College Admissions Basics: What You Need to Know as a Test Prep Tutor

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Have you ever been tripped up on a question about college admissions? You don’t want to get caught in this trap—especially during a test prep consultation. You may not even realize that you’ve lost a potential client or simply haven’t appeared well rounded to colleagues, parents, even students. This blog is about to change all that. And today is the day that we kick it off!


College Admissions Basics: What You Need to Know as a Test Prep Tutor

Before we dive in, let me tell you a bit about myself and my experience in the field. I was fortunate enough to snag a Master’s in Education from Harvard, and I’ve been helping kids get into their dream colleges ever since. I ran college prep in the city of Boston for eight years. I’ve operated Total Student Support here in San Diego for seven, and I work remotely all over the country. I’ve got you covered!

My experience and perspective as both as both a test prep tutor and a college admissions specialist will help you expand your client base by approaching each consultation with a newfound confidence, which will ultimately enable you to deliver more value to a greater number of clients.

For today, I've compiled a list of the most basic information you need to know as a test prep professional. If you stick with us for the coming weeks and months, you'll have all your questions answered about the ins and outs of college admissions. For today, we’re taking a look at the Elements of the App.  

Elements of the Application

➢ The most important factor in college admissions, especially those from sophomore and junior year.
➢ Beyond the GPA: challenging course loads show initiative, work ethic, and commitment, not to mention the opportunity to get college credit.
➢ Consistently high grades look great, but upward trends are also considered.

Standardized Test Scores
➢ The great equalizer: they show how students stack up against other applicants in the U.S. and around the world.
➢ The only way to determine whether to take the ACT or SAT is to sit for a full-length practice test of each.
Standardized test scores are a major factor in admissions decisions, but if you are reading this blog, you already know that.

Letters of Recommendation
➢ Students must take the time to establish quality relationships with their teachers and guidance counselors.
➢ Students need to know when to ask for them and how to inform recommenders of personal details they may want to include.
➢ If students don’t follow these guidelines, colleges will receive uninspired form letters.

Extracurricular Activities
➢ Passionate involvement in a few impactful activities is preferable to casual participation in numerous activities.
➢ Recommend direct involvement in activities and organizations that demonstrate special talents, leadership, and service to the community.
➢ Students must take care not to stretch themselves so thin that grades or standardized test scores will suffer.

Personal Statements
➢ They must be just that: personal. They should provide an admissions committee with genuine insight into the student's personality and motivation.
➢ Essays with a central topic that demonstrate growth are typically the most impactful. Laundry lists and brag sheets are quickly forgotten.
➢ Supplemental essays provide an excellent opportunity for students to describe what they would bring to a particular college. Consequently, it's vital that students research each college before sitting down to write.

How Students Can Prepare for Success

Be Confident
➢ There are roughly only 100 U.S. colleges that offer admission to less than a third of applicants.
➢ The college admissions process is not as difficult and competitive as one might think. There is a place for every student!

Know Thyself
➢ Students should begin with the end in mind, taking stock of needs, interests, skills, talents, strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes.
➢ Location, size, academics, housing, majors, social life, climate, cost, and financial aid will all play a role in the final college application list and later, acceptance of admission.

Create a Timeline
➢ Students need help to create one in a format makes sense to them.
➢ Deadlines: taking standardized tests (and optional SAT subject tests), requesting and submitting recommendations, having transcripts sent, finalizing completed applications by their due dates, completing scholarship essays.

Develop a College List
➢ Students should apply to about 9-12 colleges. They should be a mix of safety, match, and reach schools.
➢ GPA and SAT or ACT scores provide the guidelines that determine each student’s likelihood to get in.
➢ Never assure students that they will get into any college.

Know the Types of Applications
➢ Early Decision, Early Action, Priority Deadline, Priority Deadline II: be familiar with all of them.
➢ Early Decision candidates do have higher acceptance rates in general, but ONLY for applicants who meet or surpass the college’s average GPA and standardized test scores for students who were granted admission the previous year.
➢ Rejected students may or may not be added to the regular pool of applicants.

Get Familiar with Financial Aid
➢ Types: unsubsidized and subsidized loans (big difference!), personal loans, scholarships, grants, work-study.
➢ In most cases, private colleges across the country can offer more money in grants and scholarships than public universities because of larger endowments.
➢ Competition for scholarships is fierce! Exceptional PSAT scores qualify some students for valuable scholarships.

Map out the Overall Process
➢ As with anything else, the college admissions process is easier and less intimidating when following a step-by-step guide.
➢ Stress hinders progress. Help students keep their anxiety in check.
➢ Life works out. Reassure students that wherever they are accepted and wherever choose to go, they will have the opportunity to thrive!

My next blog post will feature a detailed monthly timeline to help students get organized before, during, and after the completion of their college applications. And as promised, we'll deliver detailed info on all of the above in future posts. Stay tuned!



Each week we examine ways to help you become a better tutor, increase score improvements, generate more tutoring referrals, and grow your tutoring business. And from time to time, we'll even share links to free resources we've developed for tutors and test prep professionals. Be sure to like, share, and subscribe!

Ms. Ruehrwein holds a B.A. in Education from Providence College and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Throughout her twenty-five year career in education, she has been a Teacher, Counselor, Advocate, and Director of College Preparation Programs. Currently she is the Founder and Owner of Total Student Support, her standardized test preparation and college admissions business. Ms. Ruehrwein is thrilled to live in her dream city of San Diego for ten years. When not spending time with her husband and eight year old little guy or helping get kids into college, she's playing volleyball, hitting the beach, reading, and traveling. |