Meeting College Admission Requirements
By Betty Berring and Vivian Young
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #15, 1997.
With placement tests, college searches, scholarship applications, on top of making sure all your child's courses are finished, it may seem like you're juggling your student's future. It's good in these circumstances to have a plan.
We suggest the following guidelines as basic steps necessary to enter college. Specific direction for each individual child must come from God through prayer because, ultimately, we are accountable to God for the training of our children. Of course, it may not be in the best interest of some children to even attend college or endure the stress of taking high school subject tests (SAT II). Decisions will vary from child to child according to their God-given talents and abilities.
Only broad guidelines appear in this article because deadlines and fees change each year and test formats may also change periodically. Obtain the individual test registration packets and booklets early each year for current information. To boost confidence and hopefully reduce stress, insure that your child at least takes the sample tests provided in the booklets for practice. Please note that it is harder to finish ACT tests than the SAT I in the time allowed. If your child has difficulty completing any test in the allotted time, acquire practice tests from the library or bookstores so he can learn to pace himself.
See later in this article for more detailed test information and addresses, and the sample transcript(s) which have/has been readily accepted by colleges and universities in the past.
" . . . If we choose to follow traditional methods of providing a high school education in preparation for college, the time to begin planning for college is at the beginning of ninth grade. There are important decisions to make in regard to course work that cannot be delayed until later. Maybe your child, like many others, has no idea whether or not he wants to attend college. As long as he appears to have the basic wherewithal to tackle college, plan as if he is going. There is more to be lost by not taking college preparatory courses than there is to be gained in relief by following a student's inclinations to take easier courses . . . " (Christian Home Educator's Curriculum Manual Junior/Senior High, Cathy Duffy, page 34).
Plan your high school courses to meet college entrance requirements. Universities and colleges usually require a minimum of four years English (literature and composition), three years social studies, three years math (Algebra I and higher), two years science (not to include general science; one must have a lab) and three years additional credits (two years foreign language are strongly recommended). If your goal is in a specialty, check specific college requirements for that particular specialty. For example, before being admitted to a school of nursing, the student must have a biology and a chemistry course with lab, whether at the high school or college level.
To prepare for college and entrance tests, the College Board has this recommendation: ". . . Take the most challenging academic courses for which you are prepared; work hard in school; participate in class discussions; and read for pleasure - regularly."
Your child should always seek to improve his vocabulary. Whenever he reads, he should not skip over unfamiliar words but should look them up and make vocabulary lists to study. Vocabulary flash cards might be preferred - blank business cards are an ideal size and economical. There are also books available at libraries and bookstores to help in preparing for the vocabulary sections of the various standardized tests.
Be sure your child has had algebra and geometry by the end of the junior year for taking college entrance tests. If the tests will be taken early in the junior year, complete these important courses sooner.
To succeed in college, students must also know how to take notes. Begin by requiring notetaking from textbooks such as history and science during the freshman year. Because many homeschool students do not receive actual lectures during their studies, important practice may be gained by taking notes during your pastor's sermons. This skill will be an invaluable tool in college.
See the samples of high school records and transcripts at the end of the article. It is also important to keep a bibliography of texts used by grade level in case you are asked for them.
EXTRACURRICULAR AND COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES
Be alert to possible activities that your child might be able to participate in, such as Boy/Girl Scouts, junior volunteer programs at a hospital or other organizations, choirs at church, election campaigns, etc. Keep award certificates or ask for some verification of volunteer services rendered in order to prove your statements on college entrance or scholarship forms. Too much emphasis can be placed on these activities, though. It is important to seek God's will for your child.
OCTOBER - PSAT/NMSQT and PLAN
For practice, encourage your child to take the PSAT/NMSQT at least a year before he would normally take it for scholarship competition, provided he has had algebra. Normally, college-bound juniors or advanced sophomores who plan to graduate in three years take this test:
- as practice for taking the SAT I college entrance test
- to enter the National Merit Scholarship program (includes corporation scholarships such as Walgreen's or Union Electric, college-sponsored scholarships, and National Achievement Scholarships for outstanding Negro students), and
- to compare his ability to do college work with other students' abilities.
