Why Your Teen Should Take The SAT Or ACT More Than Once

Test day. Dreaded by most, but essential for almost all who are college-bound. Taking college entrance exams isn’t really fun for most teens, so my recommendation for students to take the official ACT and/or SAT more than once can seem like some pretty unfair punishment.

There are a few instances in which sitting for the test just once is perfectly fine, and I’ll explain those here, too, but it’s an absolute advantage for most students to take one or both exams at least twice. 

Why Most Teens Should Take The Same Test Twice:

1. Many colleges use superscoring for admissions decisions.

Superscoring is an informal way of saying that admissions offices will take the highest scores from each section across all of the ACT or SAT tests that a student sits for in order to average out to the highest total score possible.

You can easily see that this is a total advantage! Section scores vary on tests almost inevitably for each sitting. For example, students may have an “off” testing day or encounter more difficult reading prompts on some test days. Having more than one test to borrow a section score from takes some of that pressure off.

The Superscore Formula:

  • ACT – Average together the highest scored sections (Math, English, Reading, Science) across all ACT exams taken
  • SAT – Add the highest scored sections (Reading/Writing and Math) across all SAT exams taken

Remember that not all colleges superscore the ACT and SAT exams. To find out for sure if a school superscores for admissions, contact the admissions offices directly. Some consider only the highest total test scores, for example. You can do some initial research with the College Board’s SAT Score-Use Practices by Participating Institution document, too, but best connect with the colleges individually to be sure.While superscoring is a pretty stellar policy for college-bound students, it wasn’t conceived as a benevolent gift to students from schools. Many colleges are actually moving toward the superscoring model because it makes them look good in rankings when they can show students admitted with higher test scores.

Ok. Whatever. We’ll take what we can get.

2. Higher test scores tend to happen the second time around.

Test day jitters are real. In addition to the pressure of doing well on the exam, your teen will be a little apprehensive about not really knowing exactly what to expect. Things like where the building is, what the testing room is like, who the proctor will be, who the other students are, what the test will be like in that structured environment – it all compounds on the anxiety of an already-stressful day.

When teens are able to get that first test under their belts, the second test day just flows easier.

  • They know what to expect
  • Confidence tends to build
  • A little pressure is relieved

And, they have an advantage over the students in that same testing room who haven’t taken the test yet. A beautiful reminder for your teen!

3. Flukes can happen on test day.

Two years ago, 4 of the students I worked with came down with the flu just in time for the May SAT exam. They all took it anyway. And they all bombed it. Luckily they had other opportunities to take the test in June and October that year, and they all increased scores like champs.

Here’s a short list of what can screw teens up:

  • Feeling hungry or tired (Remember to have a good night’s sleep and breakfast, for the love of Pete!)
  • Distractions within the testing room (Some kid popping gum, the proctor typing loudly on a laptop, a weird smell)
  • Distractions outside the testing room (One year there was a construction crew with jackhammers on site. Can you imagine?!)

Whether it’s one of these or another variable, if it can affect a student’s test performance, it probably will. Planning for additional test days is really a no-brainer.

That Being Said…A Disclaimer:

There are a couple of instances in which your teen doesn’t have to, or shouldn’t, take the exam twice. Or, in some cases, not even once.

  1. Some colleges have test-optional admissions policies.

According to FairTest.org, there are over 850 schools in the U.S. that do not require SAT or ACT scores for admissions. Check out the site for an updated test-optional schools list.

If your teen’s list is comprised of all test-optional schools, then taking the test isn’t necessary. If there’s a mix of colleges on the list with different requirements for testing, however, it’s important to have at least one set (preferably at least two sets!) of scores.

  1. Some students are VERY anxious and are easily overwhelmed.

There are some teens who put so much pressure on themselves and get so anxious about exams that they really shouldn’t take more than one.

Anxiety plays such a huge role in how a student performs overall on entrance exams that an extremely nervous teen will sabotage any chance of success and will potentially do more harm than good to his or her own health. And chances are high that a student in that state of mind will not live up to potential on the exam, anyway.

