Hey there members of the Class of ‘21 (and their parents),
Greetings from Gary the College Guy! I’ve been busy with class of ’20 students but now that most seniors’ applications have been “put to bed” you can expect to begin getting my periodic “rants” over the next year. 
These emails are designed to pull your coat, tickle your fancy and put you hip to timely issues pertaining to information gathering and preparation for the college selection and admission process. For parents I’ll talk about financial aid and other aspects of meeting college costs. My rants are probably less interesting than your Instagram account and they’re certainly longer than your tweets, and I suspect that some of you (parents included) want to be reminded of this stuff about as much as you want to schedule a root canal surgery!

On the other hand, the best way to relax and not have a cow over this stuff is to UNDERSTAND it, particularly the timeline you should follow. Forewarned is forearmed, and being prepared is a good thing! And I think you’ll appreciate my approach, which is to advise you to take a big chill pill and relax as you move forward. It’s not as complicated and difficult as most people think it is.
So here’s the first for your elucidation – this one going out for you to groove on as you attain warp speed in this your junior year.
(I always send my Rants out “blind cc”, so no one sees your email and you won’t see anyone else’s except mine. If you find these emails useful forward them on to your friends, or have them contact me and I’ll add them to my list of recipients. If, on the other hand, you’d rather not get these occasional missives, kindly let me know…and you won’t.)
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First things first – the College Guy has a new email address: [email protected]Due to an unexpected glitch with my Spectrum Cable and Internet provider my [email protected] email address is no longer receiving incoming mail. If you’ve tried sending something to me in the past month I have not received or seen it.
Please make this change in your address book or contacts list so future emails will get to me.
I used that roadrunner address for 25 years – I was an original Time Warner customer and remember well my introduction to email after learning about it from a homeless teen in the Portland Public Library (no kidding!). He set me up with my first hotmail account back in 1995, after which I signed up for the newly introduced TW Roadrunner. All things must pass.
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SAT SOLILOQUY  

ALL Maine public high school juniors will take the SAT at their high schools on Tuesday, April 14th (there’s a make up date a week or so later which some schools may invoke). The good State ‘O Maine Education Department has decreed that this test will serve as partial satisfaction of the State’s Accountability and Accreditation Requirements and blah blah woof woof all sorts of mumbo jumbo but what this means to you is that it’s free (just this first time) and it’s easy as your guidance counselor is going to sign you up for it.
All non-Maine juniors reading this who live in States which do not require in-school SAT testing should plan to take the test for the first time on May 2nd. You must register for it yourself by the deadline of April 3rd. And yes, you have to pay for it – $64.50 with the essay (dont’cha wish you lived in Maine??!!).
You register for the SAT test (as well as SAT Subject Tests, more about them below and in another Rant) at www.collegeboard.org. You should have your own account at this site – if you don’t, make one now. (If you’ve got an account but you’ve forgotten your user name and password, go through the collegeboard web site to retrieve it. You’ll need this multiple times before your college journey is over.)

I suspect some of you are planning to take the March 14th test, and a few of you smarty pants may have already taken the SAT and hey, whatever floats your boat, go for it. There’s no down side to taking it early – it’s just that there’s no real up side to rushing it either. Folks who tell you otherwise are either test-prep salesmen or people who just don’t get it. Ignore them.

I counsel students to take the test for the first time in the spring of junior year, and then to take it a second time (no if, ands or buts!) when it’s offered in the fall of senior year (August, October and November). If necessary, you can even take it a third time in December. (That’s too late for Early Decision, but in plenty of time for all your regular decision college applications.)

