PSAT Results: What do they mean?

psat_graphicIf you or your student took the PSAT in October, you should be receiving the score reports on December 10thHere is a video explaining how to find your score report and here is one to learn how to read your report. Please read below for some tips on understanding your scores and what do to with them.

The PSAT is scored on the same scale as the SAT, but the maximum you can score on each of the two sections of the PSAT (Evidence-based Reading & Writing plus Math) is 760 (for a maximum total of 1520), while the SAT’s two sections are scored on an 800-point scale (maximum total score of 1600).

What you score on the PSAT should equate to a projected SAT score if you took it now. However, since the tests are normed to the student population, scaling from PSAT to SAT is actually going to look different at each point within the bell curve. Additionally, be aware that the PSAT percentiles are often higher than what is reported on students’ SAT reports, with a number of students scoring below their predicted SAT scores based on the PSAT percentiles. This can be due to a number of factors, including the fact that PSAT percentiles are based on averages of “all students” vs. just students who took the PSAT:

  • Nationally Representative Percentile – shows how your scores compare to scores of all US students in your grade, including those who typically don’t take the PSAT.
  • User Percentile – shows how your score compares to scores of U.S. students in your grade who typically take the PSAT.

The percentiles on the SAT, in comparison, show how you did compared to other students who actually took the test. Read more here to understand why percentiles are important on the SAT (more so than they are on the PSAT). Regardless, to make the most of your PSAT, make sure that you and your student log in here to see their full report, watch this video on how to read the report, and continue reading for more details and what to do next.

Why are there so many different scores on the report?

There is a total score, a math score, an evidence-based reading and writing (ERW) score, a “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile(s),” three test scores, two cross-test scores, seven subtest scores, and a National Merit® Scholarship Corporation Selection Index.

Each of these sets of scores has a different score range. The total score ranges from 320 to 1520; Math and EBRW (Evidence-Based Reading & Writing) scores range from 160 to 760; test scores and cross-test scores range from 8 to 38; subscores range from 1 to 15, and the NMSQT Selection Index ranges from 48 to 228.

The subscores and cross-test scores can give you insight on how to study for your next test, showing areas of strength and areas where to focus. The percentiles tell you how competitive you are compared to other test takers or potential test-takers, but don’t let a high percentile fool you into thinking you don’t need to prep/study for the SAT or ACT.

Here is what you should do with the results: Continue reading

No-School November is a Great Time for College Visits

lockersNo-school days in November are great opportunities for students (juniors especially) to visit local colleges. Even if your student insists they will not be staying in-state, students are often pleasantly surprised at how much their state schools offer. Regardless, I still recommend visiting a large, state university in your home state, along with one or two smaller private colleges. Visit an urban school, along with ones in suburban or rural settings. Students should take notes on what they like from each visit and use that information to find similar schools in different geographical locations. It makes good financial sense for students to learn about what they like and don’t like using local resources before spending money on airfare and hotels.

Here are some upcoming Visit Events at a few universities in Oregon (Registration is required, and November dates fill up quickly):

University of Oregon

Duck Fall Preview November 8th:

Other UO visit opportunities in November:

Oregon State University:

November 2nd: Beaver Open Houses are full-day fall programs that provide an in-depth look at Oregon State

Beaver Previews: For prospective high school students beginning their college search, Beaver Previews are half-day programs to learn the basics about Oregon State. Registration for Saturday, November 23 is open. Spring dates will open in early 2020.

  • Saturday, November 23 – Registration open!two girls walking
  • Saturday, February 15
  • Monday, March 23
  • Friday, April 3

University of Portland:

Visitation Days are full-day programs (9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.) where you learn about UP academics, campus resources, and student life. Take a tour with current students, have lunch, tour our residence halls, learn about financial aid, and more.

This day is ideal for high school students and their families. Please register 2-3 weeks in advance. For more information, read here.

Upcoming Visitation Days

Friday, October 11, 2019
Monday, November 11, 2019
Friday, February 14, 2020
Monday, February 17, 2020
Monday, March 23, 2020
Monday, March 30, 2020
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Friday, April 17, 2020

Reed College

Junior Visit Days are half-day explorations of the college admissions process at Reed. Junior Visit Day occurs November 23, January 17, and March 27.

Willamette’s Cardinal & Gold Day offers students the opportunity to connect with students and faculty, explore academic departments and campus life offerings, and find out how they fit into the Willamette community.

Tips Before You Go

Before you head out on your tour, you need to prepare to make the most of your visit.  Continue reading for my favorite College Visit Tips.