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

SAT or ACT – Which is Best for Your Teen?

I have a confession to make: I’m definitely not a fan of these entrance exams for college admissions.

I know I help prep students to take the ACT and SAT exams, so that might sound strange. I’m happy that I can do my little part in helping kids figure out how to “beat the test,” though – to jump through those hoops so they can get that major stressor over with and move on to other, more important admissions stuff.

Regardless of my feelings about these tests, they’re required to get into college. So let’s be productive about this and discuss how to figure out which test your teen should focus on.

To start out, let’s take a short quiz:

  1. True or False: Most colleges in the U.S. require the SAT for admissions.
  2. True or False: Students in the Northeast should take the SAT, and those in the Midwest should take the ACT.

The answer to both of these questions is…False. But these are the two misconceptions I hear most frequently from parents. They hear it from friends or even their teen’s school, the latter of which I find more than a little alarming. The truth is: both the SAT and ACT are used by every college in the U.S. for admissions, so your teen can take one or both of them.

So, which test is best?

Let’s pretend you’re entering a competition to win $100,000. You have the choice of competing against others to either a) ride a unicycle 100 feet or b) ride a hoverboard 100 feet, but you’ve never done either of these things before. Which one would you choose? You might be pretty uncertain. A good way to go about deciding would be to try each of them, see which one “feels” better or comes easier to you, and then train your butt off on that one thing to win that sweet, sweet cash.

Same goes for the SAT and ACT. Since your teen can “win” at college admissions with either one, it makes sense to try each exam to see which is a more comfortable fit and which he or she performs better with, and then focus on preparing for that specific test. Ok, you’re paying – not winning – the $100,000 with this one, but the prize is admissions. You get the point.

There are a couple of ways to try ’em out.

1. The ACT and the College Board (the folks who create the SAT) each release practice exams for students. Your teen should definitely, definitely download those exams to print out and take. The key here is to make sure the testing area is distraction-free, that the test is taken all in one sitting and that your student accurately times him or herself. Even better, you administer the exam. The closer you can make this to what will be experienced on testing day, the more accurate results your teen will get. The tests are each about 3.5 hours long, so you’ll need a nice chunk of time for this.

2. The ACT and SAT are given multiple times throughout the school year. I recommend to parents that they register their high schooler for an official exam early on for each test (typically in the winter of their junior year). All, or almost all, of the content that is needed for the exams is learned by then, and that first crack at them in the testing center itself is the best “dress rehearsal” ever. Your teen will then have the experience of taking the test in the anxiety-ridden testing environment with an official proctor, knowing he or she will have more opportunities to take the test later on. This gives a particular advantage over other students who are sitting for the exams for the first time in the spring and have more anxiety going into it, not knowing what to expect.

Then, compare scores.

Whichever test your student comes out strongest on in the end is the one I recommend that he or she continues to prep for. That focus will really allow for great gains on a future official test date.

Remember…YOU choose which test scores to send colleges.

Your teen should take the exam more than once for this reason – there’s absolutely no harm in taking an exam, because it won’t automatically reflect on the college application unless you say you want it to. Your teen should definitely have more than one exam score to choose from.

Hot Tip: NEVER enter college names on forms when registering for the SAT and ACT! They’ll ask which colleges you want to send the scores to. Since you don’t know how your kid will do on the test that day, you need to be able to see those scores before deciding which schools to send them to. That’ll come later on when your teen’s applying to specific schools.

Has your student already taken one or both tests? Which one did they prefer? What other common misconceptions have you heard about the tests? Leave a comment below!

3 Ways to Get Attention from the High School Guidance Counselor

If I’ve learned anything in the past from the families I’ve worked with for college planning, it’s that high school guidance counselors are busy. REALLY busy – and it’s no wonder: according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the national ratio of students to school counselors is 470:1.

Say WHAT?!!

Considering they also serve as psychological counselors, administrative support, arrange for student testing, and write hundreds of recommendation letters for students per year (a requirement for admissions to many colleges), it makes sense that students really have to work hard to get actual one-on-one college counseling at many schools.

