New Year’s Resolutions & Summer Planning

Happy New Year! The New Year is a great time to make plans, set goals and create new habits. Research has shown that it takes at least three weeks (some say nine!) to form a new habit. glenn-carstens-peters-190592-unsplash-listHigh School juniors should keep in mind that eight to nine weeks is also the minimum amount of time recommended for a successful test prep plan! For freshmen and sophomores, now is the perfect time to develop good study habits and explore interests that will help guide your future coursework and activities.

Regardless of your year in high school, I have some suggestions to add to your New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Plan Your Summer Wisely
  2. Be mindful about your academics (more on this next month)
  3. Start Connecting with Colleges (more on this in March)
  4. Explore majors, careers, interests, and values (coming this spring)
  5. Focus on the positives and learn how to reduce your stress (more info coming this spring)
  6. College Research Tips (more info coming this summer)

Even though college research and planning requires some work, it should also be fun and exciting. There are thousands of colleges and hundreds of different paths that lead to success…not just one! Regardless of your year in high school, establishing productive and engaging spring and summer plans can help you have a successful and low-stress college planning and application process. Below are more tips and resources to help with my suggested New Year’s Resolution #1. Continue reading

PSAT Results Are Coming. What’s Next?

testSophomore and Juniors:

If you or your student took the PSAT in October, you should be receiving the score reports next week. Here is a video explaining how to read your report, and continue reading below for some tips on understanding your scores.

The PSAT is said to be 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 the SAT 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. Here is how the PSAT creates these percentiles:

  • 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 and continue reading for more details and what to do next.

Why are there so many different scores on the report? Continue reading

College Admissions Landscape

As college-bound seniors finish up their applications and await their college decisions, juniors should be considering what factors will be important to them in choosing a college, as well as researching what each college considers and requires of students when they apply.  For both juniors and seniors, there are a few relatively new factors to be aware of in the college admission process.

Demonstrated Interest

Demonstrated interest has become an increasingly important tool to help colleges with enrollment management. Colleges are businesses charged with filling just the right about of beds and seats each year and trying to offer just enough financial aid (no more, no less) to entice students to attend. To help determine who is likely to accept an offer of admission, and at what price, colleges track a student’s behavior to gauge their interest level.  The very first time a student engages with a college (via responding to an email or mailing, visiting a college, or connecting with an admissions staff member) a file is started in the student’s name and points can be given. In some cases, showing demonstrated interest (and applying early) can be the equivalent of a 100-point increase in SAT score and a .25 boost in GPA. Students should research whether or not a school tracks demonstrated interest and what tools are available to demonstrate interest for that college.  Two specific things to look out for are Admission Interviews and Early Admission (Early Action or Early Decision).

Applying Early Decision (ED) signifies that one school is your top choice, and if you are accepted, it is a binding agreement that you will attend and withdraw all other applications. With Early Action (EA), you apply early, find out if you will be offered admission early (usually by winter break), yet still have time to compare other offers and wait to make a decision until May 1.

Applying ED or EA can often increase your chances of admission (statistically) if you are a strong applicant (an applicant within the middle or upper range of the school’s average statistics). It is a benefit to the college to accept applicants ED because they are guaranteed to fill a certain number of their spots with strong applicants. Even with EA, the likelihood that students will accept offers of admission are higher (especially if they’ve shown demonstrated interest in other ways). Therefore, some colleges take a greater percentage of students in the early rounds. Before applying early (especially ED) you should review the downsides to applying early, and make sure to do your research or consult an advisor before deciding when to apply.  Each school has different early application policies and restrictions, so you must do the research to understand if you are a strong enough candidate to apply early and what applying early means at that institution.

Not all colleges offer interviews for college applicants, but this is a great way to show interest in a school when interviews are available. Some colleges offer informational (vs. evaluative) interviews when students visit their campuses. This is a great opportunity to get to know a college and its offerings, and to ask an admission representative specific questions about programs you are considering. Your “performance” during these interviews are not considered in admissions decisions, but the fact that you took the time to schedule one does show demonstrated interest. Other colleges offer admission interviews, which are considered during admission reviews (although they only count for a small portion of the decision), and are conducted by either admissions representatives or alumni. Students should research if interviews are offered, if they are evaluative, where they are offered (on campus, locally, or via Skype), and schedule them early, as availability is not guaranteed.

