Veritas Prep Blog » College Admissions GMAT Prep | SAT Prep | Admissions Consulting Mon, 23 Feb 2015 15:21:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is College Really Worth the Investment? Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:55:41 +0000 As you’re starting your college research, you might be experiencing some sticker shock at the price tag on colleges across the nation.  Who has $50,000 to spend on a college education?  Are colleges really worth the financial investment?

According to a Pew Research Center report, college graduates not only earn higher salaries than those without a degree, but also have lower unemployment and poverty rates.  In addition, college graduates tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, carving out their career paths rather than just getting by with jobs.  But that’s still so far into the future.  So which colleges have the potential for a higher return on investment 10 years after graduating?

Business Insider recently published their “50 most underrated colleges in America” list which compares the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the best universities and liberal arts colleges in the nation with PayScale’s 2013-2014 College Salary Report, a report that ranks colleges by graduates’ mid-career salaries.

Let’s take a closer look at the top 5 colleges:

1)      New Jersey Institute of Technology – average $98,000 salary: Located in Newark, New Jersey only 10 minutes from Newark International Airport and just over 30 minutes from New York City, NJIT is a public university with over 7,000 undergraduate students enrolled in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs.  The average SAT composite score is 1347 for Honors College freshmen.  The student body is known for their diversity and NJIT is a NCAA Division I school.  The application deadline is March 1st with a financial aid priority deadline of March 15th.

2)      University of Massachusetts at Lowell – average $95,100 salary: Located about an hour outside of Boston via public transportation, UMass Lowell is one of the five colleges in the University of Massachusetts system, the state’s only public research university system.  UMass Lowell offers over 150 different programs through its six colleges.  This medium-sized university participates in NCAA Division I athletics.  The average SAT score for incoming freshmen is 1150 and the average GPA is 3.43.  You can apply to the college via the UMass Lowell application until June 1st.

3)      Florida Institute of Technology – average $88,200 salary: Located on the eastern coast of Florida about an hour from Orlando and less than an hour away from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida Tech is a college well-suited for students who are interested in the sciences, engineering, aeronautics, business, humanities, psychology and liberal arts.  With a 9:1 faculty to student ratio, incoming freshmen have an average SAT score of 1150 and 92% have a high school GPA of over 3.0.  Florida Tech has numerous research institutes, centers, and major laboratories including the Applied Research Lab, Scott Center for Autism Treatment, Institute of Marine Research, and Institute for Materials Science and Nanotechnology, to name a few.

4)      University of Houston – average $85,200 salary: Located in southeast Houston, this college is great for students looking for a large, public university in an urban setting.  With over 30,000 students enrolled as undergraduates, the student body is one of the most diverse in the nation with a majority of the population being made up of students of color and 13% of students coming from outside Texas.   Students who are interested in business or marketing, energy research, architecture, or hotel and restaurant management might find that University of Houston is a great option for them.  The average SAT score for incoming students is 1143.  Students can apply for admission and priority financial aid via ApplyTexas by April 1st.

5)      Missouri University of Science & Technology – average $96,100 salary: Located about 2 hours southwest of St. Louis, Missouri S&T’s academics focus on engineering, computing, math, and sciences.  Students spend about 16 hours per week in classes or labs and can choose to earn their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees concurrently.  Missouri S&T boasts the largest number of females among U.S. technical schools and students can work on numerous student engineering projects at the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center.  This college has a Nuclear Propulsion Officer Program for nuclear engineering students in conjunction with the U.S. Navy as well as an experimental mine as one of their campus facilities.

Surprising that 3 out of the top 5 colleges are institutes of technology?  It makes sense given that the technology industry is predicted to continue to grow over the next several years and beyond, from the internet to retailers.  Check out the complete list to see all 50 schools!

Having trouble deciding which colleges should be on your college list?  Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation!

Jennifer Sohn Lim is Assistant Director of Admissions at Veritas Prep. Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts at Wellesley College, followed by her Master of Education and Certificate of Advanced Study in Counseling at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.



