Tips for First Generation College Applicants

First of all, congratulations on going to college! You’re the first person in your family to do so, and everyone in your family is proud of you. Don’t take this for granted; it takes an extraordinary and brave person to be the first to go to college. That said, college is probably unlike anything you’ve done before, so here’s a few tips to get you through your first year and eventually to graduation!

First Generation

First Generation students may face challenges in college that are unique from their peers’. A major one is adapting to the new environment of college. There are often unspoken rules, norms, and expectations that not all First Gen students will understand at first. Another sneaking issue many college students face is the hidden expenses of college, which may catch First Gen students in particular off guard. It can also be difficult to manage all the different academic expectations and resources, but students can definitely learn how to navigate college quickly and effectively.

Seek academic resources

You’re going to college for a reason: to get your degree! College journey will put you through some of the toughest obstacles and challenges academically. Luckily, you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Many colleges offer a wide variety of academic help, from tutors to office hours with professors where you can go over assignments and readings. Some schools even have programs designed to help you develop study habits and a study schedule.

Make friends

College is also about the experience! Don’t forget to make friends, especially ones who complement your study habits. Having someone who helps you can keep you on track and focused when essential test dates and projects are coming up is a great way to stay motivated while still having fun. Look for someone with a different perspective from you so you can bounce ideas off of them, but who also has a similar work ethic. One of the best things about college is that anything, even studying, can become a social activity. 

Visit the financial aid office

Meeting with the financial aid office to discuss your expenses will help you avoid overspending or any sneaking bills. More often than not, these advisors will help you and keep you updated with any looming charges. It might feel awkward to be in there a lot, but know it will pay off substantially in the long run. Also, remember that you aren’t alone. The financial aid office is there for a reason: to help students like you succeed! 

Take chances

College is really a chance to try everything you’ve ever wanted to try. Want to play a sport? Try out for a team! Take classes on subjects you’ve never even heard of before. Study abroad. Join clubs with weird names and make friends with people different from you. At the end of the day, you’ll learn more about yourself if you go out on a limb and try something new!

Stay healthy

College can be super stressful, which can affect your health. Pulling all-nighters or drinking too much coffee can take a toll, especially if you don’t give yourself the chance to relax, stretch, and have fun. Take advantage of healthy options for food, gyms on campus, and outdoor spaces. These will help you stay in shape both physically and mentally. 

Don’t doubt yourself

You’re the first one from your family to go to college. You’re there for a reason, so don’t forget it. College journey takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but you’ve already proven that you have what it takes to get into a great school. Now it’s time to show off what makes you such an excellent student!

Avoiding Application Costs

Meghna Chhabra ‘20, Prospect Hill Academy

You’ve taken your tests. You’ve written your essays. You’re ready to submit your applications, but there’s one more piece of the puzzle. Some colleges charge application fees to help pay for reading your college application and making admission decisions. And, ironically, some financial aid services like the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile charge you to apply. So while you may want to apply to 20 schools, keep in mind that there will be a cost. 

Application costs

College applications can range from anywhere between $40 to $90, though the average application fee is $60. Luckily, not all schools charge application fees, or may offer fee waiver programs (we’ll talk about these a bit later).

Additional costs

There are some additional costs for taking the SAT and ACT, sending in your SAT and ACT score reports, and submitting your CSS profile to the schools you’re applying to. 

  • The SAT costs $49.50 (no essay) or $64.50 (with essay). There’s an additional $30 fee if you registered late. 
  • The ACT costs $52.00 (no writing) or $68.00 (with optional writing test). There’s an additional $29.50 fee if you registered late. 
  • It costs $12 for each school you send your SAT score report to, and $13 for each school you send your ACT score report to.
  • The CSS Profile costs $25 to fill out and send to one school. There’s a $16 charge for each additional school you send yourCSS Profile to.

Fee waivers

Those costs can be a little scary, and can add up pretty quickly. Luckily, there are several ways you can avoid the fees for the SAT, ACT, and college applications.

  • College Board offers fee waivers for students taking the SAT or ACT and when sending in score reports.
  • The Common App offers fee waivers when applying to schools.
  • Some colleges also offer their own fee waiver programs, which you may have to apply for separately. 