  • Go to the admission session and take the official tour. Some schools care about students showing Demonstrated Interest. When you attend an official tour and admission session, it is noted in your file and might be considered as part of your admissions decision. These sessions vary in the amount of information they provide but try not to judge a school based solely on its presenter or tour guide.
  • Plan your trip early. The most informative part of a tour is often meeting with a department head or professor in the subject area you are interested in studying, or even sitting in on a class. You need to request this opportunity at least two weeks in advance.
  • Build in time to explore. Allow time to eat in one of the dining halls and explore the surrounding area. Take the time to find the essentials you need to feel at home (the closest Starbucks, coolest music venue or best cheeseburger).
  • Research each college before you visit so you’ll have specific questions to ask. Do you want to know about research opportunities within your major?  Do you know if the major you are considering has higher admission standards than other majors?  Are you interested in themed housing? Do you have questions about financial aid or scholarships?  Know what you want to know more about.
  • Pay attention to the students on campus. Are they happy and friendly?  Do you hear students talking about academics outside of class? Do students all look the same, or do you see a diverse student body? If you are comfortable, approach a group of students and introduce yourself as a prospective student; ask them why they chose their school, what they love and what they wish they could change.
  • Pick up a copy of the campus newspaper. The tour guides share what is new and wonderful, but to really understand what is happening on campus and what current students are concerned about, the campus newspaper gives you the inside scoop.
  • Take good notes and pictures to help you remember the details of your visit. Write down what you learned, liked and what didn’t quite fit before you get to another campus. If this is a school you eventually apply to, you might have to write an essay about your visit and answer “Why this College?” essay questions.
  • Don’t rush back home. Ask campus staff for the best places to eat and visit off-campus. This could be your new home. Have fun!


The Four Pieces to a Complete College Application

checklistWith one month to go before the November 1st application deadlines that many students are trying to meet, it’s time to review the parts necessary to make an application complete.  For a student’s application to be reviewed, the following items need to arrive at the colleges by or BEFORE the deadline:

1-An Admission Application

2-Financial Aid Applications

3-Official Test Scores

4-School Report/Transcript (and possibly Letters of Recommendation)

1-Students are responsible for submitting a complete (and thoroughly checked) application that may or may not require supplemental essays. This is the most important piece of the application for students to get in on time! Sometimes colleges will give students a short grace period for test scores and recommendations to come in, but not always…so don’t count on it. But they will never accept a late application.

Well before the application deadline, it is wise for students to spend time reviewing every question they are asked to answer on an application, as well as carefully read the “Application Requirements” page on the college’s website. Each college has different preferences and requirements; it’s the student’s job to understand and follow these directions.

If supplemental essays are required, these should not be answered directly in the application, but first researched, reflected on, and drafted in a Word or Google document, then edited and reworked several times. Colleges know they are “a top-ranked institution” and are in sunny California or bustling New York City. Students need to go beyond generic answers and show how the programs and qualities of the college will help them achieve their goals.

Students will also be asked to answer, “What are your first and second choice majors at X College?” Many colleges carefully consider how prepared a student is for their intended major (i.e. if a student selects “Business,” colleges will be looking at the student’s math courses and scores on the SAT or ACT). Students should spend time researching if they will be evaluated based on their major choice, and make sure there are schools on their list that will admit them into their desired program.

Have someone double-check your application. It is easy to miss something when you are anxious about getting a college application turned in; a second set of (calm) eyes can be very helpful! Continue reading

College Factors: What to Let Go and What to Embrace

round silver colored wall clock




It is that time of year when seniors feel that the college process is getting real!

In just two short months, the early application deadline of November 1st will be here, so now is the time to focus on what you have control over and to let go of what you do not.



Factors outside of your control (recognize these, but then let them go):

-competitiveness of the applicant pool

-a college’s preference for in-state vs. out-of-state applicants

-# and competitiveness of students applying to your major

-needs of the university

-how admissions staff measure the desirability of applicants

-the essay questions you are asked to answer

-competitiveness of your high school

-biological and background factors (race, income, etc.)

-the mood and perspective of your reviewer

Factors within your control (prioritize these, and give them your best effort):

-your course selection

-the quality of your essays and application

-what is on your resume (how you’ve chosen to spend your free time)

-who writes your recommendation letters

-your desired major

-where you apply

-how you engage with colleges

-seeking out resources in your school and community

I could write about all of these in-depth, but today I will focus on quick tips for the things you do have control over. Continue reading

College-Bound High School Timeline

writings in a planner

The Back-to-School sales are in full-swing at Target, so the start of the school year must be around the corner. In between lounging at the pool and enjoying a scenic hike, now is a great time for high school students to set goals for the school year and to map out a few key dates and activities. The following is a year-by-year checklist for freshmen through seniors.



