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Over 400 major merit scholarships offered by schools around the country

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A listing of helpful resources for your college search

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New & Improved College Search Spreadsheet!

Download my free college search spreadsheet! You will use it all the way through the college choice process.

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FAFSA Changes are Coming – Will They Help You?

1195437419219858921johnny_automatic_bag_of_money.svg.medFAFSA changes were announced this week that will impact students applying for aid for 2017-2018, including this year’s high school juniors applying for college admission for Fall of 2017. As most of you know, FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid that is used to determine how much financial aid a student is eligible for, both through the government, in the form of grants and loans, and often also directly through the college, in the form of need-based scholarships and grants.  How will these changes impact you?  First, let me summarize the changes.

FAFSA Changes for 2017-2018

  • Use tax data from two years prior – Students applying in Fall of 2017 will use tax data from 2015
  • Filing period is changed to open on October 1 instead of January 1 – For Fall of 2017, this means students can file FAFSA starting Oct 1, 2016.

So what does this really mean to you if you have a student impacted by these changes?

Major Impacts of FAFSA Changes

  • FAFSA will be easier to file – Most students and parents will be able to use the IRS data retrieval tool to fill out tax information.  The FAFSA filing will be based on tax information from federal income taxes that were due April 15 of the current year (FAFSA available 10/1/2016 will be based on the tax filing from 4/15/2016).
  • You can be more accurate – Under the current FAFSA system, you are filing FAFSA using tax data that is due April 15 of the current year. With FAFSA becoming available January 1, you either have to do an early “guesstimate” of your taxes in order to get the FAFSA in early, or wait to file FAFSA until after you file taxes.  If you used a “guesstimate”, you were supposed to go back into the FAFSA application after filing your taxes and submit a corrected form.  Under the new system, the need to guess and to do corrections should be eliminated for most families.
  • Timing becomes less of a factor for getting need-based aid through the college – Under the current FAFSA system, most schools encourage families to file early when the application becomes available January 1, yet parents struggle with having their tax information completed.  Schools often say that they give out financial aid to students in the order that applications are received until the money is gone.  With the FAFSA changes, there will no longer be a reason to wait to file to be more accurate (unless you are unable to file your taxes on time each year). You should be able to complete the application as soon as the filing period opens.
  • Old data may mean more aid – Most families see a rise in income each year.  If that is the case, using data from two years prior may make your student eligible for more aid.
  • Aligns better with college application process – Given that most high school seniors and their parents are focused on the college application process in the fall, FAFSA has always been something you had to remember not to forget about after the start of the new year.  With FAFSA becoming available October 1, 2017, this will align with the college application process so you can get it all done at the same time.

Of course, there will be cases where using older financial data does not accurately reflect the family’s current financial hardships.  Families in this situation will need to work directly with the colleges, as they have to do under the current system, to explain what they are facing and why the college should provide more need-based aid.

On the flip side, if you aren’t expecting to qualify for need-based aid under the current system, these FAFSA changes probably won’t mean much to you, although filing the FAFSA is still the only way to be eligible for federal student loans.  If you think there is even a very slim chance your student will need a loan, it’s best to file FAFSA to allow you the option of a federal student loan (federal loans often carry the lowest interest rates available).


College Search Spreadsheet – Part 2

College Search Spreadsheet 2A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my new and improved college search spreadsheet.  I explained what was added to the first tab to help you and your student identify potential colleges and track college applications.  Today, I want to talk about the second tab that I added to the college search spreadsheet.

The second tab of the college search spreadsheet is for use after college applications have been completed and acceptances start coming in.  When you enter a college name and cost information on the first tab of the spreadsheet, these automatically fill on the second tab.

The main purposes of the second tab are to track and compare cost information between the schools against what you can afford and to keep track of notifications and deposits you send to the schools.

The key to making the cost comparison work as designed is knowing what your family can afford to pay for college.  This is based on the following:

  1. What have you saved for your child’s college?
  2. What can you afford to pay for college out of your cash flow every month?
  3. What are you expecting your child to contribute towards the cost of college?

These three numbers will get entered on the second tab of the college search spreadsheet.  These numbers, along with any merit aid and/or need-based aid offered to your student, are subtracted from the cost of a specific college to come up with the Amount Not Covered. This amount is what you will have to come up with, over and above what you already said you could afford, to send your child to that college (based on the initial financial aid offer).

