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The Admissions Mystique: What Do Colleges Expect?

colleges, admissions, students of color, test preparation,, college counseling, GPA, affirmative action, affluent, impoverished, SAT, ACT

What do colleges expect?

The good news about college acceptance? Even “the experts” don’t possess the “silver bullet.”

The bad news? No one does.

College acceptance rates and their corresponding criteria vary from year to year based on a range of metrics including, but not limited to:

  • The pool of applicants and its characteristics
  • A college’s diversity and financial quotas
  • The allowable occupancy of specialized programs such as computer science, engineering and nursing

Nonetheless, there are some readily apparent trends that university data reveals.

According to the New York Times, “What Colleges Want In an Applicant (Everything),”  GPA or grade point average and ACT/SAT scores still function as the gatekeepers of most reputable four year universities.

“U.S. News Data: Admissions Trends at Top Public Colleges” has recently confirmed that student SAT scores are rising, therefore raising the bar for the average student. In layman’s terms, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete.

College Acceptance Criteria

Other nuanced factors bear influence on a college applicant’s acceptance:

  • Ability to pay whether through loans, scholarships or family money
  • Family alumni connections
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Socioeconomic status
  • High school class rank
  • A student’s high school state ranking
  • Student educational opportunities and resources

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “What You Need to Know About Race-Conscious Admissions in 2017” asserts that the most contentious criteria are likely policies of “Race Consciousness,” which proponents argue increases diversity and opportunity for underrepresented youth by ”privileging black, Hispanic, Native American, and other disadvantaged groups.” Opponents claim that such policies discriminate against more qualified white and Asian applicants based on GPA and standardized test scores.

Whether we defend or criticize these policies, “affirmative action” policies exist in higher education, the expectation being that if a student has more, he or she can achieve more. Therefore, these policies have not been deemed unconstitutional as educational opportunities remain inequitable and disproportionately allotted to more affluent students.

Regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity, every student, with the support of his or her educational “village” of parents, teachers, counselors, mentors and tutors, must work to “make the grade.”

General “Rules of Thumb”

Consider the following models to identify safety, match and reach colleges:

Affluent Students are expected to exceed expectations in school, 3.8- 4.2+, and on standardized tests, 1350-1550 SAT score.

  • Most colleges require parents who claim their students as a dependent to report their financial information via their previous year’s tax return
  • In certain cases, these families also have alumni connections, which aid a student’s acceptance prospects
  • Depending on the university, ethnicity, race and/or religious affiliation may sway admission’s departments to meet a diversity quota; albeit, not all colleges have specified “diversity quotas”

Lower Income Students are expected to meet expectations in high school, 3.0-3.7, and on entrance exams, 1100-1300 SAT score. These students will likely need to secure funding through:

  • Public or government grants
  • Military funding or the GI bill
  • Private “need-based” scholarships
  • A student’s ability to pay tends to be more significant here

Students Living at or Below the Poverty Line are expected to “survive.” These students have a larger margin of grace, particularly for state and certain private colleges. Earning a 1000 SAT and a GPA of 2.5+ is a start:

  • Grants and scholarships abound, particularly if a student belongs to a marginalized group
  • A student’s ability to pay is less significant
  • Colleges analyze “growth” on high school report cards; if these students show progress between 9th and 11th grades, universities often wager these students will continue to show promise, grit and determination

Students Who Do Not Meet the Expectations of their peers may have other options:

  • Family alumni and connections
  • Wealth
  • Athletic talent
  • Severely adverse or difficult childhood experiences, trauma or disabilities
  • Strong resume of sports, art, community service, internships, etc
  • Safety schools with high acceptance rates

                     -Texas A&M, 67%

                     -Wofford College, 72% 

                     -University of Denver, 73% 

  • Community College

Most troubling, recruiting students of color from lower-class and impoverished inner city communities is far from equitable; these students often lack fundamentals from basic necessities such as food security and a safe space to study to adequate educational opportunities such as quality teachers, tutors, and test preparation. Although racially diverse underprivileged students are expected to pass their classes and “survive” standardized testing as prospective candidates of safety schools, the vast majority will not qualify for admission at ranking universities unless they possess:

  • Requisite athletic skills to play college sports
  • Intellectual prowess to perform well without extra support
  • Notable artistic aptitude in art, music or the performing arts

While numerous scholarships and public grants are available once students are accepted, poor minority students confront the steepest upward climb toward university admission’s success.

On the other hand, no matter who a student is categorically speaking, college acceptance remains a “cloak and dagger” enigma.

