How Many Colleges Should Seniors Apply To?

People tend to like answers with hard-and-fast numbers, but there really isn’t one to answer this application question. To satisfy that craving, though, I’ll say that it’s generally advised that seniors have 5-8 applications to submit to colleges.


Remember that the number of colleges your teen applies to isn’t the important thing – it’s making sure that the colleges are a good fit that really matters, and that the list is very well-balanced overall.

Let’s start there

The College List – Finding the Right Balance

The goal is to be sure that your teen is applying to a mix of colleges across three main categories:

“Safety” schools

These are colleges that your teen will have no problem getting into based on academic standings. Your teen is above average as compared to other students who are admitted. Consider applying to 1-2 safety schools.“Range” schools

These are colleges that are in the same range academically and typically admit students with similar standings. Think of your teen as being average academically as compared to other freshmen at the school. Consider applying to 2-4 range schools.

“Reach” schools

These are colleges that will be more of a challenge to get into with your teen’s qualifications, but they’re not entirely out of reach. Your student’s academic profile is in the bottom 25% of those who are admitted. Consider applying to 1-2 reach schools.

Know Where You Stand

Your teen needs to take a look at their own academic profile, which includes GPA, class rank, and ACT or SAT scores.

Once you have that, head over to a site like College Board’s BigFuture to check out what specific colleges post about what they’re looking for statistics-wise within these markers. This will help determine whether the college is a safety, range or reach school by how they measure up to the average admitted student.Remember that it’s not too late for your teen to upgrade their standings in comparison to others at these colleges! Things like getting tutoring, enrolling in a test prep program, and getting deeper into extracurriculars can help make them more marketable for the schools she’s considering.

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

3 Science-Based Study Tips You’ve Never Heard Of

The funny thing about school is that students are expected to study but, amazingly, there’s no class that actually teaches them how to do it.

Go figure.

Everyone knows the common study habits that have been encouraged over time: highlighting text, summarizing reading passages, reading and re-reading material. It turns out that these routines can be very inefficient, and in some cases counterproductive.

There are scientifically proven ways of retaining information much more effectively. And couldn’t we all use advice like that?

I’m a “tell me why that works” junkie, so I’ve put together some science-based methods proven to help retain information. Finals are coming up, so share this with your high schooler. (And use this for yourself the next time you need to learn something new.)

1. Self-test rather than cram.

Testing yourself on material you need to learn activates entirely different areas of the brain than repetition does – it forces you to retrieve information that’s already stored in there. This helps you retain information for the long term (to access a week or a month later). Cramming by reading the same material over and over is only good for short term retention, according to the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel.

2. Teach, or prepare to teach, what you learn to others.

When students expected that they’d teach information rather than be tested on it, they had a better-organized and more complete recall of a passage they’d read, according to a study published in the journal Memory & Cognition. It’s all about the difference in how the information is organized in the brain – those who expect to teach have to find key points to arrange information into a logical structure, which is different than how students typically organize things when taking tests.

3. Move study areas frequently.

According to a New York Times article that rethinks conventional study habits, studying the same material in a different place every day makes us less likely to forget that information.

The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting.” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.


So I don’t know about you, but these new, more effective ways of learning give me comfort about my decision to get out of the office more often (and about kicking the kids out of the house and trusting that they’re studying well and retaining important info at the coffee shop or on the nearest park bench).

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

What Colleges Actually Mean By “Holistic Review”

Let’s talk about holistic review.

My guess is that you’ve already seen these words on a few college applications or websites. And while you might get the gist of what it means, you’re not alone if you’ve been wondering what “holistic review” is and how it relates to your student.Basically, holistic review is when a school makes a decision about a student based on their application as a whole, rather than solely on their academic background.

While grades and test scores still matter (a lot), the applicant pool is increasingly competitive each year. Because of this competition, it’s no longer enough for colleges to base their admissions process solely on a student’s academic achievements.

Although this might seem overwhelming at first, this is really great news for students! In addition to their grades, students can really focus on highlighting their interests/extracurriculars/volunteer work/jobs/special circumstances/etc and it will all factor into the admissions decision!Translation: You can stand out to admissions offices by telling them what makes you, you!

Sounds way easier than stressing about whether your academic background will be enough to get you through, right?

So what’s considered in this holistic review process? Here’s a general list of things that can be considered, but really just about anything can factor in!