Start strong. Your freshmen grades do matter! Use this year to identify your strengths and weaknesses in different subjects. Check out Khan Academy for subject-specific help and connect with teachers outside of class.

Get some guidance: meet with a school or community counselor to discuss your class choices and how they support your higher education goals.

Get active: join school or community groups, clubs, or teams you’re interested in.


Grades matter (it is worth repeating!) College may seem like a distant goal, but your grades from each year of high school will impact your overall GPA and class rank.

Explore: take advantage of opportunities through your school and in your community to learn about different career fields.


Keep track: start documenting your academic, extracurricular and community service achievements and awards. Save this list and add to it as you progress through high school. This will be a big time-saver when completing college applications and creating a resume.

Get involved: volunteer, get a job or sign up for an enrichment program during the summer.

Read and Write. Both skills are very important and require consistent practice, no matter your chosen field. Continue reading

Using Your Summer Wisely

There is so much to love about summer: the long days, the last-minute social gatherings, the delicious produce, and last but certainly not least, the respite from strict routines and schedules. But as a college consultant, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t encourage high school students to do some college preparation over the summer. For rising seniors planning to apply to colleges by or before November 1st, this is critical.

Read on for specific tips rising freshmen through rising seniors should do this summer in between beach outings and summer jobs.


Even though it is a bit too early for rising freshmen to research colleges (as students’ priorities will certainly change over the next several years), it is never too early to set goals. Spending a little bit of time over the summer thinking about long-term goals and how to get there is a wise use of your time. Colleges will be looking at what students did with their free time starting with the summer before their freshmen year in high school.

Think about what you are doing this summer, and ask yourself if there is anything you are doing that you would want to share with colleges? If not, consider volunteering, taking an online class, working on a unique hobby, or learning a new skill. Review the clubs and organizations your high school offers and plan out things you will try your freshmen year. Additionally, review the courses offered at your high school. Create a tentative four-year curriculum plan. Is there anything you can do now (like take a summer class or brush up your foreign language or math skills) to set you up to take a higher-level course your junior and senior year?

Oh, and yes, freshmen year grades matter! Even though a few colleges (like the University of California system) does not consider freshmen year grades in their admissions, most colleges do! And it is much easier to build upon or maintain a strong GPA than it it is to move your cumulative GPA up after a rocky freshmen year. Plan to start the year strong.


Summer before sophomore year is a great time to learn more about yourself and your interests, talents, and values. Colleges like to see students that take advantage of their high school’s resources (including career-related learning experiences), and who step up their involvement in clubs and activities. Take time this summer to job shadow a few of your parents’ friends in areas of interest or simply in different career areas to gain exposure to various career fields. You will likely have to answer a “Why this Major?” essay down the road, and discovering your interests now allows you time to explore these areas more deeply.

Reflect on your freshmen year grades and courses. What are you proud of, and where do you think you could have done better? Set up resources now to help you improve your grades, study habits, and/or ability to juggle challenging coursework. Resources could include a tutor, a better calendar/time-management system, or learning how to advocate for yourself and asking for help.


Additionally, review your list of activities from freshmen year. If you are not very involved or interested in one of your activities, consider giving that up and think about how you can make a bigger impact in one or more of your other extracurriculars.

This is when college planning kicks into high gear. You will be juggling your coursework and extracurriculars with the addition of standard tests and college research. My advice: do not wait until January of your junior to get serious about college planning. Instead, take time over the summer to map out a standardized test plan and maybe start prepping over the summer. Use last year’s PSAT results as a starting point to help determine where you need to focus and how much of an improvement you will likely need to meet your college goals. Test prep experts often recommend a minimum of 10-12 weeks-worth of prep, so map out test dates that allow you time to prepare 2-3 months in advance.

One of the biggest things that stress both students and parents is developing a college list. Once you know what you are looking for in a college, this process becomes much clearer. Instead of procrastinating and allowing your fear about this task grow, use your junior summer to write down your interests (academic and social) along with your needs (financial, academic, location), and your wants (social, academic, financial, location). Then look for schools that meet those needs for you.


Students that work on essays and applications over the summer tend to produce much stronger applications, and certainly feel more confident and less stressed about the process when school starts. Rising seniors have roughly eight weeks of summer left to work on applications that will be due in four months (if they will be applying to colleges by November 1st). Four months seems like a long time, but some “experts” say that students should spend 60-200 hours in total on the college search and application process.

The amount of time you should spend will vary depending on many factors. If your list is not final, you should be spending more time finalizing your list this summer. The longer your list, the more time you should spend researching your schools, writing school-specific essays, and understanding each college’s application requirements. The more selective the schools are on your list, the more time you should be spending on communicating with them in a meaningful way to show your sincere interest and fit. If you are applying to schools that require a portfolio or audition, you should be dedicating more time to college preparation this summer. 

