Category: AP

Insider’s Guide to Admissions: Standardized Tests

SAT, ACT, IELTS, TOEFL, APs, AHH! No that last one wasn’t an acronym but it was an attempt at capturing the frustration and confusion students experience as they go through the complicated and sometimes overwhelming process of applying abroad.

This Insider’s Guide to Admissions is here to give you guidance and direction. This particular article is covering Standardized Tests – what are they, how are they different and who needs them.

SAT: For applicants to the US, the SAT has become a bit of a household name. However, the SAT recently changed evolving into the New SAT. This New SAT has a few cosmetic changes (e.g. scored out of 1600 now instead of 2400, doesn’t have negative marking any more) and some content changes (e.g. no more Writing section). It basically consists of two sections – English and Mathematics. Internationally, the test is offered six times a year – January, May, June, October, November and December.

Pro Tip: While the essay is Optional, don’t skip it. A number of colleges require them including the University of California colleges (UCLA, UC Berkeley etc.)

ACT: An alternative to the SAT, the ACT has been gaining popularity in India of late. While SAT is out of 1600, ACT is graded out of 36. Unlike the SAT, the ACT covers three basic areas – English, Mathematics and Science. The science section in ACT is easy to master, unless you completely hate science. In that case, the New SAT is your savior! Anecdotally, English is easier on the ACT while Math is not really harder but faster. The test is offered six times a year – February, April, June, September, October and December.

Pro Tip: Whether it’s the ACT or SAT, plan to give your first attempt in Grade 11. Most people take 2 attempts to get their idealized score.

Choosing between the ACT and SAT: Let me make one thing very clear, SAT and ACT are equally accepted in universities abroad. If you want a competitive college application, you need high test scores. And if you want high test scores, you need to take the right test. Most importantly, you should focus all your efforts on taking one test. So, you really need to choose between SAT and ACT, and that too well in time because time is precious. Ideally, you should take a Diagnostic or Practice Exam in each one of the two exams. Compare the scores and then decide. Check out our blog post on this for more tips www.collegecore.in/blog

Pro Tip: SAT and ACT not for you? You’re not the only one. In fact, there are a number of universities that are going SAT-independent, eliminating the requirement to do the tests. Check out the list on FairTestPrep.org

TOEFL / IELTS: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) as the names suggest, are tests to gauge your command over the English Language. These tests are Visa Requirements for the most part. TOEFL is more popular with U.S. and Canada while IELTS is what the U.K. colleges prefer. Requirements differ by colleges – some colleges specify that if you have over 650 in the SAT English section the requirement is waived, others waive it for U.S. Citizens living abroad while still others will require it no matter what. The test is offered fairly regularly. You should check the official websites for the dates.

Pro Tip: ETS, the TOEFL organizers have begun offering a free online course to study for the test. While on the other hand, the British Council, the IELTS organizers often hold in person workshops to train you for them.

While we’ve covered the major ones, a few other tests you to keep in mind:

PSAT & Pre-ACT: Say you’re in the Ninth or Tenth grade, and you have your sights set on the United States of America as your intended college destination. You have all the plans to get yourself ready for the mad rush of Grade 12 but why not start earlier? The PSAT or Preliminary SAT offers the opportunity to get a head start on the preparation for the standardized tests. Moreover, the most competitive summer schools often request the PSAT or the SAT as a part of the evaluation. The test is only offered in October each year.

The Pre-ACT is new, in fact it only was announced in 2016. Its function is similar to the PSAT and like the ACT is an alternative to the SAT, the Pre-ACT is an alternative to the PSAT. It’s yet to come to India though. Read more about it on the ACT website.

SAT Subject Tests: While the SAT and ACT focus primarily on English and Math, the SAT Subject Tests are subject specific. SAT Subject Tests are available in 20 subjects (12 are in various languages), and allow a student to be able to show their academic strength in specific subjects. Some universities require Subject Tests, others recommend them, while still others don’t want them at all. Sometimes, universities will require specific tests depending on the major you’re applying for. For example, Engineering majors are often required to give the Physics and Math Level II SAT Subject Test.

