The Clinical Years of Med School: What to Expect

Once medical students complete their time in the classroom, they move on to what many consider to be the real reason they went to med school in the first place: treating patients. This transition usually occurs during the second or third year depending on the length of a school’s pre-clinical curriculum, and is comprised of clerkships, selectives, electives, sub-internships, away rotations, and various other scholarly pursuits. If you are considering medical school, here is an overview of the opportunities and experiences during these clinical years.

Clerkships, Selectives and Electives

The core clerkships beginning in the second or third year of medical school are mandatory for all students. They typically include rotations through some variation of the following: neurology, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry and surgery. Each core clerkship lasts several weeks, with many schools also mandating a certain number of selectives interspersed throughout.

A selective will be in a more specialized area as compared to the more general core clerkships. Georgetown University School of Medicine offers a multitude of selectives ranging from anesthesia to child psychiatry. Schools also require a certain amount of elective time, which can span a variety of areas. Thus, even in the universal core clerkships, there is still substantial room for personalization during the clinical years.

Sub-Internships

During a sub-internship, the medical student assumes even more responsibility than he or she would during a clerkship or elective. According to Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, the level of clinical responsibility expected during a sub-internship is comparable to that of an intern (someone who already graduated medical school). Students typically choose their sub-internship in an area that they are considering applying to for residency.

Away Rotations

Away rotations provide a unique opportunity for fourth year medical students to explore residency opportunities at other institutions. To streamline the process of applying, there is a universal application through the AAMC, known as VSAS. However, policies vary by school so it is important to carefully research the specific program you are planning on applying to. Pritzker School of Medicine explains that some specialties, such as dermatology and emergency medicine, essentially require students to complete away rotations before applying for residency.

Other Opportunities

There are a number of additional opportunities available to medical students during their clinical years. Many schools offer a focused, in-depth experience in a specific area of interest. Several medical programs, such as Weill Cornell Medical College, Alpert Medical School, and Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons offer a scholarly concentration program, which allows students to participate in an in-depth study of a particular area of medical practice or research under the mentorship of faculty. Certain schools, such as Duke University School of Medicine, dedicate an entire year to scholarly research.

Another important element of these years is dedicating sufficient time to prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2. However, it should be noted that the timing of these exams varies widely among different medical schools.

The clinical years of medical school are fundamental in shaping students’ future paths. During this time, students gain in-depth clinical experience while pursuing scholarly endeavors and delving deeper into their individual interests. It is essential to carefully compare the curricula of various medical schools so that you ultimately attend one that is compatible with your future goals.

For guidance on navigating the medical school application process, feel free to contact us. As always at Collegiate Gateway, we’re happy to help!

Applying to Med School: The Importance of Secondary Applications

If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2023, chances are you have completed your AMCAS Personal Statement, and are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful discussion of why you want to become a physician.

Take a breath… and then begin to prepare for individual medical school’s secondary applications! The purpose of secondary (or supplemental) applications is to further differentiate among candidates, and to determine whether you’d be a good fit for the particular medical school.

Who Receives Secondaries

Most schools, such as Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Yale School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School, send all of their applicants a secondary. Some schools, such as Harvard Medical School and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, send all “verified” applicants a secondary, meaning that they wait until AMCAS verifies the student’s transcript.

Others review the primary AMCAS application holistically, and are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications, such as Emory School of Medicine. For example, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has three independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and offers secondaries to only about one-third of its applicants.

A few others have no secondaries, such as University of Rochester.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to the first week in June, which is when the AMCAS application submission typically begins, and certainly by the end of June. The sooner you submit, the sooner your application will be reviewed.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. You may even receive secondaries before your AMCAS application is verified. If you submit your primary AMCAS application in June, you will likely be completing your secondaries in July and August. Secondary applications are time sensitive, in that the faster you return them to the institution, the more strongly you convey your enthusiasm for that school. A quality secondary application submitted within one to two weeks will increase your likelihood of getting an interview.