Some colleges grant scholarships to finalists in this program, the last step before becoming a winner of a National Merit Scholarship.
OCTOBER - PLAN
PLAN (formerly called P-ACT+) is a career and education planning assessment program for sophomores. It measures the same skills as the ACT Assessment but at the tenth grade level. There are no scholarships involved in this test.
MAY-JUNE - AP TESTS, CLEP, and SAT II
Consider taking Advanced Placement Tests or CLEP for college credit. These programs give tests over college-level courses that offer high school students the opportunity to receive advanced placement and/or credit in college. Check with individual colleges, since each has its own requirements for granting college credit. These tests should be taken immediately after completion of the relevant course. Colleges will grant credit for satisfactory scores, regardless of what year you are in high school.
Warning on advanced college credit. Do not accumulate too many credit hours by AP and CLEP tests and/or by attending a community college. A student may forfeit his/her freshman status and lose all possibility of receiving scholarships which colleges offer to incoming freshmen.
SAT II tests (previously called Achievement Tests) are high school subject tests which can be taken to give credence to the scores you give your own child in a particular subject. Some of the very competitive colleges require two or three SAT II tests for admission in addition to the SAT I or ACT. College credit is not granted on these tests.
OCTOBER - PSAT/NMSQT
(Refer to Freshman-Sophomore Years)
ENTIRE YEAR - SEARCH FOR COLLEGES
- Get college handbooks. Read the statements of faith. Check to see if they offer the major you are interested in.
- Visit college fairs, if possible. Many are offered at local high schools.
- Check your library reference section for college handbooks such as Peterson's Handbook of Four-Year Colleges.
- After narrowing down your college choices, visit some campuses. Eat in the cafeteria, visit classes (advanced courses as well as basic freshman courses), and talk to students and professors.
MARCH-JUNE - SAT I OR ACT
Find out if the colleges you are interested in prefer the SAT I or ACT. Plan to take these tests at the end of the junior year. SAT I and ACT scores may be sent to the colleges of your choice before you submit an application. Taking these at the end of your junior year will give you the opportunity to retake them.
SPRING AND SUMMER - SEARCH FOR SCHOLARSHIPS
Contact your preferred college to receive information about the various full-tuition, merit-based scholarships they offer such as a Chancellor's Scholarship, Curator's Scholars Award, or President's Award. These competitive scholarships may require a separate application, testing, essay, and an interview. The deadline for most of these scholarships falls early in the senior year, usually at the end of October or middle of November. Make contact as early as possible so all information can be forwarded well in advance of the deadline.
If your child is a high-scorer and anticipates receiving scholarships, he should take both the SAT I and ACT because some government scholarship programs have access to these scores without an application from the student. Since the student will not know in advance which scores are required for the scholarships, and since some of the programs will automatically notify the student if he is eligible, taking both will be to his advantage. Some state and local governments also offer Merit-based scholarships.
Check for scholarship opportunities available through various organizations. The adult education department in a large city library is your best resource. For other resources, see Scholarship Search Services later in this article.
MAY-JUNE - APPLY TO AT LEAST TWO COLLEGES AND TAKE SAT I OR ACT
SEPTEMBER - SUBMIT EARLY-DEADLINE SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATIONS
OCTOBER - REPEAT SAT I OR ACT IF NECESSARY
JANUARY-FEBRUARY - FINANCIAL AID
Whether you receive a scholarship or not, you may qualify for financial aid. File as early as possible after the first of the year. Contact the college financial aid department for the necessary forms and further information on scholarships, grants, loans, and work-scholarship programs.
Grants are based on financial need on a first-come, first-served basis. Federal Pell Grants are the most common, but work scholarship programs are also available.
