Change. They say it’s inevitable, and that sure is the case when it comes to the college search and application process. Ask any parent of a current high school student what the process was like when they applied to college, and two things will be included in every re-telling: a pencil and a stamp.
Today’s students will never worry about postmark dates or whether their handwriting is legible. Technology has created a world where with the click of a button, a student can send applications to 20 colleges and universities via the Common Application.
High school juniors have quite the year ahead of them as they begin their college search process. While every application year sees some change, this year there are three significant changes on the horizon.
The New SAT
It’s common knowledge for most by now, but, in case you’ve missed it, the SAT in its current form will change as of the March 5 test date. While many students know that the SAT will be different, most aren’t really sure how it is changing. Here are some key points to know:
The essay is now optional, and the amount of time to write it has doubled from 25 to 50 minutes. A word of caution: while the essay will be optional, students should strongly consider including it in their testing. Why? While just a very small subset of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., the colleges making up the Ivy League are split on whether they will require the new SAT essay. The moral of the story? Write the essay.
One of the easiest “strategy” distinctions between the ACT and the current SAT is how to handle guessing. Students taking the ACT are encouraged to answer every question, even if that means choosing “C” for the last 10 you didn’t get to in the math section. The current SAT has a one-fourth point deduction for incorrect answers, but the new SAT will not. Students short on time completing a section on the new SAT should go ahead and guess away.
The final big change to the SAT is the scoring scale. With the essay becoming optional, the exam will change from a 2400-point scale to a 1600-point scale — as it once was when many of today’s parents took the exam. Students will receive a separate score for the essay section, should they decide to take it.
Common App Timetable
Aug. 1 has traditionally been the official start of the college application season, as this was when the Common Application went “live” for rising seniors. In October, the introduction of “Account Rollover” was announced for students beginning with the Class of 2017. This means students who had traditionally waited until August to begin filling out their applications can now begin this process during junior year, or in the summer months leading up to their senior year.
While eliminating the “go live” date for the Common App might reduce some pressure and anxiety in the process, this also means students might want to complete their applications too early. Students would be able to fill out their portion of the application at any point. However, most colleges will not have their supplemental essay questions available — or begin accepting applications for the Class of 2017 — until after this year’s seniors complete their process.
Another calendar date circled for many families going through the college search process was filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid after Jan. 1. The White House announced in 2015 that this date would be changing for 2016; families would be able to submit the FAFSA beginning in October of the student’s senior year. This means that the financial data families put in the form would no longer be from the prior year but, instead, the prior-prior year. The Class of 2017, for example, will apply for financial aid using tax information from 2015. This earlier filing option will allow families to receive financial aid award offers earlier, thus giving them more time to make decisions about what college is the best fit for their family
Kristina Dooley is a certified educational planner and founder of Estrela Consulting, a Northeast Ohio-based educational consulting firm guiding students through the college search process. Visit estrelaconsulting.com.