In order to effectively use this information, you will need to wait until you have received financial aid packages back from the colleges that are accepting your student.  These typically go out after March 1, although some colleges notify students of merit aid offers along with the admissions decision.

What can you do if you have an Amount Not Covered for one or more of the schools your student hopes to attend?  Well, for starters, you can try to negotiate your student’s financial aid offer.  Some schools are open to talking about this.  Some schools will even ask you what other schools are offering and will bump up their offer accordingly.  Other schools aren’t even open to negotiating at all.  You won’t know until you ask.

Look into how many hours a week your student would need to work during college to make up the difference between what you can contribute and the Amount Not Covered.  If that is not an option, you may need to look into loans.

Laying all of this out in the college search spreadsheet will help you to see which college(s) offer the best deal and how financially reachable each college that accepts your student will be.

3 Best Ways to Make College Affordable

We have all seen it in the news constantly – college is becoming more and more expensive.  In this post, I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the 3 best ways to make college affordable.

#1 – Get FREE Money from the College

Two ways to do this – need-based aid and merit scholarships.

If your expected family contribution (EFC) is low, your family may qualify for need-based aid.  Calculate your EFC here.

If your EFC is high, and/or if your student has a high ACT/SAT score and GPA, your student is a great candidate for large merit scholarships offered by colleges.  See my Full Scholarship List to find merit scholarships at schools around the country.

#2 – Choose an In-State Public University

One of the best ways to make college affordable is to stick with your own state’s public universities.  These schools will usually be the most affordable option unless you are offered substantial need-based or merit-based aid from a private college or out-of-state public college.

For students looking for greater academic challenge and a more intimate atmosphere than a large public university offers, many of these universities offer Honors Programs.

#3 – Start with Community College

For many students, starting at a local two-year community college is a great first step.  Community college tuition is much more affordable than 4-year college tuition and your student can typically live at home to avoid room and board cost.

Some students are ready to move out and become more independent.  For these students, community college may not seem like the best option, but if they have big goals and little money, they may need to resign themselves to living at home for two more years.

One downside to community college – statistics show that those who start at community college are less likely to go on and get a 4-year degree than those who start at a 4-year school.

Another downside – merit scholarships offered by 4-year colleges for transfer students tend to be much lower than merit aid for freshmen.

College Search Spreadsheet – New and Improved!

College Search Spreadsheet 2As my middle daughter and I get organized for college application time this Fall, I have been revising my College Search Spreadsheet template to be useful throughout all parts of the college choice process:  college search, college applications, and college selection.

If you haven’t been through the college search process before, or if you have, but you need to be more organized this time, you will find a college search spreadsheet to be a tremendous resource!

The new and improved FREE College Search Spreadsheet template has two tabs.  The first tab can be used for the initial identification of potential colleges for your student all the way through the college application process.  


I have added columns for the following:

  • Middle 50% ACT/SAT – You can usually find this somewhere in the Admissions section of the college website or under “fast facts” or something similar.  It will be called something like the profile of the prior year’s admitted students.  If you can’t find it, look the school up on a college search website like, although the information may not be as current.  It is helpful to record this so that you and your student know where he or she falls for admissions and potential merit scholarships.
  • Middle 50% Class Rank – You may be able to find this in the same spot as the middle 50% ACT/SAT scores.  Again, helpful to know where your student falls against typical admitted students.
  • App Type – Does the school use the Common App or do they have their own app?  Can it be filled out online (most can these days)?  Is it “either/or” with Common App or school app?  These answers should be readily available in the Admissions section of the school website.
  • Application Opening Date – Is there a date when the application is first available to fill out?
  • Application Deadline – Record the deadline or deadlines for applying to the school.  Many schools offer more than one deadline, so make sure to record the one your student is shooting for.  An Early Application, Early Action or Priority deadline is usually preferable because your student will have a better chance for competitive academic programs and scholarships.  If nothing else, shoot for the early deadline and if your student cuts it too close, there’s always the regular deadline.  If a school offers a deadline called “Early Decision,” make sure you do your homework on what that means!
  • Admission Decision Date – What date does the school notify applicants of the admission decision?
  • Essay Requirements – What does the school require for application essays?  Are there several?  Are there specific topics?
  • Recommendation Letters – Does the school require recommendation letters?  If so, how many?  Can these be teacher or counselor recommendations, or is one or the other required?
  • Interview – Is an interview required or recommended?
  • Fee – Is there an application fee?
  • Test Scores – What scores need to be submitted?  If ACT scores, is the writing component required?  Are any SAT subject tests required?  Is the school test-optional?
  • Other Application Requirements – Are there additional application requirements?  Basically all schools require official transcripts so you can either list that here or leave it as assumed for all schools.  There may be additional components like portfolios required for specific majors.
  • Does Major Need to be Declared – Many schools require the student to declare a major on the application.  Sometimes they can declare first and second choice.
  • Requirements & Due Dates for Scholarships Separate from Admission Application – Is your student applying for scholarships that require a separate application?  Make sure you record the due date and requirements for these.

