New College Essay Workshop set for August

Applying to College This Fall?

  • The Common Application essay prompts are available now (the Application opens August 1).
  • Some rolling decision colleges are already accepting applications.
  • With most colleges going SAT/ACT optional for 2021, essays will be a critical way for students not submitting scores to distinguish themselves.
  • Summer is the time to write, and refine, the college admissions essay!

New Essay Workshop

  • I’m offering an online workshop in August to help students write their best essays – for the Common App, their personal statement, handling school-specific prompts, and for scholarships.
  • The workshop is spread out over two one-hour sessions, first on August 7, to learn the structure of good application essays, what the typical admissions counselor is looking for, and to strategize, and then on August 21 to bring back and discuss ideas, drafts, and questions for discussion.
  • The workshop is limited to six students, so everyone gets individualized assistance.

Register Today!

Charting the Course: College Admissions and Uncertainty

Key takeaways:

  • College admissions is as uncertain now as ever before, due to impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, societal changes, and higher education’s response to them;
  • With the SAT and ACT, it’s important to understand the difference between “test optional” and “test blind”
  • UW, to choose a popular school, remains “test optional”
  • “Test optional” basically means “test still required”
  • Even still, “holistic admissions” will be the norm until a new standardized model emerges
  • Know what the key pillars of “holistic admissions” are and how to start building them

School is almost out – and what that usually means for rising seniors who are thinking about going to college is to start focusing on the admissions process.

Of course, nothing is business as usual this year. Distance learning has been difficult. Grading policies vary by school and district. SAT and ACT tests still aren’t taking place in person, and schools across the country have announced a variety of responses to this. Colleges aren’t offering in-person tours or admissions sessions. Summer plans, from trips and vacations to jobs and volunteering, have all been impacted in one way or another.  

And now, the University of Washington, our state’s flagship public institution, has made a splash with the announcement this month that it is dropping the SAT/ACT requirement not just for the class of 2021, but indefinitely.

It’s all gotten more uncertain than ever. How to chart a course through this uncertainty?

The University of Washington, “test optional,” and should you still take it?

First, let’s parse the UW announcement.

The first thing I tell my SAT and ACT prep students is that they are not their SAT or ACT score. Their abilities, intellect, potential, and future will not be defined by their performance on one test on one day. The only thing the SAT or ACT tests is your ability to take the SAT or the ACT.

And yet it has been a near-universal requirement for college admissions forever, a rite of passage for generations of students, and that’s why part of my work has focused on preparing students to do their best on these tests. It is not a perfect system, but until a completely new model emerges, it has been the reality we’ve all been confronted with.

Now, the UW, like a number of schools, has come to agree that, in the words of their Faculty Senate chair, “students’ potential achievement over four years or more of their university education can’t be measured by the result of one test on one day.” And so they’ve done away with the requirement to submit scores.

UW’s announcement did not say whether students may still submit SAT/ACT scores to be considered as an optional part of their application, or whether such scores simply won’t factor into consideration at all.

This is the distinction between “test optional” and “test blind” and it is important for the college-bound to understand.

So, I reached out and asked. The school did confirm that students may continue to submit SAT and ACT scores and that higher scores may aid an application. They also added that in their holistic admissions review (more on that in a moment), course rigor and performance will be key criteria. But, in other words, they remain a “test optional” school, like the majority of colleges that have made similar announcements.

So, what does that mean, practically?

For selective college admissions, and UW is selective with an under-50 percent acceptance rate, in my opinion, “test optional” still means it’s a very good idea to strive for and submit strong scores. Although such colleges, UW included, routinely state that no student will be disadvantaged from not submitting test scores, students who confirm their transcript and recommendations with a strong SAT or ACT score will only enhance their chances for admission.

Whether it is UW, the Oregon system, the California system,  or schools with similar policies, either for 2021 or indefinitely, students applying to a “test optional” school should take the SAT or ACT, possibly more than once, and if their score is toward the higher of their target school’s average range, absolutely submit that score.