  • Class Rank
  • Academic Background/GPA
  • Test Scores (SAT/ACT)
  • Achievements, Awards, Honors Orgs
  • Special Accomplishments, Work, and Service (Both in and outside of your high school!)
  • Essays (This is where you can REALLY show them your personality. Letting them get to know you and hear your voice in your essays is huge!)
  • Special Circumstances (This is really helpful if you’ve experienced anything that might have affected your academic performance, including socioeconomic status, a single parent home, family responsibilities, overcoming adversity, cultural background, race and ethnicity, language spoken in the your home, health-related issues for you or your family, learning differences, and the list goes on!)
  • Recommendations (These typically aren’t required, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few from your teachers, organization leaders, or other reputable leaders who can vouch for you as a person/student/worker/etc.)
  • Competitiveness of Your Major (Don’t forget to take into account the popularity of your major at each school you’re applying for as this can seriously impact the competition between applicants.)

That’s A LOT of information that goes into an admissions decision.

I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or even discouraged by everything on this list, but it’s important to remember that holistic review can only benefit your student!

The purpose is to cover as much ground as possible within a short application – kind of like a first date.

And, very much like a first date, it’s just as important to relax and be yourself as it is to put your best foot forward.

Let’s continue the discussion! What are your thoughts on holistic review? Please leave a comment below!

What You Need to Know about the FAFSA

I remember being shocked at the price of diapers when my kids were little. But when it came time to figure out college tuition…

Criminy. Kids are crazy-expensive!

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the sticker price on a college education. Federal financial aid is one of the methods we have to help afford the mind-boggling costs we’re up against, and the infamous FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the key to unlocking that.

I’ll explain what the FAFSA is, what it provides and why it’s so important. AND…why you should always, definitely complete and submit the FAFSA form (even if you think you make too much money to qualify).

What is the FAFSA?

The sole purpose of the FAFSA is to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount the government believes your family can chip in for college that year. The EFC qualifies students for federal financial aid, including:

  • grants and scholarships (which you don’t have to pay back)
  • work-study jobs (part time work your teen does, typically on campus)
  • loans (paid back after graduation)

The EFC is also one of the main factors used by colleges to determine how much your family can pay relative to the cost of the school and what that college will contribute to your family’s financial aid package.

In fact, you can figure out a good estimate of what your EFC will be by using one of the many calculators available online. Try out the College Board’s EFC Calculator if you’re curious.

Where can I find it?

Thankfully, the form is online now – I remember the green FAFSA forms I used to have to hunt down from the financial aid office every year back in the day.

Go to to complete the FAFSA. To make things even easier, you’re able to import your tax information directly from the IRS website. Oh, how I love that it’s 2020.

Submit the form. No matter what.

Many families think that their household income is too high, so they won’t qualify for financial aid. Not true. There’s no income cut-off that disqualifies a family from aid, so not completing the form essentially means you’re likely leaving money on the table.

Other factors, such as the number of students in your household who are attending college at the same time, will affect your eligibility for aid. And even if you don’t qualify for federal grants, the unsubsidized Stafford loan and the PLUS loan are available without financial need. You can be rolling in the dough and still qualify for these loans.

Seriously, moms and dads. Complete the form.

Complete the FAFSA early.

For the 2020-21 school year, the FAFSA was released on January 1, 2020, and should be completed asap; the start of the financial aid season is when there’s generally more money available to give away.

The ultimate deadline for submitting the FAFSA for the 2020-2021 award year is June 30, 2021. But I absolutely, 100% recommend you complete that much earlier – many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for their state and college financial aid.

Check out each state’s deadlines and contact each college directly to find out when their deadlines are.

Know how to list colleges on the FAFSA in the right order.

FAFSA results will be forwarded to your state for financial aid consideration. Some states require that your teen list an in-state public college first on the FAFSA’s college list in order to qualify for state financial aid.

Again, repeating for emphasis – make sure that state college is listed first!

Check out the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ State Financial Aid Programs page for more information about what grants and/or scholarships your state offers and how to apply for them.

What happens after it’s submitted?

You’ll receive a link to a document called the Student Aid Report (SAR) via email within 3 to 5 days after submitting it online, which will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The schools that you listed on the FAFSA will have access to this information within one day after it’s processed.

You won’t actually see how much financial aid you’ll receive on the SAR; that information will come from the colleges that you listed on your FAFSA. They’ll calculate your aid and send you an award letter to let you know how much aid you’re eligible to receive from their particular school, as this varies between institutions.

Appeal financial aid packages if necessary.

The FAFSA doesn’t cover every detail about your income and expenses, so make sure you connect with the financial aid office if there are other circumstances to consider. This could include things like a parent losing a job, a divorce or separation, medical expenses or a disabled sibling or parent. Think about hardships that may interfere with how much you can reasonably pay.

