The Edge Our college admission blog

Should Students Take the SAT or ACT?

by Admitster July 8, 2016


For all of the high school principals, administrators, and guidance counselors out there, you may be wondering whether you should recommend to your students that they take the new (as of last March) SAT or the ACT. Our friends at Testive, a fantastic online SAT/ACT prep company, have been considering this question as well. Find their insights below!

If you’re working with high school students who are on track to graduate in 2017 or beyond then you may well be facing the question of whether to advise them to take the new SAT or the ACT. Before offering your thoughts to students, here’s what you need to know.

What Each Test Measures

The ACT is comprised of Math, Science, English, and Reading sections, along with an optional essay. The new SAT includes evidence-based Reading & Writing, Math, and an optional essay.


The ACT Math section tests elementary and intermediate algebra, plane geometry and trigonometry, and better aligns with the Common Core. The new SAT added trigonometry, making it more similar to the ACT, but many believe that it’s slightly harder than the ACT.


The ACT includes a Science section with very dense articles and graphs that can get a little confusing. If your student is someone who needs extra time, this may be something to consider. However, don’t let it be a deal breaker for him/her. If science is a strength, getting the timing down is something that they can get better at with practice and by timing themselves on a few practice tests.

There is no Science section on the new SAT, but it does include scientific graphs throughout the test to try to simulate testing of Common Core data interpretation concepts. That is, even if science isn’t a student’s forte, know that they can’t completely escape it by opting to take the new SAT.

English, Reading & Writing

The ACT English and Reading sections are both based on essays. There are four essays in the Reading section and five in the English section. The Reading section pulls from text from real life, including academic papers from social studies, natural sciences, or humanities, as well as prose or quotes from literary fiction. It’s less civics-oriented and more academic-oriented.

On the new SAT, the Reading & Writing sections ask students to analyze historical documents, great global conversations, and speeches by presidents. This differs from the old SAT, where students had to interpret random literary passages.

For a detailed comparison on these two tests, check out the infographic below:



Advantages & Disadvantages Of Each Test

The Science section is only on the ACT, so if that is a strength that your student is trying to showcase, then that might be something to consider.

Both tests have an optional essay so that shouldn’t have a huge impact on your student’s decision.

Should Your Student Just Take Both Tests And See What Happens?

Before signing up for both tests, we recommend that students purchase the latest editions of The Official SAT Study Guide and The Real ACT.  They should then take a timed, proctored practice exam from each book, and preferably under the supervision of a teacher or parent.

After taking both tests, your student should ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Which exam felt more intuitive?
  2. Which exam felt more straightforward?
  3. Which exam allowed him/her to most efficiently show what they are capable of to the colleges to which they intend to apply?

What matters most is to have a baseline test score, which students will come away with after taking these two practice tests. They should then reflect on why they’re getting something wrong rather than just glazing over it.

For those of you with students who insist on taking both exams, they should be advised to study for each test separately and also be sure to space them out. Trying to study for both at the same time will only lead to frustration and confusion!

No matter how your students decide to proceed, the keys to conquering either test are focus, effort, and practice, practice, practice!

All Hands On Deck: College Access Partnership Programs

by Admitster July 5, 2016


From our colleague, Lawrence Alexander, comes a post on the benefits of college access partnership programs. Lawrence has a wealth of experience in the field of college counseling, is currently the Director of College Admissions at The Ivy Key, and is working as the Director of College Counseling at The White Mountain School, in New Hampshire. We’re pleased to have him as a guest blogger on The Edge and welcome his insights into college access partnership programs!

Columbus DayMartin Luther King, Jr. was once quoted as saying, “We came over in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” When it comes to college access, one of the most pressing issues of this generation, we need more partnerships that accomplish the effective work of this task. We’re in the same boat. The “partners in the ship” come from families, schools, school districts, community-based organizations, and companies, to name but a few examples. We are all stakeholders in our students’ accomplishments. Too often, however, we operate in our own silos of success and, as a result, frequently achieve far less individually than we could achieve collectively. To this point, I’d like to share two examples of successful school partnerships that I’ve been involved with at The Ivy Key, a test preparation and college admissions company in New York City. My hope is that you may be encouraged to carry the practices of partnership back to your respective spheres of service, for instance, through a collaboration with a school partnership program, such as Admitster’s Partnership For College Success.

