The Edge Our college admission blog

Turning The Tide

by Katie Z, Ph.D January 24, 2016


In the world of college admissions, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the importance of such attributes as grit, perseverance, resiliency, and tenacity. Students who exhibit these personal traits are more likely to successfully complete their undergraduate studies (and remember, graduating is key!) and to do well in post-college life, and are therefore very appealing candidates to college admissions officers. Last week, however, a new layer was added to the admissions onion. Specifically, the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Making Caring Common project released a new report entitled, Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College AdmissionsThe report includes “concrete recommendations to reshape the college admissions process and promote greater ethical engagement among aspiring students, reduce excessive achievement pressure, and level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students.” The specific goals of the initiative, as stated in the press release, are:

  • “To harness the collective influence of college admissions to send a unified message that both ethical engagement and intellectual engagement are highly important”, and
  • “To more fairly capture the strengths of students across race, class, and culture.”

This all sounds highly commendable, of course, but will it really help to turn the tide in college admissions? What does it mean in practice?


Well, over the course of the next two years, it is expected that those colleges involved in the effort will revamp their admissions policies – and if you think you’ve heard talk of revamping admissions before, you’re right. The new report, however, states that, in the admissions process, there should be a greater emphasis placed on community engagement and, from students’ applications, admissions officers should work to determine who is genuinely kind and compassionate. If this all plays out as planned, you can expect that there will be more weight granted to a student’s personal statement and supplemental essays, along with their letters of recommendation. You shouldn’t be surprised to see a further de-emphasis on standardized test scores. Colleges will also do more to take into consideration part-time work and family obligations, giving greater weight to a student’s personal circumstances.

Of further note is that the report stipulates that “admissions officers and guidance counselors should challenge the misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges and that only a handful of colleges create networks that are vital to job success.” Team Admitster couldn’t agree more! The process should not be about finding the most-highly-ranked college that you can get into, but rather about finding the “best-fit” college for you, personally. There are so many wonderful colleges and universities out there, many of which you’ve likely never heard of before – take the time to explore, and definitely plan to look far beyond brand name. Great starting points are Admitster’s 2968 Series, designed to introduce you to a myriad of schools around the country, and our College List Builder tool!

Currently, as Mandee Heller Adler, the CEO of International College Counselors, points out, “Colleges take pride in the diversity of their students, yet the focus of the admissions process is almost entirely on achievement-oriented goals.” If colleges truly manage to revamp their admissions processes to place a greater value on those students who are compassionate and caring, and if college applications can really better reflect a student’s authentic concern for others and the common good, then we should hopefully see far fewer instances of application “window dressing” – i.e. high school students taking on more extracurricular activities, volunteering opportunities, and extra work and advanced courses not because they care about these things but for the sole purpose of making their college applications shine. We can also hope that a less stressful process and a more holistic approach to college admissions will materialize. After all, students working on the quality of the merits on their college applications, rather than on a quantity of shallow accomplishments, would surely enjoy their high school years more, following their passions rather than worrying only about impressing admissions officers during their senior year.

It must be acknowledged, however, that some are skeptical of the report. For instance, Joseph Reisert, an Associate Professor of American Constitutional Law at Colby College, wrote:

“The changes will make the admissions process much more stressful for applicants, not less so. Students are being told they have to do more, or at any rate something that is more difficult and as time-consuming as what they are doing now: to serve others in a sustained and meaningful way. More work means more stress…and the process will become still more subjective and unpredictable: who knows whether the reader of your applicant will believe your commitment to service is phony or sincere? More uncertainty also means more stress.”

Still, I remain optimistic about what the report is proposing and, if nothing else, believe that it’s good to keep this conversation going. A turning tide in a process that is currently stressful, time-consuming, and complex, and one that grants greater access and opportunity to a greater number of people, is a development that I truly hope will successfully unfold in the coming years.

