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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.

I Have Less; Can I Achieve My Best Test?

achievement gap, testing, SAT, tutoring, education, college, literacy, students,, teaching

How do I ace a test, the SAT, or any standardized test? How can they expect me to know everything? What if I don’t have the skills or the advantages?

They, whether a teacher, professor, ETS (Educational Testing Service), or the College Board, absolutely do not expect you to know everything that could potentially arise on an exam. In fact, that is precisely what they don’t want.

However, an increasingly globalized international climate has advanced educational accessibility for students with disabilities. Additionally, educators and public schools are painfully aware of the educational inequities among subgroups and have enacted policies in the United states to lessen the Achievement Gap, the persistent disparity in educational opportunities due to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, etc. Many public schools and districts have pursued feasible and affordable reforms, which include picking students up at their homes, extending campus hours to accommodate economically disadvantaged students so they have a place to study and use computers, or facilitating after school peer tutoring.

Nevertheless, there is so much more to do. According to Marina Bolotinikova, author of Harvard Magazine’s article, “FAS’s Inequality in America Initiative,” educational imbalances continue to exist even now in 2017 at even some of the most elite universities, including Harvard itself.

We have people who are looking at inequality across race, gender, and class, but also thinking about the different domains of inequality–education, health, the labor market. We have all this on campus, but they’re not always in conversation…The idea here is to pursue a strategy that’s focused on greater collaboration, some new investment, and more dialogue.

On the other hand, prior to Harvard’s initiative, 21st century educators have supported progress along many avenues to “even the playing field” with the advent of student chromebooks, better cheap wifi, enhancing school libraries with used or donated books, and offering online courses and school approved websites. To be sure, students around the globe and across the country are better equipped “to know” and learn more than in previous eras. And yet, educational inequality persists. Not all students have access to private tutors, good schools, educated parents and technology in the home.

So, how do students with less, born and raised in neighborhoods that are so violent, sometimes they avoid school to avoid getting jumped? How do food insecure, homeless, and/or minority youth do well enough on tests to “pass go” and level up? How do young girls who are prescribed as homemakers, not college students,  transcend barriers? What about the SAT, a test so daunting, even students with every resource at their disposal struggle to hit their target score?

In many cases, the best source for success is you, the high school student.

So, let’s ask some fundamental questions and brainstorm some real-word solutions.

What can I do to build skills in reading comprehension and math?

  1. Read more outside of school assignments. Read a variety of materials: newspapers, novels, graphic novels, biographies.
  • Most library cards are free
  • Schools often have materials on hand in their libraries
  • Print out online publications at school; it’s cost free to you.
  • Visit the College Board for free test taking tips and practice tests
  1. Annotate what you read.
  • Underline main ideas
  • Circle and define new vocabulary in the margins, on a separate sheet of paper or make your own quizlet online
  • Stop every paragraph or two and ask, “What did I just read?”
  1. Explore purplemath or mathisfun, websites that will help you review and clarify:
  • Exponents
  • Arithmetic (PEMDAS)
  • Algebra
  • Coordinate Plane Geometry
  • Geometry
  • Basic Trig

What strategies can I use on multiple choice tests and college entrance exams?

  1. Process of Elimination
  • For each answer choice, ask, “Is it wrong?” If it’s not wrong, do not cross it out. Keep it. The choice may not be great, but it may be the least wrong.
  • Underline the word or words that make an answer choice wrong; then, cross it out.
  • The answer that’s not wrong is the correct answer
  1. Annotate all test questions, whether math or English.
  • Hunt for the most specific words and underline them.
  • Ignore everything else- it wastes your time to read words you don’t need.
  • In the following example, inferred, both, and agree are your key words:

It can be inferred from both passages that the authors would most likely agree that

  1. Don’t do anything you don’t have to do on a multiple choice test.
  • Less is more
  • Keep it simple
  • Let your answer choices guide you, particularly in math
    • Sometimes solving half the problem is all that is required.
  1. Set up a Khan Academy account online and practice for free.

The world of educational opportunity remains a far cry from egalitarian or “equal,” but there are resources available to students of every circumstance. If your school or home doesn’t have what you need, perhaps a bus pass and the public library will. Combined with determination, hard work and basic resources, every student can succeed if you have the desire.

What about Summer? 5 Benefits of the New Summer SAT

Summer SAT, SAT prep, college readiness, college planning, tutoring, teaching, higher education

What about Summer?

Thinking about a blissful summer sojourn, not the summer SAT? Perhaps a six week program with Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the Young Writer’s Camp at UCSD, playing some Park and Rec club soccer or tennis, jet setting around the globe, or just gaming with friends next door?

Perhaps, we should reconsider the summer plan, or at the very least, make some room in the schedule; the College Board is finally offering the golden ticket- an opportunity to tackle the SAT over the summer for the first time!