However, students and parents can prepare.

Start with a simple checklist:

  • Maintain 3.5+ GPA
  • Strive to perform on college entrance exams
  • Rise to meet college admission standards
  • Secure college funding (FASFA first)
  • Analyze college freshman profiles (GPA, test score and demographic data)
  • Identify safety, match and reach schools- There’s no shame in attending community college first
  • Seek sound college counseling advice and often

University entrance is an uphill trudge no matter who you are, but colleges are well within reach if students and parents know where they stand, have a plan and stick to it.

Stay tuned for my next article regarding college admissions and the “nature vs nurture’s” impact on university candidates.

Breaking Bad Habits: The Right ACT Attitude

Hawk Educational Solutions, ACT, college, tutoring, college counseling, college admissions, test prep, SAT

Developing Bad Habits

As students gain academic experience, they cannot help but develop coping mechanisms or “bad habits,” which they wholly believe will enable their survival under the competitive pressure of college admissions. These behavioral patterns often serve them well…until they don’t.

For better or worse, we mimic the behavior of others, mistakenly accept bad advice as truth and obstinately cling to our ways and means of achievement even if these methods imperil our future goals. Consequently, “undoing” erroneous habits and rigid ways of thinking is essential for students to make genuine progress toward college acceptance.

It only stands to reason then that students, parents and educators alike must adopt a more adaptable and flexible attitude when approaching college entrance to ensure eventual student success.

Without Pretense or Euphemism, the ACT is a Beast of a Test

  • Many tout it as “knowledge based,” when in fact the ACT requires nuanced reasoning, particularly in the Reading and English sections.
  • Time is of the essence; in other words, you rarely have enough of it. In fact, students have only 35 minutes to complete 40 questions in both the Reading and Science sections, which boils down to 48 seconds per question! This barely accounts for time to read and truly comprehend the text.
  • Lastly, the ACT is deceiving; in other words, it is not an honest, straightforward exam. Specifically, questions supply answer choices that contain misleading details from the passage that may be true in one context, but don’t actually answer the question at hand.
  • Eliminate wrong answers before taking a stab at choosing the correct one.

Given Its Rigorous Timing and Trickery, Might the ACT Be One of Many “Bad Habits?”

  • There is an abundance of costly SAT/ACT diagnostic tests, abbreviated exams that tout accurate predictions of which one is the more appropriate. 
  • The long and short of these magical shortcuts; they are not magic and rarely reveal an accurate picture.
  • Rather, students can print a free online ACT and SAT, and complete each full length exam on their own or with a parent. Don’t forget to set the stop watch- timing is everything!

Be Willing to Confront and Accept the Frustrating Facts: The ACT is Not Your Friend

  • Some college counselors and for-profit testing companies are often the perpetrators of bad advice that steer impressionable teens in the wrong direction.
  • At ages as young as fourteen, some students are convinced that there’s only one way to succeed even when their testing data suggests alternative methods are necessary.
  • For example, a young scholar may believe the ACT is the only route to college admittance even when he’s scoring a 16 out of 36with guided instruction– which is an unacceptable score for any undergraduate institution.
  • In actuality, the new “overhauled” SAT is usually the better test generally for one reason: more time per question.
  • It’s imperative to switch gears if the ACT isn’t working and try something different!

Success Involves Many Avenues; When One Dead Ends, Follow Another

  • Take both the SAT and ACT to start.
  • Prep for the test with the higher score- See the Study Point Score Conversion Chart here
  • If you’re scoring comparably or at roughly the same level on both, analyze which areas you’re scoring better or worse in; if the science section of the ACT is dragging you down, the ACT may not be your test.
  • If you are a slower reader, the ACT is definitely not your test!
  • If you’re scoring poorly on both, even with test prep, consider other options:
  1. Retake certain high school courses that you didn’t pass the first time around to fortify your basic English and math skills.
  2. Consider community college; if you perform well in your classes, you can save a boatload of cash and skip both ACT and SAT to transfer to a four-year.
  3. Don’t get stuck! Attempting the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is one definition of insanity! When it’s time, move on.

To achieve college acceptance, you must first accept yourself. Unless you’re a gifted test-taker to begin with, the ACT will assuredly be a brutal, if not impossible journey.

If the ACT isn’t working, there are better choices that will reveal themselves to you if you’re mind is open and you adapt your behavior. Break some “bad habits;” turn left instead of right this time- try the SAT or junior college- or reverse course altogether and shore up basic skills before moving forward.

You will arrive at the gates of the university you were meant to attend when you finally step foot on the right path!

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