A Masterclass on the SAT Essay Section

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

You’ve made it through over 3 hours of SAT testing. You’re doing amazing, but who wouldn’t be tired at this point? After a final break, you’re in the home stretch: the optional essay. “Optional” is a tricky word, because some colleges require you to submit a writing score along with your SAT score. So it’s time to buckle down and write a great essay!

Format

You’ll have 50 minutes to write your essay. Each SAT essay provides you with a short persuasive passage that you’ll have to read and respond to. Your response should discuss how the author of the passage builds their argument using evidence, reasoning, and other persuasive elements rather than restate what the argument is. The purpose of this essay is to assess your ability to analyze an author’s argument. 

Preparing

At the beginning of your essay section, you’ll have a blank page to plan. Use it! This is your chance to organize your thoughts, decide on the structure of your essay, and choose what evidence from the text you want to use to build your analysis. You’ll be able to write much faster and more clearly when you have a clear idea of what you want to say.

Beginning

The structure of your essay should be pretty straightforward. One sentence to introduce the topic, a transition to your analysis, and a very clear thesis statement. Remember: your thesis sentence should state your argument, and briefly discuss what each paragraph will go over. 

Writing

A few key things to remember: 

  • Be careful with your word choice. Don’t be repetitive with the words you use, and avoid vague terms like “so,” “very,” “maybe,” and “like.”
  • Don’t spend too much time on evidence. While it’s important to cite why you have made an argument, don’t quote the passage too heavily. The readers want to hear what you have to say, not the author. 
  • Be objective! While you are writing an analysis, don’t say “I think,” “I believe,” or “in my opinion.” Have confidence in what you have to say!
  • Write clearly. This one is really tricky because of the time crunch, but if the readers can’t understand what you wrote, they won’t be able to score your essay as well.

Timing

Final tips

This essay may seem stressful, but it’s no different from any essay you’ve had to write in English class. Just focus on having a clear argument that is well supported by evidence. And don’t stress about sounding like you have the biggest vocabulary in the world. Being smart doesn’t mean using big words. It’s about being thoughtful and thorough when writing your essay, and being confident in your ability to nail this!

A Future in Finance

Victoria Medina ‘22, Florida State University

Finance is all about the behind the scenes of a business! It includes how businesses make money, how they obtain the goods they are going to sell, and how they record all of this information in compliance with certain financial standards.

High school connections

High school really influenced my decision to pursue Finance. I was in a business club called DECA where  I completed a project called “Learn and Earn.” The whole concept of the project was to create a small business that would solve a problem in your high school. I competed with this project at both state and national levels, pitching my business idea to panels of judges. 

When I got to college and started taking business classes, I realized how fascinated I was with all the different parts that go into starting and running a business. This made me even want to start my own company! I soon settled on finance because of how much I enjoyed learning about the financial aspects of companies.

Favorite project

My favorite project I worked on for my major was filling out financial statements for a specific company. I really enjoyed seeing what a job might look like in the Finance realm in my future. Besides that, it allowed me to take a deeper look into everything a business does in order to run smoothly.

Future in Finance

I hope to work for a big corporation in their auditing sector after graduating. Further down the line from that, my dream is to own my own business. I plan to take everything I learn from my major and use it toward starting my own clothing company, or something in the fashion industry.

Common misconceptions

One common misconception about my major is it’s really hard and boring. I think it’s all about mindset. If you are interested in what you are learning and choose to put the time into it, nothing is as hard as it seems!

Career paths

There are many career paths available to those with a finance major. You can try stocks, commercial loans, financial analysis, investment advising, financial consulting, international trade, and so many more!

Tips for future majors

One major piece of advice I have for students looking to go into Finance is to not be scared of the hard prerequisites! I have talked to so many people who told me they don’t want to go into Finance or some other business majors because of the required math classes. I wouldn’t avoid a major that might help you achieve your goals just because a couple classes might scare you!