Morehouse College

by Katie Z, Ph.D January 18, 2016


In honor of the great Martin Luther King Jr., today’s blog post brings us back to the 3026 Series and puts into the spotlight Dr. King’s undergraduate alma mater, Georgia’s Morehouse College. During his high school years, World War II was raging on in Europe and, as a policy to help recruit new students at a time when many were putting their studies aside, Morehouse College put into place an initiative through which all high school juniors who passed its entrance exam could begin their studies at the college. MLK, who had already skipped the 9th grade, took and passed the entrance exam, which earned the 15 year old entrance to Morehouse College in 1944. MLKjrMartin Luther King Jr. was not the first in his family to attend the college, as his grandfather and father had also attended Morehouse, graduating in the Classes of 1898 and 1930, respectively. While at the college, MLK studied sociology and also came into contact with many individuals who would help to shape the man that he would become, including the college’s then-President, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, and his favorite teacher, Dr. George Kelsey, who “set an example of what an ideal minister could be, someone who could combine the tradition of religion with the issues faced in the modern world.” Today, Morehouse College is home to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, which includes “drafts of the I Have a Dream speech, King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and sermons from his ministry and personal notes.” Wow!

Morehouse College is a liberal arts, all-male, historically black college, located in Atlanta. Established in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War, the school was originally called the Augusta Institute. Throughout the college’s rich history, its mission has remained the same: “To produce academically superior, morally conscious leaders for the conditions and issues of today…Morehouse is poised to become the epicenter of ethical leadership as we continue to develop leaders who are spiritually disciplined, intellectually astute and morally wise.” In terms of the college’s rigorous academics, students select one of 26 majors across the college’s three academic divisions: Science & Mathematics, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Business Administration & Economics. Morehouse College is also a member of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, the world’s “largest consortia of African American private institutions of higher education.” Furthermore, the college can boast of producing a number of Rhodes Scholars, those who earn postgraduate awards “supporting outstanding all-round students at the University of Oxford, and providing transformative opportunities for exceptional individuals.” Very cool! If you’d like to learn more about Morehouse College, click here. And if you have a dream of attending Morehouse College, you should definitely visit the admissions page – it’s the first step towards achieving that goal!

Whether you end up attending Morehouse College or another institution, you can’t yet know what the future holds for you as an undergraduate student. However, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Don’t be afraid to take those first steps on the journey to college – it’s a journey well-worth making!

World’s Most Useful Admissions Website

by Katie Z, Ph.D January 14, 2016



Wheels are really turning at Admitster, and I’m happy to share some recent developments with you! First of all, Team Admitster attended a fantastic Mass Innovation Nights event last night (the above image is from MIN’s home page) and we are thrilled to have been voted the Mass Innovation Nights’ “GRAND MIN WINNER”! It was a pleasure to attend the event and an honor to win the award.

Secondly, Admitster has recently launched tutoring and test preparation servicesThis is the story of how these services came to be. Teens and parents are using our website, taking advantage of the free online tools that help users to take ownership of their respective journeys to college – I’m talking about the College List Builder, the projections of one’s chances of admission at the colleges on his/her list, and the powerful What If? Engine, which helps users to develop their own best strategy for getting into their top-choice schools. What people often find is that making improvements to GPA or standardized test scores can hugely boost admissions odds! Take, for instance, the example of Boston University. SweetSpotAs you can see on the graph, a student with a SAT Math Score of 550 will really increase their chances of admission at BU if they can manage to bring that score up to 625 or 650. However, earning much higher than 650 won’t do much to further increase admissions odds, so if the student already has a 650 SAT Math Score (or higher) then, in terms of a personalized admissions strategy, that student would do well to focus efforts elsewhere, perhaps on boosting GPA, taking on leadership initiatives, or volunteering in the local community. This is the beauty of the What If? Engine – it can help a student to determine his/her best strategy for admission to college on a school-by-school basis! It’s a very cool tool, and entirely free to use. All one need do to access these immensely helpful online college counseling tools is to register an account with Admitster- click!

This brings me back to Admitster’s newly-launched tutoring and test prep services. We aim to be the go-to site for ALL THINGS COLLEGE ADMISSION, so if the What If? Engine indicates that a boost to your GPA or an increase in your standardized test scores might really make a significant difference to your admissions chances, then know that help is just a click of the mouse or phone call away. All new clients receive a free consultation with our Director of Education, Rachel Katzman. After Rachel has gained a better sense of your specific tutoring and/or test preparation needs, she will match you with one of our expert tutors and you can get to work, proactively boosting your admissions chances at your top-choice schools! Furthermore, our tutoring services can be combined with personalized college admissions advising – and all at a price point that you can afford. Simply give us a call (1-800-803-1541) or e-mail us at We’re here to help, and hope to hear from you!