Secondary Essay Prompts

Once you submit your primary AMCAS, you can begin preparing for secondaries, which typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics, such as the following:

  • Define a physician.
  • Tell us about your diverse talents, experiences, opinions, and backgrounds. What would you bring to the medical school community?
  • Why do you feel that you are a good fit for our particular medical school?
  • Are you expecting to go on to medical school directly after completing your undergraduate degree? If no, explain.
  • Describe the personal accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?
  • Where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why?
  • Please describe a challenge you faced and how you addressed it.
Unusual prompts

While there is great overlap among many of the secondary prompts, some medical schools offer unusual prompts such as those below:

  • What challenges do you expect to arise from living and working in a complex urban environment? How will you meet them?
  • Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment.
  • Write a sentence that is not true, then tell us why you wish it were.
  • What is the most fun you’ve had lately?

Secondary Application Tips

Start brainstorming, outlining and drafting the above essays so that you can respond quickly. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries:

  • Provide new information. Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement and activity essays.
  • Show your fit with the program. Make a compelling case for why you are a good fit for each medical school. Research the school’s academic programs and approach to clinical practice. Follow them on social media to learn more. Does the school require research or a thesis? Be specific about the resources at the medical school that you will take advantage of, and the unique strengths you will bring.
  • Answer the prompt. Though it is sometimes effective to recycle other essays (see below), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly.
  • Connect your past, present and future. How have your past experiences influenced the person you are today? How do your future goals link with your talents, accomplishments and values?
  • Proofread and edit. Carve out enough time in your schedule to edit several drafts for each essay. It takes time to ensure that your essays are well-written and represent you both strongly and authentically.
  • Stay organized. Create a spreadsheet listing your medical schools, dates that you received and submitted secondaries, secondary essay topics, and dates of interviews.
  • Take advantage of overlaps. Evaluate the various secondary essay prompts of your medical schools to see if there are any commonalities. Adapt essays for additional medical schools, but only if appropriate.

Applying to medical school is a challenging process, and the secondaries are no exception. For more information and guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

The MCAT: An Overview

In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15. According to the AAMC, the test was changed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The MCAT is now double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. Medical schools vary in their policy about whether they will still accept the old MCAT for the 2019 application cycle.

Before we provide you with a detailed look at the test, it’s important to keep in mind that the MCAT is just one of various factors used by medical schools. The evaluation process also reviews college grades, trends in grades, extracurricular activities, and medically-related experiences such as research, shadowing, and clinical work.

Test Structure 

The current MCAT consists of 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes—double the length of the previous version of the test.

The first three sections of the MCAT are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

The MCAT will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The newest section, added during the 2015 revamp, is “Psychological, Social, and Behavioral Foundations of Behavior,” which comprises 25% of the test and recognizes the role of social science in treating patients effectively. Catherine Lucey, a member of the MCAT review committee and vice dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, observed:

“One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease. Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

Ripal Shah, an MCAT test prep tutor for Advantage Testing, agrees that training in the social sciences is beneficial for a career in medicine, because “many studies have shown that communication skills are often the most indicative of patient satisfaction and medication compliance.”

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” estimates that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT requires significantly more than standard medical school prerequisites:

  • One year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • One semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology
  • A year of humanities (recommended)

MCAT Test Dates and Centers

The MCAT is offered 30 times throughout the year, from January through September, with scores released five weeks after administration. You can find a local test center here.

MCAT Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The test is not graded on a curve, and there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Below is the expected distribution of total scores for the MCAT taken between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019.

The score reports provide details on your test performance, and combines MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles. See the sample score report below.

 

What Are Percentile Ranks?

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Percentile ranks are updated May 1 of every year. This info has been particularly useful to med schools in the first 3 years after the new MCAT was implemented, before sufficient historical data was available to evaluate applicant’s scores.

Importantly, on May 1, 2019, the percentile ranks will be based on the MCATs from the entire four preceding years; having this history will provide much more useful information to both students and med schools.

Below is a chart outlining the percentile ranks in effect from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019:

What Are Confidence Bands?

Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam. According to the AAMC, “non-overlapping confidence bands show a test taker’s likely strengths and weaknesses. Overlapping confidence bands suggest that there are not meaningful differences in performance between sections.” For instance, in the example above, the student would have strengths in the BBFL and PSBB areas, and relative weaknesses in the CPBS and CARS areas, but would have comparable strengths between BBFL and PSBB; and between CPBS and CARS.