How to Ace the SAT and ACT

Simarn Regmi, CollegeFindMe Intern

It seems like people won’t stop talking about the SAT and ACT. For some reason a 1600 or 36 are the most important numbers for a high schooler, even though the numbers themselves don’t seem to make a lot of sense. That’s because these tests are not like any test you’ve taken before – but that doesn’t mean they have to be scary. Like most things in high school and college, these tests just require some practice, focus, and time management skills. Luckily, we’re here to share some tips we’ve learned along the way to help you prepare.

Try it out

It’s helpful to take the SAT, ACT, or pre-test before your senior year just to try it out. They’re big and challenging, but once you go through the real deal the first time, you’ll know what it’s like and won’t have to focus on the “unknowns” anymore. Also, when you get your score back, you can identify which subjects you’re strongest in, and which ones you need to work on.

Study consistently

Studying one time before the test will not prepare you. SATs, ACTs, and standardized tests do not measure your intelligence, but rather how many questions you can correctly answer in a short period of time. Often, they will try to trick you with their wording, so the best way to overcome confusion is to understand the test inside and out. Work slowly and steadily over several months to build up your understanding, rather than tackling it all at once. It can also help to take full length practice tests so you can build up endurance as well.

A really good tool to plan out your studying is Khan Academy, where they can help you understand what areas of the test you should focus on. The platform gives you freedom to plan according to your schedule and you can always sneak in a little practice whether you are on your way to work, school, on the train, etc.

Read!

It is proven that reading makes you smarter and exercises your brain, and it especially comes in the reading sections, which contain hefty non-fiction and historical texts that can be a lot to take in. Try to read more nonfiction articles and familiarize yourself with their structure so that when the big day comes, you’re ready to go.

Recognize your mistakes

After taking practice tests and seeing where you went wrong, it is crucial to not be discouraged by your mistakes, but to learn from them instead. On Khan Academy, when you get your results back, they break down the problem when showing you the right answer. Additionally, if you do not understand a concept, they have videos with tutorials and walk through examples that range from easy, medium, and hard.

Challenge yourself

When practicing, don’t just stick with the easiest questions. You definitely don’t have to dive into the “hard” section head-first, but you can work your way up each week or until you think you can handle more intense problems. You are doing yourself a disservice if you just practice with easy problems that you are already familiar with. When you push yourself to tackle advanced problems over time, you’ll be ready for any curveballs on test day.

Time management

On the SAT and ACT, every question is worth the same amount of points, so if you get stuck, move on. Focus first on the questions you can confidently answer to boost your score, and then come back to the tougher questions. Even if you still don’t know the answer, use process of elimination to get rid of wrong answers and improve your chances of guessing correctly.

You’ve got this!

Believe in yourself, even though it can be hard and you might not feel the best about these tests. Just know that at the end of the day, you are not a number. While we can’t ignore the seriousness of standardized tests, remember that in no way do they measure your intelligence or what you can achieve. Be ready to roll your sleeves up and work on your critical ready and time management skills, but also don’t forget that confidence and a clear head can take you far, both in the testing room and in all of high school. Good luck, and remember that these tests are just one of many paths to college!

Literatura y Cultura: Studying Spanish

Sam Savello ‘18, Brown University

I was a Hispanic Literature and Culture major at Brown. It’s basically like an English major, but everything we read and wrote was in Spanish. The curriculum was very diverse: we analyzed Latin American film and poetry, studied the history of Spain, and delved into Spanish-English translation. I learned a lot about Spanish and Latin America culture, including topics such as immigration policies, stereotypes, identity issues, and traditions. 

Choosing Spanish

At the end of my freshman year, the only class I had actually enjoyed was my Spanish class. In high school, I loved taking AP Spanish, so my advisor suggested I continue taking Spanish classes and see what happened. I didn’t really think it would become my major, but I ended up falling in love with it. 

Favorite class

I enjoyed so many of my classes, but my favorite was called “Hispanics in the US”. The class explored the immigration trends of Latin Americans living in the US. We studied various Latinx-driven civil rights movements and the literature that surrounded them. We read the work “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri, a slam poem that discusses the experience of Puerto Rican immigrants living in New York and the issues they faced as they navigated a new country. This is what inspired my senior thesis.

