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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

Couch Surfing College Search: Why now is the best time to be a College Searching Junior

Like many of you, our household has been in social retreat for a week now: eating in, working from home, creating daily schedules, and ultimately trying not to kill each other. It’s our best effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 while simultaneously spiking the household smelliness curve born from my teen and tween-aged boys wearing the same damn clothes for 48 hours. Seriously dudes. Go change or I’m hosing you off.

There is no doubt that our collective field of vision is filled with threats and challenging news, from health concerns of people we know and love, to financial strains and worries, to simply maintaining a positive spirit. If you are keeping up with the pulse of our society, you would likely find it racing right now.

But, should you choose to look for it, there is very good news lying just beneath the surface. Yes, your family’s routine has been upended, but in so doing, the slate is now relatively clean to establish new routines. You can use that extra time to focus on some aspects of the college search that otherwise would have been hard to balance with other time demands.

So what can you do in the next several weeks of social distancing and school closings? First on the list should be setting up a workable plan for preparing for the ACT or SAT.

While there has been some adjustments to the schedule of ACT and SAT, the test is still very much an important part of college admissions decisions. While the last decade saw a steady increase in the number of colleges that went test optional, it also saw no change in the top three most important factors in college admissions decisions according to national surveys of admissions offices: high school GPA, strength of high school curriculum, and standardized test scores.

Here’s the good news: While it takes months to change a GPA and high school curriculum, it takes hours to increase an ACT score.

Hours that, all of a sudden, just became available.

I know this is straight from the "duh bucket" but, increases in ACT score shift several conditions to your student's favor:

  1. More college options.

  2. More scholarship dollars as colleges set many guaranteed scholarships to published test scores. A one point increase in an ACT composite could mean thousands more dollars in scholarships.

  3. Increased confidence in the admissions process as the student feels a sense of accomplishment.

So what are the hallmarks of a solid prep plan:

  • It has a goal: setting up mindless practice without an idea for the score you are shooting for will frustrate your student. Take a look at the colleges you are considering, find out the high end of their ACT averages (called the middle-50%) and/or minimum scholarship levels and set a goal.

  • It has a diagnostic component: the ACT doesn’t just test content (the material on the test), it tests the student’s speed as well. The ACT is timed, and how fast a student can complete a full test is as much a variable at play. Whatever your prep approach entails, it needs to have a pre-test that diagnoses the material your student should focus on, but also how fast they can move through that material.

  • Speaking of focus, use the 80/20 rule on prep: the Pareto Principle (aka, the 80/20 rule) states that a large portion of your results (estimated to be 80%) will be generated by a small proportion of your actions (the 20%). Left with a guidebook and a non-customized program, a student will distribute 100% of their efforts across 100% of items, rather than focusing on the select few areas that can increase their score the most.

  • Accountability is key: You as the parent need to be able to see how the student improved through the prep process. From the diagnostic pre-test, through the practice items, all the way through the final test. A tutor might help with your student’s confidence, but real improvement is mapped across data.

Yes, it is true that the college search is in an odd stretch right now, but it is important to remember that college isn’t going anywhere. The process will have some adjustments, no doubt, but the core of the process is still be the same.

We advocate for an approach that uses the college search as a learning opportunity, and this is no different. We will continue to bring to you a range of ideas for the Couch Surfing College Search over the next couple of weeks.

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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