Halstrom Blog Post
You just got your PSAT scores, so now what?
By: Colleen Boucher
Starting in sophomore year, high school students will typically begin the process of preparing for and taking standardized college admissions tests, like the SAT and ACT. Many schools offer 10th graders the opportunity to take the PSAT which can be a great, low-pressure way for students to start to get familiar with this test, and find out their baseline scores. But what do you do once you have this information? There are three different approaches you can take.
1. Take a prep course or hire a tutor. This is the most traditional route, and the one most people take. Once you know what your baseline scores are, you can figure out if you need comprehensive prep, or if you’re just struggling with one or two sections. Depending on your learning style, schedule, and budget, you might want to join a class with other students, or work with a tutor one-on-one. Good test prep programs will have you take periodic practice exams, either at home or in a proctored environment, so you can see your progress and identify areas that need additional attention. Your high school counselor or an independent counselor can help you decide when you should take the official test, and whether or not you should retake it.
2. Build a realistic college list. For students who are happy with their initial performance, or who don’t want to do test preparation, you can use your baseline scores to identify colleges that are close to or well in-range for you. There’s no need to take the test multiple times if you already have colleges you like that you can get into with your current scores. One caution I would add, however, is that many colleges use test scores in deciding whether to award merit scholarships, and higher test scores can equal more money. If paying for college is a concern for your family, investing some time and money to boost your test scores can come back many times over in the form of scholarships.
3. Apply test-optional. More and more schools are offering alternative application options for students who don’t feel that their test scores accurately represent their academic abilities. Some schools, like University of Puget Sound, will ask you to answer a few short essay questions instead. Lewis & Clark asks students to submit graded assignments from both humanities and math and science. Hampshire College has adopted a test-blind policy, no longer considering test scores in their admissions process. While most selective colleges still require either the SAT or ACT, more and more schools are adopting an optional or flexible policy when it comes to standardized tests. For a good list of selective, test-optional schools, check out Compass Education Group’s Guide to Admissions Testing (p. 5).
In practice, most of my students adopt a combination of these approaches: applying to some schools where they already have sufficiently high scores; applying test-optional to a few schools that might otherwise have been out of reach; and putting some energy into improving their original scores, either on their own or with help, to be that much more competitive at their reach schools and for scholarships. If you’re not sure which approach is the best for you, talk to someone who can help you assess your options, like your high school counselor or a qualified independent counselor.
Colleen Boucher is a college counselor and essay specialist with Collegewise, a national independent counseling company. As a counselor, Colleen works one-to-one with high school students, helping them find a good balance of reach, target, and safety schools, brain storming memorable personal essays, and managing all the moving parts of a typical college application. To learn more, visit her website at www.colleenboucher.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.