Tagged: expert advice

Making Sense of the PSAT Score Report

Blog Post by

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!

Expert Advice: Managing Your Supplemental Essays

Blog Post by

By now you’ve very likely narrowed down your college list and are in the midst of completing your applications. You’ve even written, reviewed, and finalized your Common Application college essay. As you log into your Common App Dashboard, you’ve seen which schools have writing supplements, and which ones don’t…or so you think. The reality is that lurking in the “Questions”, “Academics”,  and “Other” sections of the Common App, remains what I call Hidden Supplemental Questions.

Sometimes these require 100 word responses, for example, asking you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity. While you should write and proof-read these responses carefully, they seem manageable. Other supplemental essay requirements, however, can be more demanding. For instance, while Harvey Mudd College doesn’t list a writing supplement on its dashboard, in the “Questions” section, the college does ask prospective students to write two different 500 word essays. That’s like writing two more common application essays! For a student who is just now noticing this requirement, he/she may be feeling panicked about the upcoming January 5th deadline!

spiderBeyond sometimes “hidden” supplemental essays, others are notoriously quirky. For example, the University of Richmond prompts prospective students to “Tell us about spiders” (their mascot). The University of Southern California asks (engineering) students to tell the school about their browsing history. The University of Chicago even has an essay on the “oddity of odd numbers.” Why such topics? The schools are trying to better understand how you think, how you write, and how you will creatively and intellectually thrive at their school.

As admissions experts, we can confirm that your responses to the supplements do matter and, more importantly, that they can “wow” an admissions committee by helping you stand out among other candidates.

Here’s some advice for how to do them well:

Input all of your data up front. Sometimes, program-specific supplemental essays don’t appear until you input your intended major. The more carefully you input your data, the more quickly you can catch something that might otherwise go overlooked.

Have certain answers pre-prepared. For questions that ask you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity, your academic interests, or your personal background, you should develop clear, concise answers that you could both write about in 100 words and discuss in greater detail if you were having a longer interview with and admissions officer. You should use specific details to answer these questions, practice your responses with a friend or family member, and craft written explanations that you can use with multiple schools.

Do your research. There are two questions that always have to be customized:

  1. The question that asks you to explain your interest in your intended major – While you might be certain that you want to major in chemical engineering or English literature, schools distinguish themselves through the varying ways that they structure their programs. Bioengineering at Penn looks different than it does at UC Berkeley. Schools will often have cool interdisciplinary majors and minors that might help you to anchor your response. For example, Rice offers a minor in Global Health Technologies that can be paired with a variety of majors. One way to distinguish yourself as a candidate is to find each school’s unique approach to your intended major, and use this to help focus your essay.
  2. The question that asks “Why (insert school)?” – This is a question that you should NEVER cut and paste from one application to the next. It requires you to do some research up front. Scour the college’s website to learn more about academics, student organizations, research, news, study abroad activities, and campus life. Pair these online resources with any other experiences you’ve had with the school, for instance, a campus visit, interviews, and/or conversations with students and alumni. The more you can be specific and personalize your response, the more you will feel confident about why you’ve selected the school and, by extension, you will present yourself as a smart, informed, candidate.

Keep in mind that college admissions is a two-way street. You should of course provide details about your recent accomplishments and current interests. However, it is equally powerful to present what you want to do in the future. For instance, write about how you want to go into cyber security, start a business, document refugee crises, or design engineering solutions for developing countries – whatever you aspire to! Using specific examples about the school to which you’re applying, let admissions officers know why attending their institution would help you to reach your future goals. Be sure to also elaborate on how you will be an asset to the school during your time as an undergraduate there. Remember, college admissions is a two-way street!

Make a calendar for the next two weeks. While these essays can be brief, they are numerous and cannot be written in one sitting. Plan out your holiday break with well-paced deadlines, and share those deadlines with someone else (perhaps an expert at Admitster) so you hold yourself accountable and don’t write anything at the last minute.

It’s never too late to get help!