SAT waivers

You can avoid the SAT costs if: 

  • You’re enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Your family’s income is within the Income Eligibility Guidelines.
  • You’re enrolled in a federal, state, or local program for low-income families (e.g., Federal TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home, or are homeless.
  • You’re a ward of the state, or an orphan.

You can use your SAT fee waiver as many times as you want. 

ACT waivers

To get an ACT fee waiver, you have to be a junior or senior, take your test in the US or a US territory, and meet one of the same standards set for the SAT (except for students who are orphans or wards of the state). Your fee waiver can only be used to send your score profile to a maximum of 20 schools. 

CSS Profile waivers

You can get a CSS Profile fee waiver if: 

  • You received a SAT fee waiver
  • Your family’s expected income is $45,000 or less, or
  • You’re an orphan or ward of the state under the age of 24.

Other options

If you don’t qualify for any of these fee waivers, there are still plenty of options. Try some of the following: 

  • Apply to diversity and outreach programs at colleges
  • Email your admission representatives at colleges explaining your financial circumstances
  • Just ask for one! Colleges might give you one if you show demonstrated interest in the school.

Tech Meets Business: My CIS Major

Nirmeet Bhogill ‘19, Cal Poly Pomona

My major is Computer Information Systems. I would describe my major as ‘the business of technology’. I actually came in as a Computer Science major, which is much more technical and consists of coding to create software programs. During my COM 100 class (general-ed communications), we had to present on an app of our choice. The process of researching the technology and industry, and then presenting to the class to convince them to invest in the app, was such an enlightening experience for me. I really, thoroughly enjoyed the project, which pushed me to change my major to CIS. I had discovered my passion for the business side of technology.

Favorite class

My favorite class I’ve taken within my major has to be Data Analytics/Business Intelligence. I really enjoyed it because we learned how to analyze data and interpret it in unique ways to gain new insights. I was really interested in this class because it taught me that solving a problem within a team or company is much more than just finding a solution and using it. It’s about analyzing different perspectives and also predicting which solution will be the best to be as prepared as possible.

What my friends think

I do have quite a few friends within my major. I think the most ‘liked’ part in my major is that it is the perfect medium between tech and business. Most people either do Computer Science or Marketing/Business. However, with CIS, you get the best of both worlds.

Career paths

There are a variety of career paths to choose from. CIS tends to emphasize solving business problems with computing technology. The vast field can include the development of strategic information systems, implementation of enterprise-wide systems, or creation of Web 2.0 apps. App development typically involves programming to build interactive web services. Information Security, or Cyber-security, involves learning to protect computer systems and networks from various attacks. The third main region of CIS is Business Intelligence, also called Data Analytics, which lets organizations make the best calculated business decisions based on data patterns and trends. In Data Analytics, you organize raw data to be interpreted by the core employees. These interactive graphs and charts provide insight into the company’s performance, and give the organization a more detailed explanation of what’s going on behind the scenes.

Life after college

I hope to go into technical product marketing with my major. I really enjoy doing product marketing/management, but specifically for technical products since I have a lot of knowledge about technology. My goal is to eventually be a part of top tier companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc.

I think my major will prepare me for life after college because it’s given me a good foundation in technology. Since I want to go into business or marketing, especially for technical products, I think it’s really beneficial for me to have a strong curriculum knowledge of technology fundamentals.

Tips for future majors

Just because you aren’t super extroverted or outgoing, doesn’t mean you can’t do business. It’s such a common misconception, and honestly it’s one that I believed in too. I was quite introverted in high school, so I automatically thought business wasn’t for me. It involves being ‘naturally charming and enthusiastic’, which is true, but to an extent. Aside from the fact that your personality will definitely mature in college, you don’t need to be an extreme extrovert to do business. As long as you do what you enjoy and are passionate in, your true personality and dedication will shine through!

Writing Your Best College Essay

Marc Leroux-Parra, CollegeFindMe Intern

By this point, you’ve probably heard about the essay portion of college applications. If you aren’t the biggest fan of writing, or applications, or writing about applications, you might not be too excited to get started. However, the application essay is the biggest opportunity you, as a student, have to tell your story. Don’t let the fear of sounding “backwards” or “different” impair and water down your writing; colleges want you to tell them your unique background, personal perspective, and experiences. This can make the essay a bit more fun, but you should still definitely take it seriously. So let’s go through some tips for knocking your essay out of the park.

