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..

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 “” 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!