How the College Admissions Process is Changing This Year (and What You Need to Know)

If you are like most high school students, you’ve probably talked to older friends or siblings about what you’ll need to do to improve your chances of getting into the college of your choice. This year, however, the SAT and other important aspects of the college admissions process are changing, and some of the advice you’ve heard may no longer be relevant. Here’s what you need to know as you begin a successful college admissions process.

What’s New About This Year’s SAT?

The College Board released a new SAT earlier this year, and there are a number of changes from what students experienced in the earlier test. These changes include:

A new scoring scale. The new SAT is back to the 1600 point scale it used before 2005. This 1600-point score consists of two sections, Evidence-based Reading & Writing and Math, each of which is scored on an 800 scale and combined onto the 1600 scale. The Reading & Writing sections consist of reading comprehension passages and questions as well as passage-based editing exercises in grammar. Math consists of 2 sections, one with content to be solved without a calculator and one solved with. The SAT also offers an essay, which is optional and does not impact your score on the 1600 scale.

No penalty for wrong answers. No guessing penalty is a huge benefit; it gives you the chance to better display your skills and knowledge without worrying about whether you should skip a question if you are not certain of your answer.

More graphs and charts in the math section. This means you’ll need to be able to interpret data, not just compute numbers without context.

Tough but practical questions. The new SAT tests your reading skills on complex passages from history, literature, and science. These passages line up with what you’ve learned in school, and that means you can skip the dictionary flashcards and instead prepare through rigorous academic work — the type we emphasize here at Academic Approach — such as annotating your reading and defining words in context.

More time on each section. There are fewer questions on the new SAT test, and you’ll have more time per question, 44% more time per question, in fact, than you have on the ACT. To take advantage of this time, utilize the annotation strategies you learned in school, review every step of your work on the math problems to check for errors, and consider every answer option as thoroughly as possible to make sure you pick an accurate answer.

How Can I Prepare for the New SAT?

These changes to the SAT make it more important than ever to develop your critical reading, reasoning, grammar, and mathematical reasoning skills. When preparing, beware of test prep options that promise “tips and tricks” to “beat” the test; the new SAT is not a game. Thorough preparation for the SAT can strengthen your academic skills, which will help you in class, in college, and even in your future career, so take the opportunity to do meaningful work now rather than looking for an easy way out.


What’s The Best Way to Apply for College?

As you well know, taking the SAT is only one part of the larger college admission process. You should also be prepared for recent changes to your options for preparing and submitting your college applications. The Common Application has been around since 1975, and the Universal College Application has been around since 2007. This year, however, there’s a new option.

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success has launched an alternate application, which 52 colleges and universities will accept this year. Their site also provides a toolkit to help you apply. While the toolkit is meant to be used as early as ninth grade to organize college admissions materials, you can still start working on the application as a senior.

If you’re asking yourself which application is right for you, first check which applications the schools you are interested in are willing to accept. Then, take a look at each remaining option and decide what you find most useful in an application tool. You may also want to talk to your counselor for another perspective before making a choice.

How is Financial Aid Changing?

Financial aid paperwork can be stressful, but it’s well worth it if money doesn’t prevent you from gaining access to an excellent school. This year it’s becoming a little easier to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

You can now begin the FAFSA three months earlier than in the past — on October 1. This lessens the time crunch between the application’s open date and priority aid application deadlines. If you fill out your forms early, you’ll likely have a better picture of your financial aid offers earlier in the process than students in past years did, making it easier to use this information in choosing a school.

This change also means your family can use tax data from a year earlier (2015 information for this year’s application), so you won’t need to gather tax documents early or revise the form after officially filing your taxes later on. You will even be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to fill in tax information on the online form automatically.

The more you understand about these changes to the college testing, application, and admission process, the better you can position yourself to succeed in the school of your choice. Good luck!

Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D. is the founder of the test-preparation company Academic Approach.

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