Those of you who are strong students going after “big game” (ie., selective or “reach” schools) will want/need to take the SAT Subject Tests as well. Maine students should plan to take two or three of these on May 2nd. Non-Maine students who will take the SAT on May 2nd should plan to take two or three subject tests on June 6th. Many of you Subject Test takers should consider taking/retaking two or three more in November or December of senior year.
So what qualifies someone as a “strong student”? If you take mostly honors and AP courses junior year, and/or if you always (or nearly always) make your school’s honor roll, and/or if your PSAT scores were above 1200, it could be in your interest to take the Subject Tests. Those taking May AP exams should especially plan to take the corresponding subject test as close to the AP test date as possible (when the subject matter will be freshest in your mind).
And then there’s the ACT Test. It’s not a better or worse test, it’s just different from the SAT, and because it’s accepted by every college you can submit it in lieu of (or along with) your SAT scores if you do well on it. Students can take this test in April or June of junior year, and again in October or December of senior year. You’ll prep for this the same way you’ll prep for the SAT, so taking it close to the time you’ll take the SAT makes sense. Ask your guidance counselor or me whether you should consider adding this test to your repertoire. You can read about it (and register to take it) at www.act.org.
Now relax if this is all sounding strange or confounding to you – many of you don’t need to take the Subject Tests or the ACT at all. I’m just trying to touch all the bases here. If you’re in doubt give me a call or email (my contact information is in my signature at the end of this screed) and I’ll set you straight. That’s why I’m here!
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PREPARING FOR THE SPRING SAT
 
I know many of you are anxious about testing, and some may have already looked in to tutoring or taking an SAT course to help. There’s no question about it: doing some sort of preparation before taking these tests can improve your scores. Because of the many options, I may have different recommendations for you depending on your particulars (what your PSAT scores were, what classes you currently take, what your grades are). If you (or your parent) calls me and shares some information I’ll be happy to weigh in with my opinion.
For now, here’s my general recommendations for how to prepare for your first go-‘round with the SAT:
Save your shekels and do “self-prep” using a combination of Kahn Academy and the Collegeboard’s Official SAT Study Guide.
Order the guide here:
or here:
Log on to your collegeboard account and “link” your account to Khan Academy – instructions for doing so are right there on the first page.
Count back eight weeks from your intended test date and begin: that’s Feb. 17 – MONDAY!!! – for Maine students taking it on April 14; and March 9 for those taking it on May 2.
Spend 45 minutes three times each week over those eight weeks sitting down and doing Khan Academy’s system. They’ll customize a plan based on your PSAT scores (that’s why you link Khan and your collegeboard account). Pretty nifty huh? And easy peasy. You just need to be organized and diligent to pull this off.
Also, plan to do three full tests using the Collegeboard SAT Study Guide book which contains eight full length SATs with answer sheets and answer keys.
Those of you who have met with me over the past year or so will notice that using this book is a new addition to my advice – I’d previously argued that doing Kahn Academy was all you needed. Last year I attended an SAT Prep workshop given by my neighbor and friend Eric Johnson (Johnson Test Prep, https://www.johnsontestprep.com) and he’s convinced me that including a “paper and pencil approach” in your test prep is valuable. (Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?? ☺️)
After you’ve taken the SAT this spring (and, for many of you, the ACT as well) you’ll have a “baseline” of scores (PSAT, SAT and maybe ACT) on which to plan for your second go round in the fall: which tests to retake, and how best to prepare.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with going directly with a one-on-one tutor or taking a class if you’ve got the money for it, but in my humble opinion doing your own test prep may prepare you just as well.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
One more thing: if you’re still nervous about this testing stuff? Check out www.fairtest.org for a list of over 1000 colleges (!!!) which are test optional. Don’t get too excited yet: most of those 1,000 are open enrollment and non-traditional schools. But there are several dozens of selective colleges (Bates, Bowdoin and Colby among them!!) which will evaluate you “sans standardized test scores” if you choose.
If you have questions and want to know more about how this would work, give me a call or email, and I’ll break it down for you.
I’ll write more about the relative importance of standardized testing, and the Subject Tests and ACTs next month. For now, relax, but get started on your test prep.

