Standardized Tests

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A Conversation About College Part I

Last week, at Sacred Heart Church in Southbury, Connecticut, I conducted a workshop titled, “A Conversation About College.” There were about 35 people in attendance – mostly parents of high school sophomores and juniors –and the event was designed to be an engaging discussion about how to successfully navigate the college application process. The families who came to the event were great! They weren’t afraid to ask their pressing questions which covered just about every aspect of the college admissions process. Starting today, I will be sharing a take-away transcript of their most pressing questions from the evening’s discussion with you here in my blog.

Q: If all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, except for SAT scores, will most schools overlook a low score?

A: To be honest, this is a tough question to answer because whether or not a school is going to overlook a low score depends on several things:

1.) It depends on which schools your son or daughter is making an application to and what their average SAT scores are. The more competitive the school, the less forgiving they are going to be. What you want to know is how low the score is when compared to the college’s average score for admission.

2.) It also depends on the other pieces of the application. How strong are the grades? How good is the essay? What do the recommendations say? Has he or she done an interview? Is there enough here for an admissions counselor to say, yes, let’s overlook the scores – this is a very subjective situation and will be met with different responses depending on the college.

3.) One thing to consider is whether or not a college even requires SAT scores. There are a couple hundred schools in the country which are test optional. You can find a complete list of them at A student can apply to any of these schools and choose not to submit test scores for admission. Some of the schools may want test scores at a later time for course placement so you would submit the scores later on, but for admission they would not be required. You may get lucky and find out that a school your child is interested in is already on this list. If not, he or she may want to go through the list and consider some of the schools.

4.) In the end, with a situation like this that is so gray, the best thing a student can do is contact an admissions officer and ask for their take on it. Go right to the source for the most accurate information. Definitely a situation where an interview could be very helpful.

Q: When is the right time to submit an application?

A: The right time to submit an application is before the deadline. Depending on whether your son or daughter will be applying Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Admission, there will be different deadlines and you will want to pay close attention to them. On the other hand, some schools will be on Rolling Admission which means you can apply whenever you want (though you will typically want to apply sometime in late November or early December). For the application deadlines for any school, you can go to their admissions office webpage or a website like the College Board or College Navigator.

Q: How can I find a reputable college that will accept a “C/B-” student?

Honestly, this is something that will take a little research and a little time because the search won’t just be about the grades as much as it will be about several other things including intended major, location, cost, size, type of student body, public or private – there are so many factors that go into prioritizing a college search and these are just a few of them. Once you have pinned down some of these items, you can then do a more thorough review of potential schools by reading reviews about them online, conducting college visits and attending college fairs. A C/B- student isn’t a terrible thing by any means, but it does mean that other parts of the application like test scores, the essay and recommendations may be leaned on even more so to help make a decision. Another thing to keep in mind is whether or not your son or daughter’s grades have been trending in an upward or downward direction. If they are trending up, a lot of schools will look favorably upon their academic record. If they are trending downward, then your list of potential schools will have to be very realistic.

Q: How can I motivate my child to enjoy looking at colleges?

This is really a question that is dependent on which grade your child is in and where you guys are in the college search process. For a younger student, such as a freshman or sophomore, your best bet is to check out a local school and at least attempt to introduce the idea of college. For a student who is already in their junior year, it may be best to just sit down and talk with them and see if you can get them to tell you how they feel about the college search and visiting college campuses. Are they nervous? Scared? Intimidated? Do they feel like they are under a lot of pressure? A conversation like this can be very valuable towards getting them pointed in the right direction. Here is an article from the NY Times about a dad who found some ways to introduce his 9th grader to college visits. I really liked his approach and hope you find some value in it.

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on “A Conversation About College,” please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you! You can also email me directly at

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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