The seniors have a new SAT, a revised UC application and an earlier submission date for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
Obviously, the class of 2017 has had to cope with a lot of changes related to the college admissions process.
Since 2005, the SAT has had three sections – reading, writing and math – with each scored out of 800 points. Now the SAT has combined reading and writing to form a single section called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”
With only two sections, the SAT has a maximum score of 1,600 points instead of 2,400. This has created some problems converting old SAT scores to the new point system and vice versa.
“Colleges have accumulated lots of data using the old SAT, and at first they didn’t have much data on the new SAT to use,” said Jane Bauman, director of college counseling. “Students with scores from both the old and new exams needed to convert one set of scores in order to compare them.
“Furthermore, if a student was looking at information about a college that used the old SAT scores, then to compare, scores needed to be converted.”
To make converting the scores simple, the College Board has created a converter on their website, as well as a free iPhone and Android app.
But, more importantly, the SAT has changed its specifications for what students should study. According to the College Board website, the new questions are based more on problems that a student might encounter in real life.
For instance, on the College Board website under the “Reading Test” section, it states, “The Reading Test focuses on the skills and knowledge at the heart of education: the stuff you’ve been learning in high school, the stuff you’ll need to succeed in college. It’s about how you take in, think about, and use information. And guess what? You’ve been doing that for years.”
This means that students no longer have to learn strategies specific to the test.
“It tests what we cover in the college prep(aratory) high-school curriculum,” Bauman said. “We don’t have to teach to the test. We don’t have to say ‘You have to know this because it’s on the (SAT).’
“We say, ‘You have to know this because I’m teaching it – oh, and by the way, it’s on the SAT.’”
Like the ACT, the SAT has also made its essay optional and is giving students 50 minutes to write it – doubling the original time. Additionally, the essay, which is part of the new section, is scored out of eight points instead of 12.
However, though the essay may be optional for some schools, Bauman says she encourages all students to do it because the UC’s require it.
Senior Isabelle Leavy, one of four seniors who took both the old and the new SAT, said she preferred the new one (but did better on the old one) because she felt more comfortable with the new SAT’s essay.
“The essay on the new one was about reading comprehension and analyzing rhetorical devices in a passage,” Leavy said. “This is something I had already had experience doing in English classes, and also (it is) the same thing that comes up on AP tests.”
“The old one had an essay where you had to have an opinion (in) response to a passage, which isn’t easy if the topic is not something you are passionate about.”
However, the structure of the new SAT is why Leavy thinks she didn’t do as well.
“The reading and writing questions were all connected, so if you got one wrong, it was hard to get the other ones right,” she said.
Finally, instead of applying a quarter-point deduction, the guessing penalty on the SAT has been completely nullified.
The UC application has also undergone a major makeover, particularly with its personal statement essay, which has been replaced by personal insight questions.
In the personal statement, students had 1,000 words to answer two prompts in an essay format. One of the prompts asked the student to describe the world they come from. In the other, students wrote about a personal quality, talent or accomplishment, and how it related to the person they became.
However, in the personal insight questions, applicants answer four of eight possible questions, revealing who they are and what they want to become, and using only 350 words for each question.
One of the questions is “What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?”
Another is “What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?”
While the personal statement and the personal insight questions are fundamentally the same – they both allow colleges to get a feel for the student’s personality – their format is drastically different.
“(The UCs) don’t want an essay anymore – they want content-based answers,” Bauman said. “They don’t want any introductions, metaphors (or fluff).”
Senior Avi Bhullar said she preferred the personal insight questions to the personal statement due to the large selection of prompts.
“There was a wide variety of questions, which allowed us to explain and go into detail about activities, aspects of our lives (and extracurriculars),” Bhullar said.
Bauman agreed, saying that the combination of questions and answers made the students’ responses interesting.
For her personal insight questions, senior Shriya Nadgauda described her nonprofit work, her time in the yearbook elective, how her favorite subject (physics) affected her decisions about summer programs, and how her family environment differed from that of her friends. This variety of topics allowed Nadgauda to paint a unique picture of herself, she said.
The FAFSA also saw changes, though not as dramatically as the others.
The FAFSA is now available on Oct. 1, three months earlier than before.
This earlier date allows students to submit and receive a precise financial aid package faster.
“(It’s to the) students’ advantage to give them a more accurate financial aid package earlier,” Bauman said.
Additionally, the tax and income information submitted is now from the previous year.
For example, the seniors applying for college in 2016 and attending in 2017-2018 will submit tax and income information from 2015.
However, the financial aid package that students receive may not be finalized since the cost of attendance isn’t finalized.
“There is one little wrinkle about the FAFSA being available earlier,” Bauman said. “Even though students can submit their FAFSA earlier, the boards of trustees at every college – they determine the cost of attendance – (do) not usually (finalize the cost of attendance) until February.”
“So even if you got a financial aid letter in December or January, it might not be final.”