A Guide to the SAT

If you want to walk into the SAT feeling confident and ready to succeed, preparation is key! To help you prepare for the big day, here is a guide to everything you need to know about the SAT. 

How do I register for the SAT?

Visit the College Board website to register for the test. You’ll need to create a free online account. If you took an AP test or the PSAT, you may already have a College Board account. Register in advance to avoid late fees!

When should I take the SAT?

Plan to spend around 100 hours preparing for your first SAT, with enough time to take the test 2-4 times before submitting your college applications. Determine how much time you need to prepare for the test by working backward from your college application deadlines. 

It’s also best to take the test after you’ve completed a majority of these classes:

  • Algebra II
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Three years of science (one year of physical science)

Taking classes that cover concepts tested on the SAT can be very useful in preparing for the exam. Consider scheduling your SAT when you have a lighter course load. With seven test dates offered every school year, there are plenty of opportunities available. 

How many times should I take the SAT?

Plan to take the test at least twice. To maximize your score, consider taking it 3-4 times. The SAT offers a feature called “score choice,” which allows you to pick and choose the scores sent to colleges. Some schools still require you to send all your scores, so do your best to make every attempt count. Other schools may want your “Superscore” – your best score in each section across test dates.

How much does the SAT cost?

SAT costs change from year to year, so visit their website for updated information on pricing. Check out the fee waiver requirements to see if you qualify.

What is on the SAT?


This section tests reading comprehension and your understanding of vocabulary within context.


In this section, you will read passages with intentional grammar errors. Your job is to fix them.


The math section assesses your basic arithmetic, algebra I, algebra II, geometry, probability, and statistics knowledge.


Although this section is optional, some colleges require it. Check the requirements of the schools you wish to attend. We recommend registering for the essay section just to be safe.

What is the SAT score range?

Scores range from 400-1600. The optional essay is scored on three different dimensions, and the scores range from 2-8.

How do I prepare?

Khan Academy offers FREE SAT prep resources. For the most up-to-date SAT information, please visit College Board. 

Good luck! We’re rooting for you!

A Guide to the ACT

Preparation is half the battle! If you know what to expect and you’ve studied the materials, you can walk in on ACT test day ready for anything! To help you prepare for the big day, here’s a short guide to everything you need to know about the ACT.

How do I register for the ACT?

Visit ACT.org to register for the test. You’ll need to create a free online account. Regular registration typically ends five weeks before a test date, so register well in advance to avoid late fees!

What do I need to register?

Registration takes about 40 minutes. You’ll need a:

  • Desktop or laptop computer (mobile devices not recommended)
  • Credit card or a fee waiver
  • Information on your high school courses
  • Headshot photo

When should I take the ACT?

While there’s no perfect answer to this question, you should spend about 100 hours studying for your first ACT and give yourself enough time to take the test 2-4 times before submitting your college applications. Work backward from that scenario to determine your ideal time frame.

Also, it’s best to take the test after you’ve completed a majority of the following classes:

  • Algebra II
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Three years of science (one year of physical science)

These classes cover concepts tested on the ACT, so it’s helpful to have exposure to them.

Think about your other commitments. If possible, schedule your ACT when your course load is lighter. There are seven test dates each school year, so you have some options!

How many times should I take the ACT?

ACT limits the fun to 12 attempts within your lifetime. If you are part of a program that takes the ACT in middle school, that test counts toward the total. Plan to take the test at least twice. To maximize your score, consider taking it 3-4 times. Some schools will accept your “super score,” or your best score in each section across test dates. Others may require you to send all scores from all dates, so make the most of each test.

How much does the ACT cost?

ACT costs vary each year. Visit their website for updated information on pricing. Check out the fee waiver requirements to see if you qualify.

What’s on the ACT?


The English portion of the exam tests you on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and rhetorical skills.


The math section focuses on aptitude in algebra II, geometry, and some trigonometry.


The reading section focuses on comprehension. You may read passages in the following subject areas: social studies, natural sciences, literary narrative or prose fiction, and humanities.


The science section measures your interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills in biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics.