Time management

As someone who applied to all of my schools on the same day, let me give you an insider piece of advice: You cannot write an essay in a day. College application essays require multiple drafts, especially if you want to meet the word count while still being clear and direct. So give yourself plenty of time to organize your thoughts. A draft doesn’t have to be big and complicated; just some bullet points that can turn into sentences and paragraphs and, finally, a personal essay.

Content

Admissions officers want to see your background, personal developments, and experiences reflected within your personal essay. The prompts are merely different lenses through which they expect you learn about you as a person. Before you write, it is helpful to sit down—either alone or with a parent or close friend—and brainstorm a list of the most impactful, emotional, and difficult moments of your life, positive or negative. From this list, you can narrow down the list to one or two events which have defined who you are today. If, at this point, you have more than one finalist event, it can help to analyze each event in detail by asking yourself these questions:

  • When and where did the event take place?
  • Who were you before the event?
  • Who were/are you after the event?
    • What changed? How did this influence your actions moving forward with your life? How have other events been influenced by the effects of this one?
  • Who was around you during the event? How did this change?
  • What emotions did you feel during the event? What emotions do you feel now, looking back at the event?

These questions will help you form a fuller understanding of how a particular event shaped your life, and hopefully make it easier to put it into words.

Word count

In writing these essays, every sentence counts. Every sentence should drive your story forward and provide new information about yourself. That isn’t to say you can’t describe a particular moment with more than one sentence, but if you do, make sure you highlight a different part or detail. And make sure you always, always, highlight how this event has shaped your personality, development, life, and who you are now.

Voice

Keep in mind, you don’t have to just describe who you were and who are now. Let it shine by using your voice. Are you funny? Make (appropriate) jokes! Are you mature? Use language that reflects that. Are you clever? A little word play never hurts. However, don’t try to be someone you aren’t. The whole point of the essay is to paint a picture of who you are. Try telling your story out loud and recording it before you write it down. This will help your essay sound more “you” than anything that comes out of a thesaurus. 

Final note

This might sound like a lot to juggle. And it is, but it’s possible. Every single person who has gone to college has written a successful essay, and you will too. Don’t rush, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And most importantly, don’t try to be anything other than yourself, because that’s the best thing you can be. 

Understanding FAFSA and Financial Aid

Wiener Douyon, CollegeFindMe Intern

What is FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, is the certified report of your family’s financial standings. Each college applicant receives their FAFSA after submitting documents such as W2 forms and recent tax returns. FAFSA is the financial side of the college application process, and for many, it can be the most important. So let’s dive in!

Why FAFSA?

FAFSA allows U.S college applicants to be eligible with different types of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, federal loans, and private loans. We’ll help you understand these categories below.

Grants

  • No repayment required
  • Offered by the federal and state government, along with some institutions
  • May be merit-based, need-based or student-specific*
  • Can be highly competitive
  • The most common grant is the Pell Grant

*Many student-specific grants are for minorities, women, and students with disabilities.

Scholarships

  • No repayment required
  • Offered by individual institutions and private organizations
  • Awarded based on a number of factors, such as academic performance, athletic ability, religious affiliation, and race, among others
  • Most require an essay or some sort of task to be completed, such as a video

Work Study Program

  • Earn money that helps you pay for school through work
  • Schools provide students with federally funded jobs on campus or at other approved locations
  • Libraries, campus centers, administrative offices, dining halls, and residence halls tend to employ work study students
  • The positions available and the pay offered to vary widely depending on the school

Federal Loans

There are two types of federal loans that the government offers to applicants: subsidized and unsubsidized.

  • Subsidized Loans– Available for students who have demonstrated financial need. Terms are a bit better than unsubsidized student loans, since the government pays the interest while the student is in college (and 6 months after graduation)
  • Unsubsidized Loans– Available to all students regardless of need. Students are responsible for repaying interest during all periods.

Private Loans

  • Granted by private banks
  • Help to bridge the gap between the cost of your education and the amount of financial aid you receive from the government (loans, grants, work-study).
  • Eligibility for private loans often depends on your credit score
  • Tend to have higher interest rates than federal loans

Loans, specifically private loans, are the causes of extreme student debt for many adults today. When applying for financial aid, be thorough in your research before signing up for loans, and look for as many scholarships and grants as possible, since you don’t need to pay them back. You can check out some great scholarships offered by CollegeFindMe and our partners here. 