We can help you to make decisions, provide expert knowledge of your schools and their admissions processes, and plan and review your essays. You can use both our essay review service as well as personal admissions advising, thereby using your time efficiently to not only manage, but to optimize the potential opportunities that are offered by these supplemental essays.


Expert Advice: Stop Binge Applying!

Blog Post by


A little free advice can go a long way. We want to use our blog to start sharing some of the expert advice we offer to our clients at Admitster. While our students are applying to  a wide variety of colleges, right now they all share one jumbo-sized problem:


Here’s how it happens…ForNewsletter


  • You’re waiting to hear back from your ED or EA school, and while you’re waiting, you channel your nervous energy into sending out as many applications as possible.
  • You’ve added the full 20 colleges to your Common App and can’t remember how many of the schools ended up there.
  • Everyone keeps talking about their “dream school” and you feel like you don’t have one. Suddenly, your dashboard looks more like a Netflix queue.

Well, before you spend hundreds of dollars on application fees, and submit subpar applications, I offer this advice:


The admissions committees will decide your acceptance or rejection, but you can channel that nervous energy into making informed choices. Here’s how.

Think about applying to “Top-Choice” (not dream) schools. Anywhere you apply should feel like you’ve chosen the school, just as much as it’s chosen you. Regardless of your admissions projections, you have to both want to AND be able to attend that school. If it doesn’t meet both of those requirements, it’s not worth your time or money to submit the application.

Limit your list.

There is no reason to be applying to no more than roughly nine schools, with two-thirds of these schools being in your “likely” and “targeted” range for acceptance. This is great advice, right, but the next question would naturally be, how do you limit this list?

Know your schools by doing the research.

As you are likely finding out for yourself, while the Common Application has made it easier to apply to a large volume of schools, most schools still want you to answer supplemental questions that ask some variation of “Why our school?” and “Tell us why you’re a good fit”.  In order to offer a smart response, you need to have done your research. Browse college websites the same way you delve through Reddit or Distractify, and compile a list of all the unique and interesting things that’s happening at this college. For example:

  • What’s being written about in their school news?
  • Are there cool research institutes? What are they doing that’s “cutting edge?”
  • What internships or study abroad experiences do they offer?
  • Are there any  interdisciplinary programs that could bring together some of your interests?
  • What’s unique about the way they approach your intended major?

Doing this research will pay off, as you’ll gain more insights into the schools to help you make decisions. Moreover, when you write your supplements, you’ll appear much more “college ready” by being able to be specific and targeted in your short responses.

And one more piece of advice for you (and your parents…)

Find your financial advantage

While you’re not applying for financial aid yet, one way to limit yourself from applying to too many schools is to target schools where you might have a financial advantage. Keep this advice in mind.

Schools trying to compete with the Ivies offer more merit aid

Highly selective schools will try to compete with Harvard, Yale, and other Ivies by offering merit scholarships. For example, Duke, Rice, Washington University, Johns Hopkins, University of Southern California, and Brandeis University all offer competitive merit-aid. This being the case, a good strategy may be to swap out an Ivy or two with schools that might better compensate you for your accomplishments.

Think about schools that offer “financial safety”

If you exceed the admissions requirements for a school (e.g. let’s say you have about a 75% predicted acceptance rate), chances are they might invite you into an honors program or give you more significant scholarship aid. Also, you should look for in-state programs that might offer scholarships, not just aid, to their local students.

Now, again, you need to want to go to this school, so spend the time doing the research to understand the opportunities, and find reasons why it would (or wouldn’t) be a good fit. For example, often the local state colleges will specialize in specific programs, such as business, education, or human services. Knowing the strengths of these smaller colleges will help you make the right decisions.

Next steps…

Hopefully this post has helped redirect you if you’ve gone astray. If you would like to talk about your personal application situation (and I know there are binge-applicants among you – there’s no shame…) please email me at rachel@admitster.com or call us at (1-800) 803-1541 to arrange a consultation with an admissions expert.

On a personal note: I’d love to hear which questions you’d like to have answered through my “expert advice” blog posts. Please write suggestions in the comments or send me an e-mail!