This section is optional. If you decide to take it, there is an additional cost. Although it is optional, some colleges require it. Check the requirements of the schools you wish to attend to find out if it’s a requirement. We recommend registering for this section just to be safe.

What is the ACT score range?

The ACT scores range from 1-36. The number of correct answers converts to a score within that range. The composite score for the ACT is an average of your scores on the four required subjects. The writing test is scored by two graders on a scale of 1-6, for a maximum possible score of 12.

How can I prepare for the ACT?

ACT offers free test prep through ACT Academy. You’ll find ACT practice tests, educational games, videos, and personalized study plans. ACT bases your plans on the results of your PreACT, past ACT scores, and the ACT practice tests and exercises you’ve completed.

For the most up-to-date ACT information, please visit the ACT website. Good luck!

Everything You Need to Know about the PSAT and NMSQT

You’ve probably heard the acronyms PSAT or NMSQT floating around your school. If you’re not sure what they stand for or what they mean, don’t worry! We’ve got you! Here’s everything you need to know about the PSAT and the NMSQT.

PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test)

The PSAT is a practice SAT exam. Even if you don’t plan on taking the SAT or ACT, consider taking the exam at least once. Standardized tests are challenging, but this test will prepare you for the SAT, ACT, and any other standardized test you may take in the future. If you plan to attend a 2-year or 4-year college after high school, you should take the PSAT or any PSAT Suite of Assessments, including PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9. 

NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test)

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) funds a scholarship that awards big money to students in their junior year of high school who score in the highest percentiles on the PSAT. Since the Selection Index’s percentile changes every year, you won’t know the cutoff for your year. Students who qualify as National Merit Finalists and Semi-finalists receive money and bragging rights on their college applications. The NMSQT is only applicable to U.S. students in grade 11 or lower.

Testing Dates

The PSAT is offered in October each year, and you should consider taking it in your junior year of high school. If you want to take it before 11th grade, you can take the PSAT 10 as a sophomore or the PSAT 8/9 as an 8th or 9th grader. Each version assesses your writing, language, and math skills.

Check the website for the official dates of the exam. If your school doesn’t offer the test, you can contact the College Board directly to see which schools offer it nearby. The whole purpose of this exam is to get some practice before taking the SAT or ACT!

Test Scores

Your scores are sent directly to your school, and your counselor will distribute them once they track them in their system. When you get your score report, create an account on College Board. If you lose the paper copy, you can access your scores online. Your sign-up code is at the bottom of the score report.

Test Length

The PSAT is a shortened version of the SAT but is still considerably longer than any tests you take in school. It will take you 2 hours and 45 minutes to finish. The test covers three subjects – math, reading, and writing/language. 

Guessing vs. Omitting 

Since you only get points for correct questions, guessing has the same outcome as omitting. In other words, guess every question! The odds are in your favor if you take a random guess because there is a chance it will be correct. 

The PSAT: To Prep or Not to Prep

Colleges don’t see your PSAT scores. However, it’s a good idea to prepare because your scores could indicate how you’ll do on the SAT. Also, your PSAT score during your junior year determines whether you qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship looks great on college applications and could earn you money to help pay for college.

4 Things You Can Do Now to Make College More Affordable

It’s no surprise that college can be expensive. The cost of tuition, books, fees, and living expenses and room and board, can add up. The good news is, college is much more affordable if you plan ahead. But even if you’re in your final years of high school, there are still plenty of things you can do now to make college more affordable.

  1. Start Saving. It’s never too early (or too late) to start saving for college. Even a small amount of savings is better than none at all! Skipping a few lattes and after-school snacks can add up over time. Consider opening a savings account that’s just for future college expenses. Talk to your parents/guardians about the different types of education savings accounts.
  1. Research and apply for scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Whether you’re a first-year high school student or you’re graduating this year, understanding your financial aid options and the FAFSA will help make college more affordable. You can save on everything from tuition costs and books to housing and food. Also, research in-state tuition discounts and transfer programs.
  1. Get a part-time job. A job can help pay for living expenses and help make college more affordable. Get creative with the type of work you choose. Consider looking for a job or paid internship in a field you’re interested in studying. You can earn extra money and get the real-world experience you can add to your college application or work resume.
  1. Take college classes online or at a community college. Most colleges require students to take general education classes during their first two years. But did you know you can save money by taking some of these classes online or at a community college while you’re still in high school? You can get quality education and college credit for a fraction of the cost of a four-year university.

