Category: College Preparation

The jump from middle school to high school is a big transition. As an incoming freshman, not only are you moving to a new school, there may be many new people to meet, and different types of courses and activities available.  This is the first year that your decisions in and out of school, including your academic transcript, actually “count” for college applications and can potentially influence your future.  Although you’re likely not yet starting to think about where you want to go to college, remember that the effort you put forth in and out of school from this point on will help to determine your options.  Here are a few suggestions to help you start your high school career on a strong note:

Extracurricular Activities

Consider what might interest you and join a few school clubs or teams.   If your school doesn’t have a club you want to join, follow your passion and start one!  By doing so, you’ll gain valuable organizational and leadership skills that can really help to set you apart down the road.  Whatever your interests, get involved!  If you’re thinking about pursuing a major or career in technology, perhaps you can join the robotics club; sports enthusiasts can demonstrate teamwork skills by participating on an after-school sports team, creative students can audition for a drama production, join an art club, write for the school newspaper, and/or play in their high school’s band or orchestra.  If you like to be in charge and/or enjoy making decisions, consider joining your school’s student government.  Activities such as these may help you to develop friendships with like-minded students, and facilitate your inclusion in the social group of your choice.  Progressing through the years in some of these clubs can also contribute to your development of the leadership skills that many colleges desire in students they admit.

Challenging Courses and Test Prep

Many colleges view the rigor of your high school curriculum as an important factor in their admissions decisions.  A somewhat lower grade in an honors course can count for just as much if not more than an “A” in a regular-level course.  Now is the time to start challenging yourself!   If you haven’t taken any advanced or honors classes, consider trying one now; keep it up if you’re already on a rigorous course track.  Most schools don’t offer AP or IB level courses to freshmen, but the honors courses can help set you up for success in them later on.  If you need academic tutoring for particularly challenging courses, contact us for help.  We can also help you with SAT and ACT preparation down the road.  But for now, the most important things you can do for yourself, are to develop good study habits, take challenging courses and get the best grades you can, and either figure out your academic and extra-curricular interests or continue to fine-tune and develop the interests you already have.

Make the most of your freshman year both socially and academically, and you’re sure to have a bright future.

On September 14, 2015, important new changes were announced regarding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for students applying to college for the 2017-2018 school year and beyond. The FAFSA is one of the two financial aid forms that students and parents must fill out while applying to college or trade schools; the other required financial aid form, which is mostly requested by private schools, is the College Board’s CSS Profile.  The FAFSA is widely used to determine eligibility for federal aid, as well as for some state and  private student aid, including grants and scholarships, loans and work study opportunities. If you are, or have, a high school junior or younger, read on!

For the 2017-2018 school year, students will be able to access and submit the FAFSA as early as October 1st, 2016! Previously, this form was not available until January 1st of the application year, which led to some delays in finalizing student aid packages. Families first had to complete an estimated FAFSA in the fall of the student’s senior year, and submit completed tax forms from prior years, which then needed to be replaced with more current forms. Now, families will be able to finalize their submitted FAFSAs with their most recently completed tax forms right away.  The earlier date will simplify the filing of the FAFSA by reducing or eliminating the need for verification with more current tax data submitted later on. It will also enable students to submit their FAFSA, along with the CSS Profile, to their Early Decision and Early Action schools in order to get a more accurate and realistic picture of their federal aid options along with their early application responses.  These changes should help to reduce some of the stress associated with applying for financial aid in order to go to college.
For more need-to-know information for college-bound students, contact us at Sandweiss Test Prep!  We have been helping students in the local Seattle and Greater Eastside area with college planning and testing resources since 2005!  

A “Gap Year” is something many graduating seniors consider. Rather than going to college immediately, students take a year to intern, work, volunteer, travel, or perhaps complete a project. Though the practice has always been common in Europe, it’s recently started gaining popularity among American students as well.

Many schools value students who take a gap year and understand the potential impact it can have on a student’s maturity level and ability to more fully partake in their educational opportunities.  There’s no right answer as to whether or not you should or shouldn’t take a gap year; every student will need to decide this for him or herself. However, if you do choose this option, there are a number of things you can do to make the most of your time.

