The Westside Tutoring & Testing Services (WTTS) ACT® Preparation Course is a complete, individualized, one-on-one, multi-disciplinary approach to preparing students for the ACT. Westside Tutoring & Testing Services specializes in helping students who struggle with test anxiety and learning difficulties. However, WTTS accepts all students, and the vast majority of our HSPT®, SSAT®, ISEE®, PSAT®, ACT®, SAT®, SAT Subject, GRE®, LSAT®, and GMAT® test preparation course students earn scores that place them in the 98-99th percentile.
The Top 1%
The WTTS ACT Preparation Course is designed to help students master the ACT and gain admission to the college or university of their choice. Once again, the vast majority of 2008 through 2020 Westside Tutoring & Testing Services students have earned ACT composite scores that place them in the top 1-2% nationally. Furthermore, 100% of Westside Tutoring & Testing Services 2017-2020 ACT Preparation Course, SAT Preparation Course, and College Admissions Consultation and Essay Assistance students gained admission to the colleges, universities, and service academies of their choice: many via Early Decision or Early Action.
The 4 Legs
A properly developed college admissions strategy looks something like a sturdy, four-legged stool. The college admissions process is in many ways a microcosm of today’s hypercompetitive, job-seeking process, and students must pay attention to each leg of the stool they are building, or it simply will not do the job.
The first leg of the stool is the student’s GPA. The importance of the GPA cannot be overstated, but it is not the be-all to end-all of your college application process. College admissions committees understand that students mature at different rates. Some students struggle early only to finish strong, and other students many have a difficult period only to end as first-rate performers. College admissions counselors and directors realize that every child is different, and they will consider variations in GPA among applicants, which is why the essay looms large in the building of a student’s stool (more on that later). However, it is not unusual for a student with a 4.1 GPA to be rejected by most if not all of the top-tier colleges and universities he or she applies to. After all, the cumulative GPA is just one leg of the stool.
Test Scores: ACT®, SAT ®, SAT® Subject Tests
Test scores constitute the second leg of your student’s college application: his or her stool. Since 2012, more students have taken the ACT annually than the SAT—and for good reason. The SAT has been revamped, but there are still significant issues that the College Board® must resolve before I will encourage my students to take the “new” SAT. Do some of my students take the SAT? Absolutely. However, in every instance, I do my best to point my test preparation course students toward the ACT. This is not an ACT versus SAT comparison; we will deal with the pros and cons of each in a follow-up article. Suffice it to say, I wholeheartedly recommend the ACT to all my test preparation and College Admissions Application Support clients. As noted above, the vast majority of Westside Tutoring & Testing Services ACT Preparation Course students earn ACT composite scores of between 31 and 36 over the course of every testing cycle: test scores that place them in the 98-99th percentile.
ACT Test Dates
The ACT is administered in February, March (Ohio high school students take a free in-school ACT in February or March), April (Test Information Release exam or TIR*), June (TIR), July, September, October, and December (TIR). We have helped several WTTS ACT Preparation Course students earn 36 ACT Composites and many more have earned 36s on individual sections: English, Mathematics, Critical Reading, and Science Reasoning. We have helped many more students earn perfect 12s on the Writing or Essay portion of the ACT.
“The Keys to the Kingdom”
The college admissions process is highly competitive, and a top a ACT Composite or SAT Combined score can make all the difference, particularly if a student’s GPA is a bit lower than the target (or average) GPA for the college or university the student is seeking admission to. If an applicant has a 3.0 to 3.4 GPA but high ACT or SAT scores, then the school may give the application a second look. Most top-tier colleges and universities—state and private—look for a minimum ACT Composite of 28 and an SAT Combined score of 1350-1400, usually closer to 1400. However, if the applicant has a 28 ACT or a 1350-1400 SAT, then an applicant’s GPA, essay or essays (some schools require more than one), and letters of recommendation (LORs) must be first-rate.