Favorite project

My favorite project was my thesis. It was so interesting to explore Nuyorican (New York-Puerto Rican) poetry. I got to sit down and interview Noel Quiñones, who is a big name in the Nuyorican poetry space. In his poem “8 Confessions of my Tongue,” he discusses his identity struggles and explains how out of place he feels in the Latinx community because he doesn’t know Spanish. I spoke with him out his identity struggle and how he feels stuck between two islands: Manhattan and Puerto Rico. It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot about myself and my family’s experience as well. 

Making friends

I think the other students and I liked the major because it was very intimate and the professors were incredible. We had so many amazing classes to choose from and because they were so small, we had the opportunity to share our ideas with one another and really engage in a language, that for many of us, was not our first.

Career paths

Hispanic Culture and Literature provides students with a strong set of critical thinking and communication skills that can be applied to a variety of occupations. Communications, marketing, translation, and international relations are just a few options for career paths. Knowing a second language will help in almost any job field and can help lead to more opportunities in international locations. 

Similar majors

One closely related major is comparative literature. It’s pretty much the same thing except it involves studying literature in three different languages. There’s also Latin American Studies, where you study about Latin America but can take most of your classes in English. Ethnic Studies and American Studies are two majors that are also relevant, as they deal largely with social issues, cultural representation and history. 

Tips for future Spanish majors

Don’t feel intimidated. There might be students who grew up speaking Spanish in a lot of your classes, but if it’s not your first language, don’t feel like you can’t do it. It’s a learning process and it really helps you to build up your confidence and refine your communication skills. Studying abroad can be a great way to do this too. You’ll gain hands-on experience within the Spanish-speaking world and allow you to fully immerse yourself in a new culture.  

Getting a Head Start: Early Applications

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

Let’s face it: there are a lot of deadlines to keep track of when applying to colleges. But the most important date to know is when your application is due. For most schools, this is probably sometime in January or February. But there are a few alternatives to the regular application deadlines: Early Decision and Early Action.

Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) is the earliest you can apply for a school, with deadlines usually in November and decisions released in December or January. Not every school offers ED, but if they do it means that, if you apply ED, you are promising to attend that school if they accept you. This can be a great option if you know for sure what school you want to go to, but ED can be a bit tricky. While you’re allowed to apply to other schools by the regular decision (RD) deadline, if you are accepted ED you must withdraw all of your other RD applications. This means that you won’t be able to compare financial aid packages or change your mind if you find another school you like better. 

Early Action

Unlike ED, Early Action (EA) is not binding. You either apply early or on the RD deadline, but you hear back before the RD decisions are released, probably in January or February. This is a good option if you want to avoid the stress of waiting until March to hear back, but you still want to compare financial aid packages at different schools. 

Why apply early

Early deadlines can really cut down on the stress from waiting to hear back from schools, but it’s important to know that you can usually only apply to one school early. Deciding which to apply to can be tricky, but think of it this way: If you apply to ten schools, and you get into all of them, which would you choose to go to? Your top school should be the one that you apply early to, since it’s the one you’d want attend anyways. 

Some ED schools also respond to you before the RD deadline. This means you can save a lot of money on application fees if you apply ED to one school and wait to send in RD applications depending on whether or not you get into your ED school. 

Drawbacks of ED and EA

As mentioned, applying ED means you can’t compare financial aid packages, which can make it difficult if you get into your ED school but they don’t offer you enough financial aid. There can also be a lot of pressure to decide which school you should apply early to, and finish your applications two or more months before the RD deadline. 

If you think ED or EA is right for you, go for it! Just be sure to stay on top of all of the components of your application so you can be ready in time. And take the time to compare all of the schools you’ve looked at to make sure you choose your favorite for ED or EA. 

Your SAT/ACT Prep Guide

Jay KC, CollegeFindMe Intern

The SAT and ACT can be stressful exams for a student can take, and combining that with regular schoolwork is a recipe for high-level stress. Here is some advice on how you can handle them both.

Keep a calendar

A lot of people find keeping a calendar excessive or tedious, but it can actually be a great way to manage your time. A calendar is especially useful because it helps you physically lay out your day and keeps you in check. I’m someone that is pretty forgetful, so looking at a calendar that says “Study for SAT 6:00-8:00” is a simple reminder to stay on top of my goals. Even better, make sure to turn on notifications or download one of the many apps that can help you remember to study.