Note that the confidence bands for each of the four section scores are two points, whereas the confidence band for the overall total is four points. So if your total score is 501, and you retake the MCAT, you have a reasonable chance of scoring anywhere from 499 – 503.

Average MCAT Scores for Selected Medical Schools

Below are the median new MCAT scores and GPAs for accepted students at a variety of medical schools.

Medical School US News Rank MEDIAN
GPA
MEDIAN NEW MCAT SCORE
Columbia 6 3.87 519
Drexel 83 3.73 511
Emory 23 3.79 515
Georgetown 45 3.74 512
Harvard 1 3.92 518
NYU 12 3.9 520
Stanford 2 3.89 518
Temple 55 3.79 512
Washington Univ 7 3.89 521
Univ of Miami 48 3.8 513

Applying to medical school is a long and challenging process. For more information or guidance regarding the MCAT, or any other aspect of the admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Summer Activities for Pre-Med Students

You’ve decided you want to go into medicine, and to embark upon the arduous path to becoming a physician. You’re busy studying for biology exams, conducting experiments in chemistry lab, trying to squeeze in some volunteering and (if you’re really ambitious) conducting a bit of research. Now, January rolls around and it’s time to start thinking about the summer. Regardless of how far along you are in your undergraduate pre-med training, carefully choosing your summer plans is essential.

Summer provides an excellent time to further explore the areas of clinical medicine, research, or global health, while also enhancing your medical school application. In fact, according to Liza Thompson, a medical school admissions consultant, “pre-med students who are productively engaged during the summer months have an advantage during the medical school application process.”

It is essential to dedicate sufficient time, often during the summer, to study for the MCAT, take classes if needed, and prepare your medical school application by writing your personal statement and brainstorming for secondary applications. However, many experts including the Princeton Review stress the importance of expanding your learning beyond the classroom setting.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience will enable you to directly observe the patient-physician relationship. The importance of clinical experience cannot be stressed enough; in fact, Emory University School of Medicine lists “exposure to patients in a clinical setting” as one of its application requirements. This can take a variety of forms, including shadowing a family member or friend who is in the medical profession or participating in a more formalized summer program.

Some of the more structured programs can be very demanding, but the rewards are quite evident. For example, Project Healthcare created by the Bellevue Hospital Center Emergency Department is an immersive program involving participation in clinical rotations, research and informational lectures, as well as extensive engagement with the community. If you’re hoping to make money while gaining clinical experience, certain jobs, such as a hospital scribe, may be of particular interest.

Research

Doing research is another ideal summer activity, as pre-med students can often continue research already started during the school-year or pursue an entirely new area of interest. There are a multitude of structured summer research programs at various institutions across the nation. A comprehensive list by the AAMC can be found here.

Similar to clinical experience, research experience is yet another critical element of the typical medical school application. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reports that 92% of their entering class of 2022 engaged in research at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Volunteer Work

Summer volunteering can allow you to continue pursuing an existent volunteer placement from the school-year or an entirely new volunteering experience. US News stresses the importance of carefully considering the nature of the volunteering, as well as how long you’re doing it. It may be most beneficial to volunteer in a medical setting, such as a nursing home, where you can continue to gain relevant experience.

Any sort of volunteering is certainly valuable as it reflects an innate desire to help others: a trait that every pre-med student should possess. Some students choose to engage in more extensive types of volunteering, such as obtaining an EMT certification or volunteering overseas. Volunteering internationally can be particularly valuable for pre-med students, as many are not able to study abroad during the school-year due to course requirements.

With any volunteering experience, you must carefully assess how meaningful your actual involvement in the activity will be. To start, it can be helpful to explore global health organizations that may have chapters at your university, such as GlobeMed or Medical Brigades.

Additional Options

Although these ideas provide a starting point, they do not provide a comprehensive list of all available opportunities for pre-med students. If you have more specialized interests in the area of public health for example, you may want to explore internships through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, your undergraduate institution may be a valuable resource for identifying summer opportunities. For example, Swarthmore provides a comprehensive list of summer options for pre-meds that can be found here.

The summer provides an ideal time for pre-med students to further clarify their interest in medicine and explore the various facets of a profession in healthcare. For guidance on pursuing a pre-med track and applying to medical school, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

The Impact of Superscoring the SAT and ACT

What Does “Superscore” Mean?