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I'm a High School Junior: What Should I Do Now for College Admission? Tue, 17 Feb 2015 17:44:03 +0000 As a junior, you’re actually really well positioned to get a leg up on the college admissions process.  You still have some time to complete your testing requirements and you can start to research colleges before the crunch of application season.  Here are some things you can get started on right away:

1)      Study for the SAT or ACT.  This is a great time to start studying for the SAT or ACT.  But which one should you take?  Try out some practice test questions and see which might be a better fit test for you.  The key differences between to two tests are the tone of the questions, the math sections, the number of sections, the writing sections, scoring, and focus on vocabulary words.  This is a great time to figure out which test would be best for you so that you can also determine a plan of action for how to best spend your summer.  If you’re in the U.S., register by February 13th for the March 14th SAT test and March 13th for the April 18th ACT test.  For more information on getting help for these tests, visit our SAT and ACT pages.

2)      Research colleges you are interested in.  Just like in the dating world, it’s really important to make sure that you are a good match for a college and that the college is a good match for you.  This is a great time to discover what things matter to you and which colleges have those things.  For example, would you thrive in classes that have less than 30 students or would you prefer large lectures of 200+ students?  Do you need to be in or very close to a big city or would you prefer a college in the suburbs?  Make a list and take notes on what you like and do not like about the colleges.  This will help you to narrow your list down when it comes time to make your final college application decisions.  In addition, you may want to take advantage of your upcoming spring break or long weekends and fit in some college visits.  You can request guided campuses from a number of colleges; go directly to the college websites and search for “campus tours” for a list of dates and times.  You may even be able to meet with an admissions officer! Visiting the campus is a great way to get a feel for the student body and the school’s culture.

3)      Analyze your extracurricular activities.  What do your activities say about you?  Are you pursuing extracurricular activities that demonstrate your passions and interests?  If yes, great!  How can you deepen your commitment to these organizations or roles?  If not, let’s find activities that you can get excited about.  Remember, colleges are looking for depth over breadth so don’t wait until the last minute to suddenly add more extracurricular activities. Find something that really interests you and dig in!

Need more guidance in planning for college? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation

Jennifer Sohn Lim is Assistant Director of Admissions at Veritas Prep. Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts at Wellesley College, followed by her Master of Education and Certificate of Advanced Study in Counseling at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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I'm A Senior: Is It Too Late to Apply To Colleges? Fri, 13 Feb 2015 17:33:03 +0000 The rush of college admissions has started to wane and your peers may be awaiting their admissions decisions.  In the Fall, you had decided not to apply to a college, but now you’re having second thoughts.  Is it too late to apply?

You may be in luck because there are colleges that 1) have late application deadlines and 2) have rolling admissions.  Rolling admissions means that the colleges don’t have set application deadlines, but rather have an extended period of time when they accept applications and will make decisions accordingly.  Check out this article – “Best Colleges You can Still Apply to for Fall 2015” by Jackie Zimmerman to see which schools you can still apply to

Some highlights:

  • If you’re looking for a small college where 88% of students are successfully retained from freshman to sophomore year, Manhattan College might be a great option for you.  This NCAA Division I school offers guaranteed housing for all four years and 94% of students receive financial aid.  Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City is an alumnus of the college.  Apply by March 1st via the Common Application for best consideration.  Make sure to also submit your FAFSA by March 15th.
  • LaSalle University in Philadelphia, PA awards 97% of students financial aid with a whopping $18 million awarded in grants and scholarships.  The FAFSA priority deadline is February 15th.  You can apply via the Common Application, but take note that you’ll need 2 letters of recommendation, SAT or ACT scores, and a personal statement.  This college focuses on building relationships across the campus, also reflected in their special core program.  If you’re looking for a college with a great sense of community and would like to get to know Philadelphia, LaSalle might be a good fit for you.
  • For a student who might be interested in a larger state university with an option for a smaller liberal arts college feel, the University of Arizona might be a great fit.  The Honors College provides a smaller community within the larger, research institution.  Applications are due by May 1st and admissions decisions take 2-4 weeks from when they receive your complete application.  You can access their online application with the college’s website.

If you’re not interested in any of the colleges in the article, you might want to consider a gap year option.  Read this blog post to see if a gap year might be what you’re looking for: Mind the Gap Year – 6 Considerations for a High School Senior.

