7 Reasons to Attend a Community College


In an era of highly competitive university admissions, rising student debt concerns, and questions on the financial return on a college education, more students are considering community colleges.

I recently met a Harvard grad that started out at a community college and cites that experience as a major reason she was able to get into and succeed at an Ivy League school. So don’t think community colleges will limit your options; they may help expand them.

Community colleges can offer academic, financial, and social benefits and prepare students to improve their job prospects or complete their degrees at well-known and prestigious universities.

Here are some reasons to consider community colleges:

1. Lower Tuition

Community college classes cost less than the corresponding course at a state university or private college. In many cases, the community college class costs 30-50% of what the same class would cost elsewhere and the fees associated with attending a community college are lower. Most students can complete two years of courses at their local community college for less than the cost of one year’s tuition at a four-year college.

2. Personalized Instruction

Community colleges offer smaller classes, often with fewer than 40 students, and instructors who are committed to teaching. This type of academic environment provides more personalized instruction and may help students successfully navigate the transition from high school academics to college-level work.

3. Chance to Improve Credentials

Community colleges offer students multiple opportunities to improve their education and enhance their academic credentials. Taking classes at a community college may allow a student who had lower grades or test score in high school improve his or her academic credential prior to transferring to another institution.

Some students choose community colleges because they can complete a certificate program or Associate’s degree which will help them get a job or earn a promotion in their current field.

Other students attend community colleges as part of a long-term plan to earn a Bachelor’s degree from a four-year university. Some state universities make and effort to recruit top transfer students from state community colleges. UVA and UCLA actively accept students who began at community colleges.

4. Credits Transfer

Many states have articulation agreements between their community colleges and four-year institutions. These transfer agreements allow students to take approved community college courses that satisfy core requirements at the university level. After successfully completing their first two years at the community college level, students qualify to enter a state university to complete their degree. Agreements vary by state, so students should ask about the policies in their state.

However, not all community college classes are guaranteed to transfer. Don’t assume that any English, math, or history class will satisfy the graduation requirements at four-year schools. Also, most credit transfer agreements are between state universities and the community colleges in that particular state; if you transfer to a private college or out of state university, your community college credits are not guaranteed to transfer.

5. Extensive Support Services

Students will find community colleges offer a wide array of services aimed at increasing student success. These services may include: English as a second language programs; study skills classes; remedial help in math, reading, and writing; counseling services; academic advising; peer tutoring; and application counseling.

Students who struggled in high school may find more help by starting at a community college rather than a university. Students who were successful in high school, but never really learned how to study can benefit from the personalized support services at community colleges.

6. Opportunity to Explore Academic Programs

Because tuition is less expensive, classes are more personalized, and support services are readily available, community colleges may be an ideal place for the undecided student to explore a variety of academic programs. Not sure about engineering, biology, business management, or economics? Students can take a semester or year to explore potential majors before committing to a program or school.

7. Opportunity to Live at Home

Many community college students live at home, so the student who chooses to do so won’t be out of place among his or her peers. Many students choose live at home in order to save money, but others do so for social reasons. Some students, particularly those who graduated from high school at a young age, benefit from the opportunity to mature at home while taking classes.

Community colleges are no longer viewed as a school of last resort for those who couldn’t gain admission to a university. Many students have seen the advantage in taking classes, earning degrees, and saving money by attending a community college. Whether looking for a financial alternative, better learning environment, opportunity to explore different subjects, or close to home school, students who elect to attend community colleges will find many benefits.

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Extracurricular Activities: What Do Colleges Want?

extracurricular activities

Many colleges and universities consider an applicant’s extracurricular activities when making admissions decisions. What activities count? What are colleges looking for?

Colleges are looking for quality participation over quantity. Students can see this reflected on applications which ask students to list how many years they have participated in a particular activity and the hours per week and weeks per year spent. It is better for a student to consistently dedicate time to a select number of activities than to join dozens of groups and spend little time with any.

Summer is a great time to update your list of extracurricular activities and consider how you will spend your free time over the next year. Here are common categories for extracurricular participation.

School Clubs and Sports

The most commonly listed extracurricular activities are school based clubs and sports. The organizations can vary from school to school, but colleges are familiar with National Honor Society, soccer, debate, newspaper, French club, math team, baseball, cheerleading, theater, spirit club, and other school-based organizations. While many of these activities are generally recognized, students should take time to explain their participation. Do not assume colleges will be familiar with every group or organization.

Non-School Based Groups

Many students participate in organized programs not affiliated with their high schools. Some of the most common include Boy and Girl Scouts, club sports teams, and religious youth groups. Colleges are interested in knowing about all extracurricular activities, not just those that are school-based, so students participating in these types of groups should list them on applications.

