Frequently Asked Questions about the PSAT and National Merit Scholarships

dollar sign in clouds

Every October, high school students across the country take the PSAT to practice for the SAT, which they will take their junior. What many students and parents don’t know is that the PSAT also can qualify students for National Merit Scholarships. National Merit Scholarships can provide students with anywhere from a few thousand dollars to full tuition at the college of their choice.

Next week I’ll discuss the PSAT as it relates to the typical student, but today’s article will focus on those amazing test takers who have the potential to qualify as National Merit Scholars.

How do students participate in the National Merit Scholarship program?

Students are automatically considered for National Merit Scholarships when they take the PSAT; no additional registration is required. Junior year is the only time PSAT results can qualify a student for the National Merit program, so freshmen or sophomores taking the PSAT will not be considered for National Merit recognition.

PSAT registration is done through high schools. Check with the guidance counselor at your local school for PSAT registration information. Homeschool students can contact any high school in their area to test.

Who can participate in the National Merit Scholarship program?

To participate in the National Merit Scholarship program, students need to take the PSAT their third year in high school. Participants must be citizens of the United States or be a lawful permanent resident with the intent to become a citizen at the earliest possible opportunity.

All students are welcome to take the PSAT, so don’t worry if your child doesn’t meet the above criteria. However, not all students who take the PSAT will be considered for the scholarships, even if they earn perfect scores.

What PSAT score do I need to qualify as a National Merit Scholar?

This is the big question and I wish I could give you a simple answer. The fact is, the qualifying score changes year to year and from state to state. (Confusing, I know!)

National Merit recognizes Commended Scholars and Semi-finalists based on junior year PSAT scores. The top 3 percent of students in each state receive recognition, but because the qualifying score is based on a percentage of total test-takers, the cutoff score is different in each state and changes from year to year.

Since the new format PSAT was given in October 2015 there has been a lot of speculation on what scores will be high enough. Guesses include Selection Index results from 195-205 and above. These numbers are just guesses. It will take another year before the qualifying scores from the 2015 PSAT are released to the public.

If you know a National Merit Semi-Finalist, you could ask what they scored. That may be seen as tacky— a bit like asking someone what they weigh— but sometimes high-scoring students don’t mind the opportunity to brag a little.

Here is the list of National Merit Semi-Finalists in my state, Texas. Check your local media outlets for lists in other states. (These results were released on Wednesday.)

How are National Merit scholarship winners determined?

Students who meet PSAT score qualifications will be notified by their high schools, and homeschool students will be notified at their home address. Unfortunately, some schools are less organized and may not notify you immediately which is why it helps to check the released list of finalists. (see here for Texas)

To proceed in the program and possibly receive scholarship money, students must submit academic records, a letter of recommendation, a personal essay, and the completed application. The National Merit Corporation reviews all applications and determines finalists and award winners.

The most common reason students do not advance from semi-finalists to finalists is a failure to apply on time. Other reasons applications are denied include grades in school which do not merit recognition (think lots of C’s, or some D’s and F’s), incomplete applications, poor character references (not just bland, but BAD), or the failure to provide an SAT score to substantiate a student’s PSAT performance.

What types of awards does the National Merit program give?

National Merit awards three types of scholarships: National Merit Scholarships, corporate-sponsored scholarships, and college-sponsored scholarships.

The National Merit Scholarships are worth $2,500. Corporation-sponsored awards range from one-time payments of $2,500 to renewable awards up to $10,000 per year of college.

College-sponsored scholarships can be worth anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to full-tuition awards with housing and living expenses included. This is where the National Merit designation really pays off.

However, like many merit scholarships, institutional awards are based on supply and demand. Schools in high demand (Harvard, UT Austin, Stanford, etc.) don’t need to use scholarships as a “carrot” to attract highly qualified students. These schools are already in high demand. Look for National Merit awards at schools with stellar academic reputations, but less prestigious names or exciting locations. These are often the schools willing to offer full tuition and housing scholarships.

What if I missed the PSAT?

Students who meet participation requirements but miss the PSAT due to illness, emergency, or other extenuating circumstances may still participate in the National Merit Scholarship program. They will need to send a letter documenting their circumstance to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation as soon as possible. In most cases students will be given an opportunity to test for the program.

