Timeline to Keep Students on Track
For parents and students preparing
for college can be overwhelming. It is important to stay on track
and to meet all of the necessary requirements. Listed below are
some tips for planning for college and a college planning timeline to
help keep you on track.
First, there are two major college
entrance examinations administered in the United States today: the SAT
and the ACT. These two different standardized tests, used to apply to
colleges, are usually taken in your sophomore/junior year or the first
semester of your senior year. They are designed to allow college
admissions officers the ability to judge all students by a common
Until recently, the ACT was
traditionally required by colleges in the midwest, while the SAT was the
mandatory test in the northeast and on the east and west coasts. Now
however, the majority of schools in the United States now accept both
SAT and ACT test results.
This increased acceptance of the
ACT gives today's students a strategic advantage because the SAT and ACT
are significantly different tests. In fact in many ways, they
measure different skills. Therefore you may perform much better on one
test than the other depending on your strengths and weaknesses. As a
result, many students are now considering both the SAT and ACT to
determine which test provides a better showcase for their abilities. It
is important to know the specifics of the requirements for each school.
The difference between the two is
described as the ACT is a content-based test, whereas the SAT tests
critical thinking and problem solving.
Here are some of the factors that
show the difference between the SAT and ACT:
The ACT includes a science
reasoning test; the SAT does not.
The ACT math section includes
The SAT tests vocabulary much
more than the ACT.
The SAT is not entirely
The SAT has a guessing
penalty; the ACT does not.
The ACT tests English grammar;
the SAT does not.
What is the ACT test?
The American College Testing
Assessment (ACT) is designed to test your skill levels in English, math,
reading, and science reasoning. You will actually receive 12 separate
scores on the ACT: 1 composite, 4 subject scores, and 7 subscores.
However the composite or scaled score is the most important. It ranges
from 1-36. Nearly half of all test takers fall in the 17-23 range.
What are the SAT I and SAT II
There are two types of SAT tests. The first is the
SAT Reasoning Test (SAT I) and the second is the SAT Subject Test (SAT
The SAT Reasoning Test (SAT I) is required for most universities and
colleges and it is the most widely taken college entrance examination.
It is designed to test your skill level in math, vocabulary, and reading
comprehension. The SAT is scored on scale of 200-800 for both the math
and verbal sections. The College Board sets the average for all test
takers at 500 for each. A perfect score on the SAT is 1600. However, in
recent years, fewer than 20% of all test takers achieve a math score of
600 or better. Fewer than 10% score higher than 600 on the verbal
The SAT Subject Test (SAT II) examines you on individual subjects.
The tests fall into 5 different categories: Mathematics, Sciences,
History and Social Sciences, Languages and English. These are best
taken after you've taken an AP course in your school on the same subject.
More prestigious universities need at least three SAT II scores.
How Often Can I Take These
For most high
school students, three times is about the maximum
between the start of the sophomore year and
Christmas of the senior year that you can take these
You may take
the SAT/ACT prior to the sophomore year if you wish.
Some eighth and ninth graders just want to see what
its like, so they experiment with it. It is
recommended however that every sophomore take the
SAT/ACT in May or June. However, when you take
it for the first time depends on the Math
classes that you have completed. The SAT Math
section will cover Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra
2, so it would put you at a disadvantage to take the
SAT before you have taken a substantial portion of
the Algebra 2 class. So for some they may take it
for the first time in May and June of their junior
year. When those scores come in,
special note should be taken of the areas of
weakness. The diagnostic report that comes with the
score report can be helpful in targeting efforts for
keep in mind that they will be taking the PSATs in
October. The PSATs is not only a preliminary version
of the SATs but also a qualifying exam for National
Merit Scholarship competition consideration. Donít
consider the PSATs as one of your SATs; itís not an
SAT. It is recommended that Juniors take SATs in
January and May. June should be reserved for SAT IIs.
