Hey, hey, are you staying healthy? I sure hope so.
I’ve been trying to do my part by slowing the spread and doubling down at home (hence all the rapid-fire posts covering COVID-19-related tips!)
I know there’s one thing you may be thinking about if you’re the parent of a sophomore or junior: the SAT. COVID-19 may have wreaked havoc on your SAT plans.
I worked for 12 years in a college admission office in the Midwest, so most students took the ACT, not the SAT. I even administered the ACT test every few months (those poor students were soo nervous!) so I was always a bit curious about the SAT.
Parents, it may be a few years since you’ve taken the SAT yourself (if you took it at all!) and want to know more about it. I’ll also cover some top tips on how to handle it during COVID-19.
What is the SAT?
What does SAT stand for, anyway? Let’s do a multiple-choice question, just like in the real SAT:
Scholastic Aptitude Test
Scholar Assessment Test
Slippery, Atrocious Trial
It’s not an acronym for anything. It’s just S-A-T.
Got a good guess? It’s D! (Did you notice that I tried tricking you? The SAT did stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test when it was created.)
You know that the SAT is a multiple-choice entrance exam administered by the College Board. You may even know that over 2.2 million students took the SAT in 2019, according to the 2019 SAT Suite of Assessments Program Results. But do you know the finer points of the SAT?
The SAT does one major thing: It assesses your child’s readiness for college. Most colleges and universities use the SAT to make admission decisions. Your child’s SAT score, in addition to high school GPA, transcripts, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, personal essays and interviews, may also be taken into consideration for admission decisions. Some schools don’t weigh SAT scores as heavily, while others do.
Of course, it’s to your student’s advantage to do well on the SAT or the ACT. Your child is more likely to be able to attend and possibly receive more financial aid from a particular school with a higher score.
The SAT is divided up into three major sections: Reading, Math, and Writing and Language. The Essay portion is optional. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll find on each test.
The Reading Test is 65 minutes long and features reading passages. Each reading passage requires you to answer 52 multiple-choice questions using tables, graphs, and charts. The SAT always includes:
One literature passage
A U.S. history passage or pair of passages
A passage from economics, sociology or psychology
Two science-related passages
Your child may need to find evidence, interpret data and consider implications to answer the questions on this test.
What’s on the Language and Writing Test? Easy — this is your child’s chance to be an editor for 35 minutes. He or she will take a look at sentence structure, usage and punctuation in portions of an underlined part of a passage.
There are four passages and 44-passage based questions. Your child must be able to know how to manipulate words, use punctuation and sentence clauses, as well as understand verb tense, parallel construction, subject-verb agreement, comma use and more.
The SAT Math Test covers basic algebra, problem solving, data analysis and complex equations. It’s divided up into two components — a calculator section and a no-calculator section:
The calculator section is 55 minutes and contains 38 questions.
The no-calculator section is 25 minutes and contains 20 questions. Your child isn’t permitted to use a calculator. (These portions are conceptual and your child won’t need a calculator to complete them.)
Most of the questions on the Math Test are multiple choice but 22 percent are student-produced response questions, known as grid-ins.
The SAT Essay portion is optional but some colleges require it. (It’s a good idea to do some checking around to find out whether your kiddo should take the essay portion.)
The Essay Test is 50 minutes and measures your child’s ability to read, write and analyze. The two people who score your child’s essay each award between one and four points for a maximum score of eight.
Here’s how it’s done: Your student must read a passage and explain how the writer builds an argument and how that writer persuades using evidence from the passage.
How long is the SAT?
To sum up, the SAT is 180 minutes, not including breaks. The SAT Essay Test is 50 minutes.
Writing and Language Test
Math: No calculator Math: Calculator
25 minutes 55 minutes
20 questions 38 questions
History of the SAT
Okay, buckle in for a history lesson. The history of the SAT goes back all the way to the first World War, believe it or not. Robert Yerkes, a guy who knew a heck of a lot about I.Q. testing, asked the U.S. Army to let him test all recruits for intelligence using the Army Alpha.
One of Yerkes’ brilliant assistants, Carl Brigham, taught at Princeton and adapted Army Alpha as a college admissions test. It was first administered to a few thousand college applicants in 1926, just for fun. (Yeah, it was one big experiment!)
James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard in 1933, decided to start a new scholarship program and asked an assistant dean, Henry Chauncey, to find a test to evaluate candidates for these scholarships. (Poor guy!) Chauncey met Brigham and recommended… dum da dum dum dum… The SAT!