MAY-JUNE - AP TESTS, CLEP, SAT II
(Refer to Freshman-Sophomore Years)
DIPLOMAS and/or G.E.D.
Probably no one other than the military will ever ask to see a diploma. Colleges ask "if" and "when" a student has graduated and request high school transcripts and ACT or SAT I scores. But since a diploma does recognize the completion of certain requirements for high school graduation, we do suggest issuing a diploma just in case it is ever requested.
A G.E.D. certificate may be required by some colleges for a homeschool graduate, but this is not always the case. If high school transcripts are complete, professional, and corroborated by standardized test scores, a G.E.D. may not be necessary. If it is required, take the test as early as possible to insure eligibility for college scholarship programs.
Standardized Tests and Scholarships
ACT - American College Testing Assessment
This is a comprehensive evaluation performed in eleventh and twelfth grades which is used by many colleges and universities for determining admission and scholarship eligibility of prospective students. The test runs 2 hours and 55 minutes and consists of four major parts: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning. The English Test is a 45-minute, multiple-choice test covering punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style. The Math Test is a 60-minute, multiple-choice test covering the following areas: pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry. Calculators are now allowed. The Reading Test is a 35-minute, multiple-choice test based on four types of reading selections: social studies, natural sciences, prose fiction, and humanities. The Science Reasoning Test is a 35-minute, multiple-choice test that measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences. This test emphasizes scientific reasoning skills rather than recall of scientific content.
The ACT is given five times a year with only the score report for the latest score being reported to up to three colleges or universities if you choose to do so. However, previous ACT score reports are kept in archives and can be reported for an additional fee. Pre-registration and a fee are required. A registration packet and Preparing for the ACT Assessment may be obtained free from any high school, college admissions office, or directly from ACT. Write the ACT Registration Department, PO Box 414, Iowa City, Iowa 52243-0414, or call (319) 337-1270. The registration packet will furnish current test dates, registration deadlines, a registration form, practice test, and order forms for other helpful booklets. Libraries may have sample tests such as Barron's Basic Tips on the American College Testing Program, ACT. Local area high schools may offer worthwhile ACT workshops and computer software programs are also available.
AP Tests - Advanced Placement
The Advanced Placement Program, offered by The College Board, is a program of college-level courses and exams in sixteen disciplines that gives high school students the opportunity to received advanced placement and/or credit in college. Almost 50% of the nation's 21,000 high schools offer some college-level AP programs. Tests, usually three hours in length, are only given in May by participating high schools. Students must pre-register before April with the participating high school.
Write Advanced Placement Program, PO Box 6670, Princeton, NJ 08541-6670, for free brochures on this program. Write AP Services, PO Box 6671, Princeton, NJ 08541-6671, for names of schools near you that plan to administer the exams. Course descriptions may be purchased - order blanks are contained in the brochures. High schools which administer these tests might also tell you which textbooks they use for students planning to take these tests.
The AP tests are difficult. They are graded on a score of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest). For example, if a college student received B's for two years of college Spanish, he would probably score a 3 on the test. A minimum score of 3 is required for college credit.
CLEP - College Level Examination Program
CLEP is the most widely accepted credit-by-examination program in the country. These examinations are offered by The College Board and can provide strong evidence of future college success.
CLEP allows the student to demonstrate knowledge in a wide range of subjects. Each of the five General Examinations covers material taught in courses that most students take as requirements in the first two years of college. Three or six semester hours of credit are usually awarded for satisfactory scores on each General Examination. Each is ninety minutes long, given in two timed sections, and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions. The English Composition with Essay, however, requires a 45-minute essay in addition to a 45-minute multiple-choice section. Contact your college to find out which English Examination they require.