When a college “superscores” your SAT or ACT test scores, it takes the best sections of the test from your various test dates, and combines them to form a new total.  For the SAT, that means taking your best scores from the two sections of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math, and adding them together for a new total score. For the ACT, this means taking your best subscores for the four sections of English, Reading, Math, and Science, and averaging them to form a new Composite score.

Here is an example of SAT superscoring:

Test Date Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Math Total
March 2019 640 720 1360
May 2019 680 660 1340
Superscore 680 720 1400

 

Here is an example of ACT superscoring:

 

Test Date English Reading Math Science Composite
April 2019 30 28 34 32 31
June 2019 32 32 34 28 32
Superscore 32 32 34 32 33

 

Which Colleges Superscore?

Most colleges superscore the SAT. Many of the colleges that do not are public universities, such as Penn State, University of Arizona, and University of California.

Unlike the SAT, the ACT is only superscored by a few colleges. Some private colleges that superscore the ACT include Amherst College, Boston College, and Johns Hopkins. A few public colleges that superscore the ACT include Indiana University and University of Colorado.

Some colleges have an intermediate approach; for example, Duke considers the highest composite score, and highest section scores, but does not recalculate a new composite.

In general, colleges look more closely at the test sections that correspond to your intended major. For students planning to major in business or engineering, the math sections are very important. For students with interests in the humanities, the verbal sections carry more weight.

How are SAT and ACT Test Scores Reported to Colleges?

 Typically students send scores directly to colleges through the College Board or ACT websites; and scores must be sent by entire test date, not individual section. A recent trend is for some colleges to not require that students release their scores from the College Board or ACT, but instead send them only if they matriculate; the motive is to increase access for students who cannot afford the fees of sending scores. The Common Application does not require students to report test scores but instead gives students the opportunity to report their highest score per section, If they so choose. 

So What Should I Do?

Evaluate your college list and the individual policies of your colleges. Make a chart to organize the information about which colleges superscore the SAT and/or ACT; this may well impact your college list as well as your consideration of where to apply early in making “reach” colleges more attainable. For information on whether to retake the SAT or ACT, read our blog.

Who Benefits from Test-optional and Test-flexible Admissions Policies?

As the role of college entrance exams continues to shift, many students find it difficult to navigate evolving and variable testing requirements. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that do not require students to submit the SAT or ACT.

Over 1000 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake ForestSmith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYUMiddlebury and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

Many students question how to handle test-optional policies, and are unsure of whether or not they should submit their scores. In this blog, we will take a closer look at student choices in applying to test optional colleges and why more and more schools are offering test-optional admissions policies.

Which colleges offer test-optional policies? Are all policies the same?

FairTest.org offers a comprehensive list of the colleges that currently offer test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. While colleges offering these policies include a variety of institutions, it is notable that many are small liberal arts colleges, public universities, and small Catholic colleges. With few exceptions, the most highly selective colleges continue to require standardized testing; besides being a standard indicator of college readiness, test scores can create a benchmark of acceptance for schools that are becoming inundated with ever-increasing applicant pools.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.

Test-optional and test-flexible policies vary widely, and the best way to make sure that you are submitting the correct testing requirements is to research the details on the specific college’s website.

For example, NYU (test-flexible) requires testing but students have a variety of options:

  • ACT (writing test not required)
  • SAT(essay test not required)
  • 3 SAT Subject Test scores
  • 3 AP exam scores
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
  • 3 IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate
  • Nationally accredited exam that shows you completed your secondary education

Many test-optional schools require students who are not submitting test scores to meet additional requirements, including interviews, writing samples, teacher recommendations, or completing a Test-Optional Form. For example, Franklin & Marshall College requires students who choose to opt out of testing to submit two graded writing samples (creative or analytical), preferably from a humanities or social science course. Loyola University Maryland asks applicants who take advantage of their test-optional policy to submit an additional teacher recommendation and/or personal essay. At Virginia Commonwealth University, high school applicants must have at least a 3.3 GPA to bypass testing requirements.

Interestingly, many test-optional schools, including Marist College, require students to submit standardized test scores once they have been accepted and enroll. The schools use these test scores for the purposes of academic advisement and course placement.

