Forbes decides to rank colleges….and Harvard isn’t in the top 7!

By Jessica Brondo

I’m not sure how big a fan I am of college rankings, but they certainly are inevitable. I know that whenever U.S New & World Report releases its annual list, I will either get inundated by calls from my Harvard buddies rubbing it in that they beat us (Princeton) out this year, or the phones will be silent if Princeton has prevailed. However, these lists certainly do not provide a comprehensive view of the colleges they list and definitely cannot account for how a student “feels” on its campus, which is why college visits are so important.

U.S. News’ list is largely based on low acceptance rates and high GPAs and SAT scores. It’s a pretty standard formula for them and has been for the past several years, which is made pretty obvious by the minor variations from year to year. However, Forbes recently started releasing its own list of America’s top schools that is totally different from most of the other lists out there.

Williams, which I do not believe has been on the top of any other college ranking list, tops their list this year and Princeton comes in a close second (phew!), but if we even just take a look at the top 10, it’s pretty shocking. Harvard is way down from its normal place in the top 3 (or at the very least the top 5) and is sitting at spot #8, and Yale (#10) just barely stayed in the top 10. Then there are the top 10 shockers: Williams for starters, the US Military Academy at #4, Swarthmore at #7, and Claremont McKenna, a widely unknown school to most, at #9.

Only 4 of the 8 Ivy League schools (Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia) made it into the top 25 and Cornell, another Ivy, didn’t even make it into the top 50. This seems outrageous as the Ivies have for centuries been looked upon as some of the best schools in the world, and yet they are being beaten out by lesser known schools like Colby (31), Kenyon (32), and Wabash (42), and “hot” schools like Boston College (27) and Tufts (34).

Two major factors in Forbes’ decision making process are student satisfaction and a lack of debt for graduating students. I’m a huge fan of students coming out of school without any loans, which is why Princeton is up there at #2 with its 100% grant program for students qualifying for financial need and why military and naval schools have such a strong presence on the list. However, student satisfaction is a pretty hard thing to measure. I’d love more information from Forbes on how they chose the students for the anecdotal research.

In any case, it’s definitely a new perspective on college rankings. To view the full list, visit:

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Marketing Yourself Through Unique, Niche Interests

By Ashley Wellington

Every year, most colleges receive tens of thousands of applications from students who have comparable grades and test scores. In fact, over 3,000 valedictorians vied for the 2,000 or so Harvard acceptance letters in 2008, and I can only imagine these students’ SAT scores were equally high; if everyone looks the same on paper, there have to be some distinguishing factors at play. The numbers are, of course, very important. You have to hit certain benchmarks to even be considered, but once you’re in the top percentile arena, other aspects of your application become infinitely more important.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I emphasize the significance of college essays whenever I can. I made some of these points in my discussion of “SAT-Optional” schools, but I want to reiterate that all schools have their own unique personalities and cultures, and it’s essential that an incoming freshman be a good fit for the campus. As Associate Dean of Admissions at the University of Virginia Parke Muth told USA Today back in 2008, “If you have 18- or 20,000 applicants, for some of those students, the essay makes a huge difference, both positively and negatively.” Accordingly, the admissions committee reads every single essay in an attempt to decipher the student’s voice and personality. Colleges want to see how a student stands out from the crowd. They want insight into personality, spark, drive, sense of humor, kindness, and other skills and characteristics that don’t necessarily manifest themselves in a transcript.

I’m not telling you to fundamentally change who you are or to adopt a hobby that is tedious and unnatural for you; rather, I want you to cultivate the unique, possibly even eccentric interests you may have. When I got into Princeton (back in the day) my dad received a phone call from a colleague who was curious about how I’d done it. “Is she a concert pianist?” he wanted to know. “Has she published a book? Won an Olympic medal?” Recently, I had a very similar conversation with the parents of a sixth grade student, who asked, “What was your IN?” These are such strange questions because the process is arbitrary and my application was probably just read at the right time on the right day, but I did write poems instead of essays, and perhaps this was unusual enough to make a difference.