Don’t procrastinate

While it might seem easier, procrastination can really hurt your progress. You have to manage your schoolwork and test prep efficiently, but procrastination can force you to rush and eventually cause you more stress than if you had just worked consistently from the beginning. Preparing for these tests can feel like a lot, so be sure to break it into smaller pieces that you can check off of your to-do list and feel more productive. Also be sure to reward yourself as you cross more things off your list – this will keep you motivated!

Prioritize

This is one of the most important things to do when it comes to handling the SAT and ACT with school. It is likely that school and standardized testing aren’t the only two things taking up your time. Sports, jobs, after-school clubs, volunteering, and family can fill up your schedule, so make sure to come up with an action plan of what needs the most work. If you’re struggling with the essay portion, set aside time specifically dedicated to your writing skills, even if it means holding off on other activities for a little while. 

Study

Of course, studying is one of the most important parts of this process. You have to know how to study efficiently and effectively. The SAT and ACT cover a broad range of topics spanning from 9th-12th grade, and it is difficult to go over all of that information in depth. The best way to go through this is by taking a few practice tests to figure out what areas you are struggling in, and then devoting your attention there. 

Relax

Relaxing is one of the most important parts of handling the SAT and ACT while in school. While both school and standardized tests are important, neither should force you to sacrifice your mental health. Besides, in taking care of your mind, you’re setting yourself up for success further down the road. These tests aren’t everything, so don’t overwork yourself to get the best score possible. Try your best, but don’t forget that you are so much more than any test score, and colleges know that. 

When you get your score, be sure to add them to your CollegeFindMe profile, but remember that these scores are only one piece in a much larger puzzle that can help you stand out to schools. 

Anthropology: A Crash Course in Culture Studies

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

I graduated in May with a degree in anthropology. A lot of people don’t know what that means, and to be fair, I really didn’t know either, even after I declared my major. Anthropology is basically culture studies. You can learn about religions, rituals, artifacts, languages, and the day-to-day life of people around the world by studying how they learn, how they act, and how they interact with each other. Especially as the world becomes more connected, it’s really helpful to know about different ways of life, thinking, and belief that surround us. 

Choosing anthropology

I’ve always loved studying different cultures. One day during my freshman year my RA overheard me talking about religious rituals from ancient Greece, and she said that I would be a great anthropology major. She brought me to a department lunch the following week and introduced me to some of her friends. I fell in love with the program immediately.

High school connections

One of my favorite classes in high school was AP Human Geography. I didn’t know that it was connected to anthropology, but I really enjoyed learning about the connections between cultures, nations, religions, languages, and people. Now I know that it lead me to my major!

Favorite class

My favorite class was called Indigenous People and Environmental Change. We learned how climate change is affecting indigenous peoples around the world, despite those cultures’ strong connections to the environment over tens of thousands of years. My professor previously worked with the UN and the Smithsonian, and she taught us a lot about unjust power structures and how indigenous knowledge could help end the global warming crisis.

Favorite project

My favorite project was a 20-page research paper I wrote on the history of tattoos in America, especially among teenagers. I interviewed 30 of my friends with tattoos and learned about the significance behind each of their tattoos. Afterwards, I proposed my own theory about how millennials use tattoos to express their identity. I had to work really hard, but I was so proud when I finished.

Career paths

I’ll be honest, when I first declared my major my parents were a bit concerned. In the past, anthropologists tended to only do ethnographic research and write dissertations about their research. Luckily, the field is rapidly expanding right now. When you think of anthropology as culture studies, it can be applied to so many different fields. I know other students that have gone to work in human resources, communications, museum studies, market research, education, film, and even medicine. Think of anthropology like a set of tools you can bring to many fields, rather than a narrow career path. 

Similar majors

Anthropology is pretty closely connected to sociology, psychology, and religious studies. I also see some connections to international relations, political science, and archaeology. I paired my anthropology major with film and media studies, so I learned a lot about how representation in the media matters. 