 

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HOW TO VISIT A COLLEGE

I generally send a “College Guy Rant” with advice about visiting colleges in March, in anticipation of the April vacation which is prime time for juniors to do college visits. For those of you thinking about visiting some colleges during the upcoming February vacation I’ll be happy to share my advice with you ahead of time if you’ll take the time to phone or send me an email.

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2020/2021 Common Application Essay Prompts
We don’t know them yet, but they should be announced shortly (and I’ll be sure to let you know when they are). They haven’t changed for the past two years so I’m betting they will this year, so hold off on responding to one of last year’s prompts until we know more. However, since I recommend that students always submit one extra essay on a subject of their choice, you can begin writing – keep your essay under 650 words and make it interesting! 
 
Here are the current prompts to give you an idea of the type of questions you’re likely to see. Remember, only one essay is required (but if you take my advice you’ll submit extra). 
 
 
Notice that prompt #7 is “topic of your choice” so you can write about anything you darn well choose.
I’ll send a rant later this winter about “How to Write an Essay” but for now, here’s the College Guy’s equivalent of “drop and give me twenty pushups!”. Write your first essay. No more than 650 words, make it interesting. 
 
If you send me what you come up with I’ll give you a quick critique, let you know if you’re on the right track…
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Do a resume. 
 
No, not a one-page, bullet pointed professional resume the way Naviance and most “life skills” classes teach you to do it because, surprise surprise, you’re not a professional! My version is chatty, anecdotal and descriptive and includes your sports, hobbies, interests (both academic and otherwise) and will be much more informative and interesting to the colleges, scholarship committees and interviewers you’ll give it to. Juniors who have already met with me know what I’m talking about. If others of you want to see a template for such a thing write to me and I’ll be glad to oblige. 
 
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Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print for now. If any of you want to know what people actually pay me for, reach me via the email or phone number below, or contact me through my web page for a free 30 minute consultation (you ask questions, I’ll do my best to answer them). My URL is:
As I mentioned at the top, if you find my writing useful please forward it on to friends, family, and parents with high school aged kids who may appreciate reading them. It’s how my business works.
From your PSAT preceptor, your collegiate chaperone, your admissions Avatar, your garrulous guru
 
Gary AKA “The College Guy”
— 
Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
[email protected]
(207) 772-9711 w
(207) 318-7289 c
www.collegeplacementservices.org

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.
P.S. I often conclude my rants with links to some tools I use and to articles that students and parents may find of interest. Here are a few:
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Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes wonderfully about issues related to higher education. Here’s a recent column of his worth reading. Note there are links to several others of his college-related pieces:
 
The Washington Post also has level headed and understandable coverage of the college admissions scene. Here’s one:
 
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Here’s another Times article about “Gap Years”, which I’m a fan of. My daughter Johanna graduated HS last May and is currently in Germany doing a gap year:
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Here’s a web page I use quite a bit (from the Chronicle of Higher Education) which is pretty cool. It gives you “cross-applies” for any college you type in. “Cross apply” schools are schools which students tend to like who also like the school you’re interested. Write the name of a school you’re considering in the space at the top, it will show you schools which are in some ways similar. Capisce?
Go try it – you’ll see what I mean. It’s a good way to learn about colleges and expand/refine your (eventual, it’s early yet) lists:
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Parents – it’s still early in the game but you’re well advised to begin reading about ways to pay for college, including understanding financial aid and whether you may qualify for it. Here are a couple good articles to get you going:
(I do a great deal of consulting with families about financial aid, so don’t be bashful about giving me a call or email to begin the discussion.)
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And one more – really, these are worth your while to check out!!!!!
Julie Lythcott-Haims is a past Dean of Students at Stanford who published a book a couple years back called: “How to Raise an Adult”. It addresses the unnecessary  hysteria many people attach to the college selection process. I read it, and I give it a “thumbs up”. Slate Magazine and an outfit called “Panoply” have combined to offer a series of free iTunes podcasts on the college admissions process, hosted by Ms Lythcott – Haims. Check it out here: