Deadline to Register for March 12th SAT is Tomorrow

The deadline to register for the March 12, 2011 SAT is tomorrow, Friday February 11. If you miss the deadline, late registration is available until February 15, 2011. Register online at collegeboard.com.

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College Admission Requirements for Homeschoolers

Homeschooling college requirementsCollege admission is stressful and challenging for any student, but homeschoolers face additional difficulties above those of their public- and private-schooled peers. If you went through home school either partially or wholly, you must be aware of the specific college admission requirements for homeschoolers.

In the past, homeschoolers have had difficulties with college admission. The Higher Education Act was modified in 1998 to make it easier for those in home schooling to apply to college, but there were fears among university administrators that accepting homeschooled students would affect their federal funds. Only a few colleges accepted homeschooling as a valid alternatives for more traditional high school learning.

In 2003, the Department of Education clarified its position by stating that no university would be penalized in their federal funding in any way for accepting a homeschooler. It also more clearly defined the admission and application requirements for homeschooled students. In the years that followed, the majority of U.S. universities altered their admissions policies to evaluate homeschooled applicants in the same way as all other applicants.

College Applications for Homeschooled Students

College Applications for Homeschooled Students Many universities, including top-ranked colleges and Ivy League schools, receive applications from a substantial number of students with all or part of a home school education. According to the Harvard College Director of Admissions, "We are looking for the strongest candidates in the world and we find some of those among homeschoolers."

Harvard College, along with other top universities, evaluates traditional and homeschooled applicants the same way. Prospective students must submit their scores for either the SAT I or ACT tests — I wrote previously about how to choose between the SAT and ACT — and typically their scores for three SAT II Subject Tests. These standardized tests allow the university to compare homeschooled applicants with traditional students, so scores on these tests are particularly important for homeschoolers.

Your coursework as a homeschooler is also important. You should ensure that you are taking classes that match in subject and difficulty with the most rigorous offerings at local public and private schools. The more closely the rigor of your homeschool curriculum matches that of traditional schools, the more likely you are to be compared positively with your peers. According to the Harvard College admissions website, "an ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language."

Letters of Recommendation for Homeschoolers

Typically, traditionally schooled applicants will submit letters of recommendation from teachers or other educators. A homeschooled student may not have the body of teachers to draw such letters from. Keep in mind, however, that letters of recommendation do not always need to come from a teacher. Most universities will be happy to receive letters from anyone who is directly familiar with the prospective student's life away from the classroom. A letter from a sports coach, dance instructor, or volunteer coordinator will carry just as much weight as one from an educator. Additionally, homeschooled students can look for letters from any tutors or other academic professions with whom they work, supervisors at a part-time job, or a religious leader.

Homeschooler's Class Rank

Many homeschoolers worry that their application will be hurt because they cannot provide a class rank. Remember that although many applicants come from large public high schools, many also come from smaller private schools. These small traditional schools also do not give class ranks. At many universities, the class rank is just a single criterion admissions officers use. Lacking a class rank will not hurt your college application in any way, but it will mean that more of an emphasis will be put on other criteria in your application packet, including standardized test scores, course rigor, and extracurricular involvement.

Extracurricular Activities and Home School

Extracurricular Activities and Home SchoolEvery homeschooled student should be involved with outside activities. Academic credentials are important, but a good homeschooler should combine academic performance with extracurricular activities to show a well-rounded education. Homeschoolers often omit activities from their application because they feel non-traditional. Ensure that you fully explore all of your activities, awards, honors, hobbies, and anything else that gives a complete picture of who you are. For many universities, broadly evaluating a student's special interests plays as important a role as evaluating the student's GPA and SAT scores.

Though most colleges do not require anything additional of its homeschooled applicants in terms of testing or additional credentials — and many are actually prohibited by law from doing so — robust academic credentials allow a homeschooler to appear more competitive. Awards and honors you win while in competition with traditional students should always be included in your application. College-level courses taken in conjunction with your home schooling curriculum will also help to set you apart.