Guidance counselors can really be a valuable resource for making the right decisions about college. So, how can you be sure your teen gets the help he or she needs?

Be the squeaky wheel.

Most students don’t take the initiative to set up an appointment with their counselor. Your teen should initiate a meeting, and then a follow up meeting, and another follow up meeting, and another – they should continue to pursue the relationship throughout their high school career. So many students fall through the cracks, especially at larger public schools; don’t let that happen! Once your teen shows this initiative, the counselor will take notice and will form a solid relationship from the start.


Arrange for a college counseling meeting EARLY.

Freshman year is not too soon for your teen to set up a meeting with the counselor! Planning for the next four years and getting some perspective on which courses to take, scholarship opportunities, careers and majors to consider, etc. will help your student to get headed in the right direction from day one.

Get involved, Mom – Arrange for yearly meetings with the counselor yourself.

When the counselor knows the parent is involved, it’s serious business! This allows your teen to receive even more advice and support. Go to meetings armed with questions.

Guidance counselors are not the only resource for students, of course. Your teenager should be doing research about colleges, internships, courses, scholarships, etc. on their own as well. College life is coming soon – best to prepare and practice now for the independence that will be there later!

Has your teen met with the guidance counselor at school yet? How has the counselor helped? Leave a comment below!

Don’t Let The Coronavirus Derail Your Teen’s College Dreams

Today our nation is responding to a worldwide heath threat.  Counties and States across our nation have declared a state of emergency as the Coronavirus virus spreads.  There are bans put in place restricting gatherings of 100 or more.  Currently, Concerts, Broadway, Disney and Sporting Events have all been canceled.Additionally, Colleges across our nation have been forced to close their doors and move to online classes.  Our current state brings a vast mix of emotions. There are those who think everyone is over-reacting and there are those who are feeling panic or fear. Regardless, of where you fall on the scale, as a nation and people we are impacted.  In addition to the national health concerns we are seeing a negative financial impact as well.  The reality is that we will come out on the other side.  We may have a few bumps and bruises along the way, but it is how we handle the situation today that will affect our future.  I want to give you a few tips to help your focus on the future and keep your teen on track during this tumultuous time.

At this time a large majority of colleges are closed for outside visit.  Make sure that you check with the college you were planning on visiting before traveling.  President Trump is expected to declare this afternoon (March, 13, 2020) a National Emergency over the Coronavirus. I would venture to say that it would be difficult to find a university who is still holding campus tours or newly admitted student events.  So, what can you do to keep your college admissions process from being derailed. Class of 2020, if you are in the middle of making final decisions and you had scheduled college visits that have been canceled. Don’t panic.  There are a lot of great resources online that allow you to get a great overview of a university.  Many of the colleges you are attending will offer virtual tour options on their website and you can get a lot of your questions answered there as well.  You can also check out You Visit,they offer 600+  virtual college tours.. https://www.youvisit.com/collegesearch/

If you have specific questions about a university you can always send an email to your admissions counselor. Even though many universities may be closed their staff will be available and want to make sure that you are getting your questions answered. Remember they want you to attend their college, so don’t be afraid to reach out.The main thing to remember is that you have a well thought out college list and most likely you will be happy and thrive at the college you choose.  Make sure that you are checking emails as many of the colleges are providing additional resources and updates for newly admitted students.Class of 2021, As school districts are extending spring break our students are in full spring fever mode, so this is the perfect time to get a jump on the college admissions process.  First, if your teen is scheduled to take an upcoming ACT or SAT, they will need to verify that their test date has not been rescheduled.  Regardless of the situation, pulling out those test prep resources and spending time working on them will go a long way to increasing their scores.  Additionally, there are many parts of the college admissions process that they can begin working on now. This would be a good time to work on resumes, building your college list (use the resources listed above and go on a virtual college tour) and searching for scholarships. Your college dreams are still a reality so keep moving forward.In my own practice, I will be meeting with students virtually. This will allow students to stay on track and not miss a beat. I will also be holding free live trainings over the next few weeks to help families put plans in place so that your teen will be set up for success. You will find information about these free trainings on the Education Prep Centers Facebook page as they become available The most important thing during this time is that we come together and support one another.  My goal is to help you to and your teen stay on track during this difficult time.


