These times they are a’changing

This year has been a hectic time in college admission testing (and college access in general). There have been significant changes to the SAT, minor changes to the ACT, radical changes to the financial aid process (PPY anyone?), and heated discussions about radically overhauling the college admissions process itself. In the wake of all these changes parents and students are understandably left confused and concerned. Heck, many college access professionals are left confused and concerned. So in an effort to help calm nerves and cut through the noise surrounding these issues, I’ll summarize the changes, help you understand how concerned you should be, and point you to useful resources.


PSAT and SAT Changes

This past week, students (but not tutors) finally saw the revision to the SAT that the College Board announced in 2014 and previewed on the 2015 PSAT. While these changes are substantial, they are not a real cause for concern for most students. Students who will take the new SAT will likely have never taken the old SAT and thus this SAT will be the only one they know (for us older people who remember a different SAT, the changes may be concerning but the good news is you’re not taking the new test). The concern for students who are applying to college is the same as it was last year “should I take the SAT or ACT). The newness of the SAT alone isn’t the answer to this question but doesn’t influence the discussion. But for the parents and advisors here is a quick summary of what I think are the key changes.


Changes that matter:

  • More time per question
  • No more guessing penalty
  • Optional Essay
  • Fewer math topics
  • More direct writing and questioning style
  • More complex reading passage
  • No more studying vocab just for the SAT
  • Longer wait to get scores back


What it means for families

The SAT changes will not significant impact the process or plans that families should make when preparing for the exam. The biggest impact on families is that they’ll be forced to spend more time researching to verify that what they’ve heard is accurate (most of it isn’t or is spun in a weird way). The secondary impact is that the newness of the SAT will require more careful analysis of who you select to provide test preparation or what books you purchase. Any test prep program or book that hasn’t been rewritten to reflect the changes to the test will not be useful at all.


ACT Changes (and Struggles)

Unlike the significant changes that came to the PSAT and SAT this year, the ACT introduced only a minor change to its optional essay, a dual passage in the Reading test, and played with the question type distribution in Science. Since only about 10% of colleges require the ACT (or SAT) essay, the change to it will likely only effect a small portion of test takers. Of more significance is the delays that plagued ACT in the fall and the questions that continue about the reliability and validity of the essay scores. For all score administration in the fall, scores ACT experienced unusual delays getting scores back to students (and to colleges). This meant that many kids applying early action or early decision were put under additional stress as they worried about whether their scores would reach their dream school before application deadline.


What it means for families

For families this means that planning ahead is even more important than it has been in the past. We should expect both SAT and ACT to continue to be late returning scores and thus students should test well in advance of any deadlines to account for delay sending results to colleges. This will be especially important for anyone considering Early Decision or Early Action in the fall. I’d recommend that anyone considering early application should try to take their (second and) last test in June or September. However, anyone preparing for the ACT should make sure that they are using practice materials that has been updated to reflect the essay change if they are planning to site for the essay. SAT and ACT test dates.


Financial Aid Changes

Beginning in 2016 for the 2017-18 academic year, the financial aid process will change to allow families to submit the FAFSA form earlier in the year (October instead of January). The big change will be the use of tax forms from 2 years prior, currently referred to as PPY (prior prior year). This is intended to make the process easier by giving families more time to gather and submit paperwork. USA Today has a summary that’s worth reading.


What this means for families

We won’t know exactly for a few years the complete impact of this but families who are applying to college in the 2016 – 2018 must stay on top of news about changes to this process. With all the changes going on already stress and burdened school counselors must be supported to ensure that families have complete information.  The good news is that


College Admission Process – no changes, but lots of speculation

This year a saw the launch of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, which proposes to radically alter the college admissions process. This coalition was led by many leading universities including every Ivy League school, Stanford, U of Chicago, UNC, Amherst, U of Michigan and many others, is creating a process that allows students as young as 9th grade to begin compiling a portfolio of work that will more full express who he is academically and personally. The Coalition also seeks to ensure that its members provide value to students by setting requirements on member school for graduation rates and financial aid. The change would create what they believe is a more comprehensive and less stressful process. More here in the Times

What this means for families

All the details of the Coalition are not worked out yet but it certainly bears watching. Parents should monitor these changes as they happen so that when it impacts your child you’re fully informed.


The good news about changes to the college process is that most of them doing happen quickly. Parents are best served by planning and researching 2 years ahead of any transition the child is making and that will keep this process relatively calm.



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