Last year at this time, I was dipping my toe into the waters of the SAT, college preparation, and launching my then sophomore in high school. I wasn't quite ready to start thinking graduation thoughts because I felt like there was still so much time before I needed to be planning for the end times—or so I thought.
My wake up call came as I began to start looking into college deadlines and requirements with my niece who was a senior at the time. She hadn't taken the SAT or applied for a school she was interested in yet, and all of the deadlines were closing in fast. In her defense, her greatest advocate, my sister, had passed away in the spring last year, and so all college prep plans came to a halt. As all of these events came together, I realized that I might just need to figure these things out and start a slow launching process so that we could all be ready for the next round of graduates.
Enter Jean Burk and College Prep Genius
I went back to my sister's notes from the Great Homeschool Convention and found Jean Burk's College Prep Genius program. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have met this incredible woman. She has been a wealth of information. Here's what I've learned from her that lit a fire under me to help find a way to finance my son's future college plans:
- Scholarships are out there for more than just athletics
- the PSAT is the test that qualifies you for National Merit Scholar (which can result in a full ride scholarship)
- You can take the SAT as many times as you like without being penalized
- Taking the SAT is a great way to prep for the PSAT
- The SAT is a logic test, not a knowledge test...learn the logic, and beat the test
So in December of 2016 and early January of 2017 my son and I started the process to prepare for the PSAT.
A Year of Prepping for the PSAT
Even though a year sounds like a long time, I would have much rather started earlier in the process for preparing for the PSAT. However, a year is what we had, so we tried to make the most of it!
In January, Andy started in on the College Prep Genius materials. He took a practice test before beginning in on the program and scored 1110. I was pretty impressed as this was his first stab at the SAT without any training. This gave me the idea that Andy is a decent test taker naturally, so with a little practice he should be able to improve his score.
He registered for the SAT in late January. Since he didn't have his drivers permit yet, we used the official picture ID form on the College Board website to gain entry into the test. Since he was still just a Sophomore, our expectations for this first run were simple:
- Make it in
- Don't disqualify yourself
- Make it back to the car
Ha! When you start early, you have the freedom to set the bar fairly low. While these accomplishments won't get him into college, they will make the next test less scary because the process of taking the test is not so foreign.
Even though he hadn't made it all the way through Mrs. Burk's program, he still improved his score by 90 points that time, scoring a 1200, and he did find his way back to the car!
Since practice makes perfect, we decided to sign up for another SAT testing day in March. At this point, Andy had made it all the way through the materials and was feeling more confident with his test taking skills. He also had his drivers permit, so we didn't have to carry int the notarized photo ID like he used the last time. This helped him not feel like such a stand out in the crowd.
We also decided to add the essay portion to his test in this round. While the essay isn't required, it can be one of the deciding factors for a school if they're considering him and another candidate who are fairly similar.
He raised his score another 50 points, earning a 1250 this round. He earned a 15 out of 24 on his essay. This was a pretty good start, but he hadn't worked through all of the essay tips from College Prep Genius yet, so he was hopeful that with those tools he could also improve that score.
We signed up for a third test. While it sounded like we had a lot of time to continue SAT prep, May came faster than we thought. He only had time to focus on the essay helps in preparation and quickly review the other information before taking this test. We were getting better about finding our way around the school where the test was offered, so that was also a bonus.
His score dropped 20 points, which could have been discouraging, but we've decided that every test is a learning experience even if the performance isn't ideal. He did raise his essay score five points to a 20 out of 24, which I was incredibly pleased with. If nothing else, he learned to look for what the assignment was asking from him, and write to that.
We must be gluttons for punishment, or I'm a really mean mother, because I signed Andy up to take the ACT in June. While the test prep material doesn't prep you directly for the ACT, I was curious to see how he'd do with a slightly different test. When he left, he didn't feel nearly as confident with his performance as he had with his previous stabs at the SAT.
The scores came back and he made a 28, which if you convert to SAT scores equals a 1320! This was an encouragement from the last testing experience. While we haven't signed up for the ACT again, I'm hoping to talk him into taking it at least one more time to see if he can improve on that score. Since there is a science section, having a little more experience with upper level sciences might boost his score there. We'll see.
Our goal from this point was to treat SAT prep like a summer job. Seriously, if you can get a full ride scholarship, this summer job can yield anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 in scholarships (or more). I think it's a worthy pursuit. While he did some prep, he also started a Latin tutorial online membership site that occupied most of his free time.
SAT round #4, and the last option for practice before the PSAT in October. As the first test of the new school year, this is a great test to take. Somehow the scores get adjusted based on the others that are taking it, and you have a better chance of scoring higher. Andy's score came out to be a 1270 this round, but even better, he finally raised his reading and writing score so that if you combined it with his highest math score (this is called Super Scoring), he would have a 1320. Now we're getting somewhere!
Depending on where Andy wants to go to school, this score could be sufficient to qualify him for the highest merit based scholarships at most private schools. This could yield at least half to nearly full tuition scholarships at these institutions.
Unfortunately at many state schools, this still only gets you a couple thousand dollars a year at best, and it might not even be high enough as a homeschooler to get you into some popular state schools. As we continue to discover where he wants to go, we'll keep these things in mind as we consider further testing options.
We aslo registered for the PSAT through our local school in August. Unlike the SAT where you can register online for the test, you must physically go into the local school to register for the PSAT. They only take cash as payment. Make sure to ask important questions like:
- Where should my student report for the test?
- What time do they need to be there?
- Do they need an ID or receipt to take the test?
Finally, October arrived, and the PSAT. With all of the practice we'd experienced throughout the year, Andy felt confident and prepared as he took the test, even though he arrived an hour early and most of the staff had no idea where the test was actually administered. He rode with a friend and didn't get flustered by the chaos. I was proud of him!
The results didn't come in until mid December, but we were happy with his scores! He made a 1370 out of 1520, which was his best score so far. In order to be a National Merit Scholarship finalist, students have to score in the top 1% of students in their state. The bummer is that the letters that inform students if they are a finalist don't come out until September of 2018. So now we wait.
Until then, we'll keep seeking out scholarships as if he's not a finalist, and be encouraged that he's worked hard and continued to improve his score and his familiarity with tests like this.
I shared Andy's scores just as a way to clearly communicate his progress and improvement throughout the year. There are going to be many students that do better than him, and even raise their scores more than he did. There will also be a number of students that struggle to gain traction with this test.
Each student is different. It's important to know your student and know their goals. Andy is interested in studying something to do with languages, so that pretty much means he'll at least need to get a masters degree after he finishes his undergrad. With this in mind, I've told him that he's going to need to figure out a way to pay for school himself, but that I'd do everything I could to help him find scholarships and alternatives to financing his undergrad other than working and saving. His Latin with Andy job can carry him through college, and that would be awesome, but I think it would be even better if he could get scholarships to cover his undergrad, while saving for his masters. A mother can dream right?!
I'll keep you posted on the progress we make in the next year! Taking the time to prepare for launching my son has helped calm my heart as we have time to consider options and seek the Lord for the best decision for our family. Starting early is hard, but there are so many blessings involved in having time to work through options.
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.