Record college applications…it’s never too early to get ready

By Margo Bartch
Last month, seniors received their college admissions letters and are deciding which college to attend in the fall. Many were not admitted to their first choice. My alma mater Northwestern University, where I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, reported its continued record-breaking trend: more than 32,000 applications with only a 15% admissions rate. These numbers reflect more than double the amount of applications from just five years ago and a decrease of acceptances from a nearly 30% admissions rate just three years ago! In working with families these past years, parents are alarmed at this statistic; yet, most choose to believe that their child will be one of the chosen few. I prefer to look at this trend in its stark reality: the vast majority of highly-qualified students are rejected from colleges they want to attend. If you want your child to have a good chance of attending a college of their choice, you have to take active steps sooner rather than later to tilt the scale in your child’s favor.
The first hurdle is being prepared for the standardized tests. These tests are the national comparison of student candidates, which are important because high schools vary in course rigor and grading requirements. Testing results offer correlations between the scores and GPA classroom performance. The SAT and ACT are the two testing formats that most colleges require. The upcoming SAT test dates are May 5 and June 2, with the latter two dates also offering the SAT-II subject tests. Most highly selective colleges require at least three SAT-II subject tests, which are structured like AP exams. The ACT testing is on June 9. The results of the student’s scores will determine the range of colleges and specific programs to consider applying to as safety, target or reach colleges.
Parents ask me when a student should start preparing for standardized testing. I recommend registering to take as many tests as possible. CVU offers the PLAN test (pre-ACT) during sophomore year and the PSAT (pre-SAT) the beginning of junior year. These early tests provide a starting-ground of testing in a timed environment. Early results provide insight into which test sections require additional practice and areas of high school coursework needing more focus to increase the scores over time. Although some colleges do not require standardized tests, the majority of schools do.
Both tests include a writing section that can boost the student’s overall score. The SAT essay is the first part of the SAT test; whereas, the essay is at the end of the ACT exam. For both tests, the student must write an essay in 25 minutes about a quote or “prompt,” that asks to take a position on the statement. There is not a right or wrong answer; rather, structure and content translate into a high score.
This is my eighth year of helping students with the essay section of the SAT and ACT, along with the college application process. I have learned that it is never too early to start preparing for the college road ahead. Each piece of the college application puzzle is critical to describe your child’s high school career and to positively influence the admissions process, so that your child has a good chance of attending their number one college choice.
Margo Bartsch is the founder of College Essay Coach, a locally-owned business. She is an adjunct professor at Champlain College. This is her eighth year in providing one-on-one instruction to prepare for the SAT and ACT Writing sections and write college application essays. Contact her at or at 985-3770.

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