The reality is that in a test optional situation, students with lower scores will not submit and students with higher scores will, which will raise those applicants’ overall average scores each year – creating a de facto requirement to submit a good score in order to stand out.

Finally, even if standardized test scores are optional for admissions, they will not necessarily be optional across the board for merit-based scholarships, both inside and outside of institutions, or for placement in honors-type programs or especially competitive (pre-med; engineering; STEM) majors.

Of course, to take the SAT/ACT you actually have to have access to the test. While the June tests have once again been cancelled locally, fortunately at least the ACT is moving online this fall, and both major tests have pledged to add more opportunities in the fall months to take the test.

No SAT/ACT? Now what?

For those students in a test optional or test blind situation who do not submit scores in support of their application (and even for those who do), everything else becomes that much more important.

I do not envy college admissions counselors this year and next trying to figure out how to make already very difficult decisions without becoming even more arbitrary. Schools not using test scores as part of the admissions decision will have to switch to some form of “holistic admissions” process and my guess is schools who have not used this practice widely are now trying to develop it on the fly.

“Holistic admissions” is simply the consideration of an individual’s entire application – test scores where applicable, GPA, course selection and rigor, intended major, letters of recommendation, personal statement and supporting essays, work history, recognized leadership, sports and extracurriculars, demonstrated interest in the college, and any interesting socio-economic or other factors that give a picture of the whole person.

To further stand out without the traditional standardized tests, students will need to spend additional time polishing these various aspects of their application profile. Thinking strategically about how to get the best out of each application component has now taken on even more importance. I’m planning to offer a workshop in July focused specifically on those themes, so be on the lookout for that.

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted and changed so much, including applying to, getting into, and choosing a college. It’s uncertain still what the full ramifications of these changes will be into the future, but by paying close attention and being practical about these changing university policies, we can navigate them together.

SAT/ACT Update + Some Thoughts

First, an SAT/ACT update, then a college admissions update, then some perspective.


Today, the College Board announced that the June SAT is cancelled due to the continuing uncertainty over COVID-19. Click here for details.

At the same time, the Board announced that they will be holding an SAT each month in 2020, starting August 29. This includes a TBD date in September, October 3, November 7, and December 5.

The registration dates for the fall SATs will open in May.

If (heaven help us) schools do not re-open in person this fall, the SAT will be offered in a digital format at home.

As for the ACT, so far the June 13th test has not been cancelled but it should probably be considered extremely tentative at this point. Future test dates this year include July 18th, September 12th, October 24th, and December 12th. Keep in mind, the ACT incorporates an online option starting in September.

Students registered for the June test as well as juniors with no SAT scores on file will have priority registration for the fall tests, so it may be wise not to seek refund without clarifying where you’ll be in line this fall.


Given the difficulties in getting the tests administered this spring/summer, a growing number of colleges and universities are making the SAT and ACT tests optional for 2021 admission.

This includes some heavy hitters in Washington State like UW, Gonzaga, Seattle University, and potentially others, not to mention the entire highly competitive University of California and California State University systems.

So if the SAT or ACT is optional for 2021 (and even possibly beyond), does it make sense for rising seniors to skip the stress and sit these out?

It would be a mistake to think that.


First, part of my job is to train students to do their best on the SAT and ACT, so consider that. But by the same token, I keep on top of college admissions trends and have been in contact with admissions officers throughout the state and across the country about this.

Students who can should still take the SAT or ACT (or both), prepare strategically, do their best, and report their good scores when they apply to college.

Not all colleges have gone optional for entrance exams, and most admissions experts agree that “optional” will basically mean “required” when it comes to competitive programs, merit-based scholarships, graduation requirements, and other decisions where comparative academic merit must be weighed.