This past year, I had a student who was extremely bright, and who could have written about any of the summer math contests and language immersion programs he’d completed. Instead, he chose to write about the charity fashion show he’d started at his school, as well as his love of couture design. It was descriptive, sincere, and most importantly, wholly unexpected. In high school, I had a friend who loved tinkering with bikes. He turned this pastime into a community service organization that refurbished old bicycles and re-gifted them, eventually garnering national attention. I also know of a girl who transformed her love of tie-dyeing into a small business venture and used this entrepreneurial experience as the topic of a very successful essay. The point is, you don’t have to be a concert pianist who publishes novels and wins Olympic medals (and if you are, congratulations on being unbelievably awesome); you just need to emphasize the aspects of your personality that are purely and unapologetically you. Think of how you can turn random things you enjoy (paleontology, sewing, painting murals, creating recipes, fixing cars, etc.) into something bigger and more meaningful. The rest of your application can testify to your academic potential, but your essay needs to show character, incentive and individuality.

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The Princeton Review Stopped Claiming a 255-point Boost in Scores

By Jessica Brondo

The Associated Press recently reported that The Princeton Review has dropped its claim that it raises students scores an average of 255-points (read the full article here). As a test prep professional, this really is not shocking to me because as their company grew, their classes grew as well and the quality of their teachers began to falter. However, what is shocking is the article’s report that the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), of which The Edge is a member, claims that their study shows that test preparation only has minimal impact on score improvement (10-20 points on math and 5-10 points on reading to be exact.

Now, anyone who has worked with me (or knows any of the students who have worked with me) will know that this would BOGGLE my mind to the nth degree. I will NEVER settle for a measly 20 point improvement (and neither will any of the test prep instructors at The Edge). Our students improve well over 50 points in each section and this year as much as 420 points! However, that is not to say that we have magic fairy dust to sprinkle on all of our students’ heads so they magically improve their scores…..we’re working on it, but in the meantime there are definitely things that make a difference in terms of score improvement.

If you’re in an area where there are Edge tutors, we would LOVE to help you, but if you’re not here are a couple of things to ask when choosing a test prep company:

1. How big are the classes?

~Because most test prep courses take place only once or a couple of times a week, the instructors won’t be able to get to know individual students’ strengths and weaknesses if there are a ton of students in a class. After teaching classes for the past 8 years, I can confidently say that any more than 12 students in a class is a recipe for a bland test prep experience in which the instructor will be teaching to the masses and not to specific student’s needs.

2. Who are the instructors?

~Not all test prep instructors are created equal! Some people think that it’s important that an instructor has a teaching certification…IT’S NOT. Think about who our teachers are. Unfortunately most (and I do emphasize MOST) teachers didn’t have the most stellar SAT scores when they were in high school, and while they might be FABULOUS teachers, they probably aren’t as well-equipped to teach SAT prep….so that should NOT be a concern of yours. What should be a concern is what your teacher’s SAT scores are. Did they get a 650 on math when you are shooting for the starts with a 750? That’s no bueno. Make sure they are well into the 700s each time. Also make sure that the company screens for good teaching ability. While it might be impressive that Joe Shmoe got a perfect score on his SAT, but he’s an uber-dork and puts his students to sleep any time he opens his mouth. That’s not the situation you want AT ALL. So make sure there is a good balance between intelligence and charisma to maximize the osmosis of intelligence that should be taking place in class.

3. Do you use real practice tests?

~This might be the NUMBER 1 thing you need to ask!!! It has become a common practice in the industry for companies to write their own tests. This is a REALLY bad thing for students. Test-writing is a highly statistical practice that takes years and years to master and the people writing the tests for some of the companies are usually given little guidance when writing the test aside from “overload them with our technique questions.” (I know because I used to do this for another company.) Then they purposely make some tests easier than others. And THEN they end up given the hardest test first and the easiest test last so that they can brag about large score improvements. DO NOT trust a company unless they use real practice tests.

4. Do you offer proctored exams?

~This is really important. Normally SAT prep courses will offer several proctored exams, but since a lot of people are using private tutors, you will find that the private tutors do not give students the opportunity to sit for proctored exams. If they do, that’s awesome. If not, you either have to have/be a diligent parent and sit down to proctor your son or daughter to make sure that they get a sense of the length and timing of the test. The other option is to seek out places in your town that offer free or low cost proctored exams. ***Ours are free for all of our tutoring and course students and are a small fee for non-students.