Tips for future majors

I think anthropology is more fun when there are fewer rules. Look for schools with smaller class sizes so you can really engage with your peers and professors. And the more anthropology courses they offer, the better! It’s such a broad major, so there’s plenty of things to learn and try.

The World of Portfolios

Briti Prajapat, CollegeFindMe Intern

Out of those hundreds of thousands of applicants, how can you stand out? Are you excelling in school? Do your test scores set a promising representation of you and your abilities? If you’re an artist, then your talents might be another great way to set you apart from the crowd.

Whether it be dancing, painting, acting, or singing, your skills may be rarer than you think. Just by submitting a clip of you singing or a collage of your amazing drawings, you can stand out from other students in the application pool.

What should you send?

Well, the hard part is to choose what to use. Answer these questions: what are you most proud of? What do you think reflects your abilities? And lastly, is it unique?

If you want to turn in a video of you singing, choose a song that is challenging, yet you have managed to not just sing it well, but also highlight your vocals. You also need to be careful not to choose a song that contains inappropriate words and sentences. So basically, select a song that you can sing during a family gathering or a school event.

Furthermore, for artists, make sure to save ALL your artwork from previous years of art classes. Choose your favorites, but if you have any questions, seek help from your art teacher. Your pile of artwork for your portfolio should include only 10 to 20 of your best artworks, showing both your skills in a variety of media as well as your development in a few media over time. This will help to show schools the range of your talents, but also your commitment to mastering one or two artforms.

Unlike drawers, dancers should try to concentrate on one specific type of dance. If you are a dancer and you want to submit a group dance, be sure that it focuses mostly on you.

An important note

Some colleges and universities do not necessarily have a section on Common App where you can attach your portfolio. To submit your portfolio to these schools, you can mention it in the “Additional Information” section and attach the link. Also, you can send a professional email to the admissions committee of the school informing them about your interest in submitting a portfolio.

Don’t be afraid to display your true talents!  Show these colleges what you have to offer through our platform – we’re working on a new function where students can share their profile photos and videos with schools!

From one artist to another, I wish you luck!

Displaying Your Creativity

Alisson Martinez, Senior, Community Charter School of Cambridge

Being an artist while trying to navigate school is a daunting feat, especially when you add college applications to your to-do list. Luckily, there is an easy and productive way to combine both your passions and your college applications. Working on creative projects throughout high school can help develop your sense of artistry and show colleges your potential. For example, I am currently working on my own magazine, Solara Magazine, and its accompanying fashion line. Based on my experiences, I want to help you start your own projects and use them when applying to colleges.

Realize your potential

The first step to embarking on any sort of creative journey, especially one which you will be sending out for review, is to be self-aware. You want to make sure you are entering this project, and anything you do really, with a positive mindset. If you think you’re going to fail, or that it’s going to be a waste of time, then you won’t put in 100% and you won’t do as well. Make sure you really want to commit to this project and that you want to embrace the challenges and grow along the way! 

Make a plan

Remember, this is something you’re going to be sending to colleges. Make sure you plan everything with enough time to be completed. I would definitely recommend getting a planner. I know everyone everywhere tells you to “get a planner, you’ll be more organized,” but it seriously helped me so much with my magazine and my clothing brand. Since buying one last year, I never leave anywhere without it! Always schedule enough time to brainstorm and create, but also give yourself some time to relax and recover. Creativity is an energetic spark and sometimes you need to take a break to gather new inspiration and let your brain regenerate itself after cranking out some great ideas!

Connect with peers

I thought I could handle every aspect of my magazine along with editing, writing, shooting, designing and just about everything else. It was one of the most stressful times of the whole creative endeavor and I regret not reaching out to my friends for input. If you connect with other creative minds, your project will be way more fun and enriching. You’ll learn a lot more when you bring together different perspectives and experiences, so ask around on social media for anyone willing to help you. You can also join meetups in your area to get ideas and learn more. You’ll be surprised by how many people actually want to help! I’ve met so many amazing people and made friends just by posting online for help. 

