So You Want to be a Doctor? Part I: High School

So you want to be a doctorWritten by guest writer, Testmasters teacher, Rice University student, and future physician: Carmella D.

So you want to be a doctor?  As a high school student (and if you’re like me, much earlier than that), you probably have an inkling that you want to get involved in the healthcare field in some capacity.  For most people, this involves aspirations of becoming a physician.  Whether you come from a long line of physicians or are a first-generation student to attend university, here’s some questions and answers about the steps of that journey: Continue reading “So You Want to be a Doctor? Part I: High School” »

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5 Important Tips for Writing a Scholarship Essay.

Those apprehensive about student loans or the cost of attending school might look towards scholarships to help ease that burden. Most, if not all, scholarships require an essay to apply, so today we’ll be giving you five tips to writing a better scholarship essay

Make sure your words fly off the page! Invest your passion into your writing, and your essay will improve dramatically!

Make sure your words fly off the page! Invest your passion into your writing, and your essay will improve dramatically!


  1. Write with passion: Scholarship essays are a dime a dozen, so don’t make the mistake of submitting uninspired writing. Speak on your passions, what you truly care about, and this will translate to good writing. Pour your soul, all that you are, onto the page, for that’s the most anyone can ask for. As long as that 12-point font captures who you are, you’ll have given it your best shot.
  2. Know your audience: Don’t necessarily pander to the scholarship committee’s tastes, but do keep in mind what this scholarship is for and why it is being offered. If the American Legion is offering a scholarship, you’ll likely want to focus on your dedication to community service. If a student-teacher scholarship is what you’re applying for, you’ll want to emphasize how you would make a great future educator. There is always an underlying theme for scholarships, so think to yourself, “Why did these individuals donate their hard earned money? What type of person do they want to support?”
  3. Cite specific experiences: Don’t simply write in vague platitudes — make sure to spice up your writing with specific, concrete experiences. If this is a merit-based scholarship, point to your accomplishments and elaborate on what you’re most proud of! If this is a need-based scholarship, explain the challenges you overcame, bringing the reader into the moment. We as humans love stories, so capture a slice of your life and embed it into your essay. There’s no easier way to rally readers to your cause than to present your story. Give them something of you to remember.
  4. Don't dwell on your challenges. Show how you faced them head on and overcame!

    Don’t dwell on your challenges. Show how you faced them head on and overcame!

    Don’t write a sob story: No one likes a pity party. No one likes someone who wallows in sadness. If you have faced obstacles in your life, express it, but don’t leave it at that! We love the underdog story, the tale of one who overcomes all odds, so make that the focus of your essay. Don’t dwell too long on the negative. Convey the obstacles you faced, but emphasize how you gathered the strength to proceed forward.

  5. Don’t rehash your resume: You’ll likely have to submit a resume or CV alongside your scholarship essay, so don’t waste space just listing out accomplishments. Point to a few notable ones, but use this room to really elaborate on why you’re proud of these accomplishments. Express what you’ve gained from those lines on your resume, and emphasize how much you’ve grown from the experience. Show why you bothered to list these bullet points and why you’ve invested so many hours of your life into these activities. Elaborate and expand. Don’t simply list.


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What Houston Schools Require the ISEE? What is the ISEE?

What is the ISEE?

The ISEE is a private school entrance exam for students entering middle and high school

The ISEE is a private school entrance exam for students entering middle and high school

The Independent School Entrance Exam, or ISEE, is a series of placement tests primarily used for admissions to private schools. The ISEE is geared towards students applying for the fifth grade and above, and there are three versions of the test: ISEE Lower Level, ISEE Mid Level, and ISEE Upper Level. The ISEE Lower Level is taken by students entering grades 5 and 6, Mid Level for those entering grades 7 and 8, and Upper Level for 9th grade and above. Most schools require the ISEE exam, though many will also accept scores from the High School Placement Test, or HSPT, in lieu of the ISEE.