Additionally, if other colleges have offered your teen better financial aid packages, you could potentially use that information as leverage to negotiate for higher scholarships or merit aid at another college. Just don’t use the word “negotiate” – it’s distasteful and no one likes a pushy parent. Simply ask if anything else can be done to further compensate based on merit. See the financial aid folks as partners, not adversaries.

Now don’t forget – the FAFSA is only one piece of the financial aid puzzle. Make sure your teen is applying for scholarships, as well. And check out my article on 4 easy ways to find scholarships – they’re out there for everyone!

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

What Is Summer Melt?

It’s summer!!

It’s finally heating up in most places and you might feel like you’re figuratively melting. But did you know that ”summer melt” means something very different for colleges?Each year, colleges require students to submit an enrollment deposit to enroll as freshmen in the fall (usually by May 1, but this year June 1 for some colleges). After that deposit deadline passes, colleges count up the number of deposits they have and decide whether they need more students to fill their freshman class. If so, this may lead them to admit students who are on their waitlist!

Although those newly admitted students probably have already sent deposits to other colleges, they’ll now tell the other colleges that they’re no longer going to attend. Which leaves that college with an empty seat, and so on and so forth. That’s summer melt for colleges – students, who had originally sent their deposit, deciding later to withdraw their enrollment and causing the college to fall short of their freshman class goals.This is especially important to keep in mind right now as the pandemic has created anxiety of all kinds, including for enrollment managers. Predictions of students deferring college enrollment or staying closer to home has admission directors eyeing their waitlists. Counselors are anticipating students may hear from more colleges about waitlists and other offers even late into the summer. 

What does summer melt mean for you?

Well, it means that if you were on the waitlist at a school, you might get admitted. And although unlikely, it’s possible that you could get a revised financial aid package from a school that admitted you.

This may prompt you to rethink your enrollment choice. However, unless it’s an admission offer from your dream college or a truly unbeatable scholarship award, you are probably better off sticking with your original deposit. Remember that you spent a lot of time weighing your options when you made that initial decision.Don’t second guess yourself unless there is a very compelling reason! Stick with what your gut tells you and look forward to freshman year with excitement.

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

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Encouraging Better Grades from Your Teen

So often, teen’s grades start slipping due to procrastination, not handing in homework, not finishing projects on time, poor test scores – you know the drill. It makes for a tough home environment when two incredulous parents are struggling to figure out how to get through to a teen who just doesn’t care what they think, and doesn’t think there’s really a problem in the first place. As much as you try to keep a stress and drama-free home…well, I’m sure you know how grades can really put a damper on that plan.College admissions folks put a lot of emphasis on GPA (grade point average) and on academic rigor (expert-speak for “challenging courses”). In fact, it’s right up there at the top of the list for items they look at first when considering applications. So, it’s natural to feel a little pressure here.

And I’m sure that, after employing an arsenal of tactics to encourage your teen to lift those grades without any success at all (persuasion, reverse psychology, bribes – none of these are recommended), you’re probably ready for some new ideas. Well, that’s where this blog comes in!

A Self-Development Junkie’s Epiphany

If you’re not familiar with Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, you should be. There is so much to learn and take action on within this book. With chapters entitled “Believe in Yourself,” “Unleash the Power of Goal Setting,” and “Success Leaves Clues,” you’ll find successes in your own life with these actionable principles.

The reason I bring up his book is because he also happened to create the same book in a simpler format for teens: The Success Principles for Teens: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. This book will seriously help your teen identify and focus on their goals for the future.

Sunday Afternoon Book Club

Try instituting a Sunday Afternoon Book Club with just you and your high schooler. Make it a goal to read a chapter a week and discuss how you can each use the principles you’ve learned in your own lives. Starting with the first chapter, “Take 100% Responsibility for your Life,” implement new initiatives to hold each other accountable for not blaming others or things outside of yourselves for things that go wrong in life. A friend of mine did this with her daughter and was able to eliminate her perceived lack of time as an excuse to get things done for her business and started getting up earlier in the morning to complete things. Her daughter used it to stop blaming a tough teacher for her low test scores and asked for a tutor to support her in math. They took serious responsibility together right away for everything and found their own solutions – no excuses.

After a few book club meetings, my friend’s daughter was showing significant improvements. Not only in the academic sphere, but she also started setting bigger goals for her future.

With this method, you and your high schooler will have two accountability partners: the book and each other. And, over time, you’ll find that your home life is much less stressful and your teen is doing better academically – both major wins!