Famous Scholars

Famous National Merit Scholarship winners include John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s; Jeffrey Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com; Mitchell Daniels, Jr., governor of Indiana; Stephenie (Morgan) Meyer, author of the “Twilight” books; and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.

The National Merit Scholarship program offers 9,600 scholarships every year. Being a National Merit Scholar is an honor, and the potential for scholarship money is good if you have qualifying PSAT scores and are selected as a finalist. If you have additional questions about the program, check with your high school guidance counselor or visit the National Merit website: http://www.nationalmerit.org/

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When Is Another SAT or ACT Unnecessary?

 

When Is Another SAT or ACT Unnecessary

Earlier this week I got an email from a friend asking what her senior son needed to do about the ACT. He was scheduled to take the exam this Saturday, which also happens to be homecoming. (No thanks to the school administrators who thought it was a good idea to schedule homecoming on the first ACT test date of the school year!)

My friend’s son took the SAT last spring and made an 1150. Should he push to take the ACT this Saturday and forgo some homecoming festivities or focus on October test dates with the option of doing additional test prep?

My answer might surprise you.

I told her to forget testing. Let him go out and have fun with his friends for his senior year homecoming and don’t bother taking the test again in October.

You see, additional testing isn’t always necessary, or recommended.

Background Information

First, my friend and her son have undergone considerable upheaval in their personal lives over the past few years. Test scores, or even college admission, haven’t been the family’s primary focus.

The son took the SAT, new format, last spring and scored an 1150. He would like to attend Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

Here is where a little research can really pay off.

Texas State, like many of the state universities here in Texas, has standards for automatic admission based on class rank and test scores. Before I could advise my friend on how to proceed with the ACT or SAT, it would help to know her son’s class rank. He is in the second quarter of his graduating class.

Here is what anyone could find on the Texas State admissions website:

Texas State University Automatic Admission 2016

Texas State University Automatic Admission 2016

 

You can see that a student in the second quarter needs the following scores for automatic admission:

Old SAT (reading plus math): 1010

New SAT: 1090

ACT: 22

So with no further testing this student with his 1150 on the new SAT already meets the entrance requirements for Texas State University.

Additional testing wasn’t necessary. This student could enjoy homecoming weekend and use the time he may have studied for the October ACT to complete his applications. What high school kid doesn’t have something better to do than take a standardized test?!!

When Is Another SAT or ACT Unnecessary

Obviously, the story of my friend’s son clearly shows additional testing was unnecessary. Here are some times where I would pass on the extra ACT or SAT:

  • When a student has met the criteria for automatic admission at his or her top choice school.
  • When a student has taken the exam three times and has already devoted significant time and effort to studying and test preparation.
  • When a student has exhausted all reasonable means of score improvement and sees little opportunity for improvement in taking the test again. (In other words, taking a class, working with a tutor, or studying more doesn’t offer much hope for improved scores.)
  • When time and energy are limited and a student has to choose between efforts spent on the application and effort spent on retesting. Typically this applies to seniors trying to do everything in the fall when a choice has to be made to prep for another test or work to develop a strong application because the student can’t do both.

The first scenario was easy; all goals can be met without higher test scores. The other scenarios are a little more complicated.

Over the years, after working with thousands of students, I found that there tends to be a limit to how much test prep will help a student increase his or her scores. At some point the student and his or her family need to turn attention from test scores to the actual application. A student may get more benefit out of 10 hours of focused effort on essay writing and application construction then she would get from studying and taking the ACT again.

When Is Another ACT or SAT Recommended

Because it can be a judgment call to take the ACT or SAT for a second, third, or possibly fourth time, here are some things to consider. One more test is recommended:

  • When a student is close to the score needed for one of his or her top choice schools. For me, close is up to 3 points on the ACT or up to 150 points on the SAT.
  • When the student is a junior and has only attempted one standardized test.
  • When standardized test scores are noticeably lower than a student’s grades. Another way of saying when the test scores draw attention to themselves because they are out of character with the rests of the application.
  • When a student would benefit from higher scores and hasn’t put much effort into score improvement.
  • When the student wants to retake. Even if actually unnecessary for admission, this test is more about the student working to achieve a personal goal.