Why do schools offer test-optional policies?

Increasing ethnic diversity

Many schools, including Wake Forest, claim that test-optional policies have led to a more diverse student body with no notable difference in academic achievement between students who opted out of testing and those who submitted scores. Wake Forest also states that ethnic diversity increased by 90% since the Fall of 2008 when their test-optional policy went into effect. A 2014 report from two former Bates College admissions officials, William Hiss and Valerie Franks, also found an increase in racial and socio-economic diversity at test-optional schools.

Focusing on holistic admissions

In determining whether an applicant is a good fit, test-optional schools stress the importance of examining the student’s complete academic profile. The College of the Holy Cross states, “We are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning.”

Fairness

Many institutions are disillusioned with current standardized testing, and feel that the test preparation available to the wealthy creates an unfair advantage. For example, Marist College states, “Many studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible bias against certain minority students. Our experience shows that the rigor of a student’s program and overall academic performance can best illustrate commitment, motivation, work ethic, and a willingness to take on challenges.”

Improved US News Rankings

Intentional or not, the schools offering test-optional policies also tend to see improved U.S. News rankings. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia examined data from 32 selective liberal arts colleges, and found that, after going test-optional, these schools received an average increase of 220 applications and their mean SAT scores rose by an average of 26 points.

Selectivity and test scores are important factors in the U.S. News rankings. US News is transparent about the components that comprise its ranking methodology. 7.75% of rankings derive from the SAT critical reading and math portions; and the composite ACT score.

Test-optional policies tend to increase applicant numbers, creating higher selectivity for the schools, and since students who did better on standardized tests report their scores, while students with low scores often do not, the school can report artificially inflated test scores of accepted applicants.

Notably, the only “test-blind” school, Hampshire College, is unranked by US News. Hampshire College does not consider any ACT or SAT scores as part of its admissions policy, and therefore has no scores to report. Sarah Lawrence was once “test-blind” as well, from 2003 to 2012. In 2012, Sarah Lawrence switched to a “test-optional” policy, presumably to rejoin the ranks of US News, among other reasons.

Bottom-line: Should I send my scores?

At the end of the day, you might be deliberating over whether or not to send your scores. Here are some considerations to assist in your decision:

Research the range of standardized test scores for accepted students

According to U.S. News, “If you do some research and find that your results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may want to hold them back.”

Decide if your test scores accurately represent your potential as a student

At the College of the Holy Cross, Director of Admissions Ann McDermott writes, “If you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

Take a hard look at your academic performance and activity list

Jane H. Dane, associate vice president for enrollment management at Old Dominion University in Virginia, notes that applicants who withhold scores are “particularly scrutinized for other evidence of potential for success, like challenging course work and leadership skills. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing without scores.”

Remember that regardless of testing policies, all schools look at more than your scores

Try to remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, and not even the most significant one. As the College Board reminds us, “College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.”

Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences. For more information on standardized testing, or any other aspect of the college admissions process, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help!

Should You Register for the SAT or ACT Essay?

Few colleges now require the essay when you take the SAT or ACT. In fact, in 2016, the College Board made the essay optional, stating: “While the College Board remains steadfast in its commitment to the importance of analytic writing for all students . . . one single essay historically has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam.”

Yet, for the Class of 2017, 1.2 million students wrote the SAT essay (70% of total test-takers), and 1.1 million students wrote the ACT essay (53% of total test-takers).

Currently, there is a strong movement among colleges to no longer require the SAT or ACT essay. Amidst highly selective colleges, the main institution that still requires the essay is the University of California system, which is comprised of 9 universities. There are no longer any Ivies that require the essay for the ACT and SAT. Princeton’s former Dean of Admissions, Janet Rapelye, says the decision to drop the essay requirement was caused by concern that testing costs or logistical issues could deter some students from applying.

In lieu of the essay portion of the SAT and ACT, Princeton now requires a graded high school paper, preferably in history or English. Brown recommends that students submit a graded school paper from a humanities or social sciences course.