4 Tips for Staying Organized with College Planning

There’s a ridiculous amount of things to keep track of when you’re planning for college: testing timelines, college application requirements for each school, SAT/ACT registration deadlines, application deadlines, financial aid deadlines… (There are a million deadlines – I could go on for days.)

It’s helpful to have a few tools handy to make this unwieldy process a little more…wieldy. And to save at least a few hairs from turning prematurely gray.

1. Buy a crazy big, dry-erase wall calendar to see the entire year at once.

It’ll take a big space on your wall, but it’s an invaluable tool for getting a good perspective on what’s needed before those applications are submitted to colleges and tracking all of those deadlines. I use the At-A-Glance Wall Calendar in my office.

I add lots of things there, and it’s honestly big enough that your whole family could even use it! Get dry erase markers in multiple colors, and then use one color for different categories or for different members of the family. All of the college stuff on mine’s in black, vacations in green, personal to-dos in blue. You get the gist.

2. Have your teen register for a separate email account.

The floodgates will open with emails as soon as your student registers on the College Board website and takes the PSAT, and when you start signing up at different scholarship sites to learn what your teen’s eligible for. Seriously, folks – even Facebook doesn’t send you this many alerts.The best thing you can do is have your high schooler register for a separate email account to be used solely for the college planning process instead of using a personal email. Gmail is a great option because it’s so easy to create an account. Name it something like “yourkidsname.college@gmail.com.” Just don’t forget about it and be sure to keep an eye on it!

3. Create a College Admissions binder.

Use this as a central place to save and file important bits of information, like the following:

  • Awards and honors received
  • Record of  extracurricular activities
  • Usernames and passwords for college applications
  • Brainstorming sheet for essay topics
  • Documents received directly from colleges your child is considering

4. Download mobile apps to help keep things in one place.

Online tools and apps like Evernote and Trello are helpful for organizing and tracking important college planning information and sharing with your teen. Google Drive is still my favorite, though – probably because I use it all the time and it seems to be a little more universal than the other two.

What organizational tips can you share to make the college planning process a little cleaner? Leave a comment below!

Why the College Essay Can Make or Break Your Teen’s Chances for Admissions

The dreaded college essay. It is one of the top three things (in addition to GPA and SAT/ACT scores) that college admissions officers use to consider for admissions, so it’s vital that your teen gets this right.


Why Is The College Essay So Important?

The goal of the essay is to set your teen apart from other students. When comparing students with similar GPAs and test scores, the essay can be the catalyst that makes or breaks it with admissions officers. Students need to demonstrate why they’re a good fit for the school and how they’ll contribute. They’re selling themselves here in a big way.

Imagine that Jade and Delilah each have similar GPAs, academic rigor and SAT scores. That essay will be the determining factor that sets them apart from each other.

What Should My Teen Write About?

When the Common Application announced the 2019-2020 prompts, they shared that they were actually re-using the 2018-2019’s prompts. And this is not the first time they’ve done this, either. For this reason, I always encourage my juniors to start thinking of topics they’d like to include in their essays right now, even if the questions end up changing slightly before they start their application process.

There are one of two themes your teen should consider including on the college essay – be sure to know what these are before choosing a topic!

When Should It Be Written?

The ideal time to have your teen complete the essay(s) is during the summer before their senior year. Don’t wait! There are too many distractions once school starts again and, with everything else that your kid will need on that application, it’s best to get it done sooner rather than later.

Remember This…

Some colleges require essays in addition to those found on the Common Application and others only require responses to their school’s essay prompts. Be sure to check directly with each college’s website or admissions office to verify what they require. You don’t want to find out that your teen missed an important piece of the application after the fact!

HOT TIP: I know it’s going to be tempting to help your high schooler write their essay. DON’T DO IT! Sure – you can help with brainstorming topics, creating an outline, and proofreading, but don’t write the thing! College admission officers can smell a parent’s involvement from a mile away and it’s a huge detriment to your teen in the long run.

