Fordham University Visit

This week I visited Fordham University in the Bronx, where I toured the campus and spoke with the admissions office. Here are some takeaways from my visit:

· Students in most majors can study either on the Bronx or Manhattan campus.

· Fordham offers a 6-year BA-JD, a 5-year BA-MBA, as well as a 3-2 engineering program with Columbia and Case Western.

· Advanced music students can take music classes at Julliard’s evening division, and Fordham offers a BFA for dancers in tandem with The Ailey School.

· Premeds attend a first-year course that features guest talks from medical school admission officers, and students can complete medical research through partnerships with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System.

· Students complete internships with 3500 partner organizations.

· As a Jesuit campus, Fordham has a social justice and public service focus. Their local, national and global social justice programs include nonprofit internships, volunteer positions, classes and community engagement projects. Students complete over one million service hours every year.

University Church, which presides over the gothic Queen’s Court residential college: a tight knit
community of 150 students interested in the humanities living and learning together. 

Sarah Lawrence College Visit

I recently visited Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. Here are some takeaways from my visit:

  • The admit rate is 66% for early decision and 55% overall.
  • With most students living on campus, there is an active campus community filled with performing arts events and club activities. NYC is accessible via a college shuttle and the nearby Bronxville train station (a 35-minute ride to Grand Central), but the typical student only goes to the city once a month and otherwise partakes of social/recreational opportunities on campus. There are many fun activities that pop up regularly on campus. Students also often head into Bronxville (an upscale, small Westchester town) or hang out at the nearby Cross Country Shopping Mall (which includes a popular movie theater), accessible by campus shuttle. Students speak with infectious energy about their unique studies and class projects. 
  • The campus is located within a wealthy suburban section of Westchester, NY. It is not overly large, and students tend to get around on foot. Students live either in dorms or residential “houses” that dot the campus environs. There have been recent upgrades to the campus, including the new “Barbara Walters” campus center—an elegant, modern student center with a dining hall and café. Given the arts focus of many students here, there are no fewer than six different theater spaces on campus and over ten theater productions per year. There is a “learn where you live” philosophy on campus, so many dorms have active classrooms in them. There are two campus shuttles that can shepherd students from the dorms to the sports center, campus center, and other campus locations. The Heim Gold Visual Performing Arts Center offers studio spaces, a film department, a sculpture studio, dark rooms and a sound stage. 
  • Sarah Lawrence provides small classes, highly supportive faculty, and wide curricular freedom for passionate, hard-working, and often alternative-minded students. The school is situated in a safe, attractive and upscale suburban community, but is also very near to NYC. Academically driven students who are self-directed, interested in interdisciplinary work, and looking for close relationships with supportive faculty should consider applying. Students with a particular interest in the arts and finding a creative campus community might also consider applying. While the student body is very liberal and inclusive and the college makes notable efforts to support the interests of diverse students, the campus generally lacks the racial and socio-economic diversity found at some other schools. 
Inside the new Barbara Walters Campus Center at Sarah Lawrence College.

Yale University Visit

This week I visited Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where I toured the campus and spoke with the Assistant Director of Admissions about the latest trends in admissions. Here are a few of the recent happenings there I learned about:

  • Of the 2,234 students admitted this year, 800 were admitted early. The early acceptance rate was nearly 11%, whereas the regular decision acceptance rate was 3.36%.
  • The new Jackson School for Global Affairs will be opening this fall (2022) and plans to offer a selective, interdisciplinary major for which undergraduates may apply sophomore year. Global Affairs majors will learn to apply social science tools to global challenges and complete a public policy project as seniors on behalf of a real client.
  • Yale now offers two skills-based, pre-professional “certificates” to undergraduates, one in Programming and one in Data Science. Each certificate requires five courses to complete.
  • The student union, having undergone years of renovation and expansion, has reopened as the Schwarzman Center. It also houses The Good Life Center, run by Yale positive psychology professor Laurie Santos. The center offers programs and resources to help students build physical, mental, emotional and social wellness.
Yale alumnus Nathan Hale stands outside his dorm room at Connecticut Hall.

Prep Effectively with a Mistakes Journal

If you’re preparing the SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT or any other standardized test, it’s essential that you don’t simply study hard, but study effectively. Two essential elements of effective studying are analyzing your mistakes in-depth, and then reviewing what you’ve learned from them. How can you make sure you’re systematically tracking, reflecting on, and learning from every mistake when you’re spending months studying for a sprawling exam? With a mistakes journal. 