Arguments for taking another exam are based on the need for higher scores, available time to retest, willingness to engage in some type of study or test preparation, and student interest in the process.

Just a Test

I’ve seen some parents and students confuse the issue by assigning meaning to the ACT and SAT that just isn’t there.

Whether a student chooses to take the ACT or the SAT, it is just a test. It does not predict success in college (or life.) It does not evaluate academic ability or what a student has learned. It is just a test—an important test for admissions, but just a test.

Additionally, college admissions officers are looking at ACT and SAT scores. They are not looking for more than standardized results in English, math, reading, and science. They don’t wonder why James scored lower in math when he took the September test. And they aren’t proud of Lauren for putting in the effort to take the test another time. Students show effort and dedication in course selection, classwork, and extracurricular activities. These are not traits colleges look to find in one’s ACT or SAT scores.

Conclusion

More isn’t always better, especially when it comes to the ACT and SAT.

Planning ahead and doing your research can really pay off. First, you might save the time, struggle, and cost of another standardized test. Second, you can significantly reduce stress around testing and college admissions by planning ahead. Third, you can use your college research to guide your ACT and SAT plans and goals. Finally, you can give yourself permission to stop chasing higher scores and focus on more meaningful activities.

 

I hope those students taking the ACT on Saturday morning are calm and focused so their scores are appropriate reflections of their abilities. I’ll be in the stands rooting for our high school football team at the homecoming game this weekend. I want all students to enjoy these celebrations responsibly.

Whether it is a high school homecoming celebration, college football season, or just a weekend with friends, remember that indulging in alcohol or drugs can lead to questionable behaviors that put lives and futures at risk. Have a safe fall!

 

Posted in ACT Success, College Admission, SAT Success | Leave a comment

Plan Your High School Testing Calendar Now

When should my daughter take the SAT?

Do we need to take the PSAT this year?

Are you sure juniors are ready take the ACT in the fall?

These questions and more fill my inbox this time each year. There are a lot of questions about what tests students should take and when. Here is a basic outline.

9th Grade

Freshman year is a time for students to adjust to the increased academic demands of high school. In addition to taking challenging classes, earning the best grades possible, and remaining involved in activities, students should work to build academic and organizational skills.

Many high school freshman will have NO testing to plan for this year. However, there are some exceptions.

Optional: PSAT (October) – The PSAT is purely for practice when administered to 9th grade students. Encourage your student to take it seriously and try his or her best so you can use the results to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

Optional: PreACT, formerly known as the PLAN (scheduled by schools Sept- May) – The PreACT, like the PSAT, is used to help students identify testing strengths and weaknesses. These scores are never used for college admission, so the test is just for practice.

Optional: Advanced Placement (AP) Exams (May) – Depending on the course offerings and policies of your school or district, freshman may have the opportunity to take AP courses. Students enrolled in AP classes should plan to take the exam for their subject(s) in May.

Your school’s guidance counseling department will coordinate registration for PSAT, PreACT, and AP exams.

10th Grade

Sophomore year is the time to build on the lessons learned in 9th grade. Students who eased into high school should consider stepping up — in academics, activities, or development of talents and interests.

10th grade is also the time to collect key testing data. Here’s what you should add to your calendar:

Must do: PSAT (October) – Yes, it is the practice SAT and it doesn’t “count” for sophomores, but this is the year to determine what type of test taker you are. Super test takers will use the PSAT in 10th grade to determine whether they are potential National Merit contenders as juniors. On the other end of the testing spectrum, families who receive below average PSAT results in 10th grade may want to rectify academic weaknesses in math, reading, grammar, vocabulary, and analysis.

Optional: Pre-ACT – (see notes from 9th grade)

Optional: AP Exam(s) – (see notes from 9th grade)

Optional: SAT Subject Tests (suggested May or June) – SAT Subject Tests are required or strongly recommended by certain colleges. But most sophomores don’t have a clear idea of the schools to which they will apply as seniors, so those students who are completing an academic class for which they will NOT take the next course in the sequence next year may consider taking the SAT Subject Test while course material is fresh in their minds. For example, a student who completes AP World History or AP US History as a sophomore may want to take the SAT Subject Test in May or June when all the AP exam material is fresh. That same student should NOT take the Subject Test in English or math because those are classes he or she will take again as a junior. For more information on SAT Subject Tests see here.

