Best of the Blog: College Visits 101 – Talking to Students

Nothing like a nice stroll through Harvard yard, right?
Nothing like a nice stroll through Harvard yard, right?

Since many of you are embarking on college tours, we’ll be presenting one of our favorite blog posts on college visits, originally posted by Calvin. Enjoy!

You can learn a lot about a college from its website, its guided tours, and its employees. However, there are some questions that can only be answered by a real, live college student. In fact, speaking with a university’s current students is one of the best ways to find out whether a college is right for you. There are many ways to interact with students when visiting a college campus, some more mediated than others. Current students (hand-picked and trained by the administration) will usually lead campus tours when you visit, and it might be possible to meet with students from a particular major by contacting the office of admissions. Simply call them up, tell them you are a prospective student who wants to major in X, and that you would like to talk to a current student who is majoring in X when you visit. They may be able to set something up for you.

Continue reading “Best of the Blog: College Visits 101 – Talking to Students” »

What is a Good Score on the New SAT?


Today was exciting news in the standardized test community, as College Board released its first set of data and concordance tables regarding the New 2016 SAT. In light of this, we have updated our previous post with updated average New 2016 SAT scores by university.


To find New SAT score equivalents, we used information provided by universities through either their websites or through their Common Data Set publications. We then used the official concordance table presented by College Board to convert Old (2005-2015) SAT scores and ACT scores to the new format. Keep in mind, however, that the ACT has disputed the validity of some concordances and that these concordances may be subject to change as College Board collects more data. In looking at the table, you may note that some universities show a significant 60-100 point difference between New Scores via ACT Concordance and New Scores via Old SAT Concordance. As more test-takers sit for the New 2016 SAT exam, College Board may revisit these preliminary concordances and adjust as needed. As such, the scores presented below are subject to change.

Further, this information is based on the most up-to-date college data we were able to obtain, but these scores may not be reflective of future entering classes, as scores may be higher or lower than in past years. We will not have official data on New SAT scores for admitted students until next year, and perhaps even until years after that, as the class of 2021 will still be able to use Old SAT scores for admissions. Schools may also elect to judge New 2016 SAT scores differently than the data presented within the concordance tables, so keep this in mind as well.

Finally, the data presented are averages (i.e. middle 50% of students admitted), so depending on your own life circumstances (e.g. low GPA, disadvantaged background, competitive high school, etc.), you should determine whether you need to score above the average to have a good shot at being admitted to these schools. Nevertheless, we hope this data will provide you with a good baseline to shoot for when preparing for this exam, and we wish you the best of luck in your college pursuits!

Continue reading “What is a Good Score on the New SAT?” »

Do’s and Don’t’s of Writing a College Admissions Essay

Break out your pen and paper, and take a look at our tips for writing a great college admissions essay!
Break out your pen and paper, and take a look at our tips for writing a great college admissions essay!

Today we’ll be giving some tips about how to and what to write for your college admissions essay! Don’t waste your summer! Make sure to start early on these essays because it’s quite possibly the most important piece of writing you’ll ever do!


  • Do show, don’t tell: This is the classic advice every essay writer receives. Engaging writing is engaging because it elicits sympathy and understanding from the reader. Humans love storytelling, as it’s essentially hard coded into our DNA, and there’s no better way to connect with your reader than to tell stories or short anecdotes. This isn’t to say you should spend 500 words elaborating on a single story. Rather, you should include sentences that allow the reader to picture themselves in the moment. For example, instead of using the bland line”I love teaching because it allows me to help others gain a better understanding of the world,”  try something like “I’ve never been more proud than when Bobby Sue finally realized how Gauss’s Law works. After hours of slogging through a single assignment during a help session, there was no greater joy than seeing his face light up with understanding, and that single moment made the entire semester of tutoring worth it.”
  • Do have a good hook: Admissions committees are reading hundreds, if not thousands, of applications, so make sure to capture their interest. Draw them in with an interesting anecdote, and give them something to remember you by. Of course, don’t be melodramatic or insincere with this hook, but make sure to start off on the right foot. Just think back to all the required reading assignments you’ve had in the past — don’t be that author who bores you starting from line 1; be the author who engages you and draws you in so you want to continue reading.
  • Do demonstrate your passion: The essay is essentially the only opportunity you get to show off who you are. Both ApplyTexas and the CommonApp only afford a very limited number of characters to describe your listed activities, so the essay is the only significant opportunity you get to describe in detail your hopes, dreams, and interests. Take advantage of this! The most important thing is to demonstrate that you’re an interesting person and that you have a life apart from just school. If you have an extracurricular you love, write about it! If you have a hobby you enjoy doing, explain why you love it! Talk about anything you have a strong passion for because that is without a doubt the easiest way to translate passion onto the page.
  • Do be humble and genuine: Admissions officers can smell insincerity a mile away. If you volunteered once at a soup kitchen, don’t write an essay about how bad you felt for the patrons and now want to dedicate your life to abolishing poverty. Even if admissions officers didn’t major in math, they can tell when something doesn’t add up. One meeting with the underprivileged likely won’t elicit an epiphany, and one event likely won’t determine your entire life’s path. Don’t be overdramatic or oversell your experiences to make some grand statement about life or morals. Be humble and true to yourself! No one expects a high schooler to have had dramatic life-changing experiences, so there’s no need to wildly upsell your accomplishments or motivations. A pinch of humility will go a long way in distinguishing yourself from the rest of the overeager pack.

