What Do You Need to Do to Get into College?

Mar 23, 2020 by

When you were younger, you probably thought that high school would be full of life-defining adventures, big moments and profound lessons. Instead, it sometimes feels like you are just a cog in the system between scheduled classes, desks in a row, rules upon rules and no real freedom. Then, once you hit junior year, you’ve got to start prepping for college. Why are you so busy when you’re just in high school?

Things Aren’t as Bad as They Seem!

Applying for college can feel like a career and a life-defining choice. The momentous occasion may be intimidating. The college and courses you choose may be the first of your real, adult choices. While the process may be daunting, it’s actually not that complicated.

The first thing you should do is get organized. You should start by creating a college application checklist which has:

1. A list of schools you would like to apply to. Apply to more than one—having options is always best.

2. Submission deadlines (regular, early decision and rolling)

3. Your high school transcript

4. ACT or SAT scores

5. The personal application essay prompt or guidelines. It will help you to keep focused on producing what they want and to keep track of the different requests.

6. Personal application essay

7. Recommendation letters

8. Any other documents requested to submit along with the application

9. Details of where and how to submit

10. A list of questions to ask if there’s anything you don’t understand on the college website

What to Know About the ACT

The ACT is a nationally administered, standardized, paper-and-pencil test used by colleges and universities to assess applicants. University and college applicants usually have to submit either ACT or SAT scores as part of the application process. Some students opt to take both the ACT and SAT, but most choose one to focus on.

The ACT is an exam that tests you in English, math, reading, and science for two hours and 55 minutes. It also has an optional section that tests your writing. Choosing to add the writing test adds 40 more minutes to the test for a total time of three hours and 35 minutes. The test is always taken in the same order: English, math, reading, science and then the optional writing test. All ACTs have the same number of questions.

The test is administered twice a year. You should base your decision on when to take the test based on your application submission and scholarship deadlines. It’s also recommended that you take it in the spring of your junior year so that if you can take it again in the fall of your senior year if you’re not satisfied with your scores. The 2020 ACT dates can now be found online.

What Does the Act Test?

The 45-minute English test has five short passages. Each comes with 15 questions designed to test you on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and rhetorical skills. It’s a multiple-choice section with four options. The first will always be “no change” and the other three options will be different.

The English section will also have paragraph modification questions that test your understanding of the style and content of the passage. It usually tests you on adding or deleting information, correctly placing sentences within a paragraph or evaluating the passage as a whole.

The math test covers topics from eighth grade or freshman year of high school so your review should include formulas and topics from back then. The questions can include geometry, algebra, trigonometry, ratios, coordinate geometry and quadratics.

The ACT math test has 60 questions that must be answered in 60 minutes. The problems start relatively easy and get harder as they progress. Generally, you should expect the first 30 questions to be the easiest, questions 30 to 45 will be tougher and the last 15 will be difficult.

On the reading test, four passages with 1,000 words each will appear in the following order: prose fiction, social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. Students will then have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions about them. A lot of students have trouble with the time limit, so keep an eye on the clock.

Each passage will have 10 questions. The questions usually ask students about details in the passage, the meaning of words in their context, the author’s goals, the main message and the function of sentences or paragraphs. Questions must be answered using evidence in the reading selection.

The science section will test students in biology, chemistry, physics, ecology, astrology, and meteorology. There will be six passages about scientific experiments and you will be expected to answer questions on them. The science test does not necessarily test science knowledge; it’s mostly about reading charts and graphs then making conclusions from them.

Of the six passages, five will use scientific data along with corresponding charts, tables, and graphs. One passage will ask you to compare and contrast conflicting viewpoints on a topic. Each reading will have five to seven questions, and each question will be harder than the last. Students will have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. Considering the amount of data that they need to process, students usually find the time limit difficult to manage.

In the optional writing test, students are expected to write an essay from a prompt in 40 minutes. The prompt will give the student three different perspectives on a topic and the student will then be expected to assess all three attitudes and form their own position. The student’s position must be supported by critical thinking, evidence, and examples.

Take ACTion

Applying for college requires organization and preparedness. Once you have your checklist ready, you can check each stage off as you proceed. This structure and process will help navigate the daunting process of applying for college with ease.

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