Continue reading “What Houston Schools Require the ISEE? What is the ISEE?” »

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Questions to Ask Your Interviewer

Today we'll tackle the hardest question you'll be asked: "Do you have any questions for me?"

Today we’ll tackle the hardest question you’ll be asked: “Do you have any questions for me?”

Many undergraduate institutions, especially competitive ones, offer optional interviews for admissions, and the most dreaded question that comes up is the one at the end: “Do you have any questions for me?” Today we’ll be discussing the purpose of this question and offer up some example questions you can ask if you have trouble coming up with one on the spot.

Why do Interviewers Ask This Question?

First and foremost, the reason interviewers ask “Do you have any questions for us” is so that you have an opportunity to clarify anything that may not have made sense during your campus tour or interview. Clear up anything that might’ve confused you (curriculum, extracurriculars, work-life balance, etc.), but try not to ask questions that could easily be found on the school’s website.

The second reason for this question is for the interviewer to determine how much interest  you have in the program/interviewer. Questions demonstrate interest and sincerity, so use this opportunity to show how in love you are with the program!

What Questions Should I Ask?

Take a look at some of the example questions below for ideas on what to ask your interviewer at the end!

  • “What do you like most about [School Name/Department]?”
  • “How did you choose to focus your research on [primary research topic]”
  • “Is there anything you wish you could change about [School/Department]”
  • “What challenges have you faced during your time as a professor?”
  • “What do you think the biggest change to this field will be?”
  • “What advice do you have for new students?”
  • “What do you think most new students should do, but don’t?”
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Common Interview Questions

Just like how you wouldn't go to an interview with formal wear, don't go in without reviewing these common questions!

Just like how you wouldn’t go to an interview with formal wear, don’t go in without reviewing these common questions!

Today we’ll be posting questions we commonly see on the interview trail. While most universities do not require interviews, many do offer optional ones, so take advantage of them if available! Take a look at these and make sure you have solid, complete answers to these questions. You don’t want to be blindsided by one of these during your interview, after all.

  • “Tell me about [extracurricular activity]”
  • “Tell me about a time when you had to overcome adversity”
  • “Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult group of people”
  • “What surprised you most about your time as an undergrad?”
  • “Why do you want to attend this university?”
  • “Tell me about yourself”
  • “How would your friends describe you?”
  • “What is your greatest strength?”
  • “Name some of your weaknesses”
  • “What did you enjoy most about your high school/hometown”
  • “What do you plan on doing with this major?”
  • “Tell me about a time you lead a group”
  • “Why should we choose you?”

This last question is perhaps the most important here. You want to make sure you have your “elevator pitch” down solid because you will almost certainly be asked this question. Be able to summarize your strengths and why a school should choose you in a concise manner. You want this pitch to convey your academic prowess as well as why you would be a good fit with the school.

Don’t forget that one of the best things you can do to impress your interviewers is achieve a really high score on the SAT or ACT!

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Does Undergrad Prestige Matter for Graduate School Admissions?

Not attending an Ivy League for undergra ddoesn't close the door on prestigious graduate programs!

Not attending an Ivy League for undergrad doesn’t close the door on prestigious graduate programs!

Today we’re featuring a post from our sister blog, It’s Not GRE-ek. As many of you are ramping up for undergraduate admissions, we wanted to put some perspective on how much “prestige” matters when going from an undergraduate degree to a graduate or professional degree.

We get this question fairly often: “I went to a relatively low-ranked school. Do I have a shot at attending an Ivy League graduate program?” The short answer to this is yes, you do have a shot! The full answer is a little bit more complicated than that, so read on for more information!

How Much Does Undergrad Prestige Actually Matter?

Graduating from a prestigious undergraduate institution will not in and of itself grant you admissions into an Ivy League or similarly top graduate institution. What it will do for you, however, is give you a leg up on similarly qualified applicants. If you graduate with a 3.9 GPA from Duke University, and your competitor graduated from Greendale Community College with a 3.9, you’re definitely going to have an advantage there. Admissions officers will view your application in its context; a somewhat lower (~0.2 points, roughly) GPA from a highly regarded institution will likely be viewed more favorably than a somewhat higher GPA from a less well-known institution. Similarly, a letter of recommendation from a well-known researcher in the field will hold more weight than a letter of recommendation from a researcher who hasn’t published as much.