Specific Application Requirements for Homeschoolers

Every college is different, but you must often include a high school diploma with a parent's transcript, your standardized test scores, a portfolio review, any written essays required by the application such as a personal statement, and any entrance examinations the university may require to test your preparedness. Most colleges will permit you to submit equivalent documentation for anything that is inapplicable to a homeschooler, such as letters of recommendation. If the school application materials do not explicitly list such alternatives, contact the school's admissions office.

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Can I Slack Off in My Senior Year?

Student suffers from senioritisThe spring semester of your senior year is the most tempting time to start slacking off. With admissions letters rolling in, students feel as if they can stop worrying about the rest of their senior years. After all, you have already been accepted to the college of your choice, so working hard to maintain that 4.0 doesn't feel necessary.

Do I have to worry about the rest of my senior year?

Yes!

It is very important to maintain the same level of academic performance for the rest of your senior year, even when you feel yourself succumbing to senioritis. Your college acceptance is contingent on your ability to finish your high school career. Though you may only feel yourself slacking from an A to a B, it is very easy to slip down into Cs or Ds without realizing it, potentially jeopardizing your ability to graduate on time.

Additionally, colleges receive a final transcript of your grades once you graduate and are able to rescind your admission if they feel that your academic performance is not longer up to their standards. Many universities will check, and students have had their admissions letters revoked for low grades due to senioritis.

Even if your admission is not in danger of post-acceptance revocation, many colleges make determinations for merit-based scholarships after receiving your final grades. If you do not maintain your grades to the end of your senior year, you may lose your eligibility for these scholarships.

College is not going to be any easier than high school, and it is important to keep up with your studying skills. Slacking for your last semester in high school will only leave you struggling in your first semester of college. Keep studying and working hard and you will find yourself well-prepared for your first year at your university.

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Online College Courses

With so many high school students applying to dwindling spaces in colleges, and with adults considering higher education as a way to be more competitive in an unstable job market, the amount of applications universities receive has skyrocketed. With that increasing number comes a growing need to get any edge possible in your college application.

One very common and longstanding recommendation is for students to take a few college courses before the application process to show that the student is prepared for the academic rigor expected in a university. Unfortunately, not all students have access to a nearby school at which to take college courses. Fortunately, many very well-regarded universities are turning to the Internet to offer online college courses. No matter your location, you can enroll in an online college course and use your completion as evidence of your academic prowess on your college application.

Additionally, sampling a few university classes by taking online college courses will help you focus your interests and pick a major you're happy with early — rather than spending your first few years in school switching from major to major.

Open Yale Courses, a free service from Yale University in Connecticut, features introductory courses in a variety of topics, including astronomy, chemistry, economics, philosophy, psychology, and more. The courses are real lectures taught by real Yale professors and are intended for those with little or no background in the subject.

The Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom features a rich list of math lessons available for free online. The Institute also features a number of physics and biology topics, such as lectures on string theory or phylogenetics. While many of the topics may be difficult to grasp for someone who has only taken high school math and science courses, a diligent student should find the subjects within reach.

For individuals hoping to sharpen their foreign language skills or even pick up an entirely new language, BBC offers audio and video language courses in 36 different languages. Universities appreciate individuals who are able to view the world from multiple perspectives, and in-depth learning into a language and culture will make you appear more diverse in your college application. Additionally, your language learning may allow you to take a proficiency exam at your university to waive a foreign language requirement.

As a general resource, the education channel of YouTube also has a surprising number of college-level material. With categories including business, engineering, history, journalism, and law, YouTube features videos of actual college courses taught by professors at schools like Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and UC Berkeley. The quantity of videos on YouTube is large, but you may have to look through a lot of topics to find one that interests you.

Though none of these options will give you a degree or certificate, you should discuss your additional educational pursuits somewhere in your application packet. Not only will you show that you have gone above and beyond other students in your preparation for college, you will also ready yourself for college-level material and find a discipline that interests you.

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Addressing Weaknesses in the Personal Statement

WeaknessMany college application essays will include a question asking you to identify your biggest weakness. Students often make a crucial mistake with this type of question, deciding to answer as if the admissions committee had asked, "why shouldn't we accept you?" The goal of your personal statement is to make yourself as attractive as possible to the college, so don't give them a reason to reject you. This question should be dealt with like every other one in the packet: as an opportunity to show how great a student you will be.