Schools that Require the ACT/SAT Essay Schools that Recommend the ACT/SAT Essay
Benedictine University
Delaware State University
DeSales University
Martin Luther College
Soka University of America
U.S. Military Academy
University of California—Berkeley
University of California—Davis
University of California—Irvine
University of California—Los Angeles
University of California—Merced
University of California—Riverside
University of California—San Diego
University of California—Santa Barbara
University of California—Santa Cruz
University of Montana Western
University of North Texas
Abilene Christian University
Amherst College
Austin College
Berry College
Binghamton University (SUNY)
Chapman University
Colby College
Concordia College-Moorhead
Duke University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Manhattan College
Michigan State University
Morehouse College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
Simmons College
Stanford University
Stony Brook University (SUNY)
Taylor University
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
University at Buffalo (SUNY)
University of Massachusetts—Amherst

OUR RECOMMENDATION

We recommend that for upcoming SAT or ACT tests, you do not register for the essay unless you plan to apply to a college that requires the essay. In other words, even if a college recommends the essay (without requiring it), we feel that you do not need to take the essay because typically it does not play a role in the college admissions review process. Alternatively, if you excel at writing and do not mind the additional expense or time, you certainly can opt to include the essay in your standardized testing plans.

There is increasing complexity surrounding the requirements for taking and reporting standardized testing, including the ACT, SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB exams.  If you would like guidance, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

How to Decide Whether to Re-Take the SAT or ACT

At this time of year, juniors are faced with a variety of decisions. Which colleges should I visit? Which teachers should I ask for recommendations? How should I spend the summer?

Another looming question is often whether you should re-take the SAT or ACT.  As with many of your college-related questions, IT ALL DEPENDS!  In this blog, we explore some of the following factors that should inform your decision.

What kind of test prep did you do?

There exist a variety of ways to prepare: on your own, one-on-one with a tutor, or in an organized test prep class. Determining which approach is most effective for you depends on your learning style and your budget. If you are not pleased with your initial test results, re-assess whether your test prep method is the best fit.

No matter which option you choose, it’s important to devote the necessary time and energy. How serious were you about completing test prep homework? Did you take at least three full-length practice tests for either the SAT and ACT? If so, how did you do on the practice tests relative to the actual test?

Beyond helping you improve your test scores, test prep will strengthen skills that you can apply to academic coursework in high school and college, such as test-taking strategies, reading comprehension, vocabulary and problem-solving.

How much time do you reasonably have to study for another standardized test?

Will preparing for the test compromise your academic performance in your coursework? Do you have significant responsibilities or commitments outside of your academics that would be affected by the time required for test prep?

Your grades in your high school courses are the top factor in college admissions. Your junior year grades are the most important, because colleges strongly consider the trends in your grades as you progress through increasingly more advanced courses.  If you are reasonably satisfied with your SAT or ACT scores, and your course finals and AP or IB exams will require extensive preparation, then it may not be a good trade-off to invest additional time in standardized test prep.

How many times have you already taken the SAT or ACT?

According to the College Board, most students take the SAT twice, and the majority of these students improve their scores. But it would be overkill to take either test more than two or three times.

Even the Princeton Review, one of the major test prep companies, advises: “For security reasons, the ACT will not let you take the exam more than twelve times, and technically the SAT is unlimited. But we don’t believe colleges will accept ‘taking standardized tests’ as an extracurricular activity! We recommend that you plan to take the ACT and/or SAT 1–3 times.”

AND THE TOP FACTOR IS… 

How selective are your colleges? How academically competitive are you as a candidate?

This may be the most relevant question in addressing whether to re-take the SAT or ACT—or to switch from one to the other.  Standardized testing is the third most important factor in college admissions, following your grades and the rigor of your curriculum relative to what’s available at your high school.

To assess whether your test scores will push your application into the “yes” or “maybe” admissions piles, look at the national mid-50% scores of accepted applicants at the colleges to which you wish to apply. If you attend school in a highly competitive part of the country, such as the New York metropolitan area, you should be above the mid-50% to be a viable candidate. Also check your own school’s admissions history to see if your academic profile matches those of accepted students.

Conclusion

As with all decisions related to college admissions, a variety of complex factors are involved. Choose the right course of action for YOU in particular!

For example, if you took the SAT twice already, did an extensive amount of test prep, have scores above the mid-50% of the colleges you are most strongly considering, and you prefer the SAT to the ACT, then you probably do not need to re-take the SAT or take an ACT.  Alternatively, if you took the ACT without any test prep, your scores are below the mid-50% of the colleges you prefer, and you realize that the ACT is too time-pressured for you, it may be advisable to switch to the SAT and prepare properly for the exam.