Chauncey talked the members of the College Board into using the SAT as a uniform exam in 1938 for scholarship applicants. The second World War changed everything in 1942. All College Board admissions tests were abolished, so the SAT became the test for everyone.
When’s the SAT Offered?
This is kind of a trick question because the SAT’s schedule has changed due to COVID-19. The SAT’s normally offered during the following months each year:
For example, the dates for 2020-2021 are the following:
August 29, 2020
October 3, 2020
November 7, 2020
December 5, 2020
March 13, 2021
May 8, 2021
June 5, 2021
What to Do About the SAT During COVID-19
The College Board canceled the May 2, 2020, SAT and SAT Subject Test administration due to COVID-19.
Right now, the next SAT is scheduled for the first weekend of June (June 6), but that depends on how the public health situation evolves. The registration deadline for the June 6 test is May 8.
Your student’s school may have originally scheduled a School Day SAT Test, which was cancelled. The College Board is seeking multiple solutions with states and districts about School Day administrations. Learn more about the College Board’s COVID-19 response.
Normally, the SAT should be taken by at least the spring of your child’s junior year. Taking it junior year gives your student the opportunity to take the SAT a second time in the fall of senior year before college application deadlines (if necessary).
This is a great time to prepare for the SAT. Your child can take practice exams and spend time preparing during quarantine.
Should My Kiddo Take the SAT and the ACT?
I stuck this question in here because I heard it every so often as an admission counselor.
You may be tempted to encourage your child to take both the SAT and the ACT — but it’s actually not a great idea. Why?
Think about it this way. Your student will only have so much preparation time for both tests and taking both will slash that time in half. Not only that, but if you pay for tutoring, you’ll have to pay for a tutor class for both tests.
Colleges have no preference for the ACT over the SAT or vice versa, so focus on one.
Talk to Colleges
Now you know the answer to “What does SAT stand for?” and more.
You might be wondering what you’ll do if COVID-19 is still a public health concern in June. Remember, there are still several dates around the corner: August 29, October 3, November 7 and December 5.
There’s still plenty of time to test (and retest!) so don’t get stressed out about having your child take the test before college application deadlines.
Sure, it might be a bit of a squeeze to get everything done, so it’s a good idea to reach out to all of your child’s prospective colleges. Explain your concerns and hear their recommendations. (They may change their college deadlines in light of this situation, anyway. Call and find out!)
College and career counselors are the unsung heroes of the college search process. They’re forthcoming about community-based scholarships, college prep courses and more. They’ve got a pulse on what’s going on at colleges and universities — because guess who talks to them before and after college visits? That’s right — college representatives!
This year may be a little different, but going into it, I’d like to see school counselors hop on virtual visits with college admission counselors so they know exactly what’s going on at each college and university.
Here’s what to a college counselor (also known as your child’s school counselor) this year.
1. Is it possible to work with you virtually?
You may want to jump on a conversation with the school counselor with your student this year. Classes may be a bit jumbled up because of the school schedule or required virtual classes. Eliminating electives like band and ceramics may also create openings (it’s hard to do band and choir over Zoom). The loss of electives can be a real burden for students, so if an alternative option is needed, now’s the time to talk with the school counselor. Try to schedule a meeting before school starts to discuss all the options available to your student.
However, if you must meet in person, the school may have a specific policy about how to handle in-person meetings, such as social distancing requirements and wearing a mask in a large conference room. Make sure you come with a prepared list of questions!
2. Is my child still on the most robust college prep schedule possible?
Certain classes may only be offered twice a week, other classes may have been cut — it may seem like your child’s schedule is slowly shrinking. Make sure these are on the schedule:
Colleges like to see four years of English. Any class where your child will study writing and literature is a bonus because just about every career will require your child to write well. Four years of English also enhances your child’s reading, analysis and communication skills.
Colleges also like to see four years of math. Math classes should include at least four of the following six classes (in order):
Algebra II or trigonometry
It may be okay to take just three years of laboratory science classes (check specific school requirements) but a fourth year is still a bonus. Make sure your child’s taken the following:
Most colleges require at least two years of social studies, including world history and U.S. history. Your child could consider other social science options, including:
Many colleges require a minimum of two years of foreign language while in high school. It doesn’t matter which foreign language your child chooses to study.
A small number of colleges require one year of visual or performing arts prior to admission.
