Two nights ago I was working with a private client on the University of Virginia's supplement. He was deciding which prompt to pick. My eyes honed in on the second prompt and for a moment I imagined how much fun I would have writing a response:
Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
I thought to myself, "Geez, I could write that in my sleep." That is when I was brought back to reality as I mentioned to my student that if you pick this prompt, you have to pick wisely so as not to scare off the admissions officer reading your essay. UVA, or any other college, would never want to admit me if they knew my quirk!
You see, I'm a control freak—especially when it comes to test scores.
Back in the fall of 1992 when I was a high school senior, I ended up applying to a number of test optional colleges. Even then, test optional colleges were the angels of higher education—and they still are in my humble opinion.
Want a calendar of all the major college admissions dates and deadlines?
Access my College Admissions Annual Timeline—for free!
I was so proud of myself, though. I filled out the applications all by myself. Navigated the test optional forms. And proudly mailed my applications off. As much as I tried to avoid colleges seeing my test scores, the testing gods were not on my side. Unbeknownst to me, my high school had a policy where it printed all of a student's test scores right on the transcript. BAM! My best laid plans fell apart. I was trying desperately for colleges to see me through my grades, activities, and humble roots. But even if those test scores weren't required by some of the colleges on my list, there was no way to hide them. The damage was done.
Shockingly there are still high schools that print all test scores on the transcript whether you want them there or not—even those pesky AP scores. Do you know if your high school does this?
So that's the first lesson in today's blog. CHECK YOUR TRANSCRIPT. Make sure it's correct. Every single grade. Every single class. And, yes, check to see if your test scores are automatically printed on it because that means you relinquish control over the scores each college sees.
But this brings up lesson #2. More and more colleges are permitting students to self-report their scores right on their application. The purpose is twofold. First, it reduces the cost that families spend on sending official score reports from the College Board or ACT to the colleges. Second, it typically allows a student to choose which scores they want to report.
Self-reporting test scores initially cuts down on the number of extra steps for students. But once a student is admitted and decides to enroll at the college that permitted self-reported scores, the student must ultimately send an official score report to confirm that the scores they reported match up with the official ones. Important Note: DO NOT MAKE A MISTAKE WHEN SELF-REPORTING TEST SCORES. Colleges can rescind an offer of admission when a student intentionally or unintentionally self-reports their scores incorrectly.
And the final lesson for today has to do with which scores to send colleges. This is a complicated one. Some colleges don't even give you this option. Georgetown University insists that students submit all their test scores: SATs, ACTs, and every last Subject Test they take. This makes my head spin. But most colleges are a bit more kind to our teenagers. They allow students to submit only their best scores. If a college permits this, take them up on the offer. It is about putting your best foot forward.
The day after reviewing the UVA prompts with my student, I was struck by the fact that most students want to do the right thing. They wish they could tell colleges their real hopes, fears, and, yes, quirks. However, they know that some things could truly disadvantage them. The powerful thing about the college admissions process is that students have more control over what they present to colleges than they think. We are all far from perfect. Yet, I want every student to carefully evaluate their test scores and decide which ones to share. And if they have to send all their scores to a certain college, they have the power to choose whether or not to apply.
Colleges should not dictate our sense of worth, nor should test scores. When students embrace their power in this process, colleges will be forced to relinquish some control and allow our kids to shine in the most extraordinary light.