For more information or guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

College Board Offers SAT in August, ACT has July Test Date

The College Board began offering the SAT and Subject Tests in August 2017 for the first time, and eliminated their January test date in 2018. Fewer test centers were available in August 2017, since schools had a lighter staff during the summer.

The ACT also changed its test schedule, adding a July test date, effective July 2018. July test dates are not available in NY test centers, but students can travel to another state if these particular test dates suit them.

Finally, the College Board has instituted a faster score release policy, in which scores for multiple-choice questions will be available 13-19 days after each test date; with essay scores available 24 days later. For example, for the March 9 test date, multiple choice scores will be available March 22; and essay scores will be available March 25-27.

Why did the College Board Add an August Test Date?

The August College Board test date is likely a response to the increase in seniors applying through early admissions and the consequent growth in SAT testers in the fall (see chart below). Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift towards early applications, in which seniors apply in November, and receive notification in December.

In large part, students are taking advantage of the strategic boost of applying early. The admit rates are typically much higher, and colleges are filling an increasing percentage of their freshman class through early admissions, leaving fewer spots to fill during regular admissions. As a result, the entire standardized testing schedule has shifted to earlier test dates. For early admissions, students need to complete their testing (SAT, ACT and Subject Tests) by October.

In addition to the recently added July 2018 date, the ACT also offers a test in September, an ideal time for seniors because they can prepare over the summer, and are just starting to deal with the academic requirements of senior year. The SAT has been steadily losing ground to the ACT over the past few years, and a strategic modification of the testing schedule may be an effort by the College Board to recover ground.

Who Should Take the August Test?

The August test date is ideal for seniors who would like an additional chance to improve their SAT or Subject Test score after their junior year testing, or would like to take additional Subject Tests. The summer typically provides a less intense environment in which to prepare, without the pressures of schoolwork.

For rising juniors, we do not advise taking the SAT until November or December, because students typically experience meaningful growth and maturity over junior year, and continue to learn content that can boost their scores.

One exception, however, would be rising juniors who are pursuing athletic recruitment, and need early testing scores for coaches to make a determination about whether they are viable candidates.

For each student, deciding when and how often to take the SAT or ACT depends on a variety of factors, including whether you are applying to colleges through early or rolling admissions, the selectivity of your colleges, how much time you can devote to test preparation, and your competing time commitments. 

The college testing environment is constantly undergoing changes. To help you sort through testing options and plan for successful college admissions, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

2018-19 SAT and Subject Tests Test Dates

Note that Subject Tests are not offered in March. Also, while Literature, US History, Math 1, Math 2, Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered every testing date (but March), World History and Language tests vary by month. In addition, although you can choose to add more Subject Tests on the day of testing (with a maximum of three), the one test that you cannot add on the spot is Language with Listening, because that requires special equipment.

SAT Date SAT Subject Tests Available Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline
March 9, 2019 *SAT Subject Tests not offered on this date February 8, 2019

February 19, 2019 (for mailed registrations)

February 27, 2019 (for registrations made online or by phone)

May 4, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Chemistry
Physics
French
Spanish
April 5, 2019

April 16, 2019 (for mailed registrations)

April 24, 2019 (for registrations made online or by phone)

June 1, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
World History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Chemistry
Physics
French
German
Spanish
Modern Hebrew
Italian
Latin
May 3, 2019

May 14, 2019 (for mailed registrations)

May 22, 2019 (for registrations made online or by phone)

August 24, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
World History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Chemistry
Physics
French
Spanish
Not yet announced  Not yet announced
October 5, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Chemistry
Physics
French
Spanish
Not yet announced Not yet announced
November 2, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Chemistry
Physics
French with Listening
German with Listening
Spanish with Listening
Chinese with Listening
Japanese with Listening
Korean with Listening
Not yet announced Not yet announced
December 7, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
World History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Chemistry
Physics
French
Spanish
Latin
Not yet announced Not yet announced

*Test Dates and Subject Test offerings for August 2019 through December 2019 are anticipated, but not yet confirmed by the College Board.