Check with the school counselor to be sure your child is checking all the boxes. Pay special attention to the requirements at each college. The last thing you’d want is to let COVID-19 be the reason your child didn’t take a fourth year of English.
3. What’s the latest information you’ve heard from college representatives? (In particular, School X?)
When I visited schools in the fall of 2018, I made sure to talk to the college counselor at every high school I visited. I sat in that counselor’s office and made sure to spend a few minutes highlighting exactly why students should visit our college. I repeated my elevator pitch for the counselor, highlighted the exact programs and majors that were getting a lot of attention and described what the campus was like. I tried to give each counselor a goodie basket and always gave each counselor a bundle of materials to hand out to students.
Every time I visited high schools, I made sure to let counselors know that our college was a great option for the right type of student.
Now, not all admission counselors from colleges spend that much time with school counselors. However, remember that school counselors have their ears open — and still will during the pandemic. Maybe even more so, because they’ll be collecting information about which colleges have changed their requirements, like ACT and SAT testing and more. Be sure to ask this question, because you might learn a nugget of information you can’t get online.
4. When will you hold virtual visits with admission representatives? How will my child get notified?
Since it’s likely that no in-person admission visits will happen this year, encourage your child to attend virtual college rep visits. It’s the next-best thing. Virtual visits are the perfect platform for your child to ask questions. I know it seems like something’s “missing” when your kid can’t meet with reps one-on-one, but what’s more important is asking the right questions.
Here are a few key questions your child can ask:
Are there extra scholarships due to the pandemic?
What the campus is like right now due to COVID-19? Will this continue for the foreseeable future?
How has the pandemic affected the college process?
Admission reps should be as forthcoming with information as possible — it’s their job.
5. Which colleges do you think will be a good fit for my child?
Again, take advantage of the intel school counselors get from college representatives and ask about the colleges he or she thinks are a good fit for your child. The college counselor hears nuggets of information, such as:
All of College X’s students got into medical school last year.
College Y may switch to all online offerings next year.
College Z’s exercise science program is really popular.
Obviously, these are random examples but you may learn more through the school counselor than a random online search.
6. Which classes are the best college prep classes the high school has to offer?
Does your child’s high school offer college coursework? Does your student want to take AP classes? If so, your child’s college counselor should be able to suggest some options that would be a good fit. Here are a few great follow-up questions:
Is my child ready to take AP courses?
How many are available and how many do students typically handle at once?
7. Are you aware of my child’s achievements?
I personally love this question because it gets to the heart of whether the school counselor really knows your student. It’s important that the college counselor has a firm grasp on your child’s interests, career goals and achievements (both in the classroom and out of the classroom). Obviously, it’s impossible to expect your child’s school counselor to remember extracurricular activities for every student, so that’s where a resume comes in handy. Include:
Notable achievements or awards
Leadership positions held
Higher-level classes taken and special projects
Make sure you and your student are as warm and friendly as possible toward the school counselor. Doesn’t it motivate you to work harder when someone brings you cookies for doing a great job? (I’m not saying you need to do that, it’s just a reminder that we’re all going through stress and a little “thank you” goes a long way.)
8. Can I switch to a different school counselor?
Technically, this isn’t a question you may want to ask your child’s school counselor. However, the question may need to be asked if your child’s school counselor doesn’t seem to fit your family. Does the school counselor push back meetings with your student or not answer your questions thoroughly? Ask for a counselor change — you want to be sure your child is getting the best help possible, especially now that colleges are changing everything.
Ask Great Questions
Your child’s school counselor may be overworked and overwhelmed, but it’s also important to give each other grace during these turbulent times. Take advantage of the precious time you get with the school counselor by getting ready: Prep those questions ahead of time. Write them down, make them a priority and have a great conversation, whether it’s on Zoom or in person.
Hello! Here’s a guest post from my friend and colleague, Henry Khederian, who’s also a recent University of Michigan grad. He wrote a post-graduate letter about what he wishes he would have talked to his mom about during the college application process. Henry is a data research content creator at Benzinga. Enjoy!
You’ve guided and supported me through some of the most difficult and challenging decisions in my life.
Whether it was helping me select the best and brightest colors to finger paint when I was 5 or helping me look my best for my last high school prom, I know I can always count on your input!
I’ve had my ups and downs in high school, and you know that better than anyone. When I didn’t make the varsity basketball team, you were there to tell me life goes on and things happen for a reason.
When I went out on my first ice cream date, you did the little things like help me pick out a 10/10 outfit and let me borrow your car.
