Tag Archives: national merit scholarships

Ask the Experts: Should I Take the New SAT?

The redesigned SAT will debut in the spring of 2016. As a result, many current sophomores must decide whether to prep early and take the old SAT before the change, wait and take the new version of the SAT, or avoid the SAT altogether and focus on the ACT.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma. There are many different types of students and test-takers, and we hope that by asking the right questions, we can provide you with the proper tools to make an informed decision.

Collegiate Gateway has asked several of New York’s top test prep tutors for their insight and advice. The following people graciously responded to our questions:

  • Jed Applerouth, founder of Applerouth, with offices in New York, DC, LA, Atlanta, Seattle, Savannah, Chicago
  • Peter Baum, test prep tutor in Manhattan and San Francisco
  • Alex Freedman, Advantage Testing Director of Connecticut office and senior tutor in Manhattan; Advantage has 16 offices throughout the US, and an office in Paris
  • Lisa Jacobsen, Founder and CEO of Inspirica, with offices in New York, Boston and Philadelphia
  • Phyllis Jencius, test prep tutor on Long Island
  • Bill Ma, test prep tutor on Long Island, author of CliffNotes SAT CramPlan, CliffNotes ACT CramPlan, CliffNotes GMAT CramPlan, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus AB, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus BC
  • Frank Pomilla, president and founder of Test-Takers, with 11 offices throughout the Greater New York area.

Here’s what they had to say!

Do you have general suggestions for current sophomores concerning which of the tests to take: old SAT, new SAT, or ACT? 

Expert Consensus: Many of our experts are avoiding the new SAT, instead recommending that students take the current SAT in the fall or early winter of their junior year, or simply focus on the ACT. However, some experts disagree and feel that the redesigned SAT is a viable option, especially for high achieving students.

Jacobsen: Sit for diagnostics (preferably right after school ends this year) in both the current SAT and ACT. See which test yields a better score and/or shows more promise for improvement. If there is a better feel for the ACT or the ACT yields a significantly better score – problem solved! No need to worry about the redesigned SAT (or it could be considered later when we have more information about it). Student could sit for the ACT as 11th graders normally would in February, April or June of 2016. If there is a better feel for the current SAT or the current SAT yields a significantly better score, then consider an accelerated preparatory program for this test.  Current SAT prep would begin ideally over the summer before 11th grade and into the fall. Students could then sit for the SAT on a few of the fall/winter test dates: October, November, December – the last one being in January of 2016.

Freedman: Rather than speculate, students should take multiple diagnostics for both the ACT and the new SAT in simulated conditions. Some good news is that there will now be substantially more overlapping content on both tests. By early 2016, practice test results should make clear to both student and tutor which test is best for the student. For this reason, we respectfully disagree with those who suggest that students should avoid the new SAT altogether in favor of the ACT. Certain students will be better suited to take the new SAT; it makes no sense for these students to take a test for which they are less naturally inclined simply for fear of the unknown. Students who are ready to work hard will have ample time and materials to excel on this test.

In most circumstances, we would not advise current sophomores to plan to take the old SAT because the opportunities for repeat testing will be so limited and they would be placing a great deal of weight on a single test outcome. However, a student who is very advanced, has a robust vocabulary, and is performing exceptionally well on simulated practice tests could be poised to excel on the old SAT on or before January 2015.

Applerouth: Figure out by the beginning of summer whether you are better suited for the current SAT or the ACT. You can use the sophomore PSAT as a proxy for the current SAT, or simply take a practice SAT. To establish a baseline score on the ACT, take a practice test. Students should use official, calibrated materials to yield the most accurate baseline score.  Compare the scores and make a decision based on the relative percentiles.

Baum: Of course, every student’s needs are different, but I’m generally shying away from the new SAT in the short-term. The SAT people are still working out the kinks on how the test works, and I don’t see a compelling reason to make my students guinea pigs for the new test. I’m recommending to higher-scoring kids that they plan to take the old SAT twice by January of their junior year. For kids who may need more development time, they can take the April and/or June ACT. Outside of New York, the February ACT is an option as well.

Pomilla: Our stance is evolving, but it seems to make sense to get an early jump on the SAT, while it’s still in its familiar format, since our experience has shown that the current SAT is the most coachable exam for the greatest number of students. (The ACT’s emphasis on speed is a hard hurdle for some students to overcome, even with coaching.) This means starting SAT preparation in the summer between sophomore and junior years, or in the early fall by latest.  In sum, then, my advice to the class of 2017: Prep early for the SAT to take advantage of the current format. If needed—and only if needed!—take the ACT or redesigned SAT later in the year; there will be some, but not total, carryover of the prep you’ve already done for the current SAT.