Spring Admission

A trend that I am increasingly seeing is students being admitted to schools as Spring Admits instead of being admitted in the fall. More and more selective colleges and universities are offering delayed admission in the form of spring term admission to students who are not quite as strong as other admitted applicants, but who have shown demonstrated interest and are otherwise a great fit for the school. Offering spring admission to students allows colleges to offer more students admission and helps fill spaces vacated on campuses due to attrition, mid-year graduation and study abroad programs. This can come as a shock to students while they contemplate attending the college of their dreams but having to give up their image of what heading off to college should look like.

Some colleges are upfront about the possibility of spring admission and offer this as an option during the application process. Middlebury College has been offering a portion of first-year students spring admission for 40 years.  Others offer it as a “take it or leave it” admission decision. Once the initial shock and disappointment wears off, students should evaluate their other offers and compare them to the spring admission program.

When considering a Spring Admission offer, it is important that your fall semester be busy and productive, even if you won’t be on campus.  This can be a great opportunity to work and save money for college, travel abroad, or potentially get a jump start on college courses. Pay attention to what will happen once you arrive on campus.  How will the school welcome and integrate you in January? Where will you live? Does the Spring Admit program offer an established travel abroad option for fall semester?  Can you take college courses elsewhere during the fall? And if so, how many credits? What courses will transfer? Will you be able to participate in Sorority or Fraternity rush as a freshman when you get to campus in the spring?

Try to connect with other Spring/January Admits for support and to establish friendships prior to arriving on campus.  I recently worked with a very resourceful high school senior admitted to Tulane as a spring admit. She connected with other spring admits on Facebook to coordinate a semester abroad together at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy.  Not only will she arrive in New Orleans in January with a group of friends, but she has also negotiated the ability to take 9 credits abroad, bring with her from high school three IB credits, and qualify to participate in rush at the start of the 2nd semester. Oh, and have a fabulous semester in Italy, to boot.  That’s what I call making lemonade!

ZeeMee and Resumes

A recent trend to the application process is as well as the increasing number of colleges prompting students with the option of attaching their resumes. ZeeMee is a free video app that was originally designed as an online, visual resume with options to attach a short video. In August 2017, they changed their platform to be solely for use on iOS or Android phones. Students have the option of adding short (26-second) videos to their college applications to help colleges get to know them in a quick, visual manner, as well as highlight a talent, skill, or passion that doesn’t come across strongly on paper. How applications are read, and how much time is spent reviewing an application varies greatly depending on the college and the strength of the applicant (time spent can range from 5-30 minutes). Adding a visual component can help an applicant stand out. The example an Elon University admissions representative recently shared was a student who made her own Halloween costumes. Listing “Handmade Halloween costumes” on an activity list might not come across as impressive, but showing videos of the many creative, and complicated costumes she designed over the years emphasized her creativity, passion and dedication.

While the change in ZeeMee’s platform has gotten mixed reviews, more counselors and students seem to be in favor of the growing number of colleges allowing students to attach their activity resumes to college applications. The numbers have been grown steadily, with this year’s applicants (2019 high school graduates) seeing almost 1/3 of all colleges on the Common Application allowing this option. College applications often offer very limited space for students to explain what they contributed and/or gained from participating in an activity (i.e. the Common App only allows 150 characters to do so). For students that have more activities to share than the 10 allowed on the Common Application, or for students with details they would like to share about their involvement, and for students with links to articles or videos they would like to share with colleges, this is a great opportunity to elaborate on what makes the student unique.

All of the above are optional components of the college application process. However, if a student starts the college admissions process early enough to research, plan and create strong work, the tools mentioned here can increase a student’s chance of being accepted to their school of choice.

Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon. She is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready and offers free consultations to 8th-11th grade students and parents.

School’s Out, but Test Planning is In!

Believe it or not, summer before junior is a great time to plan out standardized tests. Even though most college admissions officers will admit that standardized test scores are more of a reflection on a family’s income than they are a predictor of future success in college, they are still a key piece to the college admissions process. agenda_resizeThey are necessary for colleges to level the playing field between high schools and their varying curriculums, as well as distinguish between similar applicants.