Well, What Can I Do About This?

Plenty! Not graduating from a “top” undergrad school doesn’t mean you don’t have a shot! Plenty of students from relatively unknown schools matriculate in top graduate programs, but you really have to prove yourself to do so.

  • Publish, publish, publish: For STEM fields especially, publications are key to success in graduate programs. Even getting last author on a paper is impressive as an undergrad, as it shows that you’re capable of finding and completing research, which is essentially the entirety of academia nowadays
  • Find an advisor or professor who you can really get to know: You want a STRONG letter of recommendation going into your file, not a mediocre one. You want a professor who has known you for a while and who can speak to your strengths and character. This is usually only achieved through knowing an advisor for several years or by completing an intensive research project with him/her. Get working on that!
  • Maintain a high GPA: This is a no brainer, but you want to have as close to a 4.0 GPA as you can possibly manage. A 3.9 from an unknown school looks infinitely better than a 3.3 from a prestigious institution. You need to ensure that your GPA is high enough to hopefully counteract any bias the admissions council might have against your institution
  • Destroy the GRE: The GRE, as is all standardized tests, is the great equalizer in terms of admissions. It’s an objective standard by which all students are measured — no bias in terms of institution or curriculum here. Make sure to prepare well and absolutely dominate the exam so  you can show admissions officers how rigorous your curriculum was and how much you’ve learned!
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PSAT Semifinalists – How to Advance, What to Expect

PSAT Semifinalist cutoffs being announced soon, so we want to detail the path towards becoming a full-fledged National Merit Finalist, and what that means exactly. Let us know in the comments if you qualified as a Semifinalist!

How Many People Earn National Merit Semifinalist? How Many Will Become Finalists?

For the 16,000 of you who are now National Merit Semifinalists, congratulations!

For the 16,000 of you who are now National Merit Semifinalists, congratulations!

Across the country, a total of 16,000 students will qualify for National Merit Semifinalist status. As you likely know, students qualify on a per-state basis, with each individual state having its own cutoff score. Of the 16,000 students, 15,000 will ultimately become National Merit Finalists, so overall, your chances of becoming a Finalist are high!

Continue reading “PSAT Semifinalists – How to Advance, What to Expect” »

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What is Early Admissions? Does it Give Me an Advantage?

As the college admissions cycle is just about to fire up, we wanted to explain what exactly early admissions is and what it offers when compared to regular admissions.

What is Early Admissions?

Apply early, get a decision early!

Apply early, get a decision early!

Many schools, mostly private, offer an Early Admissions option where you can submit your application early and receive a notice of admissions early. This applies to private schools in particular because many public schools already begin releasing admissions decisions in late fall, while most private schools, especially Ivy League schools, release admissions decisions in the spring. By applying Early Admissions, you’ll usually submit your application by the beginning of November (check with your specific’s school’s deadlines), and you’ll usually receive a notification by early December, months before regular decision. This way you can be confident in where you’re attending and not have to stress all the way until April of the next year.

Continue reading “What is Early Admissions? Does it Give Me an Advantage?” »

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5 Goals for the New Semester

With a new school year fast approaching, we put together a list of 5 goals students, both high school and college alike, should aim to achieve this year:

  1. Get to know 1 teacher or professor really well: When it comes down to getting letters of recommendation, which are extremely important for both college applications, graduate school applications, and job applications, you do not want to have to scramble to think of which teacher to ask. By getting to know at least one teacher really well, you can keep your options open while also developing as an individual! Participate in class, crush your exams, and attend office hours whenever possible. You’ll likely develop a natural relationship with that professor. Don’t necessarily suck up or be fake– just try and do well in the class and show some enthusiasm and interest in the course!
  2. Explore and find an extracurricular you're truly passionate about!

    Explore and find an extracurricular you’re truly passionate about!

