When students knock on the doors of colleges, they don’t come empty-handed. They come with what I call their “college capital” – their high school transcript, unweighted grade point average (GPA) and standardized test scores. This capital is a currency only your student can trade, we can’t do it for them. But when it comes to preparing for the standardized test portion of the capital equation, we can at least help them strategize a winning formula for success.
High standardized test scores can translate into thousands of dollars in merit-based aid (e.g. FREE money) for each year of college, so having a strategy in prepping for the test is well worth the effort. Our student’s investment in time - as well as your $$$ - regarding test prep can really pay off. The key is to identify which testing format plays to your student’s strengths (ACT vs. SAT) and have them “peak” just before they take the test – usually May or June of their junior year.
But, does it matter to colleges which test you take? Generally speaking, no. Almost every college in the U.S. will accept either the ACT or SAT. However, the colleges do care how you did on the test, and that’s what impacts aid and even getting accepted in the first place. This is why choosing the test your student can perform the best on is so important.
Most high school guidance counselors and college test prep tutors can break down the ACT and SAT tests as they relate to your student’s strengths and weaknesses, but it’s also not a bad idea to take practice versions of both tests to understand which format plays to your student’s strengths. Once the practice run is complete and the results are in, your student can narrow their focus on the better test for them.
When you understand which test to focus on, it’s time to start prepping. There are some great resources in the form of books that are available on Amazon and most bookstores. The Real ACT Prep Guide and The Official SAT Study Guide: 2nd Edition are great places to start. But I often recommend local test prep companies and tutors as well. If you vet the companies properly, this investment has a great chance to pay off in terms of “in-the-money” scores because the student will learn to pace themselves for a three hour test session, learn how to choose between two answers they think are correct and practice test-taking strategies that will actually elevate the score that translates to renewable scholarship dollars.
Once your student gets through this all-important test-taking stage, it’ll be time to start compiling your strategic college list. This is where the rubber meets the road… but enthusiasm can quickly turn to worry if your student doesn’t secure a test score that allows for an optimal placement at colleges of choice. Approach test prep with a well-informed strategy and the chances your summer will be a happy one go up dramatically. After all, who doesn’t want to be happy in summer?
To learn more about your student’s college capital and college planning in general, check out my book Never Pay Retail for College from the menu above.