The first step is to identify something that is a realistic weakness. You may be tempted to say something like "I'm a workaholic" or some other weakness-that's-really-a-strength. Don't do this. College admissions officers see variants of "I just care too much about my school work" too often to believe it. Instead, critically analyze your application and identify your biggest weakness. A low GPA, a disappointing SAT or ACT score, or low participation in extracurricular activities are all great examples.

Next, figure out an explanation — not an excuse — for your weakness. Perhaps your family moved around a lot, preventing you from rooting in a school. Perhaps you had to work an after-school job that cut into your time to play a sport. Whatever your reason, make sure it's something that you can use to make yourself look like a better candidate. It's much easier to forgive a low GPA, for example, if the reason for it was the time you spent in a professional internship.

Here are four examples of the thesis statement for your personal statement weakness. Note that they are ordered from worst to best:

"What is Your Biggest Weakness?"

Worst
"I have a low GPA."
The admissions officers already know you have a low GPA, and if they didn't, you just alerted them to go look. Your weakness should be cleverly woven into your answer rather than appearing upfront and obvious.

Bad
"I'm a very sensitive person and sometimes care too much about my friends."
This is an example of a weakness-that's-really-a-strength. You want to show the admissions committee that you can objectively and critically analyze yourself, and "I care too much" is not a realistic weakness. Additionally, this answer focuses on personal characteristics rather than on academic ones. Focus on your scholarship rather than on character flaws.

Better
"I have a lower than average GPA due to the time I spent working as an intern at a law office to earn money to support my family."
What makes this answer better than the previous ones is that it identifies a real and credible weakness (low GPA), but provides an explanation that is positive. Though colleges want to see applicants with high grade point averages, they also want to see students with real-life work experience and those who have overcome difficulties. This answer shows both of those, making the student appear more well-rounded. The rest of the answer would then discuss why the student believes his experiences as a legal intern make up for his lower GPA. There is, however, one thing that should change to make this an ideal thesis.

Best
"I worked a part-time job before and after school in order to support my family. Though the work was incredibly rewarding, it limited my ability to focus on my high school work. Though I was able to work with my teachers to extend deadlines and make up missed work, my job did limit my ability to complete all of my assignments."
Rather than leading with the weakness, this answer weaves the weakness into the discussion of the applicant's strength. The admissions officers will already know about your GPA by the time they get to this section, so it is unnecessary to call attention to it again. Instead, go right into your explanation. This allows you to write an answer that focuses on your strengths while, at the same time, compensating for your weakness. This answer also demonstrates that the student took the initiative to try to overcome her weakness by approaching her teachers and requesting extensions. Not only does this answer show that the student has a good reason for her lower GPA, but it also shows that she recognizes, addresses, and takes steps to correct her problems rather than merely complaining about them.

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Some Colleges Opting Out of the SAT ‘Score Choice’ Option

I recently answered the question "should I cancel my SAT score?" with information regarding the upcoming Score Choice option on the SAT. To refresh, the SAT used to require that all scores from every test administration be sent to colleges. With Score Choice, students are permitted to send only the scores of their choosing to colleges. In other words, they may choose to send only their top combined score, and the university would never see the lower scores.

However, this idealism seems to have changed.

It has now become clear that colleges can opt out of Score Choice, and require that applicants report every SAT score. Newsweek has indicated that Stanford, Cornell, Pomona, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California will demand all scores. Other schools, including Harvard and the University of Chicago, say they will honor Score Choice. Many more, such as Yale and Princeton, say they have yet to decide.

This may be disappointing news for several students who believed Score Choice to be the cure of test taking anxiety. However, remember that the playing field has not really changed. Just because certain schools are requiring all reports does not mean that having lower scores will necessarily preclude you from admission; colleges still view the entire application -- scores included -- in totality. All this means is that when you decide to take the SAT, you should be ready for it.

For tips to succeed on the SAT, make sure you check out my SAT tips section.

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