Thoughts about this post? Leave a comment below!

The 2 Best Ways to Make the College Essay Stand Out

College admissions folks are serious about the essays they read on applications. After checking out your teen’s GPA, academic rigor, and SAT/ACT scores, they’ll look at that very important essay to be sure he or she is the right fit for their school.

There are 2 themes that I always recommend a student considers gearing their writing toward, because either one of these will help showcase exactly what officials want to see:

1. How your teen has developed as a leader over time.

Admissions folks want students with a go-get-’em attitude who will be a leader at their school.

My youngest daughter has been passionate about theatre since she could walk. When she was in high school, she was taking voice, dance, and acting lessons, fundraising for the school theatre and choir departments, and costuming, choreographing, and rehearsing for shows both at school and at our community theater. It was pretty clear that she was dedicated and had developed as a leader in this area, which made her really shine on applications.

Your high schooler likely has something he or she’s been involved in for quite some time, either in school or out of it. Think of any volunteer work done over time, passions pursued, activities or sports participated in. Are there themes that can be linked to show growth in that area? How has your student grown in maturity and become a leader?


2. How your teen has overcome adversity.

Successfully getting through tough times almost inevitably builds character and allows a person to develop in maturity. College officials consider students who show this kind of grit in the face of hardship as leaders and doers – and they want them for their schools.I’ve worked with students who’ve overcome a variety of hardships, such as taking care of a terminally ill parent or grandparent, overcoming a learning difference, recovering after a severe injury or illness, taking care of a younger sibling while a single parent worked. Even with these challenges, the students conquered and came out better on the other side in some way.

Regardless of the essay prompt your teen chooses to write about on the application, applying one of these themes to it will ensure they’re looked at seriously by colleges. Talk to your teen about their experiences so far to get their minds churning!

How has your teen developed as a leader or overcome diversity? Share your story in the comments below!

4 Steps to Finding the Right College Fit

In July 2015, the Washington Post noted that there were about 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States.


It’s no wonder, then, that the first question about college that most parents have for me is, “How in the world do we help guide Johnny to know which colleges are right for him?”

It can seem overwhelming, but there is a way to start your son or daughter on the right track.  

Your teen should:

  1. Talk to the high school guidance counselor early on.

Start this as a sophomore or early in the junior year. Students who make these appointments without being beckoned make a good impression. An even better impression is made by students who meet with their counselors regularly and invite their parents along. With hundreds of kids to one counselor in many high schools, the students who make the extra effort get the best support.

  1. Use online tools to find potential college matches.

Check out an online search engine tool such as BigFuture. Your teen can plug in personal preferences and find out which colleges meet his or her personal criteria.

  1. Check out the book Fiske Guide to Colleges.

This one is a favorite of mine for learning about colleges on a more intimate level. It doesn’t have all U.S. schools in there (there are about 300 institutions listed) but it’s got a terrific selection. A couple of great features include the “Overlap” sections for each school which introduces students to colleges that are similar but maybe that they hadn’t heard of yet. It also includes direct comments from students with their impressions of each school.

  1. Talk to friends and family about their alma maters.

Your teen should take advantage of who they know (and who you know) to ask about the colleges that friends and family have graduated from – what they liked, didn’t like, what was memorable. And, most importantly, would their trusted friend recommend it?


Finding colleges that are a good fit is the first step in the planning process. How’s your college search going with your teen? Leave a comment below!


Planning for College: Are You Ready, Mom?

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.  – Mark Twain

You can’t argue that it would at least be easier.

As someone who’s been a counselor, a teacher, and a college planning consultant for several years – I feel like I’ve seen it all. But I’m also a mom to three college graduates, which means I’m able to put myself squarely in my clients’ shoes.

Every year, as I coach kids through the college process and I see how stressful it is for them when they are preparing for the ACT/SAT (holy cow…do I know a lot about that!) I’m reminded of how challenging the whole process is.