The second tab of the College Search Spreadsheet works in conjunction with the first and is meant to be used after college applications are submitted.  I will go into more detail on that tab next week, but in a nutshell, it helps you compare costs for all schools where your student was admitted.

To download the new College Search Spreadsheet template, select one of the links above or go to my Resources page.

Get Great College Recommendation Letters

LetterIf you have a high school senior who will be working on college applications this fall, one important thing he or she needs to know is how to get great college recommendation letters.  There are a few simple tips that will help avoid mediocre college recommendation letters and help your student submit meaningful recommendation letters with his or her college applications.

Not all colleges require recommendation letters as part of the college application.  Those that do are looking at recommendation letters as a supplement to what the applicant personally provides in the application.  With that in mind, understand that the college wants to learn something new about the applicant beyond what is shown through grades, test scores, an activity list and essays.  They are looking for an outside perspective from a teacher or counselor who is well-acquainted with the student.

Share the tips below with your student to help him or her get high-quality college recommendation letters.

How to Get Great College Recommendation Letters

  1. Start Early – Teachers and counselors will be juggling many requests for recommendation letters.  Know when your first college applications are due and plan ahead.  If you have applications due in November, early September is a great time to start requesting recommendations.  Do not expect to give someone only a week or two to produce a good recommendation letter!
  2. Pick the Right Person – You probably won’t have a choice when it comes to counselor recommendations, but with teach recommendations it is important to pick the right teacher.  Pick someone who knows you well and who understands your strengths and weaknesses.  Some ideas:  1)Pick a teacher who watched you struggle and then excel in a class, 2)Pick a teacher whose class is closely aligned with your intended major, 3)Pick a teacher who might not have been your favorite, but taught you a lot and helped you grow, 4)Pick a teacher who you got to know really well and who became a personal mentor to you.
  3. Communicate “What and When” – Make sure to tell those you are asking for recommendation letters from when you need the letter and what it is for.  Are you looking for a general recommendation letter that can apply to any school, program or scholarship?  Or are you looking for something written for a specific school, program of study or scholarship?  You must decide how you want to handle recommendation letters overall – do you want to ask for many different ones that are more specific, or do you want more generic ones that you can use for multiple purposes?
  4. Communicate “Why” – If you tell your recommender why you selected him or her to write a recommendation letter, you may receive a better outcome.  While you could mention this when asking, it may be even more effective if you write a note expressing the reason.  For example, “I wanted to have you write a recommendation letter for me because you helped me so much in Chemistry last year.  You watched me struggle at the beginning of the year and you patiently explained things so I understood them.  You saw my progress throughout the year.”
  5. Provide Supplemental Information – In my last post, I wrote about Creating an Activity Resume.  It is a good idea to give your recommender a copy of your activity resume.  This will help remind or inform him or her of all the things you have done while in high school.  He or she may be able to pull out some specific items to talk about or explain how you successfully juggled a lot of things.
  6. Have a Good Attitude – Remember, writing a good recommendation letter for you is not anyone’s obligation.  They are doing you a favor and you need to be appreciative and be patient.  When you get about two weeks before the due date, it is fine to check in to see when your recommender expects to have your letter completed, but do it nicely!   It is always a good idea to give your recommender a Thank You note after he or she has completed your recommendation letter.

When I speak to high school juniors, I always tell them to start building high-quality teacher and mentor relationships because senior year they are going to need recommendation letters from adults who know them well.  This can be easier to do with teachers than with counselors, but most schools do ask for a counselor recommendation.

If your student has not developed a good relationship with his or her guidance counselor, now is the time.  Have your student schedule a time to sit down with the counselor to discuss future plans.  The more the counselor knows about a student’s future goals and concerns, the more they can draw from when writing a recommendation and the more they can help your student focus on the right things in the college application process.