Tips for Overcoming the Battle over Grades

  • Provide guidance, not force.  The surest way to get your teen to put up a wall is for you to tell them exactly how things should be done. You’ve probably noticed that power struggles are typically won by your teen in the homework/school arena – it’s one area they’ve got more control over than you do. Take more of a mentoring role here instead of one of authority; I promise it’ll produce better results. You can ask passive questions, like:
    • Are you satisfied with the way things are going?
    • If not, what do you want to do about it? How can you make it better?
    • How can I be helpful to you in this?


  • Model successful behavior. Demonstrate to your teen that you’re developing and working toward goals you’ve set for yourself. Take the available time you have in the car or at dinner to discuss your goals (to run a marathon, complete a project, earn more money at work, start a business). Talk about what’s working for you, where your challenges are, how you plan to overcome them.
  • Hire a tutor. Outsourcing the job of accountability and study support for your teen is one of the best ways I’ve found to ensure there’s less stress at home when it comes to school work. There are great tutoring companies out there, or you can check with your high schooler’s counselor to find out if there are free options for support at the school. Several of my students receive amazing tutoring at home via Skype and a shared whiteboard from people all around the country with PrepNow Tutoring.

A Little Solace: Success in Life Can Happen without Stellar Grades

Knowing that it takes some time for a GPA to increase over time, I did a little of what I call comfort research: It helped me to learn that Steve Jobs and Colin Powell are examples of very successful people who graduated with very low GPAs in high school (2.65 and 2.0, respectively). Maybe that’ll bring you some solace, too.

Heck – Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t even graduate college! Just…maybe don’t lead with that. 😉

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

3 Ways to Help your Teen with College Planning

You’ve spent years volunteering in the classroom, cheering from the sidelines at baseball games, and moving between ballet lessons and doctor visits. So it’s tough to know just how much (or how little) you should be helping your high schooler plan for college. This is the first real adult decision your kid will ever make…and it’s kind of a big deal.

No wonder you’ve got that eye twitch.

There’s an optimal balance for your role in the process. Here’s how you can help support your teen in the most impactful ways possible, without being an overbearing helicopter parent:

  1. Assist with the overall process.

The college admissions process is definitely not intuitive. Your teen doesn’t know what they don’t know, but you can help with the structure needed for effective planning. And you know what? You don’t know what you don’t know, either. Make sure you sign up for my email list and check out the College Planning Timeline checklist for help with that.

  1. Help with calendars and deadline tracking.

Unless your teen is crazy-organized and manages time uncommonly well, it’ll be helpful for you to aid in keeping track of the myriad of dates, schedules and deadlines needed for admissions testing, application submission and all of the little things in between. Here are a few things you should help keep track of:

  • The standardized testing plan (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, AP exams) and any preparation needed
  • Meetings with the guidance counselor
  • Dates for college visits and campus tours
  • College application deadlines

Check out my 4 Tips for Staying Organized with College Planning post for more support with tracking all of this!

  1. Act as a coach, not a player.

While you’re going to be quite involved in this process, remember that you’re not applying to college – your child is. You should offer guidance, direction and encouragement, but you definitely shouldn’t be directly playing the game. This is, ultimately, your teenager’s admissions process and school choice, no matter how much your legacy at UC Davis might appeal to the admissions officers.Remember to listen to your teen. Hear what they want from the college experience and offer support to help them get to those goals. Keep their excitement up for what’s to come.

And most importantly – don’t panic! The college admissions process is a stressful time for your teen and adding more pressure on top of that would be detrimental. Know that, as long as your teen has a well-balanced list of colleges to apply to, they will get into a college that will be a good fit for them.

The real world is filled with deadlines, complicated forms, scary choices. Know where to draw the line with admissions, and let this be your teen’s first big win!

Not so easy balancing this, is it? How are you involved in college planning with your high schooler? Leave a comment below!

4 Easy Ways to Find Scholarships

Scholarships aren’t just for athletes and smarty-pants kids anymore. There are thousands of scholarships out there that you didn’t even know existed.

Honestly, and I’m not making this up:Is your kid tall? Awesome. Hopefully your family lives in Phoenix – that would make your teen eligible for the $250 CATS Tall Club Scholarship.

Knows how to attract water fowl? Sweet. They’re giving out $2,000 in scholarships for the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest.

Ready to take on a hoard of zombies? The Unigo Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship is the one to go for: one successful survivor will get a scholarship worth $2,000.

Ok, so those are some particularly bizarre examples. Let’s figure out which scholarships your high schooler is eligible for – outlandish or otherwise. I promise they’re out there.

Scholarship Search Engines

Have your teen plug in characteristics about themselves into the following search engines, and then you’re cooking with gas. These are my two preferred tools for students to use, because they keep information private and the scholarships are updated regularly:

BigFuture Scholarship Search: The College Board hosts this resource for high school kids – the same folks who create the PSAT and SAT exams. Awesome tool.