Jencius: If current sophomores are strong in the critical reading, math, and writing skills sections as demonstrated by the 2014 PSAT they have taken, I would encourage them to prepare this year and the beginning of next and take the current format of the SAT in December/January. By doing so, they also allow themselves time to consider the ACT, which I would recommend taking in April/June 2016.   

Ma: The new test is supposed to be very different. The problem is that the College Board released only 48 sample math questions about a month and a half ago, but not a full test, which will have 58 questions.  They are still doing research on what the new test should be and haven’t settled on a final version of what it looks like. For that reason alone, I tell the 10th graders that we don’t have all the information, so they are better off focusing on the ACT, or if they really want to take the SAT, should focus on the old SAT.

How would you compare the current SAT, new SAT and ACT?  Do you think the new SAT is truly intended to align more with Common Core or to be more similar to the ACT?

Expert Consensus:  Most of our experts agree that the new SAT is steeped in Common Core and is intended to compete with the format of the ACT. They mention that while the new SAT looks harder, the ACT has already become more difficult in order to compete with the format of the new SAT. There is some disagreement, however, as to whether or not a Common Core foundation will affect most students’ scores.

Jacobsen: Well, the short answer is that the new SAT will do both. The College Board has taken on the difficult task of aligning itself to the Common Core, while at the same time, distinguishing itself from the ACT, which has been traditionally cited as being more aligned to the Common Core. Quite a quandary! The redesigned SAT appears to show many more similarities to the ACT – the new SAT writing section, in fact, appears almost identical to the current ACT English section. What’s more, the redesigned SAT will include those math topics that are currently on the ACT and lacking on the current SAT. At the same time, though, the redesigned SAT will be even more steeped in the CCSS, evaluating deeper concepts and offering greater challenges than even the ACT.

Students who attend schools that are aligned to CCSS will be at least a little more comfortable with the material. The problem is that the Common Core Standards are not universally in place throughout the country, and thus huge pockets of students would have greater difficulty with this new material.

Ma:  Some of the questions of the new SAT will be very similar to the ACT. The College Board wants the questions to have real-life applications. For instance, on the current SAT, numbers divide comfortably, but in the new test, answers will have lots of decimals to duplicate real-life. Instead of a perfect line, they will have a “line of best-fit.” With the current SAT, you have to know how to manipulate algebra and recognize some tricks that don’t have to do with everyday math. Although the new SAT will have four more math questions than the current SAT (58 vs. 54), the new test will have only two math sections, one with a calculator and one without a calculator, whereas students can use a calculator in all three sections of the current SAT. Bright kids will do well on either test, but the training is different.  Also, the new SAT test looks harder, but there will be only four answer choices instead of five and no penalty for wrong answers [like the ACT], which will raise the score.

Pomilla: The redesigned SAT is deliberately aligned more with the Common Core than the ACT (but the ACT was more aligned to high school curricula than the current format, as the current SAT was deliberately designed to be largely curriculum-free, in College Board’s own phrasing). The new head of College Board is one of the architects of the Common Core (for better or worse!). The College Board is using the new SAT’s alignment with Common Core as a selling point. So, yes the redesigned SAT will be most aligned with Common Core, followed by the ACT, and trailing both is the current-format SAT. But, interestingly, this makes little difference in most kids’ scores.

Based on your experience, what kinds of students tend to do better on the ACT vs. the current SAT?

Expert Consensus:  The consensus among our experts is that students who prefer academic achievement tests, excel in math and science, and who don’t have issues with time during standardized testing tend to prefer the ACT.

Freedman: Students who are particularly strong in the sciences tend to enjoy the Science section of the ACT (likewise, students who have a phobia for all things science-related tend to be easily rattled by it). Also, some students prefer the more “academic feel” of the ACT as opposed to the multistage problem solving and test-specific approaches required for certain question types on the SAT.

Jacobsen: The ACT has usually proven to be the better choice for students who are more comfortable on the math/science end and who don’t usually struggle with time issues on standardized tests. The ACT has traditionally been labeled an “achievement” test, so good grades in school usually translate well on the ACT. The current SAT has been more of a “reasoning” test – good for students who can think on their feet. The format of the test also allows for a bit more time per question, and is generally preferred by students who have time issues on standardized tests. And, of course, the current SAT has those classic “SAT words.”

Who should consider taking the new SAT?

Expert Consensus:  There is a consensus among our experts that high-performing students will continue to do well on the redesigned SAT, but they may have to train for it in new and different ways. There is some disagreement, however, as to whether those students should take the new SAT over any of the others.