Community Service

Students often participate in community service as part of their other clubs or organizations, but others may seek out separate volunteer opportunities. There is no required amount of community service for college admission, but students should list any outside service they have completed. Sometimes community service allows students an opportunity to work for a cause they believe in, to further leadership opportunities, or to develop social or academic skills while helping others.


Colleges want to know how students spend their time outside of school and often work is part of it. Jobs may include occasional babysitting, summer employment, or even unpaid internships. Colleges understand that work is one way in which applicants gain experience, demonstrate leadership, and develop talents. Colleges are not looking for big-name jobs or prestigious work experience. They want to know what a student has done, so students should not hesitate to list work at the local fast-food restaurant or a summer bagging groceries; all work counts.

All Other Experiences

A majority of extracurricular activities fall into the three categories above, but colleges are interested in learning about any activities that help develop a students talents, interests, and strengths. Some students pursue other experiences that are not part of an organized group and are not volunteer experiences; if these activities are influential and significant, colleges want to know about them. The student who spent all summer restoring and rebuilding a classic car should mention it. So should the avid reader, triathlete, wood working enthusiast, robotics or computer builder, or any other active hobbyist.

Colleges and universities are interested in learning how students spend their time when not in class. They are looking to see what activities have shaped a student’s experience, so there are no right or wrong answers. (You read that correctly—there is NO “right” activity to impress colleges.)

Ideally students will participate in extracurricular activities that showcase their talents, interests, and abilities. Colleges understand that not all learning takes place in the classroom and sports, clubs, volunteer opportunities, employment, and hobbies provide additional opportunities for students to develop academic, social, and leadership skills.

Spend time this summer pursuing your passion. Follow your interests. And don’t forget to keep notes of what you achieved.

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Does Indicating Financial Need Impact Admissions Chances?


I heard that when applying to college not to say that you need financial aid, but when you get accepted, then go ahead and fill out financial aid information.  Is this correct?  My daughter will be working on her application this summer for early decision. Will stating we are looking for scholarship money decrease our chances of getting in?

Great question. Unfortunately, I have to give my most common answer – it depends. Here are some factors to consider.

Need Blind Admissions

Some colleges and universities are “need blind” in their admissions process. This means admissions decisions are made with NO consideration of a student’s ability to pay or potential financial need.

If your daughter is applying to need blind schools, you don’t need to worry about need affecting her admissions chances.

When Need Matters

Many colleges and universities take an “it depends” position. Need isn’t their primary consideration, but it may become a factor. Here are some examples:

  • A clearly outstanding candidate indicates he will apply for financial aid. This student has grades, test scores, activities, and essays above the typical profile for this college and he meets the criteria for academic scholarships. Need is likely overlooked in admissions because this guy will be a real asset to the school and a probable scholarship recipient.
  • A good student applies to her flagship state university and indicates she expects to apply for financial aid. The admissions office uses the established formula—likely a combination of class rank / GPA and standardized test score—to make a decision. Need never entered into the equation.
  • A marginal candidate at a particular university needs financial aid. The university is “need aware” in its policies (the opposite of need blind) and has already given out significant aid to attract top applicants. The university may choose to waitlist or reject this marginal candidate in favor of another borderline student who is able to pay the full cost with no aid.

You can see there are a variety of factors to consider. Usually the issue of aid doesn’t impact admissions at all. The times when a family’s ability to pay matter tend to involve borderline applicants, those who barely meet that year’s standard for admission. In these cases, colleges and universities are willing to pass on that student in favor of a similar one who can pay the full cost without aid.

New Financial Aid Process May Change the Answer

This fall seniors in the class of 2017 will find the college financial aid process has changed. The timetable for applying for financial aid has been accelerated to bring it more in line with the college application timeline. So instead of applying to college in the fall and waiting until January, February, or March to apply for aid, families will complete the FAFSA and financial aid applications beginning October 1.

This is good new for families.

  • FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) numbers will be based on your 2015 taxes, which are already done. In the past families had to estimate their taxes and submit early in order to “get in line” for institutional grants and aid.
  • Families will know their EFC (expected family contribution) sooner. This is the amount your family is expected to contribute towards your child’s college education on an annual basis. Financial aid will help with expenses that exceed this amount. (Many families discover this total is much higher than expected, so be ready.)
  • Because families will have information sooner, they can better target schools that are a good fit financially (or for scholarship potential.)

But the new timeline for financial aid may eliminate the strategy of applying for admission first, getting accepted, then applying for aid.

Other Considerations

I have a few other ideas on this topic.

