College Admissions Panel: Everything You Need To Know If You Missed It!

We Missed You!!

This past week, our CEO, Sasha DeWind, was thrilled to join a panel on college admissions and we wanted to share a recap of the discussion for those who weren’t able to attend.

Hosted by Christine Martin of Stribling Luxury Real Estate, the panel included our superb colleagues, Bari Norman, a private counselor and founder of Expert Admissions, and Melanie White, the Director of College Counseling at the Grace Church School.  Here were the main takeaways about testing, the college list, summers, the application, and private counseling.


College Admissions: Testing

  • Scores are important to most top colleges and universities, but they don’t help you stand out. Count on admission officers to use grades and scores in order to better understand how seriously an application should be reviewed.

  • The SAT or the ACT will be the central component of your child’s testing portfolio, so choosing the right test between the two and planning the right program around your child’s needs is important.

  • Think your child might be eligible for accommodations? Talk to us and your child’s school so that we can help you navigate the ins and outs of applying for accommodations. Getting extra time (or multi-day testing, bubbling in the test booklet, etc.) can shift the course of a test prep program, but you’ll need the right person to administer the neuropsych evaluation, an appropriate diagnosis and similar accommodations at school. 

  • “Super Scoring”? What does that mean? Super scoring refers to the practice by some colleges (mostly on the SAT but occasionally on the ACT too) of mixing and matching verbal and math scores across multiple test days for the best super score. Note that college admissions officers will see all the scores from both test dates, though it’s in everyone’s interest to mix and match for the best super score.

  • What about “Score Choice”? Score choice describes the College Board’s policy of letting students decide which scores to send to colleges (the ACT allows students full control over their scores too!), and we always recommend sending a concise testing portfolio.

    *Let’s chat over the phone about what schools see/don’t see and how best to make decisions around sending scores since some schools request that students send all of their test scores.

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College Admissions: Making the College List

  • Melanie has her (lucky) students write and write and write before having individual meetings to compile a big list (maybe 24 schools). The writing + information about grades/course load/scores helps Melanie begin to understand each student, though she encourages each student to throw out names and ideas. 

    • Melanie also emphasized “pushing at the edges” a bit to widen the student’s initial list. Many students do not initially consider women’s colleges or colleges outside the northeast, and Melanie is committed to making sure each student gets to at least visit an array of options.

    • After students have the big list, they go off and do research, visiting schools and learning more about each, after which the list shifts and becomes more focused.

  • Bari’s approach is a bit different. After getting to know the student through conversations, a credentials review, and a few fun exercises that get at the college characteristics most important to them, Bari recommends a group of six schools for the student to research as a starting point.

    • The group includes colleges the student has identified an interest in (if there are any) and also schools that Bari thinks the student might like or should consider, based on her understanding of their goals, personality, and priorities. Depending on the student, a school's location, size, prestige, or a particular course of study might lead the way.

    • The student then completes a short research survey for each school; the specially-designed survey guides the student toward helpful elements to consider and is aimed at helping them differentiate between schools that may seem, on the surface, to be similar (this especially comes in handy later, when writing the supplemental essays).

    • Bari then uses the student’s feedback to continue building the list from there; this helps determine where to visit and it helps create an ambitious but realistic list you can feel good about.

  • There’s no one way to get to a strong list, just as there is no one perfect school for your child!

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College Admissions: Summers

  • As Melanie pointed out, summers are a time for students to do what they don’t have time to do during the year, and their passions should lead discussions about how to best spend their time. 

  • Melanie emphasized the value in getting summer jobs (delivering groceries, babysitting, etc.) and in spending time with family and resting. 

  • Bari & Melanie also discussed the importance of picking the right programs, pointing out that not all programs are the same in terms of the value to your children and the value to admissions officers.

  • Bari also emphasized that it really comes down to how you engage in whatever you do, and what you’re able to learn from it (and your ability to communicate that in your essays!). 