Need more guidance in planning for college? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation

Jennifer Sohn Lim is Assistant Director of Admissions at Veritas Prep. Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts at Wellesley College, followed by her Master of Education and Certificate of Advanced Study in Counseling at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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How Do You Choose the Right University? Tue, 10 Feb 2015 19:39:31 +0000 As you are sitting and surfing through the seemingly infinite educational institutions to which you could send the credentials? It is easy to descend into a full-fledged panic attack. After all it’s only the ONE decision that will determine EVERY PROCEEDING MOMENT OF your LIFE.  Take a breath, friend! This decision, like many others that determine your surroundings for a period of time, is important. But before you get so stressed you decide to ditch the whole process and start a new life for yourself in Malaysia (a tempting place to start a new life, take my word for it), ask yourself these questions and know that any experience is very much what you make of it.

1. What do you love? Study what you could imagine focusing on for four years (and then however many after).

By answering just this question you can narrow down your choices significantly.  The college rating system is useful for general rankings of schools, but many schools that have extremely impressive pedigrees may not have exactly what you are looking for.  When I was touring a top ranked Ivy league school as a prospective student, I was wowed by many aspects of the institution, but it didn’t have as strong a music criticism department as other schools I examined. I knew that I wanted music to be a part of my collegiate experience.  This was a fantastic school, but didn’t fit my needs.  Make sure that the school you choose fits YOU. It is worth noting that those who go to Ivy league schools do have a higher chance of securing high paying jobs after school, but other than that, there isn’t a huge difference between the success of college graduates from non-ivy league universities.  This is not to say all universities are created equal, it is really to say that people can make their experience work for them especially if there are faculty members within a field that they can work with on a one on one basis. The job world is very much about relationships. Having someone to give you work experience in college and who can recommend you for a job later is of the utmost importance.

2. What are my long term financial considerations? Understanding the burden of debt can be difficult.

The average cost of a public four year college is around $88,000 whereas the cost of a private college is somewhere the neighborhood of $160,000 with the most expensive schools being around $250,000.  That is a lot of candy corn, but it has also been calculated that the earning potential for a college degree, as compared to a high school diploma, can be in the millions (sometimes, maybe). The problem with all these numbers is they are too vague and their scope is too broad.  Will a person studying philosophy at Princeton who becomes an adjunct professor after 14 years of school earn more in a lifetime than a person who goes to a state school and studies internet security? Who gets a better return on their educational investment?  Do both of these people have happy lives? Will they find true love? There is short answer to all of these: We don’t know (for those last two I REALLY don’t know).  So does this mean only apply to cheap schools? Or don’t go to college?!?! Not at all! What it means, is that you and your family need to take a look at what you are hoping to pursue and make the right choices FOR YOU!  If you are considering business or law school and Harvard is within your reach, the money you spend there will likely be a great investment in your future, but if you are considering being a writer, maybe consider something that is more affordable (the average writer makes about $55,000 a year which means $200,000 is four full year’s salaries). This is not advising you to stop dreaming and never achieve at the heights you believe are possible. To the contrary, if you know you are supposed to go to Yale then get there! But before you do, make yourself such a competitive applicant that you will be able to get grants, scholarships, and financial aid to avoid allowing that dream to crush you with the reality of an untenable debt load.

3. What else are you looking for in the next four years of your life?

The final thing to consider is what else you are looking for in college.  A college is an ecosystem that is full of student organization and pursuits outside of academics.  Many student’s engagement with school sports, humanitarian clubs, or performance based groups ends up being one of the most enriching parts of their experience.  If you love performance, find a place that will let you participate in that along with your academics.  College is not just about studying within your major, it is an introduction to being a citizen and an adult.  Find the place that will give you the tools to thrive.

The good news in all of this is that there are likely a number of places that will fulfill all of your needs, so trust your instincts and go with the place that feels right for YOU.  College, like everything else that is worth doing, gives back what you put into it.  The best way to make your college experience worthwhile is to develop a love of knowledge and pursue the things you are passionate about with gusto.  College demands will prepare you for the exigency in the pursuit of higher degrees, careers, and engaging with the fascinating world we live in.  So find the place that works for you, and work for it!  Good luck friends!

Need more guidance in planning for college? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation!

David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.