Students need to register for SAT Subject Tests directly with College Board. All other registrations will be coordinated through your school’s guidance counseling office.

11th Grade (The Time To Test!)

This is THE year for college admissions testing. The calendar for testing has accelerated from the time I was in high school, so don’t feel bad if you keep thinking junior year is early. It may have been early years ago, but it is the new norm.

PSAT (October) — As a junior the PSAT is either absolutely necessary or mostly worthless. Use your 10th grade results to determine in which category applies to you.

Absolutely necessary— extremely high scoring test takers MUST take the PSAT because junior year only the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT.) Test takers who fall in the top 5% of PSAT results in their states may qualify for National Merit recognition. Read here to find out why you want this.

Almost worthless — for the remaining 95% of test takers the PSAT is just another practice test. Here’s why I have a hard time telling families another practice test is worth the time and effort– PSAT scores won’t come back for three months. That’s three months of waiting to find out how you did. Three months of wasted time and forgotten mistakes.

A non-National Merit contender can take a free full-length SAT from College Board, score it the same day, and immediately begin to work on a plan to maximize strengths and improve weaknesses. If your school offers the PSAT during school and wants all juniors to take it, go ahead, unless you have a student with testing anxiety (and you may choose to miss that “opportunity.”)

Must do: ACT or SAT (Sept – June) — I’ve got full articles on this issue, so I’ll give you the short version here and give some links for further reading.

  • Students can take either the SAT or ACT or both. Gone are the days when the hard to get into colleges only take one exam. Even the Ivy League schools allow students to decide which test to submit.
  • Students typically take their choice test two or three times. Colleges use best scores.
  • Students should take the test when it fits in their schedules. This may mean baseball team members take the ACT in the fall so spring is free for sports; marching band students wait until spring to test so they don’t need to worry about the football schedule keeping them out until midnight the night before the SAT.
  • Students won’t learn enough test content in school to matter. (Unfortunately!) Believe me on this one, juniors know enough in the fall to take the exam. If you need more help, look to a quality prep class, but don’t wait for English or math class to help you catch up.

For more detailed explanations see these past articles:

When Should I Take the ACT / SAT?

ACT or SAT: Which Test Is Better? 

Do You Need to Take the SAT for College?

SAT Subject Tests & AP Exams— see notes from 10th grade

Here’s where getting your calendar out now can make your junior year plan run smoothly. Pick your test: ACT or SAT. Pick your first test date for the year. Plan for a follow up test opportunity later this school year. Get your dates on the calendar. Register with ACT or SAT and you will avoid last minute panic caused by the May SAT conflicting with prom and the June test falling on the first day of your family’s cruise.

12th Grade

If you have worked through your 11th grade plan, senior year is all about college applications and acceptances and you are test free except for AP exams. Of course, some seniors feel like a final chance at the SAT or ACT could boost their acceptance chances and they will take the September or October tests.

A had a colleague whose mantra was effort spent on planning during a student’s junior year will save five times the amount of time, energy, and sometimes money senior year. Develop a testing plan now so you don’t need to panic or make last minute reactionary decisions later.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.

 

Posted in ACT Success, PSAT Success, SAT Success, Testing | Leave a comment

ACT or SAT: Which Test Is Better?

ACT or SAT Which Test Is Better

I’m finalizing my ACT and SAT prep schedule for the coming school year and have debated a question that troubles families of juniors each year. ACT or SAT: which test is better?

Of course, I’m looking from the perspective of an instructor. Which test is more coachable? Which test will offer the most benefits to my students with the fewest drawbacks? Which test will allow my students to score more?

There isn’t a simple answer. Before I share my decision, lets look at some facts students and parents should consider when making their own evaluations.

Coke vs. Pepsi

I have often said that choosing between the SAT and ACT is like the choice between Coke and Pepsi.

Both drinks are colas. Both are manufactured by huge corporations intent on marketing their products worldwide. Often the choice comes down to personal preference or availability.