Other Factors: A Complete Package
Also considered will be an applicant’s extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, including volunteer activities, work history, leadership roles, school government, Boy Scouts®, Girl Scouts®, and Explorers®, summer internships and camps, (e.g., sports, academic, social service, mission-related, cultural immersion, etc.), and much more. Advanced Placement (AP)® courses in which the student has excelled will give an applicant’s application a real boost, as will College Credit Plus®* courses taken at Cleveland State University, Kent State University, Bowling Green State University, Ashland University, or Case Western Reserve University. A student who has an interest in the College Credit Plus program should see his or her guidance counselor as early as late in his or her freshman year. It is all up to you, but if you are a student or a parent reading this, CCP is the best deal in secondary education today.
2020 APPLICATION DEADLINE FOR COLLEGE CREDIT PLUS is April 1st
If at all possible, an applicant’s ACT Composite score should be in the 32 to 36 range, particularly for students who hope to gain admission to a top-tier college or universities, and SAT Combined scores should exceed 1500 for consideration to the same. Once again, a top test score is just one of the four legs of our application stool, but ACT and SAT scores can make a huge difference in both the admissions process and when it comes to financial—and in particular—merit aid awards. An investment in the right ACT or SAT Preparation Course can make all the difference. That said, choose wisely because not all test preparation courses are worth the time or the money, and one-on-one test preparation results invariably exceed classroom results.
The Linchpin: The College Essay
Unfortunately, the essay is often viewed as secondary to the GPA & ACT Composite or SAT Combined scores
The essay is your chance to tell people who you are and why the admissions committee should place your application in the Accept pile rather than the Reject pile. Sadly, most students will google college essays or buy a book on Amazon. If you really want to stand out, this is about as far from what you should do as possible. Other students will hire a College Admissions Counselor or a College Admissions Consulting firm. Beware! Most college counselors or consultants are overpriced and under-experienced. Yes, there are good ones, but they are few and far between: far too many haven’t a clue. So, choose wisely.
The essay is your opportunity to shine!
It’s not enough to “tell the college what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.” That approach to writing a college application essay went extinct with Australopithecus afarensis! You must paint a picture, and you cannot be shy about creating your masterpiece. There are a number of ways to write a top essay, but a top essay doesn’t include telling the admissions committee your life story or doing a copy and paste job from a Kindle® “How to Write a College Essay” ebook. We will talk more about the actual how-to in an upcoming article, or you can contact Professor Z for a free consultation and assessment today. By the way, while most high school guidance counselors are wonderful people and totally committed to their work, they can’t help you write a letter that will open the Ivy gates. There simply isn’t enough of him or her to go around. So, “Choose wisely Grasshopper!”
The 4th Leg—Letters of Recommendation
Most students ask teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, pastors, priests, bosses, and even family friends. All of these are wonderful, but make sure you ask early and make sure you follow up. Teachers and guidance officers are inundated with requests for letters from students. Make sure you ask teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and coaches who know you well and who you know will provide you with a first-rate letter. If you aren’t sure, ask someone else.
The “Other” category for referees is often ignored. If you have worked extensively with a tutor, museum director, college professor as part of a College Credit Plus program (and they know you well), or a non-profit director or administrator, those letters can be both powerful and meaningful, particularly if you have been involved in a social service project or an ongoing academic research project.
One thing about letters of recommendation that holds true across the board: college admissions committees know you are going to ask people who are going to give you a five-star recommendation. Because of this, recommendation letters are usually considered last and only if someone is still on the fence. Consequently, they can be incredibly important or less-so. I know that may sound ambiguous, but it’s a fact-of-life, particularly as the facts-of-life relate to the college admissions process. So, in the end, choose wisely (again), and don’t count on your letters “doing it” all for you.
Other factors that matter are 1) college visits, especially if they interview; 2) corresponding with members of the faculty who are engaged in research you are interested in pursuing; and, 3) finding out if anyone else in your family has attended the school of your dreams—because legacies matter.
Additionally (and perhaps obviously), if you are an athlete or a performance artist, you really must pursue a different track.
If your brother or sister, father or mother, or grandfather or grandmother is serving in or has served in the military or is a peace officer, fireman, or first-responder of any sort, do your research. You may find that special admissions consideration and/or additional funding is available.
To gain additional insight into how the various admissions factors are weighed and weighted, I highly recommend The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg. Steinberg does a stellar job of walking the reader through the college admissions process. In my opinion, it is the finest resource available for students and parents interested in an objective look at what it takes to gain admission to a top-tier college or university. Another first-rate resource is Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.