Don’t let the college costs stop you from getting the education you deserve. Explore your financial aid options, consider taking a few college classes in high school, and start saving now! With a little planning and creativity, you can lower your college costs before you even get to college! 

Getting Ready for College Application Season

The beginning of the college application process can feel overwhelming. You can relieve some pressure by starting early and taking one step at a time. Here are some tips that will help stay on track and prepare for college application season. 

Stay organized.

Gather information on all your top schools. Are they on the Common App? Will you need to send a separate application for financial aid? Do you have everything you need to fill out your FAFSA? Keep your social security number, high school code, transcripts, important contacts, and logins for websites/applications in one place. You will refer to them often!

Create a realistic timeline.

Grab a planner, notepad, iPad, or whatever helps you list out priorities and put in all your college app deadlines, ACT/SAT test dates, registrations, and letter of recommendation deadlines. By sticking to a dedicated timeline, you’ll ease the anxiety or the unknown, keeping things cool during the admissions process.

Character counts!

Colleges care about more than just your GPA and test scores. Make a list (brag sheet) of all your passions, extracurriculars, and accomplishments. These activities and interests give admissions teams a better idea of your character and what you’ll bring to their school. 

Check in with your school counselor.

Your counselor is your biggest fan! Keep them in the loop about your admissions experience, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. They can help you finalize your college list and even write you a letter of recommendation!

Ask questions.

So much goes into the college application process. You won’t have all the answers! Talk with your family members, counselors, favorite teachers, and other supporters if you feel lost or confused. Share your aspirations and let them help guide you – they live for that!

Take care of yourself!

Self-care is NON-NEGOTIABLE. Make time for things that spark joy and boost your serotonin. Just finished an essay? Treat yourself to some coffee! Crushed the ACT? Celebrate with friends. If you need suggestions, here are 5 Ways to Celebrate Yourself + 3 Ways to Celebrate Your Friends.

A Crash Course in Admissions and Financial Aid

As you fill out financial aid forms and compare financial aid packages, you’ll probably see some unfamiliar terminology. While most terminology is universal across US colleges, some terms are unique to specific colleges. Don’t be afraid to ask your high school or admissions counselor about acronyms or processes. They want you to be as informed as possible throughout the process.

Financial Aid Terminology

Cost of Attendance (COA)

COA is more than just your tuition. It’s a combination of tuition and an estimate of the extras, including room and board, books, laptop, transportation, and other personal costs.

CSS Profile

CSS Profile is a form some schools require you to fill out to be considered for scholarships.

Entrance Loan Counseling (ELC)

ELC is an online training module that goes over the terms of the loan, origination fees, interest rates, repayment options, and more. ELC is mandatory when you take out both student and PLUS loans.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The EFC is the total out-of-pocket amount your family could reasonably contribute towards your college expenses. It is determined by your family size, the number of family members already enrolled in college (if any), and both taxable and non-taxable family income and assets. The EFC is calculated using the information you fill out on your FAFSA.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

You must fill out the FAFSA every year you attend college to be considered for need-based aid and if you want to take out federal student loans to fund your education. The FAFSA typically opens on October 1st for the following school year. If you are unmarried and under the age of 24, have your tax info and your parents’ tax info from two years ago handy. You can read more about the FAFSA here.

Gift Aid

Gift aid is the best kind of aid because you don’t have to pay it back. Gift aid is usually in the form of grants and scholarships. Ideally, you want all your aid to fall into the gift aid category.

Master Promissory Note (MPN)

This is your loan contract that states that you agree to pay back all of the money you have borrowed, including interest.


Need is the difference between the cost of attendance and how much your family can afford to pay based on your FAFSA application.

