bus system in the state – to get around.  According to one student admissions representative, she never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus.

The campuses are expansive, with lots of open green space, a lake, and even a golf course.  We saw signs of building activity everywhere and were told the construction is mostly for new dorms.  Housing is guaranteed for all freshmen but after that, it is based on a lottery system.

The student body is large, with over 30,000 undergraduates and 8,500 graduate students.  Because of its size, it can support many academic programs so there are over 100 majors across seven schools, including liberal arts, visual and performing arts, engineering, pharmacy, business, nursing, and environmental/biological sciences.  Apparently there are many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research.

The cost of this education for in-state residents is half of what many private institutions charge: last year tuition and board came out to $23,466 for in-state residents.  Even for out-of-state residents and international students, it compares favorably at $35,222.  The Board of Governors just approved a tuition increase of 1.6% for next year and room and board will likely increase 3.3%.  It is still a bargain.

The admissions rate in 2010 for New Brunswick was 59%, making it an easier college to get into.  Lest one thinks that a higher acceptance rate translates into a less than stellar student body, 81% of freshmen at New Brunswick ranked in the top 25% of their graduating class.  This academic profile is similar to some private universities like Northeastern University or American University.

Other than the cost, Rutgers’ size dwarfs that of many private schools and its sheer size can be daunting, unless one is looking for a large school experience.  It has a football team and by all accounts, school spirit is feisty (this is New Jersey after all).  We passed the football stadium and it looks fairly new.  With such a large student body, students will have to take a pro-active approach to their education.  Faculty advisers are assigned to each student to help with academic planning and course and major selection but this is not a place where they will hold your hand through your four years.  But perhaps that more closely reflects real life.

Rutgers is known for its diverse student body, with students coming from all socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities, the vast majority of whom are from New Jersey (92%).  In New Brunswick, whites constitute less than 50% of the student population.  In what must seem like a bitter ironic twist, the university launched Project Civility to promote civil discourse on campus at the same time that the Tyler Clementi tragedy was unfolding last September.  (Tyler Clementi was a young gay freshman who committed suicide after finding out that his roommate had secretly videotaped him having a tryst with another man.  The case is wending its way through the legal system.)

The application process is fairly straightforward.  Students apply online at the Rutgers website (no Common Application) and self report their grades.  There is an essay; the SAT or the ACT score is required.  No teacher recommendations are needed.

For those students who may not qualify for a lot of financial aid, going to Rutgers may make more sense than going to a higher priced, lower tier, private university.  Besides, I like knowing that my tax dollars are being put to good use.

Helicopter Parent

5 Jan

Recently I had occasion to wonder, “Am I turning into a helicopter parent?”  Defined as an overprotective, overbearing parent who “hovers” over her child, taking care of (or control over) her child’s life whether the child wants or needs it, helicopter parents have gotten a bad rap in the press lately and are being blamed for raising a generation of children unprepared for life’s setbacks.

When I first heard this term, I was so aghast at the concept, I vowed never to become one.  But being part of a generation used to scheduling play dates and making sure that our little ones are exposed to every sporting, musical or artistically life-enhancing activity imaginable, I’m figuring out the boundaries when it comes to college admissions.

This issue confronted me when it came to registering for the SAT and ACT tests.  My daughter recently decided that she was going to take the standardized tests in spring.  In the back of my mind, I kept meaning to remind her to register for the tests.  Alas, my addled middle-aged brain kept forgetting.  Finally, when a friend urged me to sign up early to avoid being shut out at the test site, I went online to register without waiting for her.

I thought, I’ll just go into the website, select a test venue and pay for it – it’ll be simple.  Instead, the website took me through a litany of questions about my daughter’s college preferences, the majors she is interested in, her current subjects in high school, her GPA, her extracurricular activities and so on.  Many of the questions I could answer but as I continued clicking through – the questions seemed endless – I grew steadily uneasy.  Hmm, perhaps she should answer these questions?  Judging from the wording, the website evidently assumes that the student is filling out the questionnaire.  But then in a mixed message twist, the website expects payment by credit card; few teens I know own credit cards.

Little did I know that registering for the SAT and ACT would become a metaphor for setting boundaries between parent and child in applying for colleges.  Since we’ve embarked on my daughter’s college search, I have needed to remind myself that she is the one going to college, especially when I’ve spent too many bleary-eyed hours reading college guidebooks or trolling college websites.  I’m not the only neurotic parent.  Kelly Dunham wrote a helpful checklist of do’s and don’ts for parents and students during the application process (New York Times, December 15, 2010).

Much as I’m invested in helping my daughter find the right college and getting in, I don’t want to drive her college search.  So I hesitate, uncertain about what to do next.  The webpage stares back at me, its blinking cursor oblivious to the tug-of-war in my head.  I look for a way to skip ahead and go directly to payment; luckily the website lets me do that.  After successfully registering her, I make a mental note to talk to my daughter about going back and filling out the questionnaire herself.

She’s going to college, not me.

 

Pressure

2 Sep

“Next year there is going to be lots of pressure.”

My daughter sits on my bed as she says this, her long hair damp from the evening shower she just took.  She’s talking about the upcoming academic year.  Her profile is blurry because I don’t have my glasses on.  I put down the book I’m reading – Lit by Mary Karr, an engrossing memoir about overcoming alcoholism and finding God – and squint at her.  I’m too tired to get my glasses on my bedside table so I continue to look at her features made fuzzy by extreme myopia.

There is silence as my mind ineptly casts about what to say.  If this were a sit-com, the mother would say something witty and wise, the daughter would look up and smile, they will both laugh, maybe share a hug, and the camera will fade to a cheery back-to-school commercial.  But here a long silence hangs between us because I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how to handle that kind of pressure.  Things were different in my day.

She’s right about junior year.  From all accounts it’s going to be hard.  AP classes, PSAT testing, SAT I testing, SAT II subject testing, the pressure to bring up or maintain grades, excel in extracurriculars, these components collectively gather force to bear down on any 16-year-old with dreams of attending a competitive college.

Then there is peer pressure.  Because few adolescents know how to handle stress, they salve their own insecurities by gossiping and making derogatory remarks about each other’s academic abilities.  Or they play mental games to puff up their own talents to “psych out” rivals (some are surprisingly sophisticated players at this).  In an ideal world my daughter can ignore all this but even that takes tough mental fortifications.  No one wants to be a target.

Maybe because I am tired and I’m mourning the passage of summer, but wise and comforting words elude me.  I just stare at her as the silence rolls on between us.  It’s not an uncomfortable silence but as a mother, I feel compelled to help her or “fix it” for her.  Tonight I’m all out.

Finally I open my mouth and say lamely, “It’s late.  Maybe you should go to bed.”  She shuffles off to bed and I lean over to turn off the light.  A sneaky suspicion that I’ve bypassed some opportunity sits uneasily with me.

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