College is just around the corner, and like a member of Congress needs the counsel of his aids, I want to tackle this thing they call college admissions together.
I Want Your Help — I Really Do!
I’ve heard this thought bounced around on college admissions forums — the only thing harder than a student selecting a school is the parents’ role in steering their child in the right direction.
In other words, this process will not be one of linear progression (thanks, Algebra II, for the lingo). As decisions come in from the universities I apply to, I will face the heartbreak of rejection and the elation of success on this path.
When I falter, I’m not asking you to hold my hand per se, but provide a way forward if my favorite school doesn’t pan out the way I dreamed it would. After all, you will feel my impending acceptances, waitlists and rejection decisions at an emotional magnitude greater than or equal to me, that’s for sure.
It’s my responsibility to write the arduous college essays, recount my high school extracurricular activities and gather transcripts. But more than ever, I could use your wisdom to help me keep my ducks in a row during an incredibly stressful process.
Will you join me on this journey?
I’ve assembled a short list of the ways I believe you can support my success in the college admissions process.
In other words, here’s what I believe I need from you. (This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there’s no question that we could argue points made here, but this is what’s at the forefront of what I need from you as a high school student.)
Read Between the Lines
The ever-daunting question many high school students like me face is how should I handle the college admissions essay process?
Am I left to toss and turn at night, perplexed in the uncertainty that what I’ve written may not be good enough for an esteemed Ivy League admissions board?
Because so many college essays ask you to tell your personal story and journey, who better than to help me map my life experiences up to this point than you, Mom?
Help Me Identify My Strengths and Weaknesses
The concept of blind spots does not only apply to learning how to drive, you know! It can be hard to recall each one of my strengths and weaknesses these past 4 years. Where did I shine in my schoolwork, where did I lack support from my community in the midst of stressors from school?
Here are 3 key examples of questions where the common app asks me to recall my biggest of strengths and weaknesses:
Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Absent the need to submit SAT and ACT test scores, essays are more important than ever.
I’m a firm believer that blind spots can only be spotted by the people closest to you. Why else would they be called blind spots if you could determine what they are all on your own?
I need your help with that college application checklist, even if it seems like I don’t appreciate your input.
Give Me Feedback
We’ve sat down together and hashed out so many incredibly active discussions on our life views (and yes, we’ve had arguments). I promise I won’t be mad if you have some critical feedback after I write the first few drafts for my common app essays.
Because I know your feedback can shine a light on my blind spots and is the most golden of all.
In other words, it’s one thing if I visited a hurricane-relief zone for charity work, but why did I decide to take on this role? What are the lasting effects of helping others in need? Anyone can tell their story, but it’s you, Mom, who can best build depth and breadth to the experiences I’ve had. You know me best!
Know that this Year is Stressful
My high school graduating class is facing stress before classes even begin. Due to coronavirus, the end of my “in-person” high school career may be cut short.
If anything, this uncertain timeline for the upcoming school year makes me want to make the most of each day that you and I have together before college arrives.
Because I’m bound to struggle with the logistical learning challenges brought on by COVID-19, I want you to be the first to know that, because you’ve been there for me time and time again, I trust you more than anyone to guide me through the finish line!
Some things never change — like how much I appreciate your support and critical feedback when I need it most.
Thank you for everything, and I know we’ve got this!
I loved it when families came for college tours. They were excited, happy and sometimes even nervous. However, some families weren’t sure what questions to ask because everything (everything!) was new to them.
I compiled a list of must-ask questions to ask on a college tour for admission counselors, financial aid professionals, professors, coaches and more. You may think of others that pertain directly to your child’s situation, but this should give you a great start!
The student tour guide offers the most candid look at what a college is like. Spend as much time as you can with your child and the tour guide and make sure your child asks questions, even if the tour guide probably isn’t going to be your child’s best friend. Yes, the student is groomed to give canned responses to some questions but talking to the tour guide is the best way to get a feel for a college.
What’s your favorite thing about this college?
What’s your least favorite thing about the college you attend?
Where might my child spend a lot of time if he/she is a student here?
Why did you choose this college?
What are the students like?
Which residence hall is your favorite? Where did you live your first year?
Where do you live now? Why did you choose to live there?
What is the food like?
What is your major?
Is this a suitcase college? (Do people go home a lot on the weekends?)
What activities does the college have available for students?
Is it easy to get an internship here? Have you had an internship?
How available are professors?
How does the college handle communication?
Have you found it difficult to handle the costs of college?