First, let’s put it on the calendar, August 26th, 2017! More importantly, let’s list why summer preparation is better than the alternative, cramming it into an already inundated and stressful school year.

5 Benefits of the Summer SAT and Test Prep

  1. Minimize Test Prep’s Competition, with..
  • Sports and athletics
  • AP courses and exams
  • Rigorous academics
  • Clubs and extracurricular activities
  1. Increase Preparation, Decrease Stress
  • Schedule routine practice 3-4 times per week
  • Meet with a qualified Test Prep instructor as needed
  • Simulate the exam and take full practice tests
  • Take some time out- meditate, hike or nap. It is summer after all!
  1. Focus on College Preparation as a Whole
  • Target your “match” and “reach” college prospects
  • Align your target exam score with your target universities
  • Think scholarships: Higher SAT scores and GPA’s = more funding!
  • Create or research college planning checklists, which include testing
  1. Use the SAT Essay as a College Writing Resource, because it requires
  • reading comprehension and analysis
  • citing evidence and providing relevant commentary
  • effective grammar usage and word choice
  • classic essay organization and structure
  • quality revision and editing
  1. Time- There’s so much more of it!
  • Drag your books to the beach or pack em’ in your suitcase
  • Haul them out on work breaks or while riding the bus
  • If you have no other homework, summer is the time to focus!

Spare just some of that precious summer time; chances are, it’ll be harder to master the SAT during the school year with one more high stakes ball to juggle, especially as an 11th grader. Avoid amplifying the school year’s nail biting pressure by attempting a summer test prep program. Whether it’s self-study, light weight tutoring or a comprehensive curriculum, you’ll likely be better off for it!

3 Reasons: Why Rapid Educational Changes Are Unlikely

Educational, K-12, Betsy DeVos, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, Tutoring, Test Prep, College AdmissionsWhile many Americans vocalize optimism for the advancement of voucher programs and Charter Schools under the potential Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, or express fear of her lack of educational experience and diminished advocacy of public schools, the ultimate authority of public education will continue to reside with local control agencies and school districts themselves. According to FindLaw, “The city or district level school board, or “Local Education Agencies” (LEA), usually has the greatest authority to create, implement, and enforce educational policy.” Additionally, the 2015 bipartisan supported bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ensures “a significant transfer of power over education policy away from the federal government to states and school districts” according to US News’ analysis, “Education Shifts to the States.”

So whether parents are elated with or dismayed by DeVos’ cabinet candidacy, expectations that the nation will experience a sudden massive overhaul in K-12 education are unlikely.

Here’s why:

  1. Teacher’s Unions: Love em’ or hate em’, they exist throughout the nation, particularly in California, and they are mighty. According journalist Mario Koran’s November 2016 article, “Teachers’ Unions Maintain Grip on County, San Diego Unified School Boards” in the independent publication Voice of San Diego, “Despite unprecedented spending from a group backing charters schools, the two major education boards in San Diego County will remain filled overwhelmingly with union-backed politicians.”
  1. Common Core: While the implementation of Common Core standards has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on older students, the standards themselves and corresponding teaching methods are arguably preferable to the “teaching to the test” motto of the former No Child Left Behind policy, a test that inadequately prepared students for university entrance and attrition. Additionally, Common Core skills have already been readily adopted by the nation’s top college entrance testing service, the College Board’s SAT as well as strongly supported by universities as many colleges have voiced concern about the ill-preparedness of many freshmen college applicants.
  1. Universities: “Colleges report receiving record numbers of applications that push up their selectivity numbers and their rankings on lists of top colleges — and increase the anxiety for students.” Competition is fierce, and while many Charter Schools and Private Schools are successful in helping students achieve university success, so are many public schools. For example, the top 10 ranking high schools in California are a mixture of public district and charter schools according to US News; no private schools make the cut. In fact, San Diego’s own Canyon Crest Academy, a public district school, ranks at an outstanding number five. Additionally, public schools offer more options in terms of athletics, the arts, electives and specialized programs than do Charter and Private Schools. On the other hand, charters boast of higher test scores and privates maintain smaller student populations, and in certain, but increasingly rare circumstances, smaller class sizes.

Most importantly, regardless of school type, top-tier colleges will select undergraduate candidates from more competitive, higher ranking high schools, be they public, charter or private. Perhaps there are many issues of concern in 2017, but an immediate educational upheaval may not be one of them. The debate about which schools will receive greater educational funding or the effectiveness of a voucher system will rage on, and may or may not play out depending upon state and local education agency decisions. 

One objective is certain- providing the most comprehensive, college and career readiness education possible for the greatest number of students as well as protecting our effective teachers who work strenuously long hours in the service of their students are tantamount.

DeVos or no DeVos, educators, schools, districts, parents and students can band together to make the best choices for themselves at the local level, at least for now.

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