To be safe (and based on my years of experience and other expert opinions) plan that it will take you an average of 12-22 hours per college application. With approximately 17 weeks until the popular early college application deadline of November 1st, you should be able to calculate how many hours each week you need to budget for yourself between now and the end of October. You can see how 17 weeks will go by quickly!! 

Regardless of your year in high school, spending time some time on your long-term goals over the summer will set you up for a more successful year and, eventually, a more successful college application process.

Meet The SAT’s Environmental Context Dashboard

There is a new SAT score that colleges will see on your student’s college applications this fall and beyond. The Environmental Context Dashboard (aka, The Adversity Score) has quietly been used by a few colleges (including Duke, Yale, and Florida State) but many more colleges (100-150) will be seeing this score in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle.  

As the debate continues over the predictive value and fairness of the test, the SAT’s intent is to offer colleges information about a student’s socioeconomic and educational environment; thereby helping colleges understand how much of an achievement a student’s SAT score is in light of their background. Students, parents, and high school counselors, however, will not be able to see the score attached to students’ files.

How is it calculated? The ECD index has three components (see photo below). The first attempts to put SAT scores in context using the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile of SAT scores from the student’s high school (3-year average). The second includes information on the high school, including senior class size; percentage of students who meet federal eligibility criteria for free and reduced-price lunch; rurality/urbanicity; and average first-year SAT score of colleges students from that high school attend, the percentage of seniors taking an AP Exam, average number of AP Exams taken, average AP score from that high school, and the number of unique AP Exams administered at that high school (3-year average).

Finally, the score considers contextual data on the neighborhood and high school environment, measuring both the neighborhood and high school environment that the student comes from. This information includes Median Income & Poverty, Single Parent Households percentage, Education Levels, Housing Statistics, and FBI Crime Statistics, and is calculated using data drawn from a combination of publicly available sources (e.g., NCES and U.S. Census Bureau), and aggregated College Board data. The neighborhood and high school measures are rated on a nationally normed scale between 1 and 100. The two scores are averaged to get the ECD index score, with 1 indicating low “adversity” and 100 meaning the most.

The Environmental Context Dashboard

Every student in the same neighborhood gets the same score, and every student in the same school gets the same score. However, the Dashboard and resulting index are currently only visible to colleges.

Even though race is not a factor in the formula, colleges using it report that students with higher index scores are “more likely to be students of color” (John Barnhill, Florida State University’s assistant vice president for academic affairs). Proponents of the new index hope it will help colleges find “diamonds in the rough”, recognizing students relative achievement and potential for future success, instead of expecting all students to reach the same bar.

The index is not without its critics, including, with many questioning the need for a tool that runs the risk of being taken at face value without individual context. “Promotion of ‘adversity scores’ is the latest attempt by the College Board to defend the SAT against increasingly well-documented critiques of the negative consequences of relying on admissions test results,” according to Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). Others add, “If the score on your standardized test requires a separate algorithm to determine if the score is actually a valid measure of ability, then perhaps it’s time to fix the test itself rather than contextualize its scores.”

College admissions staff already work hard to understand a student within the context and environment they come from and their evaluations often use more nuanced information than a standardized score can offer. However, colleges that are currently using the score appreciate its ability to bring certain students to their attention that might otherwise have been missed.

David Coleman from the College Board responded to criticism about the new score and to the inherent flaws in the calculations. “The score is a measure of your achievement but it doesn’t measure what you’ve overcome and the situation you have achieved that in. How resourceful are you and have you done more with less?” But even David Coleman agrees that the Environmental Context score is not a measure of individual adversity, as students in affluent zip codes may have overcome plenty of academic and personal obstacles; likewise, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds may have received scholarships to attend a school with a “low adversity” score.

The ACT, while admiring (the SAT’s) good intentions, announced the organization does not think it is a good idea. Michael Roorda (the ACT’s CEO) commented, “Scores that affect students’ futures require transparency, validity, and fairness. The algorithm and research behind this adversity score have not been published. It is basically a black box….and is another example of not being transparent.” He goes on to state what we are all thinking, “If parents, teachers, and counselors know test scores will be re-equated for adversity, some will attempt to manipulate and game the system. That is easy: You can use an address of someone you know who is living in a poor neighborhood or report lower family income.”

Most people agree that students who have faced adversity should be acknowledged for their achievements in context. Those taking the SAT will have to trust (hope) that the data is used not as an unfailing numerical piece of information, but as a possible sign that admissions staff should look deeper into a student’s background when viewing their accomplishments. It remains to be seen if the SAT’s new college offering is the right tool to help, and if it can do so without creating more unscrupulous opportunities.