The journey begins (Updated to include SAT/ACT and Test Prep)

It’s the week before a new, and final, school year is set to begin for your senior student. How did this happen?  Where did the time go?  Will senior year be a blur? The short answers are : Time flies, it slips away, and, blur doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Grab a glass of your favorite cold beverage, and prepare to enjoy this exciting ride with your young adult. Keep in mind that they will repeatedly remind you that they are no longer children. Some will take your advice and run with it. Others will insist on doing everything their own way – but not necessarily your way. And still others will drag their feet to the point that you end up doing the work (I strongly urge you to “just say no”).  Only you know how best to handle the emotions that will be rampant this year, both yours and theirs.

When our first child was a junior in high school, a very wise woman took me under her wing and helped me through the college application process. I am eternally grateful to this woman for helping me through all the information needed as a first time parent wading into the deep end of the pool. I’m a firm believer in the concept of “pay it forward” and thus this idea for this blog was hatched.

I’ve helped numerous parents the past few years but never really thought about putting it down on paper (so to speak).  I’m starting to get questions from another round of first-time senior parents, so it would seem, timing is everything.   My tips are based on experiences with schools here in Texas although my children have applied to fourteen major universities, across ten states, so many of the tips will apply regardless of the location of your senior’s school of choice.

So to begin . . .The best piece of advice she gave me was to start early, during Junior year.  Most first-time senior parents don’t realize that the final junior transcript is the one that is sent to universities in the Fall during the application process. Many first-timers also don’t realize that taking the college entrance exams (SAT/ACT) in May or June of Junior year is a smart idea. [Read the update section below for more info on the exams and test prep options]. Again, these scores will go in with the applications in September and October.  Senior year is a blur, especially if you have a child who works or is involved in athletics, fine arts, or worse, all of the above.  The more your student is able to get done before senior year begins, the better.  Less stress for you and for your child, ahem, young adult =]

Wait! We didn’t start during Junior year!  OMG!  What do we do?  (Is your panic/stress level staring to rise?  Are you hopping around your living room like John Belushi on the lawn of the sorority house in Animal House?)   First, remember to breathe. Second, begin today.

1) Research the essay questions for your student’s schools of choice and get them started writing these essays.  In my next posting I will include the topics from the Texas common application (available at  Similar topics are required on the national common application.  Note: Each university will have it’s own short answer questions, i.e. why do you feel you are a good fit at [insert uni name here], why did you pick your major, etc. in addition to the required essays.  There will be a lot of writing – but using the major topics, they can be tweaked for use on most applications.

2) Register your senior now for the October SAT and/or September ACT exams. Scores are generally ready in one month. [See update below for more info on exams and test prep options].

3) If you will be using a test prep company, like Testmasters, Kaplan, Princeton Review, C2Education, etc., look into their class schedules and sign up your student now. If you don’t plan to spend the money for this, have your student start taking the practice exams online at and Evidence has shown that scores improve the more times the test is taken. The more comfortable your student is with the test, the better their results.

4) Begin collecting the information to fill out the applications and for building a resume.  More on this in an upcoming post.

SAT/ACT Exams & Test Prep Update – September 2012

The first piece of advice is to plan ahead, be prepared to START EARLY, aka, in the student’s JUNIOR year. They will have completed or are currently enrolled in the last of the coursework covered on the exams, and will have more time to invest in preparing for the tests.

I can already hear you whining about how they don’t have time because they are involved in a spring sport, or a fine art, or work, or whatever. . . trust me, I had two kids who were able to do this who were both highly involved in sports and fine arts. It CAN and MUST be done. Test scores are required on the college application and you don’t want to have to wait for scores to post to complete your applications.  Earlier is better when applying to Texas universities, especially the big ones.  As someone once said . . . “Get ‘er done!”

The two major exams in college entrance testing are the SAT and the ACT. The purpose of these exams are to see if your student has mastered the basics and is prepared for college level coursework. Some people prefer one to the other based on their learning style. However, the choice may be as simple as which test is required by the institution where you are making your application. I won’t get into the details about which is best for you. The folks over at Peterson’s (excellent resource) have done an admirable job.  I will defer to the experts and encourage you to do your homework on this subject.

It has been proven that the more times the student attempts a practice exam, the better their scores.  It’s that old adage of “Practice, Practice, Practice”. Any route you take should include plenty of practice so that the student is well-prepared, and confident in their test taking ability.

The best advice I can give, and it’s worth what you’re paying for it 🙂, figure out the best option based on how your student studies.  Are they a self-motivating type who will crack the study guide and work their way through it?  Are they on the computer all the time and would find it comfortable to take the practice exams online?  Do they thrive in a classroom and need the structure to guide them through the prep materials?  It’s ultimately up to you and your student to decide.  My kids preferred the classroom setting so that’s what we chose.  There are many reputable programs, research the ones available in your area and check with your friends. Word of mouth is often the best source of hands on research you can find.

Free Test Prep Websites:




About wagnerjb2011

Retired systems analyst and retired volunteer. For 12 years I volunteered at the International School of Hamburg (Germany) and in various schools in Texas. My first child, a son, graduated high school in 2009. I had an excellent mentor going into his senior year, who gave me wonderful advice about navigating the college application process. I again found this information quite handy as our second child, a daughter, found herself filing applications in 2011. Both made it into the schools of their choosing without much trepidation. I am a firm believer in paying things forward. So there you have it!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The journey begins (Updated to include SAT/ACT and Test Prep)

  1. Mary Carlson says:

    Great idea and great info, Jamie! Thank you for all the helpful information and tips you provided to me this past year…you are a wealth of information and a great person to bounce things off of, too. With my first leaving for college in about a week and having another one not far behind, I know the importance of starting early and having your “ducks in a row” when it comes to getting ready for college and not putting things off to be done at a later date, because it does fly by. Thank you for creating this blog. I know others will benefit greatly and you “paying it forward” is no surprise…that’s speaks to your “serving” personality and caring spirit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s