1.) Apply for College Senior Year

If you are planning to attend college, but just want or need a year off from the rigors of structured education, you should still apply to most colleges while you’re still in high school. High schools generally have programs designed to facilitate your college application process, and it will be much easier for you to gather letters of recommendation, send transcripts, and complete standardized tests while you’re still in attendance. Especially if you plan on going abroad during your gap year, it can be very difficult to gather and send your documentation from a foreign country, and you don’t want to curtail your trip in order to come home and apply. Some schools will allow you to defer your admission for a year, and some–like Princeton, University of North Carolina, Harvard, or Tufts–even offer incentives or special programs for students interested in taking gap years.

2.) Strengthen Your Applications

Furthermore, if you don’t get into the school or program of your choice, a gap year is a great opportunity to strengthen your application and re-apply. Volunteering or working at an internship  – possibly even one that’s related to your intended major – will give you real-world experience many other applicants lack.  If you were a competitive candidate who was nonetheless wait-listed or not admitted, this additional experience could tip the scales in your favor. You’ll also have an opportunity to earn new or superior letters of recommendation from your mentors during your gap year, and it’s possible that their words may carry more weight than your high school teachers because their insights may be more interesting, original, and applicable to your real-world skills.

3.) Be Smart with Your Money

Bear in mind that your gap year isn’t an all-expenses-paid vacation. While many gap year opportunities can be very costly–especially those involving travel—it’s wise to make sure they do not put you or your family in debt. For many students, this may mean spending some time working. Holding down a job for all or part of your gap year will not only be a great opportunity to save money and develop an understanding of adult finances, but it will reflect well with colleges who want grounded and responsible applicants. Check out the International Volunteer HQ, WWOOF-USA, or City Year for some affordable opportunities that will also provide incredible learning experiences.

4.) Make the Most of This Opportunity

Treat your gap year as an investment in your education and future. It can be an extremely valuable experience not only for learning more about yourself as an independent adult, and developing a little more maturity and perspective on life, but also possibly creating or eliminating paths of study. Explore your curiosities and passions in practical ways. The worst thing you can do is spend a year on your parent’s couch–get out there and learn about yourself, your interests, and the world!

Finally, if you’re a parent concerned that your student might lose direction by taking a break from academia, know that research has shown that 90 percent of students who take gap years return to college within a year. The most important thing is that students make the most of their gap year! If you want to learn more, contact us at Sandweiss Test Prep! We would love to talk to you about this or about anything else related to your student’s academic and personal success.

Visiting colleges can help high school students fine-tune the list of schools to which they’ll be applying.  College visits can also help with the final decision regarding which school to attend once students have been accepted.  These visits are often the first glimpse into college life.   It’s crucial to make the most of them, and there are a number of things to accomplish before, during, and after these trips.

When to Visit

We recommend going during a high school break that coincides with times your prospective schools are in session. For juniors, the upcoming Mid-Winter and Spring breaks may work.  Seniors who need additional input about a school, or who have not yet seen a college they’re considering, will want to go as soon as possible.  It’s much better to visit a campus when classes are in session, so you can get an accurate picture of what life is like there.

Before You Go

As soon as you know the dates of your visit, there are a number of things you’ll need to schedule.   A campus tour can give you a general sense of the school’s programs and the campus layout.  To get even more of a sense of what it would be like to attend a college, you’ll want to set up meetings with faculty or students in the departments and organizations that interest you.  Ask the admissions department to arrange for you to sit in on a class or two to allow you to really see what the learning environment can be like.  If admissions interviews are recommended or required by a school, try to set one up for while you’re there.  Finally, ask if prospective students are allowed to stay in a dorm overnight with a current undergraduate.  If so, this may be a great opportunity to meet students and to really experience campus life.

While You’re There

There are two main areas of focus: academic resources and lifestyle features. You’ll want to visit the libraries, computer labs, practice rooms, or whatever else you think could be integral to your academic and social experience.   Some of this can happen on your campus tour, and in the other activities you scheduled before arriving.  Don’t forget to check out the off campus sights and services to figure out if the school is in a location where you can see yourself living for four years.

After You’ve Left

Don’t forget to send thank you notes to anyone you want to remember you, such as admissions personnel or professors or even some of the students.  

For more advice regarding college tours or other college admissions issues, contact Sandweiss Test Prep!

