Periodically, I use this space to respond to questions I have received via email or during programs. My intent in sharing both questions and answers is to provide insight into the college-going process and stimulate conversation that leads to informed decision-making with regard to educational futures. As always, your comments are very much valued. To submit a question, contact me directly at Peter@TheAdmissionGame.com.
My 11th grade son’s SAT scores are very lopsided! He scored a 750 in math, a 530 in critical reading and a 580 in writing. We’ve done a ton of research and have a list of about 15 schools at the moment. At every single school, even those we thought were “safeties,” his reading score falls below the schools’ median but his math score is (considerably) above the medians. Assuming his reading score doesn’t improve, will this hurt his chances of getting into schools? Is there any scenario where his high math score, despite his low reading/writing score, will help him? Your expertise is really appreciated!
SAT results are generally imbalanced for test takers with the Math score coming out higher than the Critical Reading. Writing scores generally correlate with the Critical Reading. As a result, your son’s score pattern is not that unusual although the differential between the CR and the M is somewhat greater than the norm—and is consistent with the differential that is common among students who focus on math/science academic interests. The good news is that most schools will “superscore” his results using the best SAT subscores that emerge from different test administrations.
Furthermore, the outcome of his applications is not likely to rest on either his CR or aggregate score IF he targets schools where his “superscored” test results put him in the top half of the “competitive playing field.” Should he do this, the final determination is more likely to rest on the comparative strength of his academic record and his ability to project talents, perspectives and personal qualities that are valued by the institution.
In the final analysis, it is hard to be definitive about your son’s chances as an applicant without knowing more about him and the schools in which he is interested. Theoretically, his current testing profile would fit well with engineering, technical or accounting programs.
We have a special circumstance that will affect my son’s eligibility for financial aid in that I was laid off in 2011 and received unemployment benefits in 2012 that will expire this year causing a reduction in income in 2013 and possibly into 2014. This will be a financial hardship for us that I understand must be explained to financial aid officers.
When I contacted one of the college’s financial aid offices, they said it’s better to send a letter ahead of time while there is still money available for financial aid and not all has been allocated yet. When I asked someone else who is a college financial planner, he said to send a special circumstance letter AFTER receiving the initial award because, if you do it before hand, you essentially are giving away your leverage for negotiating.
When is the better time to send a Special Circumstance letter to a financial aid office?
The most prudent course of action is to submit the letter in advance of a financial aid award. There are two reasons. One, as the financial aid officer suggested, if you wait there is a good chance that the institutional funds will be committed elsewhere. “It is better to get while the getting is good!” Two, financial aid offices really bristle at the suggestion that they will negotiate. Many are willing to hear appeals based on new information, but they quite often take a different stance if you approach them with the expectation that they should negotiate. And, frankly, that’s what they will think if you approach them with the special circumstance letter after the initial financial aid award has been issued. Why? They will see the chronology of events that you present and wonder why you couldn’t/didn’t bring this information to their attention earlier. You don’t want them to question your integrity.
That said, submit the letter now and be prepared to meet with the respective financial aid officers if the numbers still don’t work for you. Should you have such a conversation, be sure to ask the following question: “Can you go over this information with me to give me a better sense as to how we can make it possible for our son to attend your institution?” By asking in this manner, you give them an opportunity to become part of the solution for you.
My son and I attended your presentation last month. We found it very informative and entertaining. Do you have any words of advice regarding admission to schools at the top of the Pyramid?
Thanks for your kind words—I’m glad you found the program helpful! Regarding admission to schools at the top of the Pyramid—places that are admitting one out of ten—all I can say to your son is: “Never settle for good enough—work hard, get good grades and do the things that give you joy in life. Develop and provide evidence that you have talents and perspectives that they will value. Be attentive to the details—the seemingly inconsequential choices in life. In particular, find appropriate ways to get on the radar screens of these schools. Don’t give them reasons to say ‘no’. Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously—getting in will involve a fair amount of luck as well.”
My daughter took the PSATs in the fall. After receiving her scores, she has been receiving college e-mails and mail, daily. Many people have told me that they are spam/junk mail and to just throw them away. We are aware that the information is most likely generated from the same fulfillment house/marketing company, so we are unsure of the merit of the mail. What is your recommendation?
Your basic assumption regarding these mailings is correct. Colleges are buying names from any source they can—and testing organizations offer a rich supply of “qualified” prospects. So, a healthy dose of cynicism is warranted in assessing the importance of the communication coming your way. While I wouldn’t regard the emails and mail your daughter receives now as spam or junk mail, caution her about attaching any level of significance to it.
That said, it’s free information and many of these schools are certainly worthy of an initial look. Urge your daughter to at review the information to see what makes an impression. If she encounters places she thinks might be of interest to her, it can’t hurt for her to get on their mailing lists. The more critical contacts in the emerging relationship will take place later (Junior year and beyond) as her interest continues.
What are the recommended steps in pursuing a scholarship for college?
If you are interested in competing for merit scholarships awarded by the colleges themselves, you might inquire at the schools that interest you about their requirements and procedures. Quite often, though, they will either present that information in their recruitment materials or simply wait until they have seen all of their applicants before determining who will be recognized with a scholarship.
On the other hand, if you want to explore scholarships awarded by organizations in your community, the Junior year is the best time to get started. Check with your college advisor about scholarships that are awarded to students at your school each year. You might also check with social service organizations in your community as well as the places of employment for your parents. These are likely to be your best sources of information regarding merit scholarships in your area.
When colleges or universities publish GPA information for enrolled students on their profiles, what is that based on? Is a 3.0 equal to an 80 or 85, a 4.0 equal to a 90 or 95? My son’s school uses number grades that are converted to a 4.0 scale, but even that is a different conversion than my daughter’s public high school. I’m not sure how to look at the GPA published in those college books. Should I assume some are weighted?
The GPA question doesn’t really have a good answer. Each college that recalculates the class rank and GPA reported by the high school will rely on its own set of metrics. At the very least, colleges tend to filter non-academic out of the calculations. How they deal with “weighted-ness” is anybody’s guess. The bottom line: the data it reports is intended to give a relative sense of the distribution of performance for the students it has enrolled. It is probably safe to assume, though, that a 4.0 on the published scale represents the highest possible level of achievement.