There are also thirty Subject Examinations which cover material taught in an undergraduate course with a similar title at most colleges and universities. Many Subject Examinations are designed to correspond to one-semester courses, but some may correspond to full-year or two-year courses. A college usually grants the same number of credits to students earning satisfactory scores on these examinations as students earn for successful completion of the particular college course. Each Subject Examination is ninety minutes long and is composed of multiple-choice questions. Most also have a ninety-minute essay section. This section is required by some colleges. (Foreign language examinations, College Algebra, Trigonometry, and College Algebra-Trigonometry do not have essay sections.) Always check with the college for specific requirements.
A fee is charged for each individual examination and pre-registration is required. Resources to use in preparing for the CLEP examinations are The College Board Guide to the CLEP Examinations and The Official Handbook for the CLEP Examinations. These books are available at libraries, bookstores, or directly from College Board Publications, Dept. N98, Box 886, New York, NY 10101-0886, or call (800) 323-7155. For the free CLEP Colleges booklet which lists all participating CLEP colleges and test centers, write CLEP, PO Box 6601, Princeton, NJ 08541-6601, or call (609) 951-1026.
G.E.D. - General Educational Development Test
"The G.E.D. is always an alternative for high school completion, although minimum age restrictions make it impractical in some states. . . . G.E.D. includes five tested areas: math, writing skills, social studies, science, and interpretation of literature and the arts. . . . G.E.D. tests used in all states are written by the same people to the same specifications, so the test is essentially the same across the country, although there are alternate forms. Each state then sets its own standards on passing scores and age requirements. . . . Tests are administered a certain number of times a year in various locations. Students need to apply well in advance of the testing date to take the tests. They cannot decide to take a test "next week." Check at least six months ahead for dates and locations. Public libraries are a good source for information on schedules and applications." (Christian Home Educators' Curriculum Manual: Junior/Senior High, Cathy Duffy, pages 38-39) Also contact the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in your state for minimum age requirements or restrictions.
Since tests are revised periodically, make sure all study materials are current. Study resources such as Barron's How to Prepare for the G.E.D. are available at libraries and bookstores.
High School Code Number
All tests except the PSAT and PLAN can be taken without a high school code number. If you enter a high school code number when you register for a test, you are giving your permission for your scores to be sent to your high school. Currently, all test scores except the ACT and PLAN go to both you and the high school if you enter a code number. You may have to obtain the ACT and PLAN scores from the high school if you give a high school code number. The PSAT scores are sent directly to you and the high school. Remember, adults out of high school take these tests (except the PSAT and PLAN) without having any high school to receive their scores.
The PSAT operates with a high school code number because information to continue in the competition is mailed only to the high school principal. As of 1996, all homeschoolers in a state have the same high school code. Your test administrator will tell you what this is when you ask him.
PLAN (formerly P-ACT+)
Administered by the American College Testing Program, PLAN is a career and educational planning assessment program for tenth graders. It measures the same academic skills that the ACT Assessment measures; however, it measures them at the tenth grade difficulty level. This program includes an interest inventory, study skills assessment, educational/occupational plans section, a student needs profile, and an "estimated ACT composite score range."
PLAN is administered during the month of October and pre-registration is required. A nominal fee is charged for this test.
PSAT/NMSQT - Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test
The PSAT/NMSQT is sponsored by The College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), and is developed and administered by the Educational Testing Service. The testing usually occurs during the second week of October, either on a Tuesday or the following Saturday, and requires pre-registration with a nominal fee. Check with a local high school, preferably private, in early September for current testing date. Ask the high school for the free PSAT Student Bulletin which contains hints for taking the PSAT and a sample test with answers. If you make use of this bulletin, you probably will feel adequately prepared for the test. However, workshops are available for a nominal fee.
This test measures developed verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities important for academic success in college. It is in four parts, thirty minutes each: two verbal and two mathematics. The verbal portion tests sentence completion, analogies, and reading comprehension. The mathematics portion tests regular mathematics and quantitative comparisons. Scientific calculators are allowed. Students should take this test by the eleventh grade if competing for a freshman scholarship. Homeschool students are welcome in this competition.