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Low GPA? This Is How You Can Still Get into that Affordable College Fri, 06 Feb 2015 17:32:25 +0000 Report CaedAccording to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2001-2002 and 2011-2012, the cost of an undergraduate education at a public institution has risen 40% and 28% at a private institution.  It’s no secret that the cost of higher education is going up and students and parents may be looking for colleges where you can get the most bang for your buck.  Money magazine recently posted their annual rankings for the best colleges for your money.  The top 10 colleges on the list are:


Rank College Location Average H.S. GPA
1 Babson College West of Boston, MA 3.6
2 Webb Institute 1.5 hours from New York City 4.0
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Cambridge, MA 4.5
4 Princeton University Princeton, NJ 3.87
5 Stanford University Stanford, CA 4.5
6 Harvard University Cambridge, MA 4.0
7 Harvey Mudd College Claremont, CA 4.5
8 Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art New York, NY 3.6
9 Brigham Young University South of Salt Lake City, UT 3.79
10 California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA 4.5


And the list goes on.  You may notice a common theme in many of the schools identified above and on the extended list: in exchange for great financial value and solid academic programs, these colleges require pretty stellar high school grade point averages (GPA).

But what if you didn’t do that well your first couple of years in high school and your GPA isn’t as high as it needs to be for admission into these colleges?  Do you even have a chance at getting into one of these schools?  What can you do to be a competitive candidate at one of these schools?

You’re right that it may be a bit too late to make a significant increase in that GPA, given that you only have a year or two of classes to add to the mix.  However, that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.  You will absolutely have to work hard to make sure that the other parts of your application are as strong as possible.

One area where you can start to close the gap is your standardized test scores.  Colleges are looking for well-rounded candidates so doing well on the SAT or ACT may be your chance to catch up and mitigate the effects of your early grades.  While standardized tests don’t tell a complete story on their own, they serve as a way to compare one student to another on one common scale.  Because of this, your GPA and standardized test scores will be among the first statistics admissions officers will see in your file.

Other areas where you may be able to strengthen your candidacy are your commitment to extracurricular activities, your leadership experiences, and your personal statement.   Again, colleges want to see what you’re passionate about and if you would be a good fit for the college culture so focus more on doing things that you love rather than things that you think the college will love.

Interested in exploring your options to maximize your potential?  Check out Veritas Prep’s free SAT and ACT resources or call us to learn more about achieving your target SAT score! We run free online SAT prep seminars every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Jennifer Sohn Lim is Assistant Director of Admissions at Veritas Prep. Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts at Wellesley College, followed by her Master of Education and Certificate of Advanced Study in Counseling at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Need more guidance in planning for college? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation!


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9 Reasons Why You Should Study Abroad Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:28:09 +0000 Most universities offer the opportunity to explore other countries. You may be hesitant to do so, but here are 9 reasons why you should take advantage of your college’s international student programs:

1. Experience new surroundings. If you’re like the great majority of undergraduates (or incoming undergraduates), you haven’t traveled much before, much less on your own. Far too many students never study abroad simply out of a fear of, or distaste for, intense unfamiliarity. Don’t be scared of the fact that you may not have done anything like this before; the study abroad program will help you adjust to your new surroundings, you can work with the students you travel with to learn new things together, and friends and family back home are just a phone call away. If you’re anything like the overwhelming majority of study abroad students I know, once you actually arrive, you’ll find it a lot more fun than daunting.

2. Study abroad teaches self-confidence and independence. There’s something about surviving for months in a completely foreign place that makes the whole world, including your own country, considerably less intimidating.

3. Routines can get monotonous. Keep yourself engaged with the learning process and avoid burning out by spending a semester doing something completely new and different.

4. It may never again be this easy to travel. The future you could have a family, a demanding job, pets, and other responsibilities that (while wonderful) can serve as serious obstacles to travel. As an undergraduate, you have the time and the freedom to see the world. Make the most of it while you can.

5. Financial aid … Abroad! If you qualify for financial aid, you may receive financial support to study abroad. Even if you don’t, it may still be cheaper to travel now than to travel later in your life. You only need to worry about sorting out accommodation, transportation, and other logistics for one person, and your student status makes you eligible for plenty of deals, scholarships, and discounts that can ease the strain on your wallet.

6. Study abroad helps you get to know your classmates better. Being thrown into a new environment with others just as excited, confused, and nervous as you are creates plenty of opportunities for teamwork, socializing, and new friendships.

7. Study abroad exposes you to new types of people. Reading about a culture will never compare to immersing yourself in it. They say that travel and tolerance go hand in hand because travel, by exposing you to different types of people, helps you to better understand the common thread of humanity we all share.