Applerouth: Academically superior students should do very well.  Students who will be well suited for the new SAT will excel at critical thinking, advanced math, and reading and comprehending advanced texts. Due to this skill set, these students will likely also do well on the current SAT and ACT. Based on the problems that have been released to date by the College Board, the new SAT appears to be the most rigorous assessment of the three; therefore, students ready for the hardest test will likely fare well on either of the current assessments. 

Freedman: Strong math students will not be intimidated by the more difficult math they will encounter on the new SAT. And voracious readers who are well versed in widely circulated newspapers and general interest magazines should be in a good position to do well on the new reading passages that will be drawn from diverse nonfiction subjects and include informational graphics.

Jencius: For students who feel “rushed” in preparing to take SATs early in their junior year, I would advise them to begin getting used to the new format.  There are materials that are becoming available and sample questions of redesigned format PSAT/SAT already online. Another valuable indicator of whether to prepare for the reformatted SAT will be the results of the new PSAT they will take in their junior year. This will serve as a rough barometer in determining if the new SAT test is right for them. Because the new SAT seeks to align itself with core curriculum, students should make a conscious effort to familiarize themselves with content area vocabulary, including math and science terminology. When examining course material, they should look beyond what may be the correct response and be prepared to justify why a particular answer is such. This is a particularly good practice because it fosters critical analysis and a deeper appreciation of text, skills inherent in performing well in high school, college, and beyond.

What’s your understanding of how the College Board will curve the first few new SATs?

Expert Consensus:  All of our experts believe that there is major uncertainty in knowing how the new SAT test will be curved, and when the test scores will be released. There is disagreement, however, as to whether or not this should be a factor in deciding to take the test.

Freedman: Our expectation is that the College Board will apply the same kind of scoring scale on the new SAT that it has on previous tests—a bell curve with standard deviations based on the number of test takers and the distribution of raw scores. There’s nothing tricky about this method of scoring, and there hasn’t been any suggestion that the Board will arbitrarily “curve up” the scores of the first few tests to allow for an easier transition.

A related point: I don’t think it makes any sense to try to anticipate how strong the pool of test takers will be for the new SAT and to plan a testing strategy around such speculation. For instance, one might think that many students will be unprepared for the new SAT, and so there might be a better chance to score well on the curve. But you could just as well argue that many students will be scared to take the first test and that those who take the new SAT will be especially well prepared. The truth is that no one knows how many people are going to take the new SAT in those first few administrations, and rather than worry about what other people are doing, students should focus on their own preparation.

Applerouth: A major wrinkle with the new SAT is that the test grading and score give back will be delayed for the March and May 2016 test administrations, allowing the College Board to norm the new tests and establish the new testing curve. With that critical delay of performance feedback for our students, I am less excited about the new SAT.

What role does the PSAT play in this new testing landscape?

Expert Consensus: The experts believe that significant PSAT prep is mostly relevant for students pursuing a National Merit Scholarship. For those students, however, the prep that they’ll do for the new PSAT may position them well to succeed on the new SAT.

Pomilla: For most students, the PSAT merely serves as a dry run for the test that matters to colleges, the SAT (or ACT). Those students should not fret about preparing seriously for an exam that is just practice.

For very high scorers (top 3% or so), though, the PSAT does carry significance as the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship competition—a program that can result in a prestigious honor or even a scholarship. If your academic profile suggests you might be in line for National Merit recognition, my suggestion is to split the difference; spend a modest amount of time prepping for the PSAT, with the understanding that this year it might be only moderately useful in preparing you for the SAT.

Baum: If you’re focused on attaining a National Merit Scholarship, you’ll need to do significant preparation for the PSAT. Because that preparation will translate to the material on the new SAT, students going this route may want to consider taking the new test.

Resources for finding more information about the new SAT

If you are looking for an in-depth look at how to prepare for the new SAT, please check out the College Board’s website for practice questions and a detailed explanation of the differences between the new SAT, current SAT, and ACT.

Making these testing decisions can seem daunting when there is an unknown test involved, but hopefully these opinions will help you to begin your journey in finding your best-fit college. If you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help!

Merit Scholarships: A Beginner’s Guide

There are many need-based financial aid opportunities out there for college students. But for those who don’t qualify – or who don’t qualify for enough – there are a large number of merit-based scholarship options as well.  With perseverance and dedication, some students have been able to finance nearly their entire college education through merit aid!  The question is: how do you find these opportunities?

As always, Collegiate Gateway is here to help!