Successful School Partnership Programs:

  1. The Ivy Key and the National Academy Foundation (NAF) – In 2014, The Ivy Key founder and Harvard graduate, Jae Gardener, and I approached the New York City-based leadership of the National Academy Foundation to offer our services to them. Many of the schools in the NAF network have counselor-to-student ratios of at least 300:1, so we were confident that we could make a difference. As The Ivy Key was primarily founded as a test prep company, getting schools to opt into the SAT and ACT prep was relatively straightforward. The greater challenge was having schools opt into our eleven-week college admissions course for their rising seniors – but they did, and the results were impressive! Improving the acuity of students’ knowledge of the college application process increased their odds of success, i.e. admission to their top-choice, best-fit schools. At the end of the initial collaboration, we, in the form of pre- and post-assessments, solicited feedback from participating seniors. Over 90% of the students who participated, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college, reported that they felt more confident in the college application process and also that they felt more hopeful about the prospects of affording college.
  1. The Ivy Key and Student Sponsor Partners, Inc (SSP) – In their 30 years of operation, Student Sponsor Partners has served over 7,000 low-income students, providing a high-quality education to those enrolled in their schools. What they came to realize, however, is that they needed supplemental support to their guidance program. In the Fall of 2015, The Ivy Key built upon the SAT and ACT preparation that it had established with a few of the schools in the SSP network, and a true partnership was born. We implemented a six-week college admissions program with their seniors and, once again, over 90% of participants reported an increase in confidence and content knowledge with regards to the rudiments of the college admissions process. This translated into higher admissions rates at those students’ top-choice schools as, armed with guidance and information about the college admissions process, students were more likely to be successful.

For my colleagues working in high schools and school districts, I can confirm from personal experience that forming school partnerships with outside organizations, such as Admitster, can bring tangible gains to your students, families, and schools. College counseling has been shown to have a significant impact on college access, and yet many schools struggle to find enough time and resources to devote to rising juniors and seniors who are on the path to college. This is where a partnership program can bring great benefits.

Also to consider are School Report Cards and Post Secondary Placement outcomes. Specifically, schools across the country, and public schools in particular, are graded based on their post-secondary placement data, as well as their 4-year versus 2-year college placements. High-quality school partnership programs, beyond being hugely instrumental to student success, can also help schools to improve their placement rates.

In summary, Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said that we’re in the same ship. The task now is to make sure that we’re all rowing together, and in the right direction. If you represent a school or district that does not yet have an existing college access partnership, please consider one. Your students and families need more partners in their ship, and collaboration with a program like Partnership for College Success is a great step towards meeting this goal.

Yours in Partnership,

Lawrence Q. Alexander II

The 3026 Series

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 30, 2016

Trinity College Cambridge Less Sky

When we think about colleges, there are usually a handful of big-name schools that come to mind – Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Yale, Oxford, etc. If I asked you to sit down and write the names of all the colleges and universities that you could think of, you would probably come up with a list of 25-50 schools. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 3,026 four-year colleges in the United States alone. 3,026! This being as it is, one of my goals is to bring to your attention many of the wonderful schools that are out there that you may not know much about or have even heard of before. Readers, this is The 3026 Series!

….. The 3026 Series Schools …..

Each of the above-listed schools is unique and awesome in its own way – just click on the links to explore! Also, if you have suggestions for future 3026 Series colleges or universities, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comment box below.

Expand your horizons, explore potential opportunities that await you, and enjoy the adventure!