Even the University of California system, which assures student that not submitting scores will not harm their chances, nevertheless states that reporting SAT/ACT scores “can support their statewide UC eligibility, application for certain scholarships, and help them fulfill some University graduation requirements.”

I’ve communicated with admissions officials at different universities in Washington who take a similar view, although their departments are still working out the details of these temporary policy changes.

So just like taking the (good) letter grade over opting for a pass/fail right now, when possible, taking and submitting achievements you’re proud of on the SAT/ACT can only help — all the more in competitive environments.

So stay positive, keep up the momentum, and get ready to excel this fall and beyond!

Important COVID-19 updates for the college bound

Here are some important updates related to nationwide response to the COVID-19 outbreak and how it is impacting several important areas of college prep:

Advanced Placement

  • For the 19-20 AP exam cycle, students will be able to take an online 45-minute free-response exam at home, which will cover only topics covered in most AP classes by early March.
  • The new online test can be taken on computer, tablet, or smartphone or even by photograph of handwritten work.
  • There will be two testing dates, one in May and one announced later.
  • Beginning March 25th, the College Board began providing free online AP review courses. These can be accessed here.


  • The May 2 SAT test has been cancelled, but the June 6 session is still scheduled to occur, subject to further updates.
  • Refunds for those who registered for the March 14th and May 2nd tests are supposed to issue any day.
  • The College Board is planning to add additional SAT testing dates later in the year.
  • The April 4 ACT test has been rescheduled to June 13, and those who registered for April 4 are not automatically registered but instead will receive instructions on how to reschedule to June 13 or July 18, subject obviously to further updates; those who don’t wish to reschedule will receive a refund.
  • See here for some exciting new options that will be coming to the ACT this fall.

College Admissions

  • Colleges are all over the place on whether the traditional May 1 deadline for accepting offers and making deposits for fall admissions has been delayed.
  • The National Association for College Admissions Counseling has a nifty tool that allows you to search whether a given school is open to admissions visitors (unlikely at the moment), currently hosting admissions events (predominately online), or changing the deposit deadline.
  • Most colleges are doing a great job of using social media and other outreach tools to allow for virtual visits or chats with admissions counselors, students, alumni, etc. Chances are you are hearing about these directly from the schools, but check with them on what offerings may be available next month.

Covid-19 plans: SAT, Tutoring, Homework Help

News has come down that the Olympia School District is closing down classes through at least late April in order to help slow the community transmission of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19. Since my work with students is closely aligned with their educational goals predominately in this and nearby districts, I want to alert you to my plans during this time.

For tutoring and homework help, I will offer live online tutoring for all current students and will open up extra spots to help new students who want to maintain or strengthen current skills. I’ll be using the Zoom online platform, which in addition to a number of innovative tools allows for the recording of each session, which can be an added bonus as they can be re-watched by your student.

For APEX students, using the same method, I can assist with advancing students through their curriculum or continue to tutor their online classes. For current APEX students I do not anticipate a disruption to our schedule at all.

For SAT classes, we will also use a group Zoom meeting, which again has the value-add of recording each class and being able to review material offline. Although the March SAT for 3/14 has been cancelled locally, no announcements have been made with respect to the May and June SAT sessions and we will prepare for those. Also, I encourage students to register for the ACT which is offering online testing starting in September.

Thank you for the opportunity to continue to serve your families and work with your students! Please contact me here with any questions.


New SAT Boot Camp announced for March 7 in Olympia

Register Now for SAT Boot Camp

Registration is now open for my next SAT Boot Camp, taking place Saturday, March 7th to provide last-minute prep for the March 14th SAT test.

We’ll be meeting in downtown Olympia from 10:00 a.m. to Noon on the 2nd.

The two-hour class is a quick but comprehensive overview of the tips and strategies I cover in my test prep class, as well as an opportunity to do some last minute Q&A and talk about ways to overcome test taking anxiety.

It’s a great review/refresher for past test prep students as well as an affordable opportunity for new students to come and get some takeaways before taking the big test.