Making Sense of the PSAT Score Report

by Rachel Katzman January 8, 2016


PSAT results were delivered online on January 7th. If you were able to log in and see your scores (with no technical glitches), you might be among the flurry of parents and students who reached out to us asking what it all means.  Here is some basic guidance to help you decipher the report, as well as some advice.

Exemplar Score Report provided online by The College Board.

psat score reportTest Scores: Each of the three sections (Reading, Writing & Language, and Math) are broken into sub-scores on a scale of 8 to 38. To break down how your Total Score was calculated, you can multiply your Reading score and Writing score by 10, and then add them together to get Your Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Score. Then multiply your Math score by 20 to obtain Your Math Score. Those two numbers add up to Your Total Score, which is presented in bold and centered in your report.

The maximum Total Score is 1520, so don’t be confused/disappointed when no one receives a perfect 1600 – the PSAT score was lowered by 80 points to reflect the fact that it’s a practice test by design, and therefore slightly less difficult than the SAT. Know also that the Total Score can be used to help predict your score range for the SAT. However, most students take the PSAT with little-to-no preparation beforehand, and you can expect to see score variation the next time you take the test.

Skills Scores: One cool feature of the PSAT is that you get to see how you scored on each measured skill, as well as on the actual answers to the test questions. Be sure to take advantage of the information in this hard copy – it’s one of the best resources you’ll have to prepare for the SAT itself.

And Then There’s the “College Readiness” Benchmark…

Most of the questions we’ve heard concerning the PSAT scores have been about a new method of reporting a student’s “College Readiness.” The intentions here are good: the College Board wants you to think about the SAT as being a skills-based exam, and this feature is intended to help you identify specific areas of improvement to meet the median scores for a four-year, selective college. The confusion stems from the fact that test scores are by no means the only indicator of one’s “College Readiness”, and this is not explained by the report. At Admitster, we’re well aware of the “college readiness” buzzwords, but have taken on a broader definition of their meaning:

College Readiness refers to a student’s overall preparedness for the specific schools to which he/she is applying. College Readiness is…

  • … reflected in your “non-cognitive” skills and attributes, such as your organization and time management capabilities, your independence, and your resiliency.
  • … directly related to the specific schools to which you’re applying. For instance, to be college-ready for a technical program in engineering requires you to have met certain math and science prerequisites. To be college-ready for an intended arts major requires you to have a polished portfolio. To be college-ready for a liberal arts college requires demonstration of critical thinking and writing skills. Get the picture?
  • … having knowledge of the college admissions process – including knowledge of different colleges and universitiesthe application process, and financial aid. That is, you need to know how to apply to college in order to be ready for college.

And remember, even if you earn a perfect score on the PSAT, this does not mean that you are college-ready. Any student in their junior year should expect to grow academically and personally between now and the time when he/she applies to college. Juniors have months ahead of them to practice the specific skills that these tests are measuring; to achieve success in interesting classes; to take on leadership roles; to pursue enriching summer activities; and to respond to personal experiences (even failures and disappointments) with thoughtful reflection and self-awareness.

The Bottom Line for All Students:

If your score report included some red or yellow, it’s OK. This does not mean that you will not get into college. You can help to increase your scores by looking closely at which skills you need to improve and then by being proactive! For instance, the College Board allows you to sync your score report with Khan Academy’s tutorials  and, if personalized assistance would be helpful, our test prep tutors can work closely with you to examine the test questions alongside your results, recommend a personalized practice plan, and help you to put your scores in context with the overall admissions process.

If your score report contained a healthy amount of green, that’s great! Keep in mind, however, that the range of scores that meet the “readiness” benchmark is wide. Also, the score range and weighting of standardized test scores in the admissions process varies drastically depending on where you apply. Many schools, especially those that are test-optional, might value GPA over test scores, while for others, your SAT score might be a deciding factor for merit-based scholarships.

We invite all students to reach out to our admissions experts to help work towards achieving the scores needed for their top-choice schools. Moreover, now that you have actual test scores, you can begin to input your data into our free College List Builder tool, see your chances of admission at the schools of your choice, and use the What If? Engine to work out your personalized admissions strategy!