The ACT / SAT choice is no different. Both tests are multiple-choice exams for college admission. Both are produced by large corporations who promote their product to schools and consumers worldwide. Both the ACT and SAT are accepted at all colleges and universities with no preference given to either one.

Like the cola market, there have been some regional biases. I live in Texas, traditionally an SAT state. But don’t let old biases make you think one test is superior.

Often choice comes down to personal preference and sometime which test fits into a busy student’s schedule.

Similar Exams

From a distance the SAT and ACT appear very similar. Both include passage based reading and grammar questions and math problems. Each test now has an optional written essay that students take at the end of the exam. Students are not penalized for wrong answers on either test.

Both assessments are constructed to make it very challenging to earn top scores. Most test takers will find themselves somewhere in the middle of the pack with fewer students earning very high or very low marks.

The tests are so similar that they are interchangeable in the eyes of college admissions systems. All colleges and universities requiring standardized admissions tests will accept either the ACT or SAT.

Yes, you may see a school publish one set of admissions scores and not the other, but that is based on the data at hand, not an institutional preference. If 75% of students applying to Big U. submit SAT scores, Big U will publish the average SAT scores of its students and may not include ACT results due to a lack of data.

The main point is that colleges and universities don’t care. So students should focus on their preferred exam.

Key Differences

When you are choosing the best exam for something as important as college admission, little differences are important. Here is where the subtle differences between the SAT and ACT become significant.

The top differences my students identify:

1. Format & Structure

With the new SAT introduced in March 2016, there are fewer differences in the structure of the two exams. Both now have longer sections in which all questions of a certain type are tested in a single section.

Here’s the format and order of sections on the new SAT:

65 minutes      Reading passages (5 passages, 52 questions)

35 minutes      Writing passages (4 passages, 44 questions)

25 minutes      NO Calculator math (20 questions)

55 minutes      Math (38 questions)

Here’s the format and order of sections on the ACT:

45 minutes      English passages (5 passages, 75 questions)

60 minutes      Math (60 questions)

35 minutes      Reading passages (4 passages, 40 questions)

35 minutes      Science passages (7 passages, 40 questions)

Both exams are long and challenging.

One structural difference that stands out to me is the SAT’s passage-heavy first half. Too many students suffer from fatigue after doing 100 minutes of intense passage-based reading on the SAT. The order of the sections on the ACT, in contrast, offers a little relief as students switch from English (writing editing) to math to reading and finally to science.

2. Content Details

While on the surface the reading, writing, and math on these two tests is very similar, there are some content differences.

Writing / English

The new SAT writing looks almost exactly like ACT English. Both require students to edit the grammar and usage in paragraphs. The error types tested are similar, so students need a solid foundation in grammar, usage, and elements of good writing for either test.

Reading Passages

The SAT continues to test more college-bound vocabulary than the ACT. Instead of the old sentence completion SAT questions, the new test imbeds vocabulary words in the passages, questions, and answers. Students with exceptional vocabularies may prefer the SAT.

SAT reading seems to test a more analysis while ACT reading has more questions that test whether you can find the specific answer in the passage (a difference of finding versus thinking and processing.) Both tests truly come down to issues of speed for most students because the ability to read challenging material and pay attention to detail is harder when you are racing the clock.

Math

Both exams test basic trig functions (SOH-CAH-TOA) as well as standard algebra and geometry concepts. Both have a distribution of easy, medium, and hard questions.

The SAT tests more advanced Algebra II concepts. Students who have successfully completed Algebra II may prefer that aspect of SAT math. However, the SAT math questions tend to be longer and include irrelevant details. While it is a valuable skill to identify which elements are necessary to solve a particular problem, some students, tired by the fatigue of reading for the first 100 minutes of the exam, may not do as well on this type of math test.

In contrast ACT problems require less reading and rarely include details unnecessary for the solution. One downside to ACT math is that no formulas are provided. Student must memorize equations for things like the circumference and area of a circle.

The content differences in math may make one exam more appealing than the other. For most students, the content is about the same.

3. No Calculator Math Section (and no multiple choice options)

This is a big enough issue that it deserves its own point.

SAT math is divided into two timed sections. On one section must be done WITHOUT the assistance of a calculator.