Every year more colleges are becoming Test Optional, including the recent announcement from the University of Chicago, but I still recommend that students take the test(s). Test Optional does not mean that you don’t have to send in any test scores; colleges often require SAT Subject Test scores, AP or IB tests or the IB Diploma in lieu of the scores.  Other schools require extra writing samples or letters of recommendation. And some schools, like the University of Chicago, still expect students with financial means to take the tests. Check out the Test Optional link above to examine each Test Optional School’s requirements.

In general, the better standardized test scores a student has, the more options they have and they more merit aid they can qualify for (at schools that give merit aid). Some test optional or test flexible schools still require standardized tests for scholarship consideration. If you find that, even with diligent preparation, standardized tests do not accurately reflect your best efforts and abilities, then you can consider other strategies, including applying test optional.

When to test prep depends on the student and when they begin the college planning process. Some students take an initial test the summer before their junior year, others might wait until 2nd-semester junior year to prep and take their first exam, but these students should be aware of AP and IB test dates and final exams that could conflict with test preparation. Most students take 2-3 standardized tests (either the SAT or ACT or both) between the end of their sophomore year and winter break senior year.  After the 3rd test, studies have shown scores do not improve much, and continually taking the test could just add stress or negatively impact your admissions.  However, a good test prep plan includes many practice tests.  Practice tests help you feel more comfortable with the timing, as well as the material being tested.  Click here for more tips on test taking (or here for tips on the SAT specifically).

Having one to two tests under your belt before summer of your senior year helps you put together a realistic college list, and lets you work on some or all of your college essays over the summer, instead of cramming them in during your busy fall. Please read here for more advice on when a student might be ready for the ACT or SAT based on the high school coursework they have taken. Continue reading

SAT Subject Tests

bookstackAlthough few schools require them, and only a small percentage of college applicants will submit them, Subject Tests can help high scorers set themselves apart from other applicants by submitting them.

SAT Subject Tests include more than 20 different tests focusing on specific disciplines, such as English, history and the social sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, and foreign languages. These are tests that are only required or recommended from a few colleges but are options for all students to strengthen their applications or highlight skills in a particular subject area. Each subject test lasts 1 hour and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions.

What is the difference between the SAT (or ACT) and SAT Subject Tests?

The SAT (and ACT) is a college entrance exam, testing what students learn in classrooms and how well they apply that knowledge. Its reading/writing and math sections are based on the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed for college success. SAT Subject Tests focus on a single subject and indicates a student’s readiness to take college-level courses in that subject.

How Colleges Use Subject Tests

Some colleges value the Subject Tests as a key indicator of college readiness for specific programs. For example, UC Berkeley “recommends Math Level 2 and a science Subject Test for its Chemistry and Engineering colleges;” UC Irvine “recommends Math Level 2 and a science for its engineering, pharmaceutical and physical sciences schools;” and UCLA “recommends math Level 2 and a science test for its School of Engineering and Applied Science.” Many colleges require or recommend Subject Tests to strengthen applications, and some also use them for course placement and even for credit.

Who Should Take Subject Tests

  • Applicants considering colleges that require, recommend or consider SAT Subject Tests for all applicants or to apply to specific programs or majors.
  • Students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors: Subject Tests are the only high school level national admission tests that assess a student’s grasp of fundamental scientific concepts and his or her ability to apply that knowledge.
  • Students whose best language is not exclusively English: These students can demonstrate achievement in other languages or in areas that are not as reliant on the mastery of English.
  • Many students can benefit from taking SAT Subject Tests to highlight their knowledge of a specific subject or subjects. SAT Subject Tests can help students spotlight their academic strengths and get an edge in college admissions.
  • Students who would like to demonstrate knowledge obtained outside a traditional classroom environment (e.g., summer enrichment, distance learning, weekend study, etc.).
  • To place out of certain classes in college. Many colleges use Subject Tests to advise students or help with course placement. Other schools allow students to place out of introductory courses or gain credit based on their performance on certain Subject Tests. (For example, Subject Tests can also be used to fulfill subject-based competency requirements for large university systems like the University of California and the University of Arizona.)
  • For most of you, Subject Tests are completely optional, and in light of the stress most students feel about the SAT and ACT, it is perfectly reasonable to not take Subject Tests. However, you should know it is an option and one you might consider even if not required, to highlight your strength in a subject, or to make your application stronger.