Creating an Activity Resume

Activity ResumeIs your student prepared to list out all activities, awards, and experiences for college applications? Even if your student is not a rising senior, I recommend starting an activity resume now and updating it as he or she gets closer to college application time.

When creating an activity resume, you want to keep a clean and easy to read format, similar to an employment resume.  I have created a free Microsoft Word activity resume template that you can download here.

Share the tips for creating an activity resume below with your student to get him or her started.

What to Use an Activity Resume For:

  • College Applications – Many applications may require you to fit your activities into little boxes on the application.  In that case, you will have a document to pull all of these activities from, making sure you have included everything
  • Scholarship Applications – Many scholarship applications, especially local ones, will have you submit your activity resume as part of the application
  • Recommendation Letters – Give a copy of your activity resume to anyone you are asking to write a recommendation letter for you
  • College Interviews – If you are going on an interview as part of the college application process, bring a copy of your activity resume to hand to the interviewer
  • Jobs and Internships – At this point, you probably don’t have enough work experience for a true job resume, so the activity resume can be used

Things to Include in an Activity Resume:

  • School activities – include sports and clubs, make sure to list any leadership positions you held and the years you participated
  • Honors/Awards – include things you won in school and outside of school
  • Community Activities/Service – include all activities outside of school including volunteer work, list out any important details (projects, accomplishments); include the number of hours you devoted to each item
  • Work Experience – include any jobs you have held, dates held and number of hours per week
  • Other – include anything that doesn’t fit in the categories above, like summer camps or summer college programs

How to Organize an Activity Resume:

  • Keep it to 1-2 pages
  • Use reverse chronological order – most recent experiences first
  • To save space, whittle it down to the most impressive things – things where you can say “this is how I made a difference” (if you can’t say anything beyond “I participated”, then it probably isn’t worth including)

If you use my standardized activity resume template for creating an activity resume, you will have a good starting point.  There is still a lot of room for creativity when deciding how to describe each item on the activity resume.  Just remember to keep it clean, easy to read and not overly wordy.  Make sure that highlights unique experiences, qualities and characteristics that will help you to stand out for college applications, scholarships and other opportunities.

Finding Your U – A Book Review

U-cvrREVRecently, I was offered an advance copy of “Finding Your U – Navigating the College Admission Process,” by Katrin Muir Lau and Judith Widener Muir in hopes that I would be willing to write a book review.  I am always willing to do that as one of my goals with My Kid’s College Choice is to recommend great resources to help you and your kids figure out the college search and college admission process.

Finding Your U is one of those great resources.  It covers all the basics of the college search and college admission process, including:

  • How to decide where to apply
  • How colleges decide who to admit
  • Paying for college and the financial assistance that’s available
  • What to do after decisions come in

It even has a section with tips for international students.

In the chapter How You Decide Where to Apply, there’s a great checklist for your student to use early in the college search process to determine what type of college is a good fit by answering yes or no questions about location, academics, student body and campus life.  This chapter also covers the best ways to learn about a college and the best ways to make contact with colleges, including tips for college visits.  It also offers suggested resource books and websites for learning more.

The chapter How Colleges Decide Who Gets In is the best part of the book.  It is all about the college admission process.  It covers everything about the college application and what schools are looking for.  I especially like the Essay Examples where the authors show good opening sentences and best ways to cover specific topics.  This chapter also covers the Activity Resume and Letters of Recommendation, with tips and examples.  In addition, the chapter covers Interviews, Demonstrated Interest, Special Interests and Sports.  Basically, everything you need to consider to be prepared for applying to colleges is covered.

Overall, Finding Your U is a good and quick read for families who are new to the college search and college admission process and need to know the basics.  In one place, you can learn all of the things that you would need to find through separate articles and resources on the internet.


Applying to “No Essay” Colleges

A+There are lots of articles and websites devoted to helping your student prepare to write college application essays, but what if a school he or she is applying to doesn’t require an essay?  Applying to “no essay” colleges is a different ball game because your student doesn’t have that opportunity to express himself/herself through words.  How do students set themselves apart when they don’t have the opportunity to explain through college application essays why they want to attend the school, what makes them unique, or what has been a defining moment in their lives?

These questions have been running through my head as my middle daughter prepares to apply to University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, which does not require any type of essay or recommendation letters.  I had to think through this logically to determine how she can present herself in the best light through this application.