    Find an extracurricular you are really passionate about: If you haven’t already found your niche, go out and explore the options available to you! Many organizations hold Club Fairs and interest meetings at the beginning of the year, so take advantage of that and try and find something you really enjoy! Besides becoming a more well-rounded person, your application will really shine if you have something you can speak passionately about.

  3. Keep your grades going strong: The bottom line is GPA is king, so above all else make sure your academic performance is strong. No amount of extracurricular can make up for a bad GPA, so your #1 focus should always be to do as well as possible in your classes.
  4. Spend time developing a hobby: You don’t have to find something unique, but make sure you find a hobby that you can fall back on during times of stress. Whether it’s cooking, League, biking, reading, or drawing, – whatever makes you happy! – make sure you have something that you love to do that can help you relieve stress. If you can find a club or extracurricular that mirrors this, then great! But not everything has to have a resume-line. Do things that benefit you as a person!
  5. School is all about bettering yourself! Take every advantage of that!

    School is all about bettering yourself! Take every advantage of that!

    Explore the classes that interest you: Take a wide variety of courses, if possible, but if not, try and find something that you can really latch onto and capital-L Learn. Too often school is viewed as just another box to check off on an application, another thing to do because we’re expected to. While you won’t like every class you take, make sure you take something away from at least one class. There’s nothing worse than a senior who can’t name a thing they did in the last four years.

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The Great Global Conversation and You

"We Americans must fight for our right... to party."

“We Americans must fight for our right… to party.”

While the SAT is primarily used for admission into American institutions, the test is administered internationally. Therefore, one of the aims of redesigning the SAT was to make it more accessible for test takers regardless of their respective backgrounds. And what better way to do that than to add a passage to every test that aligns itself with American values and assert that it’s a universally valued text? A text that is part of not just “a global conversation” but rather “The Great Global Conversation.”

All kidding aside, the Great Global Conversation passage of the redesigned SAT Evidence-based Reading exam is very much in line with the college board’s overall goas of assessing a student’s college readiness. In earlier specifications for the redesigned exam, the College Board asserted that it is committed to “the idea that all students should be asked routinely to engage with texts worthy of close attention and careful analysis,” and that “nowhere is [this commitment] more evident than in the Reading Test’s inclusion of U.S. founding documents and texts from the Great Global Conversation.”

Give me liberty, or give me test prep!

Give me liberty, or give me test prep!

So what exactly is this passage from “the Great Global Conversation”? A primary source document such as a U.S. founding document (the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, etc.) or some other historical text that explores the concepts of freedom, liberty, and/or justice. Selections ostensibly span from said founding documents all the way to texts from the twenty-first century and represent authors of all different nationalities and backgrounds. In addition to providing a sample from Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s speech at the Nixon impeachment hearings in 1974, the College Board has also named Edmund Burke,  Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King, Jr. as possible passage sources. Your friends at College Compass have also been careful to note some passages that have recently shown up in experimental sections of the exam that fit the profile of “Great Global Conversation” passages (included at the end of this post).

As the College Board is careful to point out, however, while these passages may, in some cases, be more difficult to dissect than some of the more contemporary texts on the exam, the questions associated with these passages will still require students to choose an answer that’s supported by the text. In other words, no previous knowledge of any historical event associated with the passage is necessary to answer the questions. In fact, even if you are an expert on the subject, remember to answer the questions with evidence from the passage.

What it comes down to is this: this passage may seem more intimidating, but the College Board has generated the same types of questions and answering them will require all the same skills and strategies as answering the questions for any other passage. You may want to plan to take an extra minute or two on this passage to allow yourself a little bit more time to interpret the text, but otherwise, treat it as you’d treat any other passage.

Previous examples of Global Conversation passages include excerpts from:

  1. The Bill of Rights
  2. The Federalist Papers
  3. Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
  4. Susan B. Anthony
  5. Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address
  6. Fredrick Douglas *
  7. Alexander Hamilton on Slavery
  8. Alexis de Tocqueville
    *Passage was on October PSAT
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