8. You’ll learn to better appreciate and contextualize the place you come from. It’s difficult to understand the uniqueness of your home community until you’ve had to personally face the fact that only your tiny corner of the world lives and thinks the way you do.

9. Today’s rapidly globalized world increases the value of international experience. It is becoming increasingly necessary for all of us to regularly deal with people, institutions, and ideas from other parts of the world. As a result, the ability to do so is increasingly valuable.

You’ll have a great story to tell–not just to friends and family, but also to future employers, supervisors, and professors. Study abroad helps to differentiate you from others in your classes and applicant pools, and serves as a strong resume booster. Safe travels!

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

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Paying for College: Beyond the Numbers Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:08:22 +0000 It’s no news that college is expensive. College finance considerations, however, go far beyond the simple price on a college’s website. Everyone’s financial situation is different, but every prospective freshman should know that in every case – advance planning is key. Here are some guidelines to consider before taking the plunge into your first year.

Talk to a counselor. If you anticipate needing financial aid or scholarships, talk to a counselor, preferably at the university you plan to attend (or the one you hope to be admitted to). Learn about the school’s financial aid and scholarship policies. Does the school itself offer scholarships? If you receive an outside scholarship, will it reduce your financial aid award by an equivalent amount (meaning that you see no difference in your fees)? If the latter is true, for instance, a student receiving a lot of financial aid might not want to spend time applying to small scholarships. Scholarship applications can take a lot of time and effort; the last thing you want to do is invest heavily in a scholarship application, only to find that you can’t actually benefit from the scholarship.

Know the deadlines. If your school of interest offers scholarships, peruse the school website to find out if those scholarships have special deadlines. For example, USC’s Trustee scholarship requires students to submit their admission applications earlier than the normal admission application deadline. Mark any special deadlines on your calendar to be sure you don’t miss them; school scholarships are more than worth the extra work.

Have a work-study plan. Think long and hard about how much you’re willing to work during your undergraduate career. Too many students send their SIR’s (statements of intent to register) to expensive schools they can’t quite afford, assuming that they’ll simply get a job once there in order to offset the costs, and end up with heavy student loans. Getting, keeping, and regularly working a job is a lot harder than it sounds, especially for students with little to no prior work experience. Working long hours can exhaust you, or can detract from your social, academic, or extracurricular undergraduate experiences. Before planning to get a job while at school, put together a balance sheet to see how many hours you’d need to work to make up the difference—and decide whether you can actually commit to those hours.

Foresee your expenses. Come up with a four-year financial plan, and note any potential changes to your financial changes or aid package. Are you guaranteed a four-year scholarship, or are you relying on aid which will change depending on your school’s finances and your parents’ income level? If your financial aid offer decreases, are you willing to take on loans; and if not, do you have other options to afford tuition? Are you willing to graduate early by a semester or two in order to save the tuition money? If so, are there community college classes in the area that can help you finish your major and graduation requirements more quickly? Plan ahead to avoid a budget crises down the line.

Remember that advanced planning can set you up for financial success in college. Best of luck to you in your application process!

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

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College Life: Getting Involved in Extracurriculars On Campus Thu, 15 Jan 2015 16:36:32 +0000 I came into college with no idea how to find or get involved in extracurriculars, nor did I have any mentors to help me through the process. This (and a general lack of preparedness for the less academic aspects of college life) meant that I didn’t become active in clubs and groups until my second semester of freshman year. While I’m very happy with the groups I’ve come to know and love–I spent two semesters in a hip-hop dance group, I am currently the president of a law club, and have edited for an undergraduate journal–I know I missed out on a lot of opportunities just because I didn’t have much time to explore college before my academic and career planning workload really kicked into high gear. Here are a few tips I wish I had known earlier in my college career.

  • Pay attention to deadlines. Many groups, clubs, and student-run classes have signup deadlines, after which they won’t take new participants. Many of those deadlines pass within the first few weeks of school (the really strict ones might even close within the first week). Keep an eye out for club directories, fairs, and advertisements, and be sure to look for a signup deadline on every one that you’re interested in. Mark down deadlines on your planner so you don’t forget them.
  • If you don’t have a calendar or planner, get one immediately. If you thought high school schedules get chaotic, college schedules might be a bit of a shock, especially in the first month or so of each semester. This does, of course, vary by school and university, but at least in my freshman year experience at UC Berkeley I collected so many flyers that I’m sure I lost at least ten before taking note of their contact and deadline information. I also remember regularly having to choose between different orientations, socials, and events I was interested in. Advance planning is key.
  • There are many opportunities out there, but they don’t necessarily advertise themselves. Some of my favorite programs and clubs have been very small ones without much of an advertising budget. I usually found these through recommendations by friends, professors, and advisors. If you aren’t sure what you’d like to get involved in, classmates and teachers are usually happy to suggest their favorites. Look for people who share your interests, and ask them about the clubs and groups they enjoy working with.
  • Act early. Orientations usually begin within the first week or two of school. It’s tempting to put off extracurricular signups until after you feel settled in to college, but at most universities the orientation schedule won’t wait for you to get comfortable. You don’t want to find out a month later that you’ve missed the signup deadline for a program you really wanted to be part of. As soon as you can, look for a list or directory of clubs and events, and mark down their deadlines and orientation times; it doesn’t take long, and can save you a good deal of headache later.
  • I never recommend overfilling a schedule, but this is the exception. Orientations tend to be short (30 – 120 minutes, usually closer to 30) and are efficient ways to learn about new opportunities, but they only take place at the beginning of the semester. Take solace in the knowledge that you’ll have more free time after club signup season ends, and make the most of the time you have before deadlines close.
  • Try new things. College is place for personal exploration and growth. Explore new fields, sports, arts, and social groups that you’ve never been exposed to; people discover new passions all the time. If you end up backing out, at worst, you’ve lost a bit of your time going to an orientation (and you probably got free pizza there anyway). I thought I wanted to go to law school, but my law club helped me realize that my skills and interests are far more oriented towards a master’s degree in policy or international relations. Learning what you aren’t interested in is very nearly as valuable as learning what you are interested in. I never thought of myself as a dancer, but I made a lot of close friends in my dance group and pushed my social, musical, and physical limits.

Be adventurous in college. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.



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Mind The Gap Year: 6 Considerations for a High School Senior Fri, 19 Dec 2014 16:10:17 +0000 I have quite a number of friends who participated in The Gap Year, taking a break between high school and college. The results were mixed. As a graduating high school senior, I thought the idea of a gap year was ridiculous (why put off something I had been planning on doing since elementary school?) but now that I’m nearing graduation I see its value a lot more clearly. Here are a few things I wish I had considered three years ago.

1. Burnout is real. Throughout high school and my first two years of college, I filled my schedule with extracurriculars, classes, and travel, reasoning that I’d only have one high school and one undergraduate experience, and that I should try to get as much out of both as I could. However, at the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my work. My grades, my health, and my mood took a few heavy hits before I realized that the problem wasn’t that my major and my work didn’t fit my interests; I was just completely exhausted, mentally and physically, and the only possible solution was rest. Burnout isn’t a sign of laziness or weakness, but an occasionally unavoidable symptom of overwork. Unfortunately, if not dealt with in a healthy way, burnout can sap energy and waste time, and at worst can interrupt academic ambitions or make retention and learning impossible. I know plenty of people who became burned out earlier or later than I did in their academic careers, and productively used time off—often in the form of a gap year—to refresh themselves and to rekindle their passion for their work.

2. Once you start school, it’s hard to stop. A summer abroad in England and a light course load in my fall semester helped me recover from my burnout, but the process was slow and frustrating because I never found time to completely relax. My heavy reliance on financial aid and scholarships, the yearlong lease on my apartment, and my desire to graduate at the same time as my peers made the prospect of taking a semester off seem impossible, and my four-year class plan couldn’t easily be reorganized since the classes I needed to graduate were only offered in particular semesters. I chose to lighten rather than to pause my work, but academic and financial limits prevented me from lightening it as much as I would have liked to. By starting college, I had laid a fairly inflexible groundwork for the next four years, and two years later I had little choice but to stick to it, regardless of the fact that a break would probably have been extremely healthy at the time for me, both academically and personally.

3. Once you stop school, it’s hard to start again. Many students who take a gap year never return to their studies. College is demanding, expensive, and very tempting to postpone indefinitely once you’ve shifted away from the “school mode” mindset. Consider how committed you are to getting a college degree before deciding to take time off.

4. If you’re going to take a gap year, do something meaningful with it. Many students take a year to travel to incredible places or to gain valuable work experience, and return to school with amazing stories to tell and a unique perspective that ends up enriching their education. The ones I know recount these experiences as easily the most valuable part of their gap year.  Others take a much-needed break, or save up money in order to be able to spend more time studying and less time working once they do enter college. College is fantastic, but so is the rest of the world, and both places have a lot to offer. The last thing you want to do is feel like you’ve done nothing but waste time while others around you have grown and learned.

6. Admissions offices don’t discriminate one way or the other. Again, the key is not where you spent your time but how you’ve used it. The things that appear on your resume and in your essays represent your interests and your character, whether they took place in a classroom or on a mission trip to Ecuador. A good friend of mine, who sat on an admissions committee for many years, once told me that some of the most interesting candidates he ever interviewed made themselves stand out by using a gap year to acquire unique experience.

There is no one perfect path. Just as everyone’s college experience is unique, every gap year is unique as well. If you’re really not sure, check with your university of interest to see what their policies are about taking time off. Three short years after starting college, I’ve already had to begin considering whether I’ll take time off before graduate school. Twelve months isn’t very long, just like four years (shockingly) isn’t very long; and ultimately, whether or not you take a gap year after high school won’t determine whether or not you succeed in life, whether you’ll be happy, or even whether you finish your education.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

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Making the Best of Application Season: A Guide for High School Juniors Tue, 09 Dec 2014 22:05:09 +0000 Though my junior year was the most academically challenging of my high school experience, my senior year was easily the most stressful. Even though I only took three serious academic courses, none of which were particularly difficult, I found myself consistently swamped with work, short on sleep, and starved of social interaction. Between August and December, I applied to seventeen universities and twelve scholarships, wrote fifteen unique essays, took two SAT’s and three SAT II’s, spent hours with college counselors exploring financial aid options, and maintained straight A’s and a part-time job. The work was certainly worth it—I got more than 90% of my application fees waived, was accepted or waitlisted at 14 of the 17 colleges, and am now a UC Berkeley student studying on a full scholarship—but there are countless ways I could have spared myself unnecessary stress (and gotten a lot more sleep.) Here are a few of the things I’m glad I did (and a few I wish I had done) four years ago to prepare for application season.

  • Take standardized tests early. I waited until the fall of my senior year to take most of my tests, and had to worry about applications and tests at the same time. I know plenty of people who were dissatisfied with their September/October scores and chose to retake their tests; though most of them eventually achieved their target scores, they had to study through November and December, which is for many students the busiest time of application season. Those of my friends who made sure to have their tests done and ready to send before senior year had a far easier time than the rest of us did.
  • Start your personal statement early. CommonApp releases its essay prompts a while before the application actually opens, so you can start writing months before you begin the application itself. Sign up for email notifications and/or regularly check the CommonApp website to stay on top of release dates.
  • Build relationships with your teachers. Good relationships with teachers take time to develop, and there’s a big difference between a quick letter of recommendation and a strong, personalized, well-written one. Teachers can also be excellent mentors through the application process; one of mine proofread my essays, suggested colleges that she thought would be a good fit for me, and counseled me through stress.
  • Research schools during your junior year. Research before application season. I applied to seventeen schools, all of which were very different from each other, because I had no idea what I wanted out of a university. It took me months to realize that I wouldn’t have been happy at many of the places I sent applications to, and it was extraordinarily disappointing to realize that I had written three essays and a personal statement to Stanford for no reason.
  • Visit the universities you’re applying to. Since there’s no guarantee that you’ll have the time to do so during senior year, it is best to start visiting while you’re a junior. After a mere two hours on USC’s campus, I was sure I didn’t want to accept their admissions offer; I didn’t like the weather, the social scene, the lack of public transportation, the surrounding area, or the teaching styles of two professors with whom I would have needed to take classes in my freshman year. I learned more about USC in those two hours than I had during hours of perusing the school’s website, emailing alumni, and speaking to my college counselor. The same happened at UCLA, UCSD, and Vanderbilt. I could have saved myself four applications (and their fees.)

Plan on taking the SAT soon? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

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