What are your plans for after graduation? Do you plan to go to graduate school? Get a job?
Is it easy to get a work-study job on campus? Why or why not?
Where do first-year students typically get assigned for work-study? Can they request a work-study job?
How have online classes gone due to COVID-19? Has that been a seamless transition?
Are the classes rigorous? Have you found them manageable?
How do you manage classes and athletics? (If the student is an athlete and your child is a prospective athlete as well.)
How many tours did you go on before you chose this college?
Is this college far away from your hometown? How do you manage going home during breaks?
Is it easy to get involved in extracurricular activities?
Was it easy or difficult for you to get accepted into this college? How many other colleges did you apply to?
What do you do for fun and what is the social scene like?
What was the most surprising and difficult thing about adjusting to college life?
Admission Counselor Questions
You can call an admission counselor an “admission counselor” or an “admissions counselor.” What does an admissions counselor do? Check it out before you go on your visit! Generally, this is the person who will help you throughout the college search process. Your child will be assigned an admission counselor based on geography. You can search a map of the United States on any college’s website and find your child’s admission counselor. Here are some great questions to ask your child’s admission counselor. (I spent 12 years in college admission and I loved it when families asked me these questions!)
Admission Requirements and Process
What’s the application process?
What is the admission process, from start to finish, and what should my child expect after an application?
What ACT/SAT scores does my child need to attend your college? Is it optional?
Do you superscore test results (take the best score of each subject test on multiple ACT or SAT dates)?
Can my child self-report my standardized test scores?
Should my child aim for a certain grade point average? What are the requirements?
Does my child need to submit an essay or letters of recommendation? If so, what are the requirements?
Are there any other admission requirements we need to be aware of? What types of supporting materials does my child need to provide?
Does my child need to do an interview with an alumnus or college staff member to be admitted?
Are there different admission requirements for various departments or majors?
How can my child make his or her application stand out?
What are the most important admission factors at your college or university?
Do you accept the Common Application, the Coalition Application or the Universal College Application or do you have your own application?
What types of deadlines do you have for your applications?
Do you charge an application fee? How do we pay it?
Can we get a waiver for the application fee if the fee is a hardship for our family?
Do you have an applicant portal my child will need to use?
What are your recommendations for teacher evaluations, if required?
What does your ideal applicant look like?
How do you look at extracurricular activities and work experience in the admission process?
If my child applies early decision or early action to another college or university, can he or she apply to another college?
Do you defer admission to some students? If so, why, and what can my child do to be admitted?
Can my child defer admission once admitted?
Is the rigor of my high school taken into consideration when my child applies?
Who will read my child’s application?
Will it help my child to take advanced, accelerated or honors courses?
Can my child add/remove something from his application once it’s submitted?
How does my child track the status of her application?
Does your college ever rescind an admission offer?
If my child is rejected Early Decision, can he apply Regular Decision?
Does my child need to submit mid-year reports of her grades?
Are my child’s chances for admission to your university’s graduate school greater if she attends your university as an undergraduate?
How should my child submit transcripts from any college courses?
Are admission requirements different if my child is homeschooled?
Will my child’s financial aid award be different if she applies for admission under Early Decision, Early Action, etc.?
When do application decisions become available?
Is there a maximum number of students admitted from a particular country, region or school?
How should my child submit standardized test scores?
How do you determine which credits transfer?
Is admission competitive? How competitive?
Future Visit Details
You may want to come back! In that case, check with the admission counselor you’re talking to so you can find out which options are best. Check out my ultimate guide to Here are few questions you could ask:
Which visit days should my child attend throughout the year?
How do we arrange an on-campus overnight visit?
What’s the best way to arrange future visits in general?
What does a visit schedule look like if my child chooses to arrange future visits?
In your opinion, is it best to do a group visit day if we choose to visit again or is it best to do a personal campus visit?
Do you have competitive academic scholarships my child can interview for (and come back to campus another time)?
Why not ask the admission office about academics? Admission counselors can offer a candid overview of academics at the college they’re working at because what do they do all day long? They talk to current students who work in the admission office (and also hear their complaints and what they celebrate).
Do professors have an open-door policy? How accessible are they?
Are teaching assistants or professors the ones who teach the classes?
What is the average class size?
What is the student to faculty ratio?
Can you tell me about the [insert name] major? What are your most popular majors and classes?
How are classes selected?
Are there required first-year classes?
My child’s favorite subject in school is [insert favorite subject]. How can that translate to a major here?
How rigorous are classes here?