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College Admissions: The Application

  • Get familiar with The Common Application

    • Students should plan their activities with the understanding that they will have ten slots to give details about them. The catch is that while the colleges want a lot of details, they give you very limited space to provide them!

  • Rising seniors should work with an expert (their school counselor, their private counselor, not their uncles and family friends who are great writers but not experts) to make sure their personal statements are thoughtful, clearly-written (and written by them!), and representative of who they are and what they want the admissions committee to know.

  • Oh, and don’t forget that most schools ask for supplementary essays. Many ask about summers or about why the student wants to attend the school or about their academic interests. Specificity is key, and demonstrated interest can be the deciding factor in admission for some schools.

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College Admissions: Why Private Counseling?

  • Students who hire private counselors like Bari receive individual attention earlier in the process (9th/10th grade), which means students have access to one-on-one planning around courses, summers and focal points.

  • Boarding school students can be tough to reach (at least when you’re mom!) and often need someone to manage the process. 

  • Students at bigger schools may want more individual attention than their counselor can provide. 

  • Parents and students may want a knowledgeable advisor outside of the school network to speak with and to use as a sounding board.

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We know what we've included above seems like a lot, but we are only a phone call away for more in-depth conversations around your high schooler’s educational needs. Send us an email to schedule a call.

To Test or Not to Test...

Applying out for high school?  

It’s time for diagnostic testing and planning, so your child is ready for the SSATs and/or ISEEs. Reply to this email to book your (free) diagnostic testing.

Not applying out? 

We've put together a list of the pros and cons to studying for these tests so you have a fuller picture of why some parents choose to go through the process of testing even if they aren’t sure their kids are applying out.

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Have questions about these tests and whether or not your child should try diagnostics and/or prep? Send us an email to connect and schedule a call, and we’ll weigh the pros and cons together.

Finding the Best of the Best for Your Kids

Now, more than ever, we know how important it is for our families to have compassionate, caring people surrounding their children's educational lives.

We are always here to share these professionals with you, and we hope you'll help us continue to grow our list. Scroll down to see what kinds of professionals we recommend and tell us which ones you have loved (or not loved!) so that we can continue to surround our children with the best teams.

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Educational Consultants

We already know (and love!) many expert consultants who can help your family navigate the admissions process (interviews, applications, etc.), but we always want to know who you’ve used and what your experiences have been. It’s our job to hear honest feedback from our families, meet with these consultants independently, and see how they work, so that our kids always have the best people by their side. We’d love to hear your experience with:

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Yes, we are tutors, but we focus on middle and high school students, and we are always looking for tutors who specialize in working with younger students or older students. Have an amazing LSAT tutor? Someone superb who worked on the elementary SSAT? Know the best tutors in LA? We always want to know the best tutors who specialize in:

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Every child learns differently, and it’s important to us that we know experienced educational testers who can help our students who have specific learning diagnoses or emotional needs. We always want to know top:

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Know someone great? Or someone who didn’t meet your child’s needs? Just looking for someone great in one of the above areas? We want to hear from you--send us an email to connect or give us a call at 646.638.3504.

AP Exams: The Guide You Need Now

Are AP exams or SAT Subject Tests in your child’s future?

February is almost over and Spring is around the corner, which means AP exams are coming up for many of our high school students. Here’s the whatwhenwhere, and why to AP exams (oh, and some stuff about SAT Subject Tests too!). You can also find info on scoringpreparation, and how much AP exams overlap with SAT Subject Tests.



Advanced Placement exams (often referred to as “AP” exams) are three-hour tests given by the College Board (yep, same company that administers the SATs and the SAT Subject Tests). Students can earn college credit for scoring well on these exams, and the AP curriculum is meant to provide students with college-level coursework in high school. Most students sitting for AP exams have taken corresponding AP courses, but that’s not a requirement (more in the why section on that). 

The format of each exam is different, though in general your child can count on essays, short and long answers, as well as multiple choice questions.


2019: May 6-10 & May 13-17 
Find individual test dates here on the College Board's AP exam calendar! 

Most kids are juniors or seniors when they sit for AP exams (of course colleges won't see senior scores on a transcript, but they do count for college credit!), though occasionally sophomores sit for one. 


At your child's school


AP exams are not technically used for college admissions (like SATs, ACTs and SAT Subject Tests), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. For kids at schools that offer AP courses (Sacred Heart or Horace Mann to name two), taking AP courses is an important way to demonstrate a rigorous course load to colleges (via high school transcripts). These kids almost always sit for corresponding AP exams in May, with strong scores going to colleges. 

Some students do not attend schools with AP courses (Spence, for example) but still choose to sit for AP exams, either to earn college credit or to add more top scores to their transcript. Many of our students feel prepared for the AP Literature, for example, without taking a course that is technically an AP course. Others prep for the AP Biology or AP French because their skills in those areas mean only a little extra prep. 

Still others never sit for an AP test at all and just send stellar grades and SATs or ACTs (and sometimes SAT Subject Tests - more on those here). 


What's a good score?

AP exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, and most students send scores of 4s and 5s to colleges. Colleges vary widely in terms of what they accept for college credit, but many will give credit for scores in the same range (4s and 5s). Students are not obligated to send scores to colleges, though admissions officers often expect to see AP scores accompanying AP courses. 

How much do students prepare?

Preparation varies from student to student depending on how much practice a student is receiving at school. Most AP courses prepare students well for the corresponding exams, but some students still like to polish and perfect with our help. Other kids have little to no exposure and do more intensive work outside of school in February, March and April. 

How similar are AP exams to SAT subject tests?

Some AP exams have a lot of overlap with the SAT Subject Tests of the same topic and others do not. Even those with a lot of overlap (see below) are different in structure, length and emphasis, so do not count on your child being ready for a June SAT Subject Test just because they are ready for an AP exam. 


We know this is a lot of information, and we hope you’ll use it as a reference guide as you talk to your child about AP exams. In the meantime, let’s schedule a phone call so that we can answer all of your AP questions and make sure we have a customized plan for the spring. Email us to connect to a program director or give us a ring at 646.638.3504.

Your Kid Got Into High School...So What's Next?


Your kid worked super hard to make good grades this past year and ace that strenuous ISEE or SSAT exam. They prepped for interviews, remained poised on school visits, and prepared their first personal statements. All that hard work paid off and now your family has real options in front of you! So what exactly comes next once your child's high school acceptances arrive?



Was your child accepted into one of your top-choice schools or do you need help delineating the differences between your options? It's good to understand the nuances of each school and their environments so you can choose the absolute best fit for your child.

Trinity is a top notch school where humanities kids tend to thrive. Dalton offers students unparalleled conceptual training, but some kids need more structure. Packer isn’t the same as St. Ann’s, even though they are blocks apart. Boarding schools offer a completely different environment. Struggling at one of the most competitive schools isn’t worth it, nor is breezing through a less rigorous one. Commuting too far or being far from home can be a disadvantage. The key is to find a place where your child can thrive. We know the schools, and we know the kids--call me, and we’ll chat.


Do you have an idea of your kid's projected course load for freshman year and beyond? I'd recommend getting a head start on familiarizing yourself with the classes colleges expect to see on your kid's transcript through their four years of high school. Placement exams matter for placing into the right courses freshman year to set your child up to place into the right courses down the line. Unsure which courses your child is going to be expected to take? Give me a call and I can walk you through it!


Not only do 9th grade courses count on the road to college admissions, but those 9th grade grades do as well. Ensuring a smooth transition is key to setting your child up for success at their new school. A lot of our kids do academic previews in August to work on their essay-writing skills or prep for Math/Science courses--whatever makes the transition easy and confidence-inspiring.


The step from eighth grade to high school is a big one, but your child doesn't have to go it alone. At TA, our students have access to behavior-trackinganxiety-reduction techniquesexam-prep calendars, and the best tutors (at home and over Skype). We are always here to make sure your child has everything needed to thrive during these crucial four years.