First, I’m a rule follower by nature so the suggestion that a student should knowingly mislead a college or university rubs me the wrong way. Over the years I have seen very few students successfully game the system when it came to admission or aid and I have seen many more who got caught by their own omissions (or in some cases outright lies.)

Second, keep in mind that financial aid only covers the gap between your EFC and the cost of attendance. And the most common type of financial aid is a loan. Financial aid is NOT the same as scholarship money. (Financial aid is based on need; scholarships are based on merit / achievement.) So you may be considering all this “strategic timing” just to qualify for some student loans. A student who is seeking scholarship money can best do so by intentionally selecting schools where she will be above average for grades, test scores, and other personal achievements.

Next, you want to apply for financial aid as soon as possible. Under the old system, you couldn’t apply for aid before January 1, so it was possible to get an offer of admission before applying for financial aid. But the new system will not have this time gap. If you wait to apply for aid until your daughter is accepted, you risk missing out on the “good aid”—things like grants and work study which don’t need to be paid back.

Finally, keep in mind that the issue of need rarely impacts the final admission decision. Yes, you might hear a lot of people citing it as the reason their sons or daughters didn’t get in, but that’s because it is easier to attribute rejection to bureaucratic policies than personal inadequacies. In reality, most admissions offices, even those that consider need, are weighing the merit of a students’ application more than their potential for institutional need.

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Do You Need to Take the SAT for College?


My son has taken the ACT and we are pleased with his score. Does he need to take the SAT? I’m hearing a lot of parents say kids need both and that seems to be the advice from his school. What do you think?

Great question! No. Students do NOT need to take both exams; one is enough.

Let me clarify.

For the student who is not going to take a prep class or work with a quality tutor, the suggestion to take both the SAT and ACT is not bad advice. Some students prefer the format of one over the other. Usually students will have comparable scores on these exams; sometimes one test is clearly ahead of the other—not by a huge amount, but in the current admissions climate, any extra points are welcome.

Here’s why I’ve started recommending students focus on one test rather than trying to do both.

  1. Colleges are only going use a student’s best scores. So extra testing is unnecessary.
  2. High school students are busy and extra time can be more productively spent on meaningful activities or schoolwork.
  3. Taking multiple exams (often multiple times) can create a dilemma when applying to schools that request a student send ALL scores.
  4. Finally, I’m simply not a fan of over testing.

Let me explain.

All Colleges Accept ACT Scores

When I applied to college (in the ‘80s) there were some highly selective schools that did not accept ACT scores. Times have changed. Currently any college or university that requires test scores for admission will accept the ACT or SAT with no preference given to either one.

So a student with a strong ACT score can use that to apply to all the schools on his list—even the Ivy League schools.

Colleges Use Best Scores   

Colleges are looking for the scores that will best serve the student in the admissions process. Once a student has earned a score he or she is satisfied with, additional scores aren’t needed. In some cases, one test is enough. However, many students will re-take a particular exam or try to take both the SAT and ACT in order to earn scores they find acceptable.

In this case if your son is already pleased with his ACT scores, he doesn’t need anything else. His strong ACT score is sufficient.

Time Is Better Spent Elsewhere

Most students I work with are busy. They take challenging classes, participate in sports and clubs at school, volunteer to help others, and have family obligations. These aren’t kids with nothing to do. So preparing to take another major exam is going to take 5 to 100 hours of their time— time that would be better spent elsewhere.

This is why I encourage my students to give 100% to the test prep process in the six to ten weeks we work together. If they can earn top scores at that time, they get to move on and use the rest of the school year or summer to work on other more meaningful pursuits.

Taking tests just to take them is a waste of time. Colleges want to see a student’s best result. While it is nice to think the admissions office will be impressed with the effort of multiple attempts, effort is rarely a factor. What really impresses is achievement.

Some Schools Require All Test Scores

Some colleges and universities have standardized test policies that require students to send ALL results. Obviously this means if I took the ACT three times, I need to send all three scores. But what if I also took the SAT and don’t want colleges to see those scores because they aren’t as good as my ACT results?

In this situation, the student who is happy with his ACT score might not be happy with the results if he takes the SAT. Will he need to send those results too?

I think this brings up a dilemma in admissions. Students and parents should know the policies at each school and carefully read the language. Just know that taking another exam “just because” can present some predicaments in the future.

Over-Testing is a Bad Thing

I know! I’m the person who is always encouraging practice tests and more homework. But I also believe that over testing is not a good thing. Yes, students may take the ACT and/or the SAT multiple times to achieve a goal, but once the goal is met, move on.