Preparing for FAFSA

This is the dawn of one of your biggest financial moves that you will take in your lifetime. Similar to mortgages and car loans, there are a lot of aspects that students need to keep in mind before making any decisions. At the moment, the best way to prepare is to gather all the resources and forms needed to fill out your FAFSA. That way, you can fill out right when the finance department opens (October 1st) and receive your package earlier than most.

Remember: While it’s important to reach for the stars, don’t burden yourself with debt if you can avoid it. There are many colleges that are more affordable and fitting to your needs than top-tier institutions that charge two or three times more than other colleges. What’s really important is your work ethic and your ability to network within any college you go to. You are amazing, so don’t think that you need to go into an insurmountable debt in order to be successful. You’re destined to be successful no matter the college you go to!

Mastering Media Studies

Osmanee Offre ‘21, New York University

I am currently majoring in Media, Culture, and Communication or MCC for short. My major focuses around media studies. For the first year and a half the curriculum covers the basics of media theory. These core classes introduce several theories about how an audience is created, how media shapes who we are, and the history of all types of media forms from radio to television. Once you’ve taken the required courses, you can study any form of media that you want to go into. People from my major go on to pursue careers in everything from marketing and public relations to film and TV.   

Choosing Media Studies

I originally wanted to major in English since it was always one of my strongest subjects throughout school. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that I wanted to incorporate my love for literature, film, TV, art, and writing into my future career. Media studies was the best path for me, since it incorporates most of my passions, and is becoming increasingly relevant. 

Favorite class

My favorite class that I’ve taken in my major is Intro to Media Studies. Even though it was my first MCC class, it was the most pivotal moment because I realized that I was exactly where I should be. Our professor presented us with fundamental concepts that have forever changed the way that I think about media. Not only did the class present core concepts that I apply to my life on a daily basis, but it was also taught in a manner that isn’t outdated and treated the students like adults. 

Favorite project

Since my field of study involves visual media, I was able to take a photography class. My favorite project was our final project where we developed a series of 4 to 10 photographs around a central theme of our choice. As part of the project, we had to present our photographs at an exhibition for our peers. It was my favorite project because we got to fully express ourselves through any concept or theme that spoke to us personally. It was also satisfying to be able to have the exhibition and talk to our peers about our work.  

Common misconceptions

A common misconception about my major is that it’s going to be super easy. In reality, media and media theory are dense concepts to dissect and study. While it isn’t bio-engineering, you still have to have a high degree of analytical skills and be willing to put forth the work in order to succeed. Some analytical skills that I use as part of my major are deciphering the intended audiences of media content, decoding underlying messages in mass media, and determining cultural themes throughout history that influence subject matter and representation in media.

Career paths

Some possible career paths are marketing, public relations, social media, film and tv production, and communications. I hope to go into producing and writing for film and TV. My main goal is to find a way to develop original, artistic content that can be successful in the market. I think that my major has prepared me not only to develop successful content that is conscious and deliberate, but also has positively impacted the way that I think and engage with media, which is a major part of my life. 

Tips for future majors

My advice would be to stay curious. Be present in class, especially since those professors are in the industry and are great resources for recommendation letters and advice. The people that you make connections with are going to be as valuable as the degree that you get. 

Bridging the Gap (Year)

Morgan Heath-Powers ‘24, Southern Methodist University

If you’re connected to CollegeFindMe, you likely intend to go to college. Me too! But if you told me at the start of senior year that I’d defer college enrollment to spend a gap year managing a software start-up, I wouldn’t believe you. Navigating the college application process is daunting in itself. Changing plans last minute is even scarier…and sometimes the best thing ever. 

What’s a gap year? 

A gap year/semester is a time when high school or college students press pause on their formal academics. You can travel, work, volunteer, or enjoy some other life experience. Before we dive into the fun details, you must first ensure that your college approves your gap year. Most schools offer great resources to submit a gap year request before being accepted, or in my case, afterwards. Regardless, be prepared to explain the nature of your gap year. What do you plan to do and accomplish? How it will further your continued growth as a student, both personally and professionally? I recommend collaborating with your college counselor or CollegeFindMe to begin your consideration as early as possible. 