Need-Based Aid

Need-based aid is determined based on the needs of your family. Your grades, community involvement, and athletic prowess do not come into play. The amount of need-based aid is generated by subtracting your Expected Family Contribution from the Cost of Attendance.


When a university is need-blind, it does not consider your financial need/status when making admissions decisions. Need-blind schools never deny you because of your inability to pay full tuition. Fortunately, many schools are need-blind.


Need-aware is the opposite of need-blind. Need-aware colleges take your ability to pay tuition into consideration when they are making admissions decisions.

Origination Fee

An origination fee is paid to the bank to compensate them for administering a loan. The fees are usually 3% of the amount disbursed. A portion of the money is paid to the federal government to help offset its administrative costs.

Pell Grants

These are federally funded need-based grants awarded based on your FAFSA application. You do not pay these back.

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Study (PLUS Loans)

Parents can apply for a PLUS loan up to the Cost of Attendance minus any other aid. Qualification for this loan is based on a positive credit history. Parents must begin repayment on the PLUS loan once the loan is disbursed. However, they can request a deferment while the student is enrolled at least half-time in school. PLUS loans begin accruing interest as soon as they disburse.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a program where your remaining direct federal student loan debt can be forgiven after 120 payments under a qualifying repayment plan and while employed by a qualifying governmental agency or non-profit organization.

Renewable Scholarship

A renewable scholarship is awarded for more than one aid year. Renewable scholarships typically require a recipient to maintain specific academic standards. Some require students to reapply every year.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

To continue to receive aid, you must meet specific benchmarks, such as credit completion or a certain GPA. Make sure you understand the specific requirements for your aid.

Student Aid Report (SAR)

You’ll receive this report via email after submitting the FAFSA. The SAR is your opportunity to review submitted information to ensure everything is accurate.

Subsidized Loans

Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you are still enrolled at least half-time status and for the following grace period. Repayment begins six months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status.

Unsubsidized Loans

Unsubsidized student loans from the government begin accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. Repayment begins six months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status. If you can, consider making interest-only payments while in school so the interest doesn’t capitalize.


If your FAFSA was selected for verification, don’t panic. About one-third of applications get selected, some at random, and some because they found mismatching information on the application that requires further explanation. Each institution lets you know what paperwork is required to complete this process. Complete the paperwork immediately because your financial aid package can’t be finalized until it’s completed.


Work-study is a program that allows you to earn money by applying for on-campus jobs. You typically have to apply for these positions just like any other job. The salary helps offset a portion of your Cost of Attendance. Most work-study jobs are generally no more than 20 hours per week.

Academic Terminology

Bursar’s Office

The office where you pay your tuition bill.

Class Standing

Freshman (0-30 credit hours earned), Sophomore (31-59 credit hours earned), Junior (60-89 credits earned), Senior (90+ credit hours earned).


CLEP stands for College Level Exam Program. CLEP tests can be taken in many subjects to demonstrate college-level proficiency and award you college credit for a specific course. If you are interested in taking a CLEP test, check with your college regarding CLEP acceptance policies, scores needed, etc.

Credit Hours

Most college courses will be three credit hours. In a typical 16-week semester, you will spend three hours in the classroom per week learning academic material. Your work for that class doesn’t end after those three hours, so set aside additional time to complete your homework. You typically complete 120 credit hours to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Degree Audit

This is a report showing your progress toward your college degree completion. If you took any dual credit courses, AP courses, or CLEP tests, including the necessary documentation to your college to ensure these courses are reflected on your degree audit.


Electives are courses outside of your degree plan. Some degrees have room for electives, and you can take any college course to meet your total credit hour requirement. Other times, you can choose electives within a specific subject area.


FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA is designed to protect the privacy of your educational records and allows you the right to review your records. Once you turn 18 or attend a postsecondary institution, you’re the only person who sees the information unless you sign a release form authorizing others. This means your parents will not be given your academic transcript, disciplinary records, or GPA without your permission.

Transient Enrollment

This is enrollment at an institution other than your own college that you attend. For example, it’s considered transient enrollment if you go home for the summer and take a course at a college or university in your hometown.