Just do it

Now that you’ve planned and built a team, it’s time for action! Start your project! It’s so satisfying (and no, not satisfying like the slime videos on YouTube) to see your vision come to life. True story: I cried during my first magazine photoshoot because I was so overwhelmed with the feeling of seeing a vision I’d had for so long manifesting in front of me. You should make sure you’re having fun while getting the content you need.

Also take pictures of behind the scenes and of your work in general! When it comes to submitting your work for portfolios or competitions having quality photos of your creative process will make applying so much easier. They will definitely come in handy later on and serve as proof of your commitment to your project! Colleges appreciate when they see students who dedicate themselves to projects long-term, so take time to document the hard work you put into making your project happen!

Breaking Down the SAT

Meghna Chhabra, Senior, Prospect Hill Academy

What is the SAT?

The SAT is an entrance exam many colleges and universities use in the college admissions decision. The purpose of the SAT exam is to give colleges a better sense of how ready a student is for college and acts as a universal point of comparison when colleges are comparing applicants. It is important to keep in mind that not all schools weigh the SAT equally. Some schools may place more importance on the SAT than others and some schools might not even look at your SAT scores. Remember that the SAT does not determine how good of a student you are. 

When to take it

Many high school students take the SAT during the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. We recommend taking the SAT during your junior year because you have the ability to retake the test during your senior year if you are not happy with your score before you apply to college. Most local high schools schedule test dates every year in the months of August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. Visit this link to find specific dates: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/dates-deadlines

SAT sections 

The SAT has three sections: math, evidence-based reading and writing, and an optional essay section. 

  • 1 hour, 20 minutes to complete the math section
  • 1 hour, 40 minutes to complete the reading and writing section
  • 50 minutes to complete the essay section (if you decide to take it)

You’ll get a 10-minute break after the reading section and a 5-minute break after the math without the calculator section. With these breaks, the exam time becomes 3 hours, 15 minutes long. 

If you choose to take the essay, your exam time will be 4 hours, 5 minutes long.

Math sections 

There is a calculator and a non-calculator part of the math section. 

In the non-calculator section, you have 25 minutes to answer 20 questions (87 seconds per question). There are 15 multiple choice questions and 5 grid-in questions. 

In the calculator section, you have 55 minutes to answer 38 questions (75 seconds per question). There are 31 multiple choice questions and 7 grid-in questions. 

The questions focus on algebra, problem-solving & data analysis, and some questions about the basics of higher math.

Reading and writing section 

In the reading section, there are 52 multiple choice questions and you have 65 minutes to answer all questions (75 seconds per question). The questions will focus on reading and vocabulary in context. 

In the writing section, there are 44 multiple choice questions and you have 35 minutes to answer all questions (48 seconds per question). The questions will focus on grammar and usage. 

Scoring

The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600. Each section is worth a maximum of 800 points. 

Essay section

The SAT essay is optional because not all colleges factor in your essay score while looking at your application. You’ll have 50 minutes in total to complete your essay. 

Each SAT essay provides the student with one short persuasive passage that they will have to read and respond to. The essay prompt is the same on every test, but the passage you are given is not. Your response should discuss how the author of the passage assembles the argument using evidence, reasoning, and other persuasive elements rather than restate what the argument is. The purpose of this essay is to assess your ability to analyze an author’s argument. 

Your score on the essay is separate from your scores on the math and reading sections. Your essay is assessed by two scorers. Each grader will give you a score of 1-4 in 3 categories: 

  • Reading – How well your essay shows your understanding of the text. 
  • Analysis – How well you analyze the text and explain how the author builds their argument.
  • Writing – How well your response is written.

The scores from both graders will be added together to give you a score of 2-8 on each section. Each section score is added together to give you a final score of 6-24. 

Registering

To register for the SAT, sign up on the College Board website. The website will give you all of the possible SAT dates and will give you deadlines to sign up by. Check out the College Board SAT day checklist for more information about what to bring: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/taking-the-test/test-day-checklist

Remember that your SAT score is just one step of your college process. Your score does NOT determine who you are as a student. Some schools don’t even ask for the SAT, while others superscore. This means that if you take the test multiple times, they’ll take you best score from each section out of all the tests you’ve taken. It’s more important to always try your best despite any difficulties you might face. Make sure to set goals for yourself and take breaks!