Apr 22, 2009

Buy One Get One Half Off

I know this is twice in one week, but I had to pass on a deal for those of you currently visiting colleges (seniors on the recheck and juniors on initial explorations). Amtrak and Campus Visit have partnered together to offer reduced-price train fares. It works this way: the student buys a full-price adult fare ticket and their parent or guardian travels for half-price through December 16, 2009. It's like BOGO for train tickets instead of shoes. To obtain this discount, you need to know the following:
  1. This offer is only good for high school juniors or seniors traveling with a parent or guardian.
  2. Tickets must be booked at least 3 days in advance, no exceptions.
  3. Up to 2 additional children (ages 2-15) per parent, travel for half-off a full-fare ticket.
  4. Some black out dates apply (Sept. 4 & 7, Nov. 24-25 & 28-30).
  5. This discount is NOT valid on the Acela trains.

That's cool, but how do I get such a great deal?

  1. Go to www.campusvisit.com/amtrak and fill out a short form about your trip.
  2. Press the submit button to get your special Amtrak promotion code-- WRITE IT DOWN (you'll need it).
  3. If you haven't already done so, register for the Amtrak Guest Rewards program (you'll earn 1,000 bonus points).
  4. Book your ticket BY PHONE: 800-USA-RAIL or 800-872-7245, using your special promotion code (see, I told you you'd need it again).
  5. Pick up your tickets FROM AN AGENT (you can't use the kiosk-- sorry!) and enjoy your trip.

Nothing truly substitutes for a visit when you're trying to decide where you want to spend the next four years of your life. A deal like this only makes the experience sweeter!

Apr 19, 2009

Standardized Testing in the Scheme of Things

Over the past few weeks, a number of you received test scores from either the dreaded College Board or the less familiar ACT test conglomerate. Consequently, I have been fielding questions concerning test prep or the advisability of various test-taking strategies. As a former instructor in a high school based SAT prep program, I have lots of views on these topics but I generally defer to the experts--and there are many these days! The one thing I want to emphasize to students and parents, however, is that neither the SAT nor the ACT tests a student's potential in life or in college for that matter. I sometimes think we get too wrapped up in the numbers and forget to see the larger picture. Standardized tests represent a moment in time. In fact, as kids mature (and learn more), they tend to do better on tests. Not surprisingly, test prep programs take lots of credit for what could simply be a result of growing up. Certainly practice helps as does tutoring on test-taking techniques. If you do better in a structured environment with repeat test-taking a central component of the drill, than any one of the many test prep programs available in this area will definitely help. Care should be taken, however, not to bite off another extracurricular activity that detracts from school work. When all is said and done, GPA reigns supreme with test scores a clear secondary consideration in college admissions.

One of the more interesting turns in testing is the gradual move the SAT has taken to be more like the ACT in what it tests as well as what information it conveys to college admissions officials. Originally conceived as an "aptitude" test, the SAT has become more of an "achievement" test. Although the Educational Testing Service claims that the SAT is a first-rate predictor of success in the freshman year, many admissions officials suspect that more curriculum-based tests such as the AP or the SAT Subject Tests do a much better job of predicting how well a student will perform as a freshman in college.

For those wishing a scholarly parsing of the differences between the ACT and the SAT, I have available edited material originally prepared by the Appelrouth Tutoring Service of Atlanta (8/26/08). Contact me directly (Nancy@CollegeExplorations.com) for a copy. If you are looking for a more direct comparison of scores, I would refer you to the ACT website concordance tables.

I recognize that some of this information is a bit dense and can be confusing. Whatever you do, please don't be discouraged by test results. Colleges know there is more to you than any number can ever represent!

Apr 4, 2009

The Fallout

After listening to a week of neighborhood chatter about who go into which school and who was not so lucky, I think it's time to remind everyone that the process of college admissions is most definitely not a science. What goes on behind closed doors in the average college admissions office is much more akin to sausage making than scientific research, especially at higher "ranked" schools. To give you more of an idea how this looks from the inside, I am sharing an opinion piece that appeared this week in the LA Times, by the director of admission at Pitzer College in Claremont, California:


For those of you with an insatiable appetite for this kind of "insider" information, I would suggest reading The Gatekeepers, by Jacques Steinberg, an education writer for the NY Times. Steinberg spent nearly a year following the selection process at Wesleyan University, beginning in the fall of 1999. Admissions junkies, including those of us in the college counseling business, universally agree that this is "must" reading for the detailed and compelling material contained in this fascinating narrative.

Finally, I want to return to a more scholarly review of college admissions found in an article published by the Brookings Institute, entitled "Who Needs Harvard?":


The bottom line is that success is more determined by how hard you work than by where you went to school. Enough said.