A student who is satisfied with his ACT scores is D.O.N.E. in my book. So are students who have given 100% effort and have taken their exam of choice three times. At some point, it is healthy to see the testing phase as over and move onto more important things like high school achievements, college applications, or having time to think.


So this is where I remind parents and students that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You can take the SAT (or another ACT), but it isn’t a requirement. In fact, there are good reasons not to take another standardized test.

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New SAT Scores Are Inflated


Scores from the new format March SAT were released this week. A lot of students were excited to see scores that matched the profile numbers of their top choice colleges. What most test takers didn’t know is that the new SAT scores are inflated. Students will now have to earn about 100 additional points on the new test to compare with old SAT results.

How inflated are the new scores?

Using the conversion calculator from College Board, we can see how old and new results compare.

Old test (R+M)          New test

800                              890

1000                            1090

1100                            1190

1200                            1290

1300                            1380

1400                            1470

1500                            1540

So most test takers need an additional 90 points to equal the old SAT scores (Reading + Math.)

How can I convert my scores?

Use the SAT Score Converter from College Board. You can go from old format to new format scores and vice versa.

Be ready for some confusing information. For example, the new 1290 that is similar to earning 600 per section on the old SAT is estimated as a 650 on Evidenced Based Reading & Writing and a 620 on Math. Yes, that’s right. Those scores add up to 1270, but the total equivalent is 1290. (That’s new SAT math for you—haha!)

What does this mean for college admission?

Colleges have been waiting for these new SAT scores with almost as much anticipation as students. They need to have a plan for next fall. They need to know how numbers compare.

Colleges are aware that the new SAT scores are inflated. They will interpret them conservatively. Essentially colleges will be using three types of scores for admission decisions this fall:

  • Old SAT
  • New SAT
  • ACT

While there are tables and conversion charts that allow us (and colleges) to compare these three types of scores, they are essentially all different. New SAT results are as different from old SAT scores as they are from your ACT results.

Bottom line: colleges will not view new SAT results in the same way they view old scores. Conversions will be made. Expect profile numbers to increase.

How does this impact my test preparation plans?

First, take time to compare scores. Use the conversion calculator for the new / old SAT scores. Use the concordance table to compare old SAT (or equivalent) and ACT.

Second, don’t be fooled by higher numbers. The College Board has rolled out higher scores so their consumers feel better about the results.

This is just like a high-end clothing label putting smaller sizes on clothing to make consumers feel better. The shopper who normally wears a 12 in dresses may be so excited to fit into the designer 8 or 10 that she is willing to pay a little extra for the high end label. She is the exact same body size whether the tag says 8, 10, or 12.

Inflated scores have the same psychological impact as smaller dress sizes. The consumers feel better about the product. They aren’t smarter. The tag on their label was changed to make them feel better about the SAT results. (Yes, College Board is a huge corporation and they are worried about bottom line sales. This test format redesign is largely a response to the fact that the ACT has outsold the SAT for the past three years.) Don’t be fooled by savvy sales techniques.

Finally, focus on the test that is right for you. Maybe your new SAT results are really higher than your old SAT or ACT scores. Great! But you may find the ACT is a better alternative.

From a test prep perspective, I’m still encouraging students to take the ACT instead of the new SAT this year. Here are my reasons:

  • More material. Currently there are 4 full-length new SATs with which to practice. There are easily 12 ACTs students can access.
  • No score delays. Students waited from March 5 until May 10 to get SAT results. Students are getting ACT scores in 2-3 weeks—enough time to sign up and retake another exam if necessary.
  • More straightforward questions. In all sections, the ACT questions are shorter, more to the point, and written without a lot of unnecessary information. I find students do better with this structure.
  • Less reading fatigue. Just look at the exams side by side. The ACT is less dense and switches from English to Math to Reading to Science so students face less fatigue from reading long passages for prolonged time periods.
  • Less confusion. Students who focused on the ACT this year don’t have to worry about score inflation or content changes. They don’t need to wonder what else will change. There is already too much uncertainty in the admission process; standardized tests should not add to it.


Understand that comparing new SAT scores to old ones is like comparing apples and oranges. You must use the score converter before you compare your new results to the numbers listed on college websites and brochures.

I don’t want to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, but know that new scores are inflated. Colleges know this and will make policy changes accordingly.

I love the update I received from one of our local University of Texas reps:

“Early reports indicate colleges might have to make some adjustments as the NEW does not equal the OLD SAT.  Last fall many of my private high schools recommended to their juniors and seniors to take the ACT and in retrospect that was great guidance.

So until colleges are able to update their web sites, brochures and scholarship awards you might want your NEW SAT test takers to download the SAT Converter AP and or take the ACT.”




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