Showing my age, I’ll admit that the entire SAT had to be done without the use of a calculator when I was in school (just after the advent of electricity according to my children!) Personally, I’m not at a disadvantage on this new section because I’ve been in the habit of calculating things with paper and pencil for decades. Unfortunately, today’s students don’t have this experience.

Most students are encouraged to use a calculator from the time they enter Algebra I. Basic computation is not something they are comfortable with or good at. Yes, most students can do the math without a calculator, but they take longer and typically approach the section with trepidation.

Additionally, 22% of the SAT math questions require students to produce an answer that can be bubbled into a numerical grid. These questions cannot be solved with test taking strategies like plugging in the answers or picking numbers.

Between the 25-minute no calculator section and the math questions that do not have multiple choice answer, many students will prefer the math on the ACT.

4. Scoring

Students receive two scores on the SAT

  • Evidenced Based Reading and Writing
  • Math

While it is pretty common to add scores together, they are still viewed as two separate scores by colleges.

In contrast, students receive a single composite ACT score, which is the average of the scores earned on the four sections of the test. Because colleges see the average, students who struggle in one area have a chance to improve their overall score by earning more points in their stronger subjects.

There are cases in which the scoring methodology can make one test the clear choice.

Consider the student who is exceptional in reading and writing, but average in math.

SAT

Reading & Writing      800 (perfect score)

Math                           500

ACT

English                        36 (perfect score)

Math                           21

Reading                       36 (perfect score)

Science                        29 *

*Science on the ACT does not require calculations and in many ways is like reading, but with charts and graphs.

This student’s SAT total (1300) is the equivalent of a 27 on the ACT according to the score concordance table provided by College Board. However, this student earned a score of 31 on the ACT. One low section on the ACT is less detrimental because there are three other sections to help average out the total score.

More Coachable Exam

Part of my perspective is to find the exam that is more coachable. In other words, if you are going to spend any time and money on improving scores, which test favors your efforts?

Currently I find the most coachable section of all tests to be the ACT science section. With a few strategies and some practice, I can help students earn more points. In contrast, it is much harder to coach the type of reading analysis found on the SAT, particularly if a student hasn’t developed this type of thinking after years of high school work.

A major factor at this time is the amount of quality practice material—official practice exams from the test writers. College Board has released four practice SATs and one PSAT. That’s not a lot of material.

In contrast, ACT has a book with five practice tests and you can access previously released exams going back ten to twenty years. There is plenty of ACT material without having to use unofficial questions.

How to Decide

Ignore the old rumors that say one test is more like school or the other test is better for students applying to highly-selective universities.  These rumors are NOT true.

Often the difference comes down to personal preference. Here are some practical considerations to guide your decision:

  • Compare scores from previous or practice tests.  Make sure you are using NEW SAT scores not old ones. You can use this concordance table from College Board.
  • If you haven’t taken either test, obtain an official full-length practice test at no cost from your guidance counseling office at school or print them from the ACT and College Board
  • Does one test offer a better format?  Was the content of one test more familiar?
  • Consider test prep factors. Does one test / class better meet your schedule? Check for conflicts with school holidays, sports or extracurricular, and family activities.

Obviously you should focus on the test that lets you score higher. Unless your previous scores say otherwise, go with your gut.  Take the test that feels most comfortable to you.

My Choice

So which test is more coachable? Which test will offer the most benefits to my students with the fewest drawbacks? Which test will allow my students to score more?

My answer for the 2016-17 school year is the ACT. I’ve been an SAT fan for years, but there are a few key factors that have led me to favor the ACT:

  1. The amount of quality practice materials. 15 easily accessible ACTs far outweighs 5 SATs.
  2. Timely score results. This spring it took 10 weeks for students to receive SAT scores. This didn’t allow time to register and retake. In contrast, ACT scores are available online in 2 to 3 weeks—plenty of time to retest if needed.
  3. While the new SAT may feel easier to some students, the new scores are inflated and typically students have to earn an additional 100 points to compare with scores on the old SAT. Also, a majority of my tutoring students have found they can get better scores with the ACT.

I will continue to offer both SAT and ACT classes, but my schedule for the next year will favor the ACT.

 

What do you think? Leave comments below.

 

Posted in ACT Success, SAT Success, Testing | Leave a comment

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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