Final Advice: 1) Keep calm, 2) Resist the impulse to over-share your scores, 3) Take time to read the fine print, and 4) Don’t let any labels impact your overall attitude to the college admissions process!

Dartmouth College

by Katie Z, Ph.D January 5, 2016


Dartmouth2Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with my family in Hanover, New Hampshire – the home of Dartmouth College. It occurred to me, walking across the picturesque college green (which was, at the time, covered in snow and graced with a beautifully-lighted Christmas tree), that this was the perfect opportunity to snap a few photos and gather information about the town and college for you, the readers of this college admissions blog. Welcome to the next installment of the 3026 Series, through which I introduce you to many of the wonderful schools that are out there!

Dartmouth 1To begin with, let me tell you a bit about Dartmouth’s NH home. The college may be the beating heart of Hanover, instilling in the town the pulse of excitement and energy that comes with having a magnet of education, culture, and arts at its core, but Hanover itself has much to offer. With a population of just over 11,000, it’s a relatively small town, nestled on the banks of the Connecticut River, with views of Vermont in the distance. Though the town is small, it is home to many shops and restaurants (I particularly enjoyed our breakfast at Lou’s), and The Nugget movie theater, which has been open to the public since 1916 – at that time, you could see a show for 10 cents! The town was also home to the author Bill Bryson, who, inspired by the fact that The Appalachian Trail runs down the town’s Main Street, walked a good part of the trail and then wrote the humorous and insightful A Walk In The Woods. For outdoor enthusiasts, there is also the nearby Dartmouth Skiway (20 minutes north of town), kayaking and canoeing on the Connecticut River, and a myriad of other options for year-round, outdoor activity! Keep in mind, however, that if you’re not a fan of snow and below-freezing temperatures, a move to Hanover, NH may not make a lot of sense for you. Remember, when thinking about where to apply, a school’s physical location is one important component of the “good-fit” matrix!

Dartmouth3I do admit, however, that even those who prefer sandals to heavy, winter boots may be tempted by all that is Dartmouth College. Founded in 1769 (before the Revolutionary War!), the college is one of the eight institutions that make up the Ivy League and, unsurprisingly, has a strong reputation for academic excellence. As the College Scorecard indicates, Dartmouth’s graduation rate (after six years) of 95% is far above the national average of 44%, and the college can also boast of impressive statistics in terms of the percentage of students who return after their first year (98% vs a national average of 67%), salary after attending ($67,100 as compared to a national average of $34,343), and tests scores of incoming students. Also of note is that Dartmouth made the Scorecard’s list of 30 Four-Year Schools With High Graduation Rates and Low Costs – nice! And all of this is but the tip of the Dartmouth iceberg. Some other noteworthy tidbits about Dartmouth?

  • The college offers its students a flexible, year-round study plan through which students can put together their own academic schedule. Specifically, there are four, 10-week terms each year (so, a total of 16 possible terms) and, of those, students are required to be on campus for seven terms and can then decide for themselves which of the other five terms to be in college. To learn more about it, click here.
  • Dartmouth is home to The Hop (i.e. The Hopkins Center for the Arts), named by the National Endowment for the Arts as “one of the nation’s exemplary performing arts centers“, and The Hood Museum of Art, a teaching museum with a collection of “more than 65,000 works across a broad spectrum of cultures and historical periods.”
  • There are an abundance of off-campus and study abroad opportunities – carpe diem!
  • Dartmouth has partnered with QuestBridge “a non-profit organization that connects high-achieving, low-income students from across the country with educational opportunities at partner colleges and universities.”
  • Fraternities and sororities are no strangers to Dartmouth – click here to learn about Greek life on campus!
  • Alumni, to name but a few examples, include Robert Frost, Mindy Kaling, Dr. Seuss, (visiting student) Meryl Streep, and Daniel Webster, for whom the college’s Webster Hall, home to the Rauner Special Collections Library, was named.

Do you find yourself wondering about admissions statistics? Click here. Are you curious to see the Class of 2019’s profile? Click here. Do you have specific questions about life at the college? Beyond the college’s A+ overall Niche grade, click here to contact current Dartmouth students who are happy to help. Thinking of applying? Click!

On a final note, keep in mind that college admissions is a two-way street – if you’re serious about Dartmouth, get on their mailing listlike them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. Perhaps a stroll down Hanover’s Main Street / The Appalachian Trail is in your future!

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