Taking the PSAT/NMSQT also lets you practice for the SAT I because both have the same kinds of questions. You receive similar scores and even an estimate of your SAT I scores. If you would like the actual PSAT/NMSQT test booklet used during the test, you must contact the school that administered the test soon after the testing date to arrange to pick it up before it is discarded.
The College Board's Working with the New PSAT/NMSQT and TestSkills: A Preparation for the New PSAT/NMSQT and Barron's PSAT/NMSQT, available at libraries and bookstores, are excellent study resources for this test.
SAT I - Scholastic Assessment Test I
SAT I (formerly SAT), another program of The College Board, appeared for the first time in March, May, and June of 1994. Though fundamentally similar to the SAT, the test has undergone significant changes. The SAT I is a three-hour test, primarily consisting of multiple-choice questions, that measures verbal and mathematical abilities. Changes in the verbal section include: (1) more emphasis on reading passages, (2) longer reading passages, (3) one or more of the reading selections consists of a pair of related passages, the second of which opposes, supports, or in some other way complements the point of view expressed in the first, (4) antonym questions have been eliminated, and (5) more total testing time is provided for the verbal sections of the test, even though there are fewer questions.
Changes to the mathematical sections include: (1) a new type of question which requires students to produce their own responses rather than choose a multiple-choice answer and (2) the use of calculators is allowed on the mathematics sections of the SAT I: Reasoning Test only. Students should take a calculator to the test, but make sure that the calculator is acceptable prior to the test date.
Obtain a registration packet and a free copy of Taking the SAT I from a local high school or college, or write College Board SAT, Princeton, NJ 08541. The SAT I is administered six times a year (seven in some states), and pre-registration and a fee are required. Check the registration folder for deadlines and current fees.
Unlike the ACT, the SAT I score reports are cumulative and contain the six most recent SAT I scores. These scores are reported to all colleges to which you release your scores.
Introducing the New SAT by The College Board will help to prepare students for both the new SAT and PSAT/NMSQT. Additional information may also be obtained by writing College Board SAT Program, PO Box 6200, Princeton, NJ 08541-6200.
SAT II: Subject Tests
SAT II (formerly SAT Achievement Tests) are multiple-choice, one-hour tests which measure the student's knowledge of particular subjects and ability to apply that knowledge.
Changes in the SAT II include a new SAT II Writing Test which replaces the English Composition Test With Essay and all the multiple-choice English Composition Tests. The Mathematics Level II Test was replaced by The Mathematics Level IIC which tests the same skills but requires the use of a scientific calculator. The European History and World Cultures test has been renamed World History. There are three new Foreign Language with Listening Tests added, but these tests are only offered at participating high schools and require separate registrations. Contact a local school counselor for additional registration information.
You may take up to three Subject/Achievement Tests on the same test date. Since not all of these tests are available on all test dates, check your registration bulletin carefully. You also have the option of Score Choice at the time of registration. This gives you the chance to review your scores before deciding to release them to colleges and scholarship programs. Although not reported to colleges, these scores will be forwarded to your high school instead. Check the Bulletin for the SAT Program for further details.
The College Board's The Official Guide to SAT II: Subject Tests, available at libraries and bookstores, and Taking the SAT II: Subject Tests, available free from local high schools or colleges, are excellent resources for test preparation. Also, check with local book stores for study materials on specific SAT II subject tests.
Scholarship Search Services
Scholarships opportunities abound for graduating seniors. The best place to start your search is the Adult Education Department of a large city library. These services are offered at no charge. Scholarship search services are also available - with high fees and no guarantees - from various private sources.
Many colleges maintain extensive scholarship listings. Check with colleges in your area to find out about any scholarship search services they offer.
Note that deadlines for private aid applications usually fall between October and March of the senior year. So, the best time to begin the application process is September of the senior year.
©1994,1996 Betty Berring and Vivian Young. All rights reserved. Permission for Non-profit reproduction granted and encouraged.