Tell me about academic support services here.
Does your college provide services if my child has a disability?
What is your graduation rate?
How many students go on to graduate school or become employed after graduation?
How many students get jobs in their majors or a related field?
What types of internships are available for students?
Is it possible to do research as an undergraduate student?
Is your school on the semester or quarter system?
Does your school offer pre-professional majors?
Are tutors available?
Demographics, Social Life and Other Activities
What types of clubs and organizations can my child get involved in?
What are the most popular clubs and organizations?
What’s the social life like on campus? What do students do for extracurricular activities?
What would you change about this college or university?
Do students usually attend sporting events, theatre events or more?
Is it possible for my child to start his or her own club or organization? What is the process to do that?
How many students study abroad? Is it a popular thing to do? How is study abroad structured here?
Is it easy to manage a collegiate athletic career and academics? How do coaches approach academics and athletics here?
What security measures are in place at your institution?
Is on-campus housing guaranteed?
Is my child required to live on campus?
How does the meal system work?
Is it easy to find a student job on or near campus?
How is housing assigned?
Can my child live on campus during school breaks?
How safe is the campus and the surrounding neighborhood?
What is the percentage of students of color on campus?
What is the percentage of students who live on campus?
Can you tell me the male-to-female ratio on campus?
How does parking on campus work?
Where are students who go to your school from?
How does your college or university accommodate students with food allergies?
What role do parents play in your community?
What is your freshman retention rate?
Financial Aid Professional Questions
You might want to meet with a financial aid professional as well — and that’s a great move. However, if you can’t get an appointment with someone in the financial aid office, admission counselors are well-versed in most financial aid topics and should be able to walk you through an award letter or answer basic questions about scholarships and loans. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
What is the tuition, room, board and fees at this school?
How much does tuition increase each year? Do scholarships increase to match the change?
What scholarships can my child qualify for? How does my child qualify for them?
Are there any merit-based scholarships available at your school?
Can my child receive grants? If so, what are the requirements?
How do loans work and how should we apply for them?
Can you explain in detail how a financial aid award is set up?
What amount will my child receive, using your school’s net price calculator or a financial aid estimator?
What are the interview or audition requirements for certain scholarships?
Can my child apply for talent-based scholarships?
What will happen if our family’s financial aid situation changes while my child is at your school?
Will my child qualify for work-study? How does work-study work here?
Does my child need to report outside scholarships? Will merit-based scholarships be “taken away” if my child receives a large outside scholarship?
Where should we send checks for outside scholarships?
Do we need to complete a CSS Profile?
How will we know if the FAFSA has been submitted correctly?
When will my child receive the financial aid award?
What is the deadline for applying for financial aid?
My child is undocumented. Is my child still eligible for financial aid?
How does financial aid work if my child studies abroad?
Can veterans or children of veterans receive financial aid at your school?
Can we apply for financial aid in future years if we do not apply the first year?
Will you help me file the FAFSA in person?
What kind of need-based aid can my child get?
How is work-study awarded?
How will the financial aid office help our family break down the costs?
What does the average student receive in financial aid from your school?
Are there other extra expenses we’ll need to be prepared for, like activity fees, biology lab fees, etc.? Can you give us a list of those additional expenses?
Faculty Member Questions
Many colleges and universities will grant you time with professors — you just have to ask. It can be intimidating for your student to meet with a faculty member but it’s well worth it! After all, your student may have that professor for classes. A professor can change the trajectory of a your student’s career and life. Here are some questions you and your child can ask:
Which classes do you teach?
What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
Why do you teach here?
What is your teaching style?
How often do terminal degreed professors teach the classes?
What are your top expectations at the beginning of any semester?
Do you help students with connections for internships and jobs after graduation?
Are undergraduates able to get research opportunities?
How do you measure success in your classroom?
What does a typical syllabus look like in one of your classes?
How does advising work? What’s the process to put together a student schedule?
When are your office hours? Is it easy for students to get their questions answered?
What is your average class size? For introductory classes? For advanced classes?
What are your most successful students doing now?
How do you communicate with students?
Do you put an emphasis on interactive or group work or put an emphasis on lectures?
How do you choose the textbooks a student will use during the semester?
Do you consider yourself to be approachable?
What should my child do if he or she is having trouble in your class?
Do you have teaching assistants (TAs)?
Are there any supplemental instruction (SI) sessions my student can go to during any given semester?
How have you handled online learning during COVID-19?
How much time do your students spend studying and completing assignments during the week?