Admitster’s School Partnership Program

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 23, 2016


College Coaching For Every Student

If you’re an administrator or guidance counselor at a high school in the United States, there’s a decent chance that your students have little or no access to a college counselor. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, using Spring 2012 data (from the nationally representative High School Longitudinal Study of 2009), reported that:

  • “Less than two-fifths of counselors indicated that their school had a counselor whose primary responsibility was college applications or had a counselor whose primary responsibility was college selection”, and
  • “About half of counselors (54%) reported that their counseling department spent less than 20 percent of their time on college readiness, selection, and applications.”

diplomas smallStudent-to-counselor ratios vary greatly by school and by state, but the national average is an unfortunate 471 students to 1 counselor – click here for more details. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported that, across the country, one in five high schools completely lacks a school counselor! And that’s not all. A 2015 Survey by Achieve, Inc. reported that “of the 767 college instructors from four-year and two-year colleges, universities, and technical institutions”, 78% believed that high school graduates are not well prepared for higher education. This New York Times article sums the situation up well: “… public high schools across the country struggle with staggering ratios of students to guidance counselors.” Grim.

There is a great deal to consider when pondering college admissions strategies for each of the individual students at your high school – not only in terms of thinking about where to apply and whether each senior has a finalized college list that is robust and well-balanced (in terms of reach, target, and safety schools), but also whether students would be advised to apply early action or early decision, via the regular admissions process, and/or to schools with rolling admissions policies.

Along these lines, the 2016-2017 Common Application Essay Prompts have been released, but what is the best college essay writing strategy for each student? Should students take the SAT or the ACT, and how can they best prepare? To further consider are the backgrounds and personal stories of your students (and how to make that uniqueness shine in their respective college applications), the financial aspects of applying to and attending college, individual circumstances (e.g. being cognizant of the resources that are available to first generation students as they engage in the admissions process), course enrollment advice, thoughts regarding who would be best suited to write letters of recommendation, issues pertaining to social media, gap years, college tours, fly-in programs, summer plans – the list goes on and on, and taking into account all of the above for each of your students is certainly a tremendous undertaking. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin!

On top of everything, there has been a complete whirlwind of changes in the college admissions world over the last few months. More schools are becoming test-optional; changes have been made to the FAFSA;  the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Making Caring Common project released its influential Turning The Tide report; and the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success has emerged on the scene (e.g. these 58 colleges and universities will accept the Coalition application for the upcoming admissions cycle)!

What are you (the school principal or guidance counselor) to do? After all, college counseling has been shown to have a significant impact on college access and should be an important aspect of a student’s high school experience. Still, with time, personnel, and other resources often strained, how can a high school’s administration bring such a program, emphasizing individualized attention and college guidance, to fruition?

Admitster’s Partnership For College Success Program can help. College coaching for every student in your school? Flexible, customized guidance and support? Comprehensive services for schools, students, and families? YES! Click here to learn more about Admitster’s school partnership program, helping every student to succeed on their journey to college.

Score Choice & Super Score

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 21, 2016


While the SAT is more closely resembling the ACT these days, there are still many differences between the two tests that you should be aware of. For instance, did you know that while a number of colleges and universities will super score your SAT results, far fewer will super score your ACT? Specifically, students often have the score choice option, but whether super scores will be considered or not is up to individual schools.

Wait, what?! Score choice? Super score? What is all of this?



An excellent question!

Score Choice – Score Choice has been an option for ACT test-takers, but for students taking the SAT and SAT Subject Tests, Score Choice was only introduced by the College Board in March of 2009. If you take the test more than once, as is recommended, Score Choice allows you to determine which scores you send to colleges (by testing date for the SAT and ACT, and by individual test for the SAT Subject Tests). Keep in mind, however, that some colleges will require that you submit all of your test scores – in those cases the element of choice is gone. For more information on ACT Score Choice click here, and for SAT and SAT Subject Test Score Choice information click here.  Know that Score Choice is optional and if you opt not to use it then all of your scores will automatically be sent.

Super Score – This is where things get interesting! Some colleges will consider the best of your standardized test section scores across multiple test dates, adding them together for your super score.  For instance:

May 31st blog


Not all colleges and universities partake in super scoring, however, so know ahead of time if your dream colleges are super scorers or not. For a list of SAT score use practices at different colleges and universities, click here, and the colleges on this unofficial list will super score your ACT. This is crucial information to have in-hand when considering your score-sending strategy so, as ever, be informed, as you’re then in the strongest position to make the most appropriate journey-to-college decisions!

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