5. Can I speak with someone who used you in the past to get a better sense of your methods?

~This will give you great insight into how the course is run, if there are any issues that you should be aware of, the best teachers, etc. If they don’t let you speak to someone, you should definitely be weary.

I wish we could work with all of you all over the world (and we will starting this fall with the introduction of our online course), but until then, I hope this helps in your selection of a test prep company.

Best,

Jess

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College Essay Boot Camps

By Ashley Wellington

By this point in the year, most students are running on empty. Some are studying for their final exams, others are gearing up for the June 5th SAT, and a very ambitious few are preparing for both. Even though May is a very important month for academics, it also signals the onset of summer mode: the brain’s tendency to completely check out. I mention this because I understand how difficult it is to concentrate when you’re on the cusp of sunshine and freedom, but I’m going to throw a little summer assignment at you anyway. It may seem evil, but I promise I have your best interests in mind.

1. Get involved. Pick one BIG activity [a month-long language immersion course, a backpacking trip, an academic program, etc.]
2. Don’t just sit around for the other two months – go to a website such as

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Do APs Really Help Prepare You For SAT IIs?

By Ashley Wellington

If you’ve signed up to take a few SAT IIs in June, you’re probably wondering how to prepare for them when you’re already busy studying for APs and school exams. When I was in high school, a few of my teachers told me that my exams would provide adequate preparation for my SAT II tests since there was so much overlap in material. Unfortunately, this is only partly true. Sure, practicing math problems doesn’t hurt when you’re gearing up for a math test, but you still need to do some SAT II – specific studying.

The first step is to go to a bookstore and buy (preferably Official Collegeboard) books. Then, take a diagnostic test for each subject. Be aware of the time, but don’t make it a priority just yet. For now, focus on accuracy and get a feel for the types of questions you might encounter. If anything, familiarity with the test format will eliminate anxiety and help you work more quickly on the actual test day.

If you’re currently taking calculus, you’ll probably be too prepared for the Math I and II C tests; ironically, this can be a disadvantage. One of my students this year was a brilliant mathematician who was breezing through BC calculus as a junior. When it came to SAT prep, however, she struggled quite a bit. Often, she’d approach a problem in an overly complicated way, worrying about limits and derivatives, and would fail to see that the question simply required addition. Make sure you get reacquainted with geometry, algebra, trigonometry and even D=rt. Make sure you can do fractions, percents, ratios and reverse FOILing in your head. Trust me, you’ve probably forgotten more than you realize, and revisiting some of the more elementary concepts will help you interpret the SAT test language more efficiently.

If you’re an AP Lit student aiming to take the SAT II Literature, brush up on your literary terms. If English is your strength, you may think that the Literature SAT II offers a great opportunity to score an 800. You’re probably right, but you still need to prepare. I know countless students who have lost unnecessary points simply because they didn’t know the terms in the answer choices. Can you identify a heroic couplet? How about examples of Metonymy, Anastrophe or Synecdoche? Your English class might prepare you for the analytical questions, but you’ll be expected to demonstrate much more for that coveted 800.

Once you’ve done a bit of review, take a second diagnostic test and time yourself. I know you’re probably exhausted right now, but putting in a little extra effort means you probably won’t have to retake anything in the fall!

On another note, Jess and I will be launching “Fielding questions Fridays,” so if you have anything to say or want to make any topic requests for our blogs, either email me (Ashley@edgeincollegeprep.com) or post a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you guys.

Best of luck as you finish up the school year!

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How to Prep Between the May & June SATs

By Jessica Brondo

If you’re anything like I was in high school (or now for that matter), you have probably had a bout of spring fever already. Thinking back to my Mays of yore (prepping for APs in high school and writing final papers at Princeton), it seems like someone DEFINITELY had it in for me because, let’s be honest, we the sun starts shining and the thermometer reads anything above 65 (hey, I’m from New York, beggars can’t be choosers), my mind starts thinking about ices, the beach, baseball games, golf….well, just about anything but staying inside and studying. I’m sure you’ve got that same bug right about now and the last thing you want to hear is a list of ways to study for your upcoming June SAT, but unfortunately you’re just going to have to come to grips with the fact that May of your junior year is probably not going to be one for the record books (unless of course you’ve been listening to me all year and aced your March SAT and are done for the year).