A mistakes journal is a powerful tool for optimizing and organizing your studying. It is essentially a place where you systematically log every question you missed along with a record of where the question is located, why you missed the question, what type of question it was and how you could tell, and what lesson(s) you learned from reflecting on your mistake. You may have missed a question about triangles, for instance, because you didn’t know a certain rule in trigonometry, you didn’t pick up on the cue that this was a trigonometry question, or because you tried to solve the problem in your head without first labeling the diagram or writing out your work. Using a mistakes journal forces you to reflect on what exactly is making you miss questions and how you can avoid those mistakes in the future. The other great benefit of a mistakes journal is that it facilitates review by helping keep track of everything in one place—not always an easy task when you’re taking multiple practice tests from different books and websites. 

Learning science has revealed that we best learn new information through an iterative review process. This means that you must revisit your notes multiple times before they will move into your long-term memory. Specifically, you’re most likely to commit material to memory if you first review it within 24 hours after you first encounter it, while it’s still fresh. This means that you should review new entries in your mistakes journal the day after you write them, and then again every few days until the notes are in your long-term memory. Every so often, you should review the mistakes journal in its entirety to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

You should also attempt to resolve any missed problems a couple of days after you’ve entered them in your mistakes journal. To do this, first print a blank copy of the test so that you won’t see your old notes. Once you’ve successfully redone a problem, make of note of that in your mistakes journal. In another couple of days, use the mistake journal to identify the problems you haven’t been able to redo successfully, and attempt those again. Repeat the process as needed. Every so often, you should attempt to resolve all missed problems to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. 

Lastly, remember that a mistakes journal can be as effective an aid in academic classes as it can be in test prep. Many students, seeing the benefits it brings to their test prep, start using the journal in school as well.

Is It Better to Take the SAT or ACT?

Once upon a time, many colleges looked upon the ACT with suspicion. These days, however, schools give the ACT and SAT equal weight in the admissions process. Gone are the days when students would simply sit for the test that was more popular in their region of the country. The number of students taking the ACT has risen drastically, and a growing portion of students are even taking both exams.

Given this newfound freedom, which test should you choose? It’s critical to carefully evaluate which exam is best for you. While there is some overlap between the SAT and ACT, they are still markedly different. Because thoroughly preparing for each can take many months (make sure to start early), it’s generally best limit yourself to preparing for only one. If you prepare for both, you sacrifice valuable time that is often better spent developing your academic and extracurricular profile. That said, high-scoring students aiming for the most competitive scores do sometimes benefit from sitting for both. 

The best way to determine which test is right for you is to take a full-length, timed practice test for each exam. Make sure the exam is an official one written by the actual test makers (send me an email if you’d like me to mail you one). If possible, have a parent proctor the exam. When you score the test, compare the two scores using the SAT-ACT concordance table (available on both test makers’ websites). If you score significantly higher on one exam, that’s usually the best exam to take.

If you perform equally well on both tests, consider which you found more enjoyable. The more enjoyable the test, the more effort you’re likely to invest in preparing for it, resulting in a higher final score.

In addition to taking a practice test on your own, here are some of the key differences between the exams that can help you best decide which is right for you:

• The ACT allows less time per question than the SAT. While many students can finish SAT sections and still have time remaining, students taking the ACT often struggle to complete the sections in time. If you’re a particularly slow test taker, the SAT may be a better choice.

• Reading is very different on each exam. The SAT, unlike the ACT, regularly features challenging passages in antiquated English (think Victorian novel) and questions that require nuanced, sophisticated critical reasoning to answer. ACT questions, by contrast, are more straightforward. Once again, however, time is much more limited on ACT reading. Students will often prefer one test’s approach to the other.

• Math counts for half of the composite SAT score, but only a fourth of the composite ACT score. While weaker math students might thus seek to gravitate toward the ACT, the ACT covers a much wider and more advanced range of content from algebra, geometry, trigonometry and precalculus, whereas the SAT generally focuses more narrowly on algebra. Prepping for ACT math—particularly if a student is seeking a very high score—can thus take substantially longer than prepping for SAT math. The difficulty level of the questions is similar, although the SAT features more text-dense word problems. 

• The ACT contains a science section, whereas the SAT merely sprinkles a few similar science and data questions into its reading and writing sections. Little scientific knowledge is needed to do well on the ACT, however, as the test is primarily concerned with your ability to quickly analyze data like graphs and charts. Still, the science section can be a major factor in score differences between the SAT and ACT. For students aiming for the most competitive ACT scores, it is wise to review some scientific fundamentals, which can (as with the math section) make ACT prep last longer than SAT prep. 

• The SAT has recently featured some very unforgiving curves, particularly on the math section, making it difficult to achieve perfect or near-perfect scores. That said, the SAT tends to be more predictable than the ACT, which has been known to surprise students with a few random math and science concepts it has never tested before. And as stated above, the SAT generally covers a narrower band of material than the ACT. 

Use these tips to help decide which exam is best for you. While it may take some time to figure out which test is the right one, you won’t regret having done so. Carefully choosing between the two exams can help ensure you achieve your optimal score, maximizing your chances at college admissions and scholarships.