Are your classes reading and writing intensive?
What types of issues do students bring to you during office hours?
Is there a capstone project or internship requirement for your program?
What does a typical path to graduation look like? What exact classes are required?
How long does it take the average student to graduate? Four years? Five years or more?
What is the academic community like in your department or program?
What resources are available to me?
Is service learning or similar opportunities for hands-on learning a priority in your classes?
Do you help students determine their career path or calling?
Do your students make connections between their academic studies and activities outside of class? Can you give us an example?
How do you work with students who choose to study abroad? Is there a best time during the academic program?
What other majors and minors do students usually combine with this major?
Do you do any other research or other projects that can affect what you teach here?
What are students surprised to learn when they’re in your class?
What do you do when students realize your major isn’t a fit?
You want to be sure that a college is a good fit for your child athletically if your child is an athlete — but make sure it’s a great fit academically and socially as well. Note that you’ll want to ask the admission office questions about grades, admission, SAT, ACT, academic scholarships, etc. — coaches should not answer admission questions.
A quick tip: Don’t bring up athletic scholarships right away — a coach wants you to demonstrate a team commitment first. Here are some questions you and your child may want to ask a coach.
Why do you coach? What is your coaching philosophy?
What are the holes in your program that my child can help fulfill?
How do you recruit?
What are you looking for in the right recruit?
Can you describe your program’s values?
What does a typical day look like for a player during the season?
How about the off-season program? What are the expectations?
How do you encourage your players academically?
What are the academic requirements for your program?
What do your players do during their free time?
Can you tell me your team’s total GPA and graduation rate?
Do the players typically live together on campus?
Is it easy for players to catch up after missed class time for games and meets? How do they usually do that?
My child wants to major in X. Is it possible to major in this and still play for your program?
How much of an impact do you see my child making on the team right away? Later on?
What does my child need to do to be evaluated by your staff?
Can you tell me more about your assistant coaches? What are their philosophies?
When does your coaching contract end? Do you see yourself here another four years?
How would you describe the team chemistry?
What are the current strengths and weaknesses of your team?
Get Your Questions Answered
I’ve included a lot of questions on this list! You’ll keep yourself pretty busy if you ask every single one of these questions on your college visit. However, note a few, write them down, take this link with you on a visit. Maybe this list will also inspire your own questions on your visit!
It’s July, and while it might seem like it’s a great time to catch up on Netflix, go to the pool and work at a summer job, why not get a jump start on college?
(I knoooow, convincing your high schooler might be a different story.) It’s even more important to start thinking about college now because we don’t know what college visits will look like for next year. Lots of colleges have closed up shop but many are still open for visitors. Take a quick peek at the list of schools open and closed to visitors from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
I reached out to a mom friend of mine who has a rising junior and asked her what her concerns are right now. She said, “Coronavirus has changed things. What should we do right now to get ready for college? It’s a little frustrating.”
I hear ya.
Here’s a quick list of items your child can consider doing (after lounging by the pool and taking lots of sips of fizzy lemonade, of course):
Get ready for the PSAT test and ACT or SAT tests (if required)
Start doing college visits (either in-person or virtual visits)
Consider the activities on that resume — and whether there are gaps
Put together a robust schedule of classes
Start a college list
Develop relationships with admission counselors
Now, one of the most important things you can do during this time as a parent is to make the college search exciting. The last thing you want to do is scare your child off before this process even begins!
Here’s how to help your child launch the college search this summer, even though things might not be (totally) normal.
Get Ready for the PSAT, ACT or SAT Tests
You can find some great test prep resources for PSAT, SAT and ACT. Check out Amazon or your local bookstore. You can even check out the local library for these editions, though your child won’t be able to write in anything from the library, of course!
First, let’s define PSAT, ACT and SAT — it’s easy to confuse PSAT and SAT in particular.
PSAT: The PSAT’s formal name is the Preliminary SAT, also known as the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). It’s a great way to practice for the SAT exam. You can only take the PSAT once per year, and many students take the test in 10th and 11th grade.
ACT: The ACT is a standardized test used for college admission administered by the nonprofit organization, ACT. The ACT test covers four separate academic sections: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. Your child can also add an optional writing test. The 2020-2021 ACT costs $55 without writing and $70 with writing.
SAT: The SAT is a standardized test also used for college admission. It’s administered by the nonprofit organization The College Board. The SAT test covers 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science with an optional essay portion. The current SAT costs $52 without writing and $68 with the essay option.