APs: APs or Advanced Placements are the ‘New Kid on the Block’ at least in the Indian Standardized Tests landscape. The exam takes place in May each year and is offered in a number of different subjects – 37 subjects as of 2016 – so you can show your interest in Psychology or Economics which is not offered as a Subject Test. It’s graded from 1 to 5, 5 being the highest. The results of these exams are widely accepted and since they are considered “college-level” are used by colleges for college credit AFTER a student has been admitted. However, for Indian students applying from a curriculum that doesn’t offer APs in school, the results are not considered for admissions. Check out more on specific pros and cons and whether you should take APs on our blog www.collegecore.in/blog

Summer School? But its not even Spring!!

While winter is barely over, and Grade 12 students are in the midst of exams and preparation, it’s time to think of Summer Schools for students in Grade 9, 10 and 11!

You may think college applications are long off but unfortunately, time goes by faster than you think. Every year we get lots of people reaching out to discuss summer schools in May, but the time to apply is NOW. January and February are the best times to start planning for summer schools abroad.

But wait, even though, the trend of attending a summer program by high school students is really catching on in India and the BIG question is that is it really worth all the effort, time and money spent?

Is it becoming just about keeping up with that one kid in your class or is there a link between that an admissions? There is a lot to unpack in this article.

Well first thing to know is…

Q. What is a Summer School or a Summer Program?

A. Summer school is known to be a great way for students to pursue new interests, enhance existing talents, and build new contacts.

Q. Do they ACTUALLY act as a catalyst in gaining admission to a college of your choice?

A. In a simple way, we have parents each year asking, “If my child goes to Harvard Summer School, does that mean he will get into Harvard?” Here is the truth.

Attending a summer program no doubt indicates to colleges that you’re dedicated to studying and gaining knowledge. However, when you talk to admission officers they are of the opinion that these summer programs rarely give student that much of advantage when the time comes for them to apply to college. Yes, they do add great value to your resume/CV but understand that this is not your ticket to your desired college.

WAIT! Before you stop reading though… 

Q. Why should you consider pursuing a summer school/program?

– Summer program is the best way for students to fulfill their aspiration for global exploration and at the same time be committed to making the most of campus life. It’s a chance to figure out if they are ready.

– Explore new areas of interest, strengthen interest in a particular major and illustrate their readiness for the education system to admissions officers.

– Chance to experience what classes will be like and the level of work you will need to put in to succeed.

– Get hands on experience with international companies in form of internships which is inbuilt in some programs

– Possibility of incorporating your summer school experience in your essays

Q. What should I look for in a program?

– Is it the right time to dedicate to a summer program? AP exams are in the summer and sometimes Summer School overlaps with regular term for students. In some schools that means missing class and even exams.

– Is the school/program selective or does it take anyone who applies? If a selective program like Yale (YYGS), Boston Univ (PROMYS), Stanford (SuMAC), Princeton Journalism or UPenn LBW accepts you it is an indicator that 1) You are stronger than some of your peers 2) You are ready for a rigorous college curriculum

However, other programs that you can pay for and get in are less valuable in terms of being “an indicator” because even the admissions officers know they are not selective

Q. Do I have to go abroad?

A. No! Going to summer school abroad can cost as much as $10,000 for two weeks. Don’t waste your money on a non-selective program that won’t add too much value. Colleges are coming to us! Whether it’sAshoka’s High School Program, UChicago Summer School, Columbia University programs or MIT, the schools are coming to us and you should make the most of these opportunities.

Q. Should I go this year or next year?

A. Well, this is rather subjective and really depends from student to student. As per our experience we believe that you should join a summer program in the summer of your grade 10 and/or grade 11. The reason being that this time you are relatively free and have more time in hand as compared to when you are in grade 12 trying hard to balance your school life and college application work.

So going back to the big question, should I apply?