Continue reading “Do’s and Don’t’s of Writing a College Admissions Essay” »

What Does My New SAT Score Mean?

College Board just released the results from the first administration of the New SAT, administered March 2016, and with it they also released a set of concordance tables to let us know what exactly a good score is. We’ll take a look at this and analyze what exactly these new scores mean for students!

How do New SAT Scores Compare to Old 2400 SAT Scores?

Figure 1
Figure 1. Charting the difference in scores between the New SAT and Old SAT

Since the new SAT is scored out of 1600, while the old SAT was scored out of 2400, the new scores are obviously lower than the old. However, if we adjust the old scores using the “sliding scale” method (i.e. subtract 800 across the board from the old SAT scores, normalizing as if it were on the 1600 scale), we can see (Figure 1 above) that overall there is a much larger difference for lower-scoring students, with the New SAT having higher scores than the old pre-2016 SAT. This suggests that the same performance would net a higher numerical score. This means that the “sliding scale” method would not actually work for comparing new and old SAT scores.

Continue reading “What Does My New SAT Score Mean?” »

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

Since the end of the school year is fast approaching, as are the deadlines for signing up for the May and June SATs, we wanted to remind people what the SAT Subject Tests are and which colleges require them. We’ve previously posted this article but consider this topic especially relevant at this time of year. Enjoy!

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

You may or may not be aware that College Board offers SAT Subject Tests. These are short, one-hour exams that test your knowledge in specific areas. We’ve compiled a table of every Subject Test offered below:

Math Level 1 Math Level 2
US History World History
Biology Chemistry
Physics Literature
Spanish French
Chinese Italian
German Hebrew
Latin Japanese

As you can see, there are quite a few Subject Tests available to you that cover a wide variety of topics. In terms of content, you can think of these Subject Tests as mini AP Exams. The two exams cover essentially the same material, but Subject Tests are only one hour long each, compared to the behemoths that are AP exams.

Continue reading “What Are SAT Subject Tests?” »

2016 (Unofficial) National Merit Commended Cutoff Score is Out!

Now that we know this year’s (unofficial) National Merit Commended cutoff score is a 209, we wanted to take a look back at how we did, and what this means for our Semifinalist predictions. To clarify, while the NMSC has not officially posted this score on their website, we have had multiple reports from parents and students who have contacted NMSC directly. Until further notice, we will proceed with this score in mind as the (unofficial) Commended student cutoff score.

How did we do?

Taking a look back at our Updated PSAT Cutoffs post, our range for Commended was between a 200-210, but more importantly, our estimate for North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming were 210’s. Historically, these states’ NMSF scores have generally coincided with the national Commended cutoff, and with only a 1-point difference between the two, it seems that our model is performing quite well. This bodes well for the rest of our predictions, which we hope will prove to be accurate once the official NMSF cutoff scores are announced.

What does this Commended score mean for students?

Firstly, it’s important to note that while the ND, SD, WV, and WY scores have historically lined up with the national Commended cutoff score, this is by no means a guarantee that any of these states’ NMSF cutoffs will be a 209. If you look at the historical data, these scores have shown subtle fluctuations, so we cannot say for certain that a 209 will be the exact National Merit Semi-finalist cutoff for these states.

It’s also interesting to note that College Board has essentially confirmed a tighter grouping of National Merit scores when compared to previous years’. When constructing our predictions, many posters expressed a concern we initially had as well, that the estimated cutoffs seem to be fairly high and tightly grouped. Consider last year’s Commended, a 202 out of 240, compared to this year’s scores of 209 out of 228. When looking at these numbers, it may seem that this year’s test must have been easier, since the cutoff score is higher, but that’s not necessarily true! Since the entire scoring system has been changed, it’s not fair to directly compare cutoff scores, as College Board may have changed the raw score to scaled score conversion on their backend to reflect the new update.

Finally, as always, though this news suggests our methodology is overall performing well in terms of predictive power and accuracy, we must stress that our predictions are by no means definitive. While we hope our numbers will line up well with the official cutoffs, states’ cutoff scores do display minor fluctuations from year to year, so the official score required for National Merit Semifinalist may be slightly higher or slightly lower than our predictions. Once the official NMSF numbers are released by the NMSC, we’ll be sure to perform an analysis and debrief to see how we fared in the big leagues!

Registration Deadline Reminder! Sign up for the SAT and ACT!

As summer is fast approaching, we at College Compass wanted to remind you of the upcoming SAT and ACT test dates!

SAT Test Date Regular Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline
5/7/16 4/8/16 4/22/16
6/4/16 5/5/16 5/20/16

You can register for the SAT exam here!

ACT Test Date Regular Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline
6/11/16 5/6/16 5/20/16

You can register for the ACT exam here!

Continue reading “Registration Deadline Reminder! Sign up for the SAT and ACT!” »


For the uninitiated, today and tomorrow are the days most of the Ivy League and similarly selective schools release their admissions decisions. For those waiting anxiously for these notifications to be released, best of luck! No matter what happens, congratulations on completing this journey; you will undoubtedly shape the world for the better!