For all of you procrastinators out there still planning on taking the June SAT, you’re going to want to listen up because there isn’t much time left. To start, you’re in a bit of a crappy situation because as of today, you still won’t have your May SAT score, so you won’t even know if you aced it already and can skip out on the June test. With that in mind, go with the safe bet of prepping for the June SAT (and if you find out that you miraculously got your target score on the May test, then pat yourself on the back and start burning your SAT books).

After prepping for SOOOOOO many months for the May test, what can you possibly do between now and the June SAT you ask? The number 1 answer: Practice Tests!

I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s true. Until you get your score back, you should be doing 1 practice test a week and you should only be using College Board tests (if you read last week’s blog post you’ll already know this 😉 You can find the tests in The Official SAT Study Guide by The College Board (available at all bookstores and online retailers and at collegeboard.com) or if you’ve completed those tests, you can also access additional tests on collegeboard.com (there is one free tests and 6 test included in their $69 online course).

When you take the tests, keep a Wrong Question Journal of all the questions you are getting wrong and review the concepts for each of those questions. Before moving on to your next test, make sure you remember all the concepts, formulas, grammar rules, or vocabulary words from all of the previous tests you’ve taken.

Step 2 for your May “Program” is to order the Question and Answer service from the CollegeBoard if you took the May SAT. The Question Answer Service sends you a copy of your answers AND a copy of the May SAT along with an answer key. This is test prep gold!

Once the scores are released, you will receive a copy of your answers and you should review all of the questions you missed. This will keep you very focused so you don’t have to waste your valuable sunbathing time studying ALL of the SAT concepts, you will only review the ones you missed.

If you are having trouble understanding any of the questions you missed on your May test, it might be a good idea to schedule a couple of one-on-one or online tutoring sessions to review your May test (or any of the practice tests you happen to take). For more information on scheduling theses sessions, please feel free to e-mail us at info[at]edgeincollegeprep[dot]com.

Happy Weekend!

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Why You Should Only Study with College Board Tests!

By Ashley Wellington

Recently, I ran into some family friends who have a 16-year old daughter. They told me that they were going to go out, buy an SAT test prep book by a certain well known company, and learn all the “tricks” to mastering standardized tests. I vehemently argued against this common, yet misguided approach. Here are some little tidbits of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years (in list form, since everybody likes lists.)

1. There are no “tricks” to achieving a high SAT score. Yes, there are definitely some very helpful strategies, and yes, you absolutely can improve your score by familiarizing yourself with the types of questions you’ll encounter. Unfortunately, though, there is no quick fix. This past year, I spent months working with a very bright student who mastered the material (and pacing) so well over the course of our sessions that I was sure she was destined for a score in the highest percentile. However, on our last day together, I asked whether she had any last-minute questions; she, of course, wanted to know when I was going to give her the “secrets” to the test. This happens every year: even students who put in the work think there’s an easier way. As is (most often) the case in life, you don’t get something for nothing, and a combination of helpful techniques, expert guidance and self-discipline is the only foolproof “secret.”
2. Not all SAT prep books have your best interests in mind. Think about it – if a company is writing its own tests, then it’s definitely going to create questions that require the “exclusive” techniques they endorse. In fact, in an effort to simply have a branded set of steps, several companies even dish out inefficient, counter-intuitive advice that will not help you reach your full potential.
3. The only reliable way to get comfortable with SAT questions is to practice with the Official College Board tests. The material is authentic, and it’s easier to see the patterns of repeated concepts and similar questions. You know you have a quality SAT tutor if he or she only uses the College Board guide, jumps directly to the practice tests in the back, and shows you how to approach each type of problem. An even better tutor will have covered his or her “blue book” with duct tape because the cover will be falling off from constant use. I’ve mentioned before that the SAT is a familiarity test rather than a reasoning test, and sure, you can kind of get to know a person by only hanging out with his friends, but wouldn’t it be better to spend time with the person himself?

Have a wonderful week!

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