Don’t automatically assume that only the only schools that don’t require college application essays are the ones that are easiest to get into.  University of Minnesota – Twin Cities only accepts around 40% of applicants and their middle 50% ACT range is 26-30.  However, schools that are the hardest to get into, let’s say 30% or lower acceptance rate, will require essays, either through the Common App’s standard essay questions, that plus additional supplemental essay questions or their own unique application with essay questions. However, according to, about 60% of colleges don’t require college application essays at all.

Tips For Applying to “No Essay” Colleges

  1. Look at the college’s acceptance rate – is this school easy for anyone to get into or will they accept most applicants?
  2. Does your student need to stand out? – Check the school’s admission statistics for ACT/SAT score and GPA.  You can usually find this information in the Admissions section of the college’s website.  Sometimes it is broken out by school or program offered by the college.  Tougher programs (like Engineering or Science) will usually have higher test score and GPA ranges.  Compare your students test scores and GPA to see where he or she falls.  If he or she is within the middle 50%, this should provide a comfort level that admission chances are greater.
  3. Find out what the school focuses on when assessing a candidate for admission – these are often called the primary and secondary admission factors and can also be found in the Admissions section of most college websites.  If you can’t find them there, check, as it has these listed for most schools. For example, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities lists coursework, GPA, ACT/SAT scores and class rank as their primary admission factors.  Their secondary factors include outstanding talent, achievement or aptitude in a particular area, strong commitment to community service or leadership, exceptionally rigorous school curriculum (AP, IP, college-level courses, honors courses), military service, contribution to the diversity of the student body, first-generation college student, and a few others.
  4. Focus on the admission factors you can control – GPAs, test scores and courses taken are pretty black and white.  Things like leadership, community service, talents/abilities/aptitudes are more of a gray area.  These things can still be highlighted to put the student in a better position for admission.  These are mostly highlighted through the activity listing and in some cases, recommendation letters.  If the school requires or allows recommendation letters, have your student think carefully about who should write these and make sure the writer is well-versed on the student’s accomplishments.  Here’s a great article to read on this topic: How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation.  For the activity listing, first see what the college accepts.  Some will just give you space on the application to list activities.  Others will allow a supplemental submission of an activity resume.  The more opportunity the student has to explain accomplishments within a particular activity, the better.
  5. Can you submit other supplemental information? – Find out if the school accepts portfolios, samples of work related to what the student wants to major in, or other things that will allow the student to make a stronger case for admission.  If you can’t find this information on the school’s website, have your student email an admissions counselor to find out about it.

Applying to “no essay” colleges does’t mean students won’t get to tell “their story.”  They just need to get a little more creative in figuring out how to tell it.  Also, gauging where the student stands within the range of the school’s typically admitted students is very important – the higher the better to provide a confidence level that your student will be admitted.  If your student’s statistics are on the lower end of typically admitted students, he or she will need to really focus on tips #4 and #5 above.

Finding Merit Scholarships for Top Students

1195437419219858921johnny_automatic_bag_of_money.svg.medThere are several methods of finding merit scholarships for top students.  Whether you are looking for merit scholarships for top GPAs, merit scholarships for top ACT scores or SAT scores, or a combination, it will require some research time to find the best opportunities for your student.

Merit scholarships come in all sizes, from a couple thousand dollars or less to a full ride. The largest sources of merit scholarships are the colleges themselves.  Yes, there are private scholarships out there, but most of these are smaller in dollar amount and the competition is intense.

Colleges offer merit scholarships to attract top students.  Many colleges offer specified dollar amount merit scholarships for top ACT scores (or SAT scores) and/or top GPAs. These merit scholarships come in two varieties – automatic and competitive.  What I mean by automatic is that the college states that any admitted applicant with specified statistics will receive a merit scholarship.  This usually requires a certain ACT/SAT score and GPA combination (or a range).  Some schools publish the exact amount for certain score/GPA combinations and others just say the student will receive a merit scholarship within a specific range of amounts.

Colleges that offer competitive merit scholarships don’t promise anything.  The student competes with other top students for specified scholarships.  Some colleges offer both automatic and competitive scholarships.

One important thing to keep in mind – the most competitive colleges in the country generally do not offer merit scholarships.  Why?  They don’t have to. I am talking specifically about colleges with acceptance rates below 30%.  These schools already attract many more talented students than they can admit.  They don’t need to try harder!  These schools mainly focus on offering need-based aid to talented students who cannot afford to pay sticker price. You will find a few exceptions out there where a top tier school will offer a merit scholarship for top ACT scores or SAT scores and top GPAs, but these tend to be competitive, not automatic.