The class is capped at 25 students, so early RSVPs are encouraged.

Click here to download the registration form.

Some good news from the ACT test

There are some exciting and innovative changes coming to the ACT! Beginning in September of 2020, students will have many more test friendly options to taking this popular alternative to the SAT.

  • The Superscore – This long overdue option is perhaps the most exciting. Starting in September, the ACT will now provide the option of reporting a “superscore” of all 4 test sections taken over multiple tests. (Superscoring is the process of averaging your four best individual subject scores from all ACT test attempts to find your highest score.) Once a student takes the full ACT once, they can ask to have any future scores reported as superscores.
  • Single section retakes – A related common-sense innovation is that the ACT will allow for single section retakes. Got a great score in reading but want to improve your score in science or math? You won’t have to retake the whole test anymore, putting your earlier high score in the other sections at risk. This will not only allow specific focus to be put on the areas where improvement is most needed, but practically it will save students (and parents!) time and money.
  • Digital testing – How would you like to get your test scores in two days versus the agonizing weeks it takes under the current system? Starting in September, there will be an online testing option in addition to the old paper test, allowing students who are more comfortable testing in a computer environment that option. And did I mention scores (on multiple choice sections) in two days?

All in all, the ACT is making dramatic steps toward better serving its students. It is making testing and retesting easier, allowing students to receive their scores more quickly and submit those scores at a lower cost. ACT is leading the way toward a better testing experience – hats off!

A marathon, not a sprint: smart SAT/ACT planning

The SAT and ACT preparation process in some ways is like training to run a marathon. You have to put in the time to study, train, and plan for the long haul! To get your best score – just like a runner preparing for their best time – you also need to be strategic about when is the best time to sit for the tests.

It’s always a good idea to begin the prep process early, and to decide on a specific test date, you need to factor in circumstances like personal schedule, speciifc college’s admissions deadlines, and the classes you’re currently taking. These variables make a big difference in when it’s best for you to take the SAT or ACT.

In general, it’s better to begin SAT or ACT prep as early as you can junior year to give yourself as many shots as you can at getting for goal score. The average number of times students now take the SAT or ACT is 3-4 times.

Key things to consider:

  • Don’t wait until spring of your junior year or fall of your senior year to begin testing! It quickly becomes a stressful endeavor if you only have one or two shots at the test, but want to have the opportunity to improve an initial score. The old-school advice of waiting until spring of the junior year to start thinking about these things no longer fits with the early admissions deadlines students now face.
  • If you play a sport or are involved in a time consuming activity – don’t test around the peak time of that sport or activity. If you play football, the fall tests will be grueling. If you are a ballerina – testing during the Nutcracker season could be exhausting!

Students who plan to take the SAT or ACT during busy times like these get very stressed, don’t have enough time to prep, and unfortunately can end up with lower-than hoped for scores on test day. 

Choose a test date before or after periods of busy school or extracurricular activities so you have more flexibility in your schedule to prep with less stress and anxiety. Ultimately, this will make a big difference in your approach that should show in your scores.

For planning purposes, here are links to the upcoming SAT and ACT testing dates:



Registration now open for Fall SAT Boot Camp!

Registration is now open for my September SAT Boot Camp, taking place Saturday, September 28th to provide last-minute prep for the October 5th SAT test.

The Boot Camp takes place in downtown Olympia from 10:00 a.m. to Noon.

This two-hour class is a quick but comprehensive overview of the tips and strategies I cover more fully in my SAT prep class, as well as an opportunity to do some last minute Q&A and talk about ways to overcome test taking anxiety.

It’s a great review/refresher for past test prep students as well as an affordable opportunity for new students to come and get some takeaways before heading into the big test the following Saturday.

The class is capped at 25 students, so early RSVPs are encouraged.

Click here to download the registration form and return back to me by e-mail, or call/text to save a spot and bring the form with you to the Boot Camp.