A. YES! Summer School is worth it if

– Your timing is right

– You can afford it

– If the program adds value to your application process either as a selective program that is an indicator or an exploratory program that allows you to show interest in a major


5 Takeaways from the Weekend Information Session: Cornell, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern & Princeton

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5 Takeaways from the Weekend Information Session: Cornell, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern & Princeton

This past weekend had a plethora of colleges visiting. While I struggle to fit in 2+ hours of information into 5 takeaways, the post below is meant to give you the juiciest, most important points.

1. Colleges can be surprisingly similar…yet different

While the 6 colleges that visited ranged geographically from Ithaca NY to Raleigh, North Carolina on the East Coast and Northwestern in the Midwest, there were a number of similarities that brought them together

– They were all liberal arts heavy colleges with an emphasis on research: While none of the colleges are pure liberal arts colleges, Columbia’s Core and Princeton’s strong collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences are testament, but these colleges are all providing for a holistic education. However, it was the specific examples of Duke’s presence in the research triangle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_Triangle) and Northwestern’s investment in The Garage (http://thegarage.northwestern.edu/) that solidified the importance they give to research.

– They were strong residential programs that have tight communities: While Columbia and Georgetown are city schools and their campuses quite a bit smaller than Cornell in New York state, residential communities were a big feature in the presentation. The clincher was Princeton, whose emphasis on community was obvious at the mention of their Alumni weekend, where each year 30,000 or the 100,000 plus alums return to their alma mater.

– They are medium-sized schools: Cornell was the largest with 14000 undergraduates across its 6 schools whereas Princeton was the smallest with 5200 undergraduates, but all the colleges fit comfortably in the middle

2. They want you to connect with them…on Facebook

Shout-out to the Duke presentation for hammering in the importance of Social Media through this process. Setting themselves apart from the others, the Duke presentation was exclusively created from the #dukestudents account on Instagram. Not only did it make for a genuine connection to see actual photos by actual students, it also reinforced that the college may be geographically on the other side of the world but they are really making an effort to connect with prospective students! Follow them on Instagram, like them on Facebook. Even check out their Snapchat stories and YouTube videos. Just because you can’t visit, doesn’t mean you can’t get a sense of what they do.

3. Understand how a University interacts with its Colleges

Cornell has 6 Colleges (maybe 7! Check out the next point), Georgetown 4, Columbia 2…Two points that come out of that – First, make sure you do your research to understand where the major you want to do truly lies. Did you know Cornell’s business program is part of the Dyson School which is currently in the School of Agriculture https://dyson.cornell.edu/? Or that Northwestern offers Computer Science in the College of Arts and Sciences AND in the College of Engineering. Georgetown has a separate school for Foreign Service https://sfs.georgetown.edu/. Second, understand how you need to apply. To a number of colleges, if you want to study Engineering, you must APPLY to the College of Engineering. Princeton is an exception in that it admits you to the University and not to a specific College like Arts and Sciences or Engineering.

4. Figure out what they need

There was a lot of information on this section of requirements, so see the salient points below:

– Some colleges require SAT / ACT Writing while others don’t. Cornell, Georgetown and Northwestern DON’T while Columbia, Duke and Princeton DO require it. Understand what they need or really, be on the safe side and take writing.

Aid and scholarships are treated differently. As Need-Blind colleges Princeton and Georgetown promise to fulfill all need expressed (need, NOT WANT). The others aren’t Need-Blind for International Students. Only Duke, Georgetown and Northwestern offer scholarships, but only Athletic Scholarships for National Level players.

– If APs are not offered as part of the curriculum, they don’t want to see them. They would rather you do something on the extracurricular front than “waste time double-dipping on academics” Direct Quote.

5. Attend more information sessions!

They are coming to see you from across the world, go see them. Sessions like this are great even for admissions counselors like us because we learn what is new every time. For example, Cornell is planning on a SEVENTH college! Taking the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management out of the College of Agriculture, joining forces with the Johnson Graduate School of Business (MBA Program) and School of Hotel Administration to create a brand new College of Business! Stay tuned for more on this https://business.cornell.edu/

Here are the #5Takeaways from the event on the weekend. Stay tuned for more deep dives into each college.