Fastweb: This one’s been around since 1995 and has 1.5 million in scholarships worth $3.4 billion available. Definitely a great resource.

College-Specific Scholarships

Your teen should connect with the financial aid offices for prospective colleges – they’ve got the best gauge for funds there. In fact, a friend of mine worked as an aid in her college’s financial aid office back in the day and saw scholarships that no one even applied for. Students who ask directly win those if they’re eligible! And don’t forget to ask the high school guidance counselor.

Community & Employers

An amazing resource for scholarships could be as close as your social circles.If you’re part of a religious community, ask about local, regional or even national scholarships for denominational eligibility. Your very own employers might offer scholarships for children of employees – lots do that. Local Rotary, Elks, Eagles and Lions clubs tend to have scholarships, too. Also, it sounds archaic, but check the local newspaper, too. Ask, ask, ask!

Hot Tip #1: Before you sign up for any of the scholarship search engines, make sure your teen signs up for a separate email address to use solely for college planning purposes. Because, honestly – they’re going to hate the amount of email that’s about to come flooding in.

Hot Tip #2: Never pay for scholarship search services. Don’t trade money for money – it’s likely a scam.

What scholarships are you finding that your teen’s eligible for? Where are you looking? Leave a comment below!

What to Do the Week Before the SAT

We’re in the thick of exam season and juniors everywhere are feeling anxious about taking it. It doesn’t matter how well-prepared students are for the test – there’s no mercy when it comes to feelings of apprehension and cases of the jitters.

If your teen is gearing up to take it, by now they should have at least an idea of what’s on the test and have taken a practice exam or two to become a little more familiar with the format of it.

Knowing how to prepare and and what to expect will help greatly on test day, too. Here are some tips to keep in mind for the upcoming exam:

The Week Before

  • Have your teen take a practice SAT exam early the week prior. You can find 4 official SAT practice exams, along with information about how to prepare and strategize for the test, in the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide. You can also find these practice exams free online via the College Board website.
  • Know where the testing center is and take a practice drive there. Many times it’s not at the high school your teen’s familiar with, and I’ve had more than one mom let me know on Monday that they got lost on the way to the testing facility. That’ll make your kid an anxious wreck for sure, and it could also make them lose their seat! Consider driving with your teen to the facility now to ease any tension they might feel the morning of the test.


The Day Before

  • Let your teen take it easy today by doing something fun and relaxing.


  • It may seem like a good idea to have your kid crack open the book for one more go at studying, but think twice about that! Cramming right before the exam can increase anxiety, and sleep can often be interrupted the night before the test by dreams of filling in bubbles and proctors yelling “time’s up!”

Make sure all of the documents and materials needed are lined up and ready to go for the exam in a backpack. And be sure you’re following the rules here. Exam proctors are ruthless when it comes to not admitting students or confiscating things!

The things to put together include:

Admission Ticket – Your child should log in to their College Board Account to print this out.

Photo ID – There are rules about this. A few of my students have been turned away for not having an appropriate ID.

Calculator – There are also rules about which calculators students can use. Make sure it’s the right kind, or they’ll lose it at the door.

No. 2 Pencils – Have at least two, with erasers.

Watch – Make sure there’s no alarm on it or it’ll be taken. Sometimes students are placed in the room where they can’t see the clock, so this is very important.

Snacks and a Drink – Students can consume these during breaks and they’re important for maintaining energy.

  • An early bedtime is best. A tired exam-taker absolutely won’t perform in peak condition.

Check out the College Board website for a full list of do’s and dont’s for what to bring on test day.

Test Day

  • Eating a healthy breakfast is so important today because your teenager needs to maintain energy throughout this 3 1/2-hour exam. Drinking water (not juice – sugar crash!) for hydration is important.


  • I know a lot of teens like coffee – I do too. And it’s definitely fine to have that. But I also like to offer a warning: it doesn’t help with test performance to be squirming in the seat before the next bathroom break. Just be reasonable with the amount, is all.


The Day After

  • BREEEATHE. It can be an overwhelming experience getting ready for these big tests and trying to keep your teen in a low-stress state leading up to them.
  • Tell your teen to set a reminder on their calendar about score release day. You can check out the College Board’s Score Release Schedule for the exact information on when your teen can expect their scores.
  • Decide whether or not your teen will be taking the SAT exam again. I almost always recommend taking at least two exams. May 8 is the deadline for registering for the last SAT of the school year, held on June 6. The next exam won’t happen again until October.

Wishing your student the best on the test!

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

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, 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.

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