When Should I Take the Tests?

Continue reading

Want to Add 100 Points to Your SAT Score Without Studying?

Then learn how to show colleges “Demonstrated Interest”. 


I originally published this article in February of 2017, but considering how crazy the college admission results of the class of 2018 turned out for many students applying to the every-increasingly selective colleges (the Top 50 in the infamous US News & World Report Rankings), the information (slightly updated) warrants a reposting.  Regardless of what school a student is applying to, understanding how colleges track a student’s behavior is important.

Students need to approach the college process understanding that every interaction with a college may be tracked and given points towards their admission decision. In fact, a 2013 report from the IECA (Independent Educational Consultant Association) reported that Demonstrated Interest and Early Applications can result in the equivalent of a 100 Point increase on the SATs and an extra .25 increase in a student’s GPA. It has become increasingly important for students “on the bubble” of being admitted or denied. It can even be important when you are an over-qualified applicant. Without documenting your interaction with the college or the admission officer, the college will not know or remember you; and they will likely choose a similarly qualified, or even slightly less qualified student that has demonstrated interest, over you.

What is ‘demonstrated interest?’

Demonstrated interest is showing a college that you are sincerely interested in coming to their school. Colleges quantify specific, favorable behaviors undertaken by potential students. This record of your interest is tracked and logged into your file as soon as you begin communicating with a college. According to the NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counseling) 2014 Factors In the Admissions Decision Report, a total of 50.2% of all colleges consider Demonstrated Interest of Moderate Importance (33.3%) to Considerable Importance (16.9%), up from only 7% In 2003.

Why is demonstrated interest so important? Continue reading

Important Upcoming Events

pexels-photo-273025.jpegAttention College-Bound High School Students, put these dates on your calendar*:

The PNACAC (Pacific NW Association for College Admission Counseling) College Fair is Sunday, April 22nd from 12pm-3pm at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. For a list of attendees, check here. It is highly recommended that you pre-register here:

Juniors should review the attendee list to see which colleges on their list are attending.  If your prospective colleges are coming, you should make every effort to attend.

Freshman & Sophomores: check out the list and consider attending as a chance to explore what different colleges have to offer, as well as what courses or activities they might recommend in preparation for your area of interest.

For more information on how to navigate a college fair and questions to ask, read my blog for tips:

SCAD: If you are interested in art, design, film, or architecture, consider attending a presentation in Portland by SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design).  For more information and to register, go here:

Exploring Educational Excellence: Join Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell and Rice for an information session for prospective students and their families on Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at 07:00 PM at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 NE Airport Way. Register here:

Exploring College Options: Check back later this month for information on Exploring College Options: A joint presentation from Duke University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University.

Coast-To-Coast TourThis is a joint travel partnership among Dartmouth College, Northwestern University, Princeton University, University of California-Berkeley, and Vanderbilt University. Check back early this summer for dates on their appearance in Portland:

Colleges That Change Lives: Interested in having small class sizes, mentoring relationships with your professors, opportunities for leadership and the ability to double major and minor? Check out the Colleges That Change Lives at one of their summer fairs: They will be at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on Wednesday, August 1st. Find out more here:

National College Fairs: The NACAC (National Assoc. for College Admission Counseling) College Fair will be traveling across the country again this fall, and will stop in Portland, Oregon on October 28th and 29th.  Hundreds of colleges from across the country will be present, with representatives available to answer last minute questions for seniors, as well as provide information on programs and offerings to freshman through juniors.  Mark it on your calendar:

NACAC Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs: Interested in pursuing a college degree in music, theater, art, dance, or other related disciplines? Check out NACAC’s college fair featuring universities, colleges and conservatories specializing in art programs on October 1st (6:30-8:30pm) at the Portland Art Museum. For more information or to find this event in other cities, go here:

National Portfolio Day: For students preparing a portfolio for their applications into art, design, film or architecture programs, mark your calendars for early January 2019. National Portfolio Day is an event specifically for visual artists and designers. It is an opportunity for those who wish to pursue an education in the visual and related arts to meet with representatives from colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.  Representatives will be available to review your artwork, discuss their programs and answer questions about professional careers in art. Check back here for the specific date, as well as tips for preparing to attend:


*Some dates are specific to Portland, OR, but all programs host events across the country.