Remember, both the SATs and ACTs are
important parts of your application, but they are only one of several
factors. Courses and grades, recommendations and your personal
statement are all used when colleges consider an applicant.
College Planning Timeline
This college planning timeline should
help you to keep track of what you need to do throughout the high school
years to make college planning less stressful and a lot easier.
Freshman time to
start thinking about what you want your major to be after high
school. Get involved and join a variety of clubs, sports and
activities to see what you enjoy. Take your classes
seriously and get good grades.
Sophomores the clubs and
activities that you have picked this year you should stick with
for the rest of High School. Colleges like to see that you
persist in your activities. Strive to become president of
your team or club. Push yourself hard an get
really good grades. Challenge yourself with your curriculum.
Sophomores and Juniors
should register to take the October PSATs. For Sophmores
it is a practice run for the SAT and for Juniors it is a qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship
competition. In addition, you should schedule to take the PLAN,
which is a pretest for the ACT.
Seniors who have not taken
the SAT or ACT or those who want to take them again should
register for the SAT Reasoning Test and/or SAT subject tests, or the
ACT. Students who have not already contacted teachers, or
coaches and their guidance counselor for letters of
recommendation should do so. Seniors should register with
colleges of interest, via their website, to be put on their
Seniors should also make sure they
research the college(s) of interest to determine their
admissions process. Most schools require SAT or ACT scores,
school transcript, letters of recommendation, letter of
recommendation from the students counselor, and one or more
essays. A lot of schools will accept the "Common
Application" which can be completed one time on line for all
schools that accept it. All other materials, even teacher
recommendations, are filed online. If they do not accept
the common application then the application will be on their
Seniors should create a
spread sheet to keep track of all deadlines for each school and
to make sure all pieces of required information have been sent
to the school.
Juniors should consider test preparation programs to help
improve their test scores. Consider a program that offers
personalized instruction and the use of official SAT and ACT
juniors and seniors that are still undecided on schools, should attend college fairs. Seniors
who need to take or retake the SAT Reasoning and/or subject
tests or the ACT should sign up to take them in December.
Seniors should check deadlines for filing for financial aid on
the websites of selected colleges. Most colleges will
require preliminary registration by November 1 and then all
students should fill out the
Free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at
This form is a requirement for the majority of schools and
should be filled out in early January and then tax returns must
be sent to them by April 15.
in need of financial aid should be searching for grants,
scholarships and work-study programs. Sources available to
help in this area: school counselors, National Research
Center for College and University Admissions (www.nrccua.org)
and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (www.nacacnet.org).
There are many scholarships that are available, and many that go
unused each year, so do your research.
Seniors should make sure
they send their official test scores to the schools they are
sophomores and juniors will receive the results of the PLAN and
the PSAT. These scores will help you to determine your
strong and weak areas and give you the opportunity to strengthen
skills prior to taking the ACT or SAT.
Registration should be
done now for those students taking the ACT in February.
Seniors should make sure
they send their official test scores to the schools they are
considering if they have not already.
Juniors who have completed
the math courses covered on the SAT reasoning test should
register to take the test in May or June.
Students who already
completed their Free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
might receive their Student Aid report in February.
Seniors who sent in the FAFSA more then four weeks earlier and
haven't received their report should contact the federal student
aid information center.
should register now for the June SAT subject tests. Talk
to counselors to determine which tests should be taken and when.
Juniors should register
now for the May or June SAT Reasoning Test and/or the May/June
SAT subject tests. Sophomores and juniors who want to take
the ACT in June should register.
juniors should think of summer activities that will build skills
needed for the academic tracks or careers being considered.
Seniors should decide by
May 1 which college they want to attend. It is also
necessary to confirm when payments are due for tuition, room and
may prefer to visit colleges during the year when school is in
full session, summer is a good time also for visits.
Juniors if your school
requires community service hours you may want to work on it in
the summer. Just make sure you do all of the proper
documentation of your hours.
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