Best Ways to Find Merit Scholarships for Top Students

  1. The College’s Website – If your student has specific schools in mind, check the college websites to find out what the schools offer for merit scholarships.  Usually you can get to this information through the Admissions area of the website or the Financial Aid area.  Sometimes it is easiest to just find the search box and type in “scholarships” to see what you find.  Many schools offer scholarships for both incoming students and current students, so you may have to dig through a few layers to find merit scholarships for incoming students.
  2. Scholarship Search Engines – The scholarship search engine that is best for finding merit scholarships offered by the colleges is Cappex, formerly  This site used to allow you to search for schools by state, but now it appears that you need to look for a specific school to find merit scholarships.  It is still my favorite overall scholarship search engine.  It is especially useful for finding private scholarships because it will tell you how difficult the entry is and how much competition there will be for a specific scholarship.  Other similar sites to check out are and FastWeb.  These sites include some merit scholarships offered by colleges in addition to private scholarships.
  3. Online Merit Scholarship Lists – One method for finding merit scholarships is through lists that websites have compiled.  I have found these on College Confidential,, and  They tend to list only full tuition and full ride merit scholarships.  These lists are not extremely complete and tend to be outdated.
  4. Full Scholarship List – This is my own listing of full tuition and full ride merit scholarships, available to download through my website.  I schedule updates to the list twice a year, summer and around the end of the year.  I include links to the college websites so you can get full details on each scholarship.  I provide the list in Microsoft Excel so that it is sortable, filterable and searchable (other formats are also available).  It requires a large amount of my time so I charge $2.99 to download it, with all profits providing merit scholarships to deserving students.

Use scholarship lists and search engine to find merit scholarships at schools you may not have considered.  Use the colleges’ own websites to find out what merit scholarships are offered at schools your student is already looking at.  There are lots of available merit scholarships for top students.  You just need to put some work into finding them.

How to Improve Your ACT Score or SAT Score

As parents, we want to see our children succeed and it burdens us greatly when they struggle.  One of the most frustrating things for a parent of a high school student is to watch him or her wrestle with the ACT or SAT test.  Some students just naturally ace the tests, destined for top scores.  Other students have dreams of high scores and end up frustrated, wanting to give up after a few disappointing test results.

I am currently living with this frustration.  My middle daughter had very high hopes and has struggled with her ACT score.  She has taken the test several times and has one great subject and four that have varied several points and are lower than she hoped.  She probably has one more shot in September or October and then it’s college application time.  In desperation, I went back to my email to search for contact information for Danh Le of Underground Academy.  He wrote a guest post for me last year, Why SAT and ACT Tutoring Makes Sense, Even for Smart Students.  We exchanged a few emails regarding my daughter’s situation and his advice makes a lot of sense.

Danh Le said that the best way to improve your scores is to understand why you are getting questions wrong and learn how to get them right.  He said it makes sense to retake the same practice test 2 or 3 times until you really understand how to answer questions correctly.

Looking for additional test strategies online, I found PrepScholar.  Dr. Fred Zhang, co-founder of PrepScholar, echoed this same idea as one of his five strategies for improving your score, “For every single question you get wrong, you MUST understand WHY you got it wrong, and you MUST know how to avoid this mistake in the future.”

This will require an investment of study time.  And study time requires motivation.  Fred Zhang talks about students needing internal motivation.  Parents forcing kids to study or developing some type of reward system typically produces less success than kids having the internal motivation to ace the ACT test or SAT test.  Zhang says breaking your goal into small manageable goals is one of the best ways to stay motivated.

Then it’s a matter of committing to enough study time.  According to Zhang, “40 hours spent on the ACT, studying in the right way, will likely boost your score by many points.”  Time alone will not do the trick, so it is important to focus on studying the right things.  This will require finding a focused study program or creating your own using books or online resources.  It will be centered on improving areas that need improving.  Check out my ACT Prep Resources if your student is focused on the ACT test.  This spreadsheet compiles a variety of available ACT test prep resources.

In my case, I have 2-3 months to pep talk my daughter into understanding why she needs to get re-motivated to study and to commit to a plan of action, studying the right things, and understanding the answers she gets wrong.  This is not ideal.  If you can successfully coach your child to work on ACT or SAT score improvement after the first test, you will have a longer time window for improvement and a better chance for a greater score change.