At many colleges and universities, admissions officers face the difficult task of sifting through thousands of files to determine which applicants will be a good fit for their school. While strong grades and test scores are necessary for gaining entrance to selective schools, they are not sufficient. In many cases, it is your application essays that can make or break your chances of getting in to your top choice schools. These essays are your big chance to show the admissions committee a side of yourself that would not be evident in the rest of your application, and a great opportunity to demonstrate why you would be the right fit for their school.  

If you’re applying to any of the several hundred schools that use the Common App, you’re going to have a choice of five  prompts for the main essay. (You will also need to respond to some supplemental essay questions that are customized for each school to which you are applying). Make sure to pick the prompt that will enable you to relate a good story—one that captures an aspect of your life that shows why you would be a valuable addition to next year’s freshman class.

Admissions personnel generally read hundreds of personal statements each year, so it’s vitally important to make sure that your essay avoids clichés and maintains the reader’s interest. Your essay needs to be thoughtful and reflective, but it should also convey your passions and provide a sense of what makes you unique. Since you only have a few hundred words to accomplish this goal, many of the most successful essays relate a brief story or anecdote that sheds light on both your personality and your goals.

Perhaps you think that your life has not been that remarkable so far, but everyone has a story to tell.  If youre struggling with your personal statement, we can help!  Our experienced admissions counselors can assist you in figuring out what kinds of stories will be relevant for your essay prompts, or even which prompts to choose.  We’d be happy to meet with you to explore your background and your goals, and to share our experience and knowledge about what makes a great application essay. Call Sandweiss Test Prep today!

There are over 2,000 four year colleges in the United States, and choosing which handful you should apply to can be a daunting task, especially when the next four or more years of your life may be determined by this decision. So what’s the key to choosing the right set of colleges? Variety.

The college prep industry uses the terms safety school, target school, and reach school to describe the different levels of competitiveness applicants face at the colleges to which they’re applying, and students should have a mix of these types on their list. Of course, everybody’s background and qualifications are different, and someone’s reach school might be someone else’s safety. Here is how these terms are generally defined:

Safety School

This is a college to which you are virtually certain you’ll be granted admittance. Your ACT or SAT scores and grades are above their average. Note: Even though it may be less competitive than the other colleges and universities on your list, we only recommend applying if you really would be interested in attending the school.

Target School

These institutions have admissions standards that are aligned with your own application statistics. You probably see no reason why your application might be rejected out of hand, yet some seemingly capricious act of an admissions officer might result in a waitlist or rejection, so be sure you have a few target schools and at least one safety, too!

Reach School

People tend to think of reach schools as “dream schools,” but there should be a degree of realistic possibility in your application. Don’t throw away your time, money, and energy applying to a school you have no chance of being admitted to. However, since it’s also true that schools try to have a diverse incoming freshman class, if you have a talent or skill or accomplishment they might be interested in, you might consider throwing your hat in the ring.

Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into choosing schools than just admissions standards. You’ll want to consider location, costs, public or private, and the department for your intended major (if you have one). And don’t discount a program that looks perfect for you just because you might be able to get in somewhere “better,” because there are many factors that contribute to finding the right fit and academic competitiveness is only one of them! Take a look at our Admission Consulting to see how we can help get into your preferred school.

The SAT has recently undergone a major shift in its design. The SAT has returned to the 1600-point system, made the essay “optional,” and restyled the exam questions to emphasize interpreting evidence and using skills in context. The College Board hopes that these changes will reduce some of the socio-economic bias inherent in standardized testing.

How has the the test changed? In general, it’s been redesigned to more closely resemble the ACT, which has recently surpassed the SAT in popularity for the first time in history. But the easiest way to understand what has changed is to look at what has been added and what’s been removed from the test.

What’s Gone?

  • There are no longer 5 options for multiple choice questions. The reduction to only four options will simplify the test and eliminate students’ potential for confusion.
  • There are no longer quarter-point penalties for incorrect answers, which encourages students to take their best educated guess at questions for which they are not quite certain of the answers.

What’s New?

  • There will be more graphs and charts and a greater emphasis on visual understanding, both for the reading section and the math section.
  • There will be more “great texts,” especially foundational American documents. Though familiarity with these documents isn’t necessary for the comprehension questions, it may reward a strong foundation in those texts.

Deep Focus on Evidence in Language

Above all, the new SAT focuses more strongly on evidence than ever before, and on a student’s ability to gather and interpret that evidence and apply contextual learning.

For the previous essay section of the SAT, students were asked to write an essay expressing an opinion. Now, students are instead asked to analyze a passage from a text in terms of what evidence the author is offering to support a point. This is much more akin to what college students will actually be writing for college courses, and de-emphasizes personal opinion or personal experience.

The vocabulary section also focuses on evidence-based understanding of the words. The vocabulary words in general will be less obscure than before, and replaced with “high utility” words that are used often and in different contexts.


Don’t worry—pretty much everyone is! The new SAT has students, teachers, and admissions officers everywhere buzzing with speculation as to whether the new test is better, easier, harder, fairer, etc. If you’re one of the many who feels confused by these changes, we can help you figure out whether to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, and how to best prepare for either exam. Contact Sandweiss Test Prep today to get started!

If you’re like any typical high school student, you probably caught a bit of “senioritis” as soon as the graduating seniors left on their last day. While your senior year can be a fun and formative time in your life, there are a few significant hurdles you need to clear if you’re planning to attend college the following year. Don’t take things easy, either – you’ll kick yourself for slacking behind and stressing deadlines, so allowing yourself some breathing room can be greatly beneficial.

Task #1: Prepare for Standardized Tests

If you didn’t already take the SAT/ACT as a junior or think you should retake either exam, it’s best to get that out of the way early so college applications won’t be delayed.  If you have early application deadlines (ACT, SAT or SAT Subject Tests), you’ll most likely need to complete your testing by October.  For later deadlines, you’ll need to take or retake your SAT or ACT by December.

Task #2: Attend College Visits

While you may already be doing this, make sure to schedule some time with parents or friends to go on college visits to those schools you may not have seen yet, but may be interested in attending.  While you’re at the schools, it’s important to attend an Information Session and/or to meet with the Admissions Representative who’s responsible for students from the area where you live.  Tell the Rep about yourself and try to figure out if the school will be a “Good Fit” for you.  Discuss issues such as your potential focus or major, and opportunities for research or other activities that may interest you, including Study Abroad, sports, clubs and living arrangements.  Don’t worry if you haven’t quite made up your mind about your major yet – part of visiting is familiarizing yourself with different schools and programs, so don’t sweat it too much. If possible, try to sit in on classes at each school you tour, and make sure to have lunch or dinner nearby each school so you can get a feel not only for the taste of the food, but for the “flavor” of the atmosphere and attitude of the students who attend each college or university.  It’s also helpful to set up meetings with faculty with whom you might be working/studying, as well as representatives from any clubs or campus organizations you’re thinking of joining.

Task #3: Start Thinking about Financial Aid and Scholarships

For either Need-based aid or Merit aid, all colleges and universities require that students and parents fill out the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA.  The FAFSA for the next year is due in January 2016 for the State of Washington and funds are available until depletion, so now’s a good time to start talking about money with your parents or guardians.

Most private liberal arts colleges, as well as some public universities, also require students to fill out the CSS Profile.  This is another online Aid application that allows students to apply for scholarships – both need and merit aid – at over 400 colleges and universities.  It’s detailed and specific about each family’s financial issues, so it can be a helpful complement to the FAFSA when your actual “need” doesn’t match the FAFSA’s definition of need.

Task #4: Start or Continue Working on your College Essays

First semester grades matter!  It will be a lot easier to get good grades if you don’t have to stress out about your college application essays.  Your life will be much simpler if you have at least a draft of your main college essay completed before Senior Year begins.  Since the essays are a very important part of your application, it’s beneficial to try to perfect them as much as possible.  You want to convey information about yourself that is not apparent from the rest of your application.

If you spend part of your remaining summer working on college essays, touring any schools that have students attending over the summer, and preparing for your final SAT/ACT/SAT Subject Tests, you’ll have a great head start to your final year of high school.

If you’re feeling stressed about the ACT or SAT exam, consider investing (both time and money) in an individual tutor or a group class to help you prepare. Sandweiss Test Prep prides itself on helping students at all levels achieve their academic goals.  We have tutors available to match your scheduling needs.  We also have group standardized test preparation courses beginning Thursday, July 23rd for the ACT exam in Seattle and an available course for the SAT beginning Wednesday, July 29th. .  We also have college counselors to help you with essays or other admissions issues.   Contact us today for more information regarding either test preparation or your college goals.

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