I think back to how I felt when I was helping my own kids through it and how I wished I could have taken away the stress.I also know from experience how different the dynamic is when you’re working with your own kids. Emotions like anxiety and doubt start creeping in… Testing timelines, college searches, financial planning, empty nesting (gasp!) – you start to wonder if you’re really equipped for all of this.

It’s okay to feel uncertain. I promise you’re not alone in that feeling.

And that’s why I’ve started this blog.

Enjoy the moments, Dream Big and Embrace the Change

CONGRATULATIONS!!! You are the proud parent of a high school student. You and your child have made it through all the challenges those middle school years bring and your child is finally in the home-stretch of their secondary education. But with this big shift, comes big changes. Namely, the world of college prep.

I know you are thinking, “Wait, it was just yesterday that they were born and I was holding them in my arms, rocking and cuddling them. How has time flown by so quickly?” Now they are in this ever-changing, overwhelming part of their lives where getting into college takes over. Over the next few years, you will see your child transform before your eyes.  High school students are on a journey of their own, they are growing up and finding out more about their dreams and goals for the future. They learn to drive, go on their first date, start and making decisions that will direct their future paths. And with each passing year, they become a little more independent.

This is part of the growing up process. But never fear, just because your kid doesn’t need you to make their sandwiches anymore doesn’t mean you can’t still be a super parent! They are going to need your guidance for one of the biggest decisions of their lives: college.

It is during this wonderful time as a parent that you get to make some of the greatest memories, ones which you and your child will cherish forever.  I know what you are thinking, “How am I supposed to do that? College is around the corner, the admission process is competitive, it’s expensive and I want my child to have the best opportunities possible.  What can I do to help them, make sure they are getting the best advice and guidance possible?”


The biggest thing to remember is that you are the passenger on this journey. I understand how difficult that is for us as parents— after-all we have been in the driver’s seat for years.  Having gone through this process, myself with three different children, I get that. But it’s important to understand that letting them make their own decisions is part of their transition into adulthood. We have to remember that our child will be living, eating, studying and attending events on the campus they attend, not us —that is why it is important that they are in the driver’s seat. We need to give them the freedom to veer off what we perceive as the “charted course” and explore their options.


As you read this, it may be difficult to let go of being the one in control. Just remember, as the passenger you get to be the guide, the one who helps them through traffic jams, reads the directions, navigates the rocky terrain, and the one they turn to when the rubber meets the road.

Create A Digital Portfolio:

Admissions counselors want to see that a student has been pursuing their passions since before applying to college. A great way for your child to showcase their pursuits is with a digital portfolio. Work on creating one together! This is a great opportunity for you to help your students archive all the things they are going to do by taking pictures, videos, saving those awards and special projects that you love some much. Help them compile the info into an attractive package that will catch the admissions counselors eye.  Having all this in one place will save you and your teen from the headache of searching and trying to remember it all when it comes time to apply.  Create a digital portfolio where it is all stored and when they are ready it is at their fingertips and you will enjoy going through the memories together.

Find colleges that are close by and take a campus tour. Or if you are taking a family vacation, throw in a college visit.  If your child loves sports or the arts, attend a college event, so they can get a sense of what the programs will be like. This allows your child to begin thinking about the college experience and determine what qualities they want in a university setting. Try visiting a variety of schools and programs — big and small, public and private, so when the time comes they have a base point to go off of. Just remember, these initial visits do not have to be your child’s dream college. Keep it simple and easy for the two of you to enjoy the experience.

Help Them Find Balance:

Teens today have so much pressure to take every AP or Dual credit class available all while being a leader in 20 different organizations. Oh and did I mention that they might start a non-profit, business, research project or internship while they are at it? All of these things are important and help a student build their college application but it can also cause burn-out if they don’t know how to balance it all. Fortunately for them, YOU are your teens biggest advocate and supporter.  If you see them putting so much pressure on themselves it unhealthy or being stressed out all the time, intervene. It’s ok to give them permission to take a break or not be the best at everything. You can even suggest doing something fun and non-academic related together, as a way to blow off steam.