National Application Center :: frequently asked questions
- When should I start thinking about college?
- Suppose I know that I want to go to college but I'm not sure what I want to study?
- What high school courses do I need to take to help me get into college?
- What else can I do to improve my chances of being accepted?
- What are standardized tests?
- Does it help to take both the ACT and the SAT?
- What if I don't know which colleges or universities I want to send my scores to?
- What if I get a terrible score? Can I take the test a second time?
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When should I start thinking about college?
It is best to begin thinking about college no later than junior high or middle school. A student who decides to go to college before high school is able to use all four years to help reach his or her goals. If you know the courses you need to take in high school, you can start satisfying college admission requirements as early as the 8th grade. The decisions you make about your high school studies can influence whether the college you choose will also want you.
Suppose I know that I want to go to college, but I am not sure what I want to study?
You can begin thinking about your choices early to consider all the different aspects of a job. Do some research, find out what jobs are available, and talk to people who work in an area that you think sounds interesting. It may not be necessary to decide on a specific career immediately, but it is a good idea to narrow your choices as much as possible. Use the Plan a Career module to assist your search.
What high school courses do I need to take to help me get into college?
Even if they are not required for high school graduation, most colleges require at least three, and prefer four, years of studies in the following core courses:
- Social Studies
In addition, most colleges require at least two years of the same foreign language. Computer science courses or courses that require students to use computers in research and project preparation are often essential for college performance. Participation in extracurricular activities is also a good idea in high school. Courses that require study and time outside the classroom (like speech and debate, band, communications, and drama) indicate a willingness to cooperate with others and to put forth the effort needed to succeed.
Your grades are important. However, the difficulty of your coursework can also be a significant admissions factor. In general, most colleges prefer students with average grades in tougher courses than students who opt for an easy A.
What else can I do to improve my chances of being accepted?
- Class Rank
College admissions counselors usually consider class rank. By doing so, colleges are looking at the grades you get in relation to those of your peers.
- Standardized Tests
In addition to coursework, grades, and class rank, scores on standardized tests (such as the SAT and ACT) can be included among the criteria for admission to some colleges and universities.
- College Credit Before You Start
Often high school students are eligible to receive college credit while they are still enrolled in high school. Advanced Placement and test-preparation courses offer students who prepare early and take more difficult courses during their junior high and high school years the chance to earn college credit and save on tuition.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses are available in over 20 subjects. Students scoring high enough on AP exams can receive college credit and thus save time and money by taking fewer college courses. Ask your high school counselor if AP courses are available in your school.
What are standardized tests?
Students interested in attending college should become familiar with three exams associated with college admissions. Students who are already in college and preparing to go on to graduate, business, law, or medical school need to prepare for and take additional exams. Check with your high school counselor or the schools you're interested in attending to find out what test or tests are required for someone in your situation. Also, ask your counselor, contact the testing agencies, or check your local bookstore for samples of past tests to familiarize yourself with the content.
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The PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test) is a two-part exam that is very similar to the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test). The PSAT consists of two 25-minute verbal sections, two 25-minute math sections, and one 30-minute writing skills section. Most students take the PSAT in the fall of their junior year of high school, though some choose to take it during their sophomore year. PSAT scores from the junior year are used to determine National Merit Scholars, students who qualify for merit-based scholarships distributed throughout the United States. Talk to your high school counselor for more information or call the PSAT information line at (609) 771-7070.
The SAT I is one of the two standardized tests most commonly used by colleges as part of their admissions criteria. The SAT I is a three-hour exam that measures verbal and math reasoning skills. Scores on each section range from 200-800 points. The SAT II consists of more than 20 subject area tests designed to measure subject-area knowledge. It is less commonly a requirement for acceptance than the SAT I, though it may be required for admission to certain programs or departments at some universities. Contact your high school counselor for test dates, locations, and study guides, or call the Educational Testing Service for general SAT information at (609) 771-7600.
- ACT Assessment
Another standardized test used for admissions by colleges is the ACT Assessment. The test is designed to measure achievement in English, math, reading, and science. Scores for each section are averaged to create a composite score. A perfect score on the ACT Assessment is a composite score of 36. Contact your high school counselor for test dates, locations, and study materials to familiarize yourself with test content and questions, or call the ACT information line at (319) 337-1000.
Does it help to take both the ACT and the SAT I?
Some students do choose to take both the SAT I and the ACT, and some test takers do perform better on one than the other. Sometimes, however, scores on one aren't much better or worse than the scores on the other. Talk to your counselor or an admissions officer at a college or university before deciding which test to take and whether to take them both. There really isn't any way to know whether you will do better on one or the other until you take them.
What if I don't know which colleges or universities I want to send my scores to?
Both the ACT and the SAT allow test takers to send their scores to several different organizations, including scholarship programs, colleges, and universities. Even if you aren't certain which school you want to attend, you can send your scores to those that you are considering most strongly. Also, if you later decide to apply to schools that you were not initially considering, you can pay to have additional reports sent there as well.
What if I get a terrible score? Can I take the test a second time?
Yes, both the ACT and the SAT allow students to take the test several times. And sometimes scores do improve enough to make the difference for a particular student. But there is no guarantee that a student's scores will improve. If you want to improve your scores, you should see about doing some things to prepare first. Talk to a counselor before you take a test over.