Before your child cracks open some study books, check with the colleges your high schooler plans to apply to. Find out whether the college requires the ACT or SAT. Lots of colleges have waived the SAT and ACT for this year’s incoming class — and many are doing away with standardized testing altogether.
That doesn’t mean throwing test prep out the window or sidestepping a school that still requires it. It might be important to take it, particularly if a school shows up on your child’s radar this year or next and that requires the ACT or SAT.
Make a College Spreadsheet
I developed a very simple, easy-to-use College Money Tips College Visit spreadsheet. You can use this spreadsheet to keep track of the schools your child wants to visit on the left, and as you get knee-deep into visits later on this fall, use it to record things like application deadlines and more.
I believe one of the most important parts of the spreadsheet is the Heart/Gut Test. The former college president at my alma mater coined the Heart/Gut Test to talk to families during visit days and scholarship weekends. Sometimes you just know whether a college is a good match — parents usually feel it, too. There’s a section in the spreadsheet that references how a college felt. You can use this spreadsheet yourself or share it with your student.
Get the spreadsheet below — you’ll also get my free college money tips guide!
Complete Virtual or In-Person Visits
Visiting. Hmmm… It’s a bit of a head-scratcher right now, isn’t it? I understand — virtual summer visits aren’t really ideal. But guess what? There were already several disadvantages about summer visits, anyway. Truth be told, nothing beats a college visit during the fall. Crunching through leaves, watching students hurry to classes — it’s simply the best atmosphere.
Here’s one example of why I believe summer visits aren’t the best: You typically only see staged residence hall rooms. In fact, I was the one in charge of that when I worked in admission! I’d send two or three summer student workers to three of our residence halls to stage rooms using donated items from Bed, Bath and Beyond! It was tons of fun to decorate the rooms but the staged room always seemed… fake and empty, not homey. Here are some other reasons summer visits are less than ideal:
Fewer students live on campus during the summer, so you don’t get the “real” feel of what a college is like.
Tour guides are usually the only students you can really interact with.
Normally, fewer classes are in session anyway, so you’d have limited opportunities to sit in on classes.
Many buildings remain closed to tours.
Professors and department chairs are not around to chat with during the summer.
So, my point is, if you have to do a virtual visit right now, sure, you’re at a disadvantage because you can’t see the campus in person — but summer visits were disadvantageous anyway.
Now, if you have the chance to set up a visit for your child, should you do it? Of course! And if you want to do a virtual visit, here are the perks of virtual visits right now:
You’ll get to see what every part of the campus looks like, even areas closed down during the summer, like the dining hall.
You don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, fighting traffic and driving or flying to get there. You can watch from anywhere!
It’s less nerve-wracking. If I had a dime for every nervous parent and student that used to walk into the admission office…
You don’t have to worry about the weather. (There’s nothing worse than visiting a campus in the pouring rain or driving sleet or snow!)
Hear me say this: If you have the chance to do an in-person visit this summer, do it. We don’t know what the fall will look like, and being in person on a college visit is better than not doing a college visit at all. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.
Call the admission office at schools your child is interested in. Ask about:
There’s no reason your child can’t start applying for scholarships. It’s a myth that seniors are the only ones who can submit scholarship applications. Research a scholarship that’s promising and have your child apply. Why not?
Summer is a great time to learn more about colleges! High school juniors have a busy upcoming year — lots of extracurricular activities, tough classes, standardized tests and more. Help your student learn as much as possible right now.
Talk About College Money
Talking about money might not be your favorite subject. Your kiddo may not be interested in talking about it at all.
The conversation doesn’t have to last for hours! Grab a quick snippet of time to chat about:
College costs in general
How much money you think you might be able to contribute toward college costs
How much your child must contribute to college costs
An explanation of loans and how they work
How scholarships and grants help offset the cost of college and why it’s important to make them a priority
Those are just a few topics that can jumpstart your conversation. Make sure to have the whole family involved — and leave plenty of time for more conversations later on.
It’s okay to hit the pause button if your child doesn’t want to talk. You still have time to have lots of conversations!
Make it Fun, Make it Exciting
It might seem like there’s lots to do! Now’s the time to get started. Don’t forget to make it fun! Include rewards whenever possible. Go out to eat at a restaurant of your child’s choice after your child completes a really gnarly scholarship application or treat your daughter to Starbucks — and have the money talk there.
How will you get some heavy research out of the way together so the upcoming year is smooth sailing for you and your rising junior?