Scholarships from Colleges

Often, students receive merit aid directly from colleges themselves. These usually come in the form of “merit awards,” determined by a variety of factors including your academic performance of grade point average, standardized test scores, and the strength of your high school curriculum. Generally, the better you do in high school, the better your chances of being offered merit aid by colleges. For many students, this is can be the largest source of scholarship funding. In fact, some colleges, including Boston College and Duke award full-tuition merit scholarships to small groups of exceptionally qualified students.

But keep in mind that additional factors related to your character play a role as well, as demonstrated by the extracurricular activities, community service and leadership roles you have chosen to participate in.  Furthermore, the unique institutional priorities of each college influence the nature of their merit scholarships; colleges often offer special scholarships for students of diverse backgrounds, or with particular academic, service or career interests.

Some colleges, such as Tulane, Oberlin, and NYU automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships.  Other colleges require that prospective students take the initiative to apply for merit aid, and require the submission of additional essays.  For example, the University of Richmond encourages students who have demonstrated strong involvement in community service to apply for the Bonner Scholars Program.  Emory provides the opportunity for entering freshmen to become Emory Scholars. Likewise, Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University have numerous merit scholarships that students need to actively apply for.

The colleges with the highest percentage of students receiving non-need-based aid range from specialized colleges, such as Olin College of Engineering, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and New England Conservatory of Music, to small liberal arts colleges such as Rhodes College, to medium-sized national research university such as Tulane. Additionally, according to recent data from the New York Times, the colleges with the highest average merit award included Trinity College, with $41,980 average merit aid (95% of the tuition/fees of $44,070) and University of Richmond, with $36,860 average merit aid (85% of $43,170 tuition/fees).

When evaluating different options, however, keep in mind that merit scholarships can offer more than just monetary rewards. Many, such as UVA’s Jefferson Scholars offer significant enrichment opportunities – in this case, access to leadership programs, study abroad, and internships with program alumni. As with any of the college-granted scholarships, the best sources of information on these programs can be found on the college websites themselves.

State-based scholarships

State scholarships are awarded either directly by your college through state-based programs or via local scholarships, and are another very common way to earn merit aid. Resources such as Cappex and Fastweb can help you search for opportunities particular to your state.  For example, let’s focus on New York State.

New York Scholarships: New Yorkers are known for being street-smart, practical and resourceful. But even New Yorkers need a little help when it comes to paying for college. Luckily, you can get scholarships just by being a resident of the Empire State… and by being a good student. The Scholarship For Academic Excellence, for example, is intended for students who will attend a New York college, and is based on the results of the Regents exam.

Additionally, many scholarships – in New York and elsewhere – pay particular attention to applicants pursuing certain high demand fields. The NYS STEM Incentive Program, for example, provides a full SUNY or CUNY tuition scholarship for the top 10 percent of students in each New York State high school. Note though, that this scholarship (like many others of its kind) comes with conditions: awarded students must often either remain in the state or work in their particular field, for a certain period of time. In the above example, students must pursue a STEM major and agree to work in a STEM field in New York State for five years after graduation.

Corporate Scholarships

Who says corporate America is greedy? Many of America’s largest and most profitable corporations sponsor high-paying scholarships for high-achieving students. Every year, for example, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards 250 achievement-based scholarships for students with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The top 50 are designated as National Scholars and receive $20,000 while the remaining 200 are designated as Regional Scholars and receive awards of $10,000.  Likewise, the Discover Scholarship Program offers an average award of $30,000 to 10 students who demonstrate leadership and community service in the face of adversity, and who have a GPA of at least 2.75. Others have more subjective standards, such as the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, which is based on video submissions, and awards $100,000 dollars to students with creativity and unique personal stories.

In additional, there are a large number of merit scholarship opportunities from private non-profits. For example, you’re probably already familiar with the National Merit Scholarship Program, which awards three types of scholarships based on PSAT/NMSQT scores: National Merit, corporate-sponsored, and college-sponsored. Additionally, the  Ayn Rand Institute is a very well-known foundation that sponsors annual essay contests based on a variety of Rand’s books, awarding generous scholarships to those with the strongest essays.

Online resources such as Cappex and Fastweb are a great way to find all these opportunities, whether they’re offered by states, colleges, corporations, or foundations. They boast impressive and up-to-date databases of well-established scholarships in every subject – from engineering to art – as well as listings of some of the more obscure (see, for example, the Victor Bailliet Scholarship in Sugar Technology).  No matter how esoteric or unique your interests, abilities and background may be, these sites are a terrific way to search for and find scholarship sources.

Of course, there are thousands of potential merit scholarships for you – beyond what we’ve mentioned here… For more guidance and information, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.