Planning ahead

Regardless of where you come from, we can all relate to some form of pressure from our family, friends, teachers, or community concerning our post-graduation plans. In my case, I was intent on leaving home straight after high school to attend some elite out-of-state university. The idea of taking a gap year was never on my radar… until October of my senior year. When I started to a new internship with a local software start-up, I figured it was just another chance to boost my professional experience on the road to college. Little did I know that I’d spend the days leading up to graduation learning more from my job than my classes, writing application essays from an airplane en route to business trips abroad! I was busier (and happier) than ever. But as decision day drew closer, I realized that I was seriously considering deferring college for a year. 

Making a decision

I’ll be honest, saying “yes” to the gap year was one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made. I can still remember one night in February when I came home from work, tears in my eyes. It had been a great day and my boss proposed that I take a gap year to work for the company full-time. As excited as I was, it suddenly hit me that I’d be putting my dreams of college on pause to step into the real, professional world far earlier than I’d ever expected to. But if I’ve learned anything since that night, it’s that some of the choices that scare us the most are the ones that call us toward the opportunities and life experiences we’re most meant for. I believe that getting down to the root of what we’re meant to do comes down to two main factors: exposure and preparation. 

Exposure

I got recruited for this internship (now full-time job that I LOVE) by a family friend who knew I was heavily involved in an international business organization throughout high school. I was interested in entrepreneurship, so I positioned myself in environments, learning opportunities, and networks of people who’d help me to forward that passion. If you’re still in high school, here are some ways you can start gaining exposure:

  • Use free time every week to research jobs that align with your passions, favorite classes, extracurriculars, hobbies, etc. 
  • Explore free, online courses through platforms like Coursera and edX to learn about topics that aren’t offered at your school.
  • Revisit some of the clubs and student organizations at your school (if it wasn’t for DECA, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for business and working with people!).
  • Work with your school counselor to identify some volunteer or internship opportunities you might enjoy.

Preparation

As you start to explore new opportunities, it might feel difficult to choose between so many options – from internships, to gap years, to universities. Prepare yourself by taking the time to consider them all. I’d often ask myself “where would I grow the most?”. This is when other people’s opinions (family, friends, the media, etc.) can start to sway you one way or the other. When in doubt, come back to your exposure – what’s most exciting and fulfilling to YOU? Trust me, people will have opinions regardless of what decision you make, so you might as well choose the path that aligns with your unique passions and aspirations. Give yourself some credit for how far you’ve come, take note of what excites you the most about your future, and go for it!

Making it work

While I felt scared to take a leap of faith into the whole gap year thing at first, Southern Methodist University’s willingness to defer my acceptance (Go Mustangs!) renewed my excitement. I became really intentional with the goals I hoped to achieve throughout the year before I’d return to school. Now half-way through the experience, here are some of my biggest takeaways, tips, and learning lessons:

  • Whatever you do, pour your heart into it. For me, this means that I’m intent on going to work everyday with real heart – to forward this company, our mission, and our team toward success. Remember when I talked about following your passions? This is huge! Work doesn’t feel so much like work when you believe in what you’re doing. 
  • Invest in yourself and build some technical skills. Here’s the thing. I do NOT like computer science. I came into GalenaHill from the business management side of things. But since starting, I’ve become truly interested in the software, have written our two most recent patents, and am starting to learn front-end code! What does that mean for you? Don’t underestimate the value of exposure. You just might discover a new interest, passion, or skill you didn’t even know was there.
  • Have fun! Since starting my gap year, I’ve been making intentional time for the things I love – my own side hustles, my health and wellness, my church, my broader community, and more. I even started a podcast called Real College Talk where we bring forth real stories and empowering advice to help make your post-grad decision truly your own. Check out our collaboration with CollegeFindMe here

Final notes

Now, is it all sunshine and rainbows? Not always, no. But I think the beauty of taking a gap year is that it’s a unique opportunity to create your own curriculum for your education, your professional growth, and your life. At the end of the day, it is YOUR life. If you expose yourself to positive opportunities, put in the proper preparation, and plan how you’ll make the most of your experience regardless of what you choose, I promise that you can’t go wrong. 

There is no “right” way to do high school, college, or life. But if you’re looking to say “yes” to the experiences that will bring you the most fulfillment, happiness, and success, I think you’re in the perfect place. 

Rooting for you, Morgan

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!