Why Your GPA Matters

If you’ve ever wondered how much your high school and college GPA matters, you’re not alone. Let’s unpack why your GPA matters at all stages of your education.

Your GPA and College Admissions

While all college admissions teams look at your GPA, some colleges place a higher weight on it than others. Even though all admissions teams review your grades and test scores, many believe your GPA is a strong indicator of college success. If you are applying test-optional, your GPA will likely be a larger part of the admissions equation because you won’t have test scores to review.

Think about your unique situation. How competitive are the schools on your college list? Are they test-optional? How do you feel about your test scores and current GPA? 

How to Improve Your GPA

If you’re unhappy with your GPA and feel it isn’t an accurate reflection of you, there are ways to improve it.

Start your semester strong.

After summer vacation, your mind is fresh and rested. Use it to your advantage and work extra hard on those first assignments, projects, and tests. When you score highly in the first few months of your classes, you give yourself a buffer in case you don’t test as well later in the semester. Consider taking advanced courses that could increase your weighted GPA. 

Do the extra credit.

Usually, teachers and professors address their extra credit policies in their syllabi. Approach them with respect and let them know you are willing to put in the effort to improve your grades. Ask about extra credit questions in advance, and don’t inquire about bonus points a few days before the final exam.

Get extra help.

If you’re struggling in a class, ask your teacher or school counselor about tutoring resources. Look into after-school help, peer help, office hours, and writing centers. There are plenty of options for students in both high school and college.

Consider summer school.

If you didn’t get the grade you hoped for, consider retaking the class in summer school. Some high schools allow you to replace your current grade with an improved one! If you plan to take the course at a different school, first get approval from your high school counselor.

Your GPA in College

Companies in math and science-based industries often ask for your college GPA. However, even if you choose a math or science major, your GPA only matters for an entry-level position. As soon as you start your career, your resume will revolve around your work experience.

Graduate School

Graduate admissions teams want to know if you can handle the rigor of a graduate program. If you want to attend graduate school, a high college GPA may set you apart from other applicants, especially if you’re applying to a prestigious law school or medical school.


Many college scholarships require you to maintain a certain GPA. If you have one of these scholarships, keeping your GPA high will help you keep the scholarship and pay for your college education.

A high GPA can help you stand out in your college application and future job. Make an appointment with your high school counselor or college guidance counselor if you have questions or concerns about your GPA,

4 Tips to Help You Choose High School Classes

Choosing high school classes can be stressful, especially if you’re getting ready to start high school or wondering which classes look best on college applications. Here are a few tips to help you choose your courses with confidence so you can make the most of your time in high school.

Learn about your high school’s graduation requirements.

Each high school has specific graduation requirements or classes you must pass to graduate from high school. These requirements vary by state and by the type of school you attend. Some schools require one or two semesters of health or physical education. Some ask for a certain number of years of English and math. Visit your school counselor to find out your school’s requirements so you can choose classes that will keep you on track to graduate.

Find out which classes you need for college admission.

If you’re considering college, find out how many core classes (math, English, science, etc.) you need to complete to satisfy college admission requirements. Many colleges request four years of English, math, and world language. They also look for two years of laboratory science and at least two years of history. If you’ve started making your college list, check with the schools on your list for specific requirements. Engineering, art, music, and specialized majors often have additional prerequisites.

Understand the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA.

If your school has weighted GPAs, consider taking honors or AP classes. A B+ in an honors class often looks better than an A- in a regular-level class. Start by choosing an honor or AP class in a subject you enjoy. Once you’ve completed a course, you will better understand expectations and determine if you’re ready for another class. Challenge yourself, but don’t sign up for more than you can handle.

Explore your interests. 

Electives are a fun way to explore your interests! Use the opportunity to sign up for a class that sounds interesting. School doesn’t have to be boring! Plus, you are more likely to get a good grade in a class you love! 

Choosing your high school classes can be overwhelming. Remember, you don’t have to make these decisions alone. Your school’s counselor and your personal support system can help! Make an appointment with your counselor or ask your parents, guardians, or champions for advice and assistance. They will have plenty of valuable input to help you stay on track.