Hey Class of 2022 students (and their proud parents),

Greetings from Gary the College Guy! Most of you know who I am (presumably that’s how you found your way to my mailing list) but for those who don’t I’m a certified guidance counselor who’s run my own business called College Placement Services in Portland, Maine (office located on St. John Street) since 1996. You can check out my business and learn more about me at my web page, which is in my signature at the end of this newsletter.

Yeah I’m old, but my information is fresh!

I work with high school students and their families helping them understand and navigate all aspects of the college search, selection, application, and financial aid process. Students, do you have questions or concerns about planning for the fall of 2022? Parents are you vexed by the cost of college and how you’re going to pay for it? I’m your man!

You’ll periodically get these newsletters, my “College Guy Rants” (get it? 😉), when I feel there’s important stuff for you to know that you’re not likely to hear otherwise. And there’s a lot of that these days.

So let’s jump right in to it, shall we, and discuss standardized testing and the SAT and ACT.

First thing to understand: these are bad tests. They’re vestigial artifacts of an earlier time in college admissions, and I predict that in five years they’ll be gone the way of the dinosaur. They don’t measure your smarts, nor do they measure how likely you’ll be successful in college. More and more colleges are going “test optional” and a few even “test blind”, which means (in the former case) you don’t have to submit scores if you don’t want to, and (in the latter case) they won’t consider your scores even if you do submit them.

You don’t need to take my word for any of the above – check out Bob Schaeffer’s web page www.fairtest.org for research and articles denigrating standardized tests. He’s also got a list of 1,400 or so test-optional schools.

Second thing to understand: these tests can help you, and as such should not be summarily shunned. If you can score fairly well they can help you get accepted to some colleges, and they can help you qualify for merit money. “Fairly well” means breaking 1050 – 1100 on the SAT for most colleges; for “selective colleges” it means scoring 1200 – 1250 or higher.

So let’s file this under the category of “making a deal with the devil” – you may want to put a bit of preparation and energy (defined below) in to taking these tests.

Now I’m going to cover this next part quickly cause there’s some time sensitive information I want to relate. If you have further questions you can call or email me – I don’t charge for schmoozing on the phone or by email.

The SAT is more popular for folks on the East and West Coast, while the ACT is favored by students who live in the interior states. The tests are similar and colleges accept either sets of scores (they’re no fools – they want kids from Maine and from Iowa!). You’ll hear people tell you the ACT is for kids who are best at Math/Science and that’s not true. There are some differences between the tests (which I’ll explain in detail if you want to contact me) but what you need to understand is that some kids do better on the SAT, others do better on the ACT, and there’s little way to tell in advance.

So my advice: take them both.

(Here’s the time sensitive part):

The June 5 SAT has a sign-up deadline of May 6th, and

The June 12 ACT has a sign-up deadline of May 7th.

Both those dates are this coming week.

Now many of you juniors have already taken the SAT in March, or you’re going to take it this coming Saturday – you can “stand down” cause you don’t need to retake this test in June. Only if you haven’t taken the SAT plan to take it on June 5th.

I’m guessing most of you haven’t taken the ACT. Take the June 12 test.

To register for the SAT go to your Collegeboard account (create one if you don’t have one yet – where you been, under a rock?) at www.collegeboard.org

To register for the ACT create an account and do the deed at www.act.org

Now two more things that are important – so listen up:

#1. Prep for these tests using Kahn Academy’s free and nifty SAT prep program. Despite what you’ll hear from the test prep mavens, you don’t need to take a course or tutor up – there’ll be time for that next fall (if necessary – it’s usually not) when you retake one or both tests (hang on, I’m getting to that part). You can “link” your college board account to the free Kahn SAT preparation test site – it’s easy and you do it from your collegeboard account. Although they call it SAT prep trust me – it’ll work for the ACT as well. My suggestion is to spend 45 minutes a day, three times a week before the June test dates. Start now. Easy peasy.

(You may not choose to do this, but you can’t tell me you can’t do it – that’s not a big time commitment, and did I mention the dang thing was FREE?!).

#2. Plan to retake one or both tests next fall. The SAT is given again on August 28th and October 2nd. The ACT will be offered September 11th and October 23rd. Studies show that your score tends to go up when you retake the test (due largely to familiarity with it) so give yourself a second chance to “hit a home run”. Prep for those tests as well – start 6 – 8 weeks before the fall test dates.

Now let me say one more thing: for those of you (which I presume is most of you) who have taken the PSAT test sophomore and junior year: if your scores have been low (under 950 combined) and/or if taking these tests causes undue stress and duress, disregard all the above and ignore the fershugginer things! I mean it. They’re just not that important anymore, especially due to the pandemic, as most colleges are going to continue to be test optional for the class of 2022.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to raise your score by 100, 200, even more points if you put in the effort to prep. I am saying that if you’re starting with a low score and not committed to prepping, it may be best for you not to bother.

So I hope you all followed that advice – the test can HELP YOU, but not having the test won’t necessarily HURT YOU.

For further elaboration/explanation/argumentation give me a holler – that’s why I’m here.


Okay just a couple more things to give you an idea of what to be thinking about (and letting you know what I do if you want to avail yourself of the service people actually pay me for:

Write your first essay now.

The common application, which most colleges accept, won’t “go live” until August 1, but they’ve announced their seven 2021/22 (that’s you!) essay prompts. Here they are:


Now relax a bit – first of all, despite there being seven prompts you only need to write one (although if you take my advice you’ll do one or two extra essays, but that discussion is for another Rant). Note that prompt #7 is “Topic of your Choice”. Um, say what? You can write about anything you want, long as you’re writing about yourself!

Oh, and follow these two rules:

#1. There’s a 650 word limit so make your essay under that, and

#2. Make your essay like an Altoids Breath Mint: “Curiously Strong”.  That means well-written (“Strong”) and interesting (“Curious”). I read (and edit) hundreds of essays a year, and most are well-written (they’d earn a B+ or better from your English teacher) but nearly all are boring as tears. So the challenge is to write something good!

In June I’ll send you my “How to write an essay” Rant – if you can’t wait contact me and I’ll give you a sneak preview of it.

Plan something cool to do this summer

What are you doing this summer? Working? Good. Playing your sports? That’s fine. Traveling, doing family vacations? Great! Hanging with your homeboys and gals and hitting the beach or the lake or the pool? Don’t forget the sunscreen! Yay-bo, it’s summer for crying out loud so your #1 priority is to HAVE FUN and ENJOY YOURSELF (and stay outta trouble while you’re at it). But here’s a thought: add a project, a volunteer activity, something which takes you out of your comfort zone and which you’ll find rewarding and which you can (and will) proudly tell (or show) your colleges when you apply to them next fall.

Hint: Saying “I couldn’t do much cause of COVID” is lame, lazy and untrue! Ya just gotta be creative.

Did I tell you I specialize in helping students “think outside the box” and plan cool activities/events/past times which will cause them to stand out when they apply to college? Well I do!

Okay, I’m gonna plant you now and dig you later, make like a bakery truck and haul buns, make like a hockey player and get the puck outta here*, and leave you to ponder all that you’re read.

From your ecstatic educator, your dizzying doyen, your perspicacious professor,


P.S. If you find the above information useful be a good neighbor and share this email with your buddies (and parents share with other parents of juniors). If you want to know more about my services please contact me – information below.

P.S.S. If you’d rather not get my rants kindly let me know, and you won’t.

* this clever little sign off was cribbed verbatim from Tom Waits’ 1975 Album “Nighthawks at the Diner”….