The Edge Our college admission blog

Many Good Reasons

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 1, 2015


Today’s post brings us to the topic of Advanced Placement courses.  There are many good reasons why you should consider enrolling in AP courses during your high school years.  Of course, there’s love of learning and personal development – take AP courses because you’re genuinely interested in the material!  The College Board’s AP program offers over 30 different subjects, so there are bound to be some that strike your fancy.  Your humble blogger, years ago, took a handful of APs, and even now I look back on them as among my favorite high school courses.

Furthermore, having a few APs under your belt can really help you in the college admissions process! For example, if I’m considering applying to a number of schools in Massachusetts, but I haven’t taken any APs in high school, my Admitster projections for these schools looks like this:



Now, with all else remaining constant, when I take three AP courses, on which my average score is a 4, my projections improve to:


Finally, when I take 6 AP courses, on which my average score is a 4.5, my projections are:


As you can see, taking more AP courses didn’t affect my chances of admission at my reach (Harvard) and safety (UMass Boston) schools, but it did significantly improve my chances of getting into schools in the middle of my portfolio (Northeastern and Amherst).  As the AP Students website points out, taking AP courses can also:

  • Show prospective colleges and universities that you’re a serious student
  • Allow you to earn college credit
  • Help you to save money on college tuition

Click here for a list of AP courses!  Do you see some that look interesting but aren’t offered at your high school?  Not to worry!  If you’re motivated, you can take AP courses online.  See, for instance, Apex Learning Virtual SchoolThe Virtual High SchoolThe Keystone School, and/or National University Virtual High School.  Some colleges and universities also offer online AP courses.  See, for instance, here and here.

On a related note, did you know that you can take an AP test without actually enrolling in the corresponding AP class?  This isn’t recommended if you know very little about the material, of course, and the point of the class is, after all, to prepare you for the test.  Still, if you’re, for instance, fluent in French, then you can sign up to take the AP French Language and Culture test, and you’ll likely do well.  In terms of preparing, the College Board website is a great resource for information on the tests themselves (in terms of what to expect) and also includes a trove of practice questions.

Finally, if you feel that you just can’t afford to take AP exams (the fee for each test is $91), know that fee reductions and subsidies are available.  Taking AP courses really is a worthwhile use of your time – not only will you learn a great deal, but you’ll also give yourself a great boost in the college admissions process!


Khan’s Partners

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 28, 2015



What do NASA, Dartmouth College, the Aspen Institute, and LeBron James have in common?


They have all partnered with Khan Academy, supplying content for their website!

To refresh your memory, Khan Academy is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”  They are an empowering enterprise, and one that you should be aware of.  If nothing else, Khan Academy will inspire you with slogans like:

Khan Academy

But let that inspiration be only the beginning!  As was highlighted in an earlier blog post, Khan Academy recently formed a partnership with the College Board through which the two provide you, the soon-to-be test taker, with free access to information about the redesigned SAT, full-length practice tests, short quizzes, test-taking tips, video lessons, and personalized recommendations on what to further improve.  As they write on their website, the idea behind the initiative is that you have the resources at your disposal “to take ownership of your learning and your future.”  Cool.

Furthermore, while you’re on the Khan Academy site, take some time to visit LeBron Asks!  You can find answers to some thought-provoking questions there.  I mean, how does shooting a basketball illustrate Newton’s 3rd Law?  Why does sweating cool you down?  And if Earth’s history were a basketball game, when did humans appear?  Likewise, measure the universe with NASA!  Learn more about algorithms with Dartmouth College!  Consider pressing issues with The Aspen Institute!  These may not be specific questions or topics on your upcoming SAT test, but they’re certainly interesting food for thought, and anything that gets the wheels in your head turning, that trip to the gym for your active mind, is good preparation for all that is to come.


89 Years of SAT Testing

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 6, 2015


SAT Test3They say that good luck is the result of hard work and preparation, and while that is certainly true, good luck also depends on the crucial ingredient of luck!  To those of you taking the SAT and SAT Subject Tests today, I wish you, in the words of Borat, great success!  May all your hard work and preparation pay off, and may the element of luck be working in your favor today.

And now for a topic that won’t be tested on today’s SAT exam – history.  Specifically, a brief history of the SAT is the focus of today’s blog post!  While the first standardized college admissions tests were developed in 1901, the first SAT was first administered, and to only a few thousand students, in June of 1926.  This test had evolved from an IQ test given to U.S. Army recruits during World War I, called the Army Alpha, and its momentum grew over the years.  In 1933, the President of Harvard University, James Bryant Conant, started a new scholarship program for gifted applicants, but wanted a way to determine which candidates were indeed intellectually gifted – enter the SAT test, stage right.  In 1938, after considering what had been going on at Harvard over the past half decade, the College Board decided to use the SAT test for all scholarship applicants.  In 1941, the test was normalized (meaning that scores from one version of the test could be compared to scores from a different version) and, by 1942, the SAT became the admissions test for all college applicants.

Some other interesting facts about the SAT:

  • The SAT was originally scored by hand, and it wasn’t until 1939 that the test was scored by a machine.
  • Originally, students were not told what score they received on the test – this was information that only their high schools and prospective colleges were privy to.  In 1958, high schools were permitted to tell students their scores.  Finally, in 1971, students were mailed their test scores.
  • The fee-waiver program, for students from low-income families, began in 1969.
  • 1984 marked the beginning of test-prep as we think of it today, with the College Board first publishing test information and full-length practice tests.
  • In 1994, students were first allowed to use calculators while taking the test.
  • Score choice was only introduced in 2009 – for more information about score choice, click here.

Finally, the test material has undergone many revisions over the years (with the next major overhaul coming your way in March of 2016 – read more about it here).  If you’re curious to see what the first SAT test looked like, back in 1926, check out this cool page from!

Jumping On The Test-Optional Bandwagon

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 4, 2015


Another college has hopped on the Test-Optional Bandwagon – move over WesleyanUnion, and Denison!  Make room Wake ForestBrandeis, and Dickinson!  Allegheny College needs a seat.

What does this all mean?  To be precise, students applying to begin their undergraduate studies at Allegheny College in the fall term of 2016 will no longer be required to submit their standardized test scores during the admissions process.

What’s behind this movement?  One of the driving factors behind the ever-growing number of test-optional schools is that colleges and universities are seeking applications from a wider variety of students, leading to greater diversity in their incoming classes.  Along these lines, consider what Brian Dalton, the Vice President for Enrollment & College Relations at Allegheny College, had to say:

“Research shows that test scores can reflect socioeconomic factors more than actual readiness for college. By giving prospective students the option of submitting test scores, we continue to demonstrate the commitment to educational access and equity that has been a hallmark of Allegheny since our founding 200 years ago.”

In an earlier post, discussing the unlevel playing field in the college admissions game, we saw that test takers from families with higher incomes were more likely to have higher SAT scores, due in-part to the expensive test-prep services that are available to these students.  However, as was stated by Allegheny’s Dean of Admissions, Cornell LeSane, “Mounting evidence indicates that high school performance – as measured by rigor, grades and/or class rank – and less quantifiable factors, such as character, determination and love of learning, are the best indicators of success in post-secondary education.”  Though more difficult to assess than objective test scores, attributes like grit and motivation are also being discussed more as predictors of success during one’s undergraduate years.  The test-optional trend, which gives more weight to high school grades (i.e. performance measured over many years rather than over a four hour testing period) and personal attributes during the admissions process, tells me that more college admissions offices:

  • Are concluding that, at the end of the day, standardized tests best measure how well someone can take a standardized test – and those from more privileged backgrounds often have an unfair advantage in this domain.
  • Believe that receiving only mediocre marks on the SAT/ACT should not discount someone, especially a student with a strong high school record and impressive personal traits, from flourishing during their college years.

I see this trend as a great development in the realm of college admissions and, in this case, very much hope to see more of this:

June 4th

Click here for a list of top-tier schools that are trailblazing their way through the test-optional wilderness!

The Unlevel Playing Field

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 29, 2015


The New York Times recently published an excellent article entitled “You Draw It: How Family Income Affects Children’s College Chances.”  What’s particularly unique about this piece is that it’s interactive – before delving into the meat of the article, there’s a small exercise for the reader to complete, wherein he/she is asked to guess the likelihood of children from families of various income levels attending college.  Once you draw your line on their graph, the rest of the article materializes and the information revealed is quite sobering.  I don’t want to give it all away, but suffice to say that there is definitely a relationship between parental income rank and the likelihood of college enrollment by their children.  Now, this opens the door on a whole slew of issues surrounding not only income inequality and the ever-growing gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States, but also inequality of opportunity and, associated with this, inequality as it relates to social capital*.  Given that many tout education as a crucial component of the cure for these social ailments, and rightfully so, it’s worth noting that the system often functions in such a way that those from wealthier backgrounds have distinct advantages throughout the college admissions process.  For example, from another New York Times article, consider these numbers, comparing the family incomes of SAT test takers with their average scores:

SAT and Income from College Board

While inequality is a complex and multifaceted problem with no one “fix-all” solution, there are attempts being made to make the playing field more level.  For instance, in terms of test prep services, there is an admirable new partnership between the College Board and Khan Academy that “directly addresses one of the greatest inequities around college entrance exams: the culture of high-priced test preparation.”  Admitster also seeks to address inequalities, and we do so by providing a wealth of information alongside powerful college admissions tools that everyone can access, regardless of background or family income.  When you take advantage of the current free registration at Admitster, you gain use of the company’s very-cool Acceptance Predictor and ‘What If?’ Engine, both of which help you to determine your best strategy for getting into the schools of your choice.  Further information on the ‘What If?’ Engine, and how this tool can be of great use to you, is coming to a blog near you (yes, this one) soon!    

* For more information on social capital, see the Harvard University’s Kennedy School Saguaro Seminar website.

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