Forget the SAT: The real test is getting your freshman-to-be prepared for college

The Baltimore Sun

It's that time of year again when we parents of high school seniors must put on our retired racehorse personae (i.e., become "nags") and get the college application process going with our students.

There are many things you and your student should have done already, but to ramp up your stress level, I will list them anyway.

By now, your senior should have taken the PSAT/NMSQT (Perfect Students, All Talented/No More Slacking, Quibbling, Tempers) examination. This test is administered at your student's high school in the fall of the junior year, so you are in luck, because it happens automatically.

This test has a "just-for-practice, doesn't-really-count" reputation, but it does screen for National Merit Scholarships, which, last time I checked, "counted" from the parental financial perspective.

Next, your senior should have taken, and possibly signed up to retake, an SAT (Sweating And Trembling). Just to make things interesting, some colleges require the ACT (Another Critical Test), and others require SAT (Significant And Tedious) Subject Tests. There's even a new test called the CLEB (Can't Lack Essential Brainpower).

All of these tests are administered for a fee by the not-for-profit College Board organization, which I happened to notice has its own swanky building about a block from Central Park in midtown Manhattan. So the not-for-profit testing business must be good.

I recommend you confirm the necessity of these exams with someone like my next-door neighbor, who is the parent of senior twins. This dedicated woman has attended college fairs, read every handout and visited each campus and its Web site twice.

If you do not live near a parent of senior twins, contact your guidance counselor, who right around this time of year is a serious contender for a segment on the Discovery Channel program Dirty Jobs.

A few weeks ago, while I was taking bins of college literature to the curb for recycling, my neighbor mentioned additional tests she was pretty sure my daughter needed to take.

"Are you kidding?" I exclaimed. "I've been on all of the Web sites on her list. I never saw anything about these tests!"

That's because college Web sites have uploads of distracting selling copy on their home pages, featuring attractive multicultural-representative students who manage to look intellectually engaged as well as fun-loving. Why, they are reading the great philosophers and tossing Frisbees! They are graphing their lab results and swilling Starbucks! They are raising their hands to make insightful contributions in classes and relaxing with a quick game of chess in their dorms!

One can get caught up in the wonderful world of the college Web site, exploring the course catalog, reading sample student testimonials and taking virtual tours. Soon, you'll find yourself thinking back to what you would look for in a college if you were going instead of paying. Just imagine how much fun you would have walking down a leafy boulevard with fresh new textbooks and a future as limitless as the grassy commons on which many studious yet jovial youths recline.

Believe me, it's easy to overlook the two tiny buttons on the bottom of the Web page: "admission requirements" and "fees."

Click there first. Even before you make the required college visits, which, by the way, you should have finished by now.

On the subject of the college visits, expect your student to appear alert, interested and enthusiastic. Oops, typo! I forgot to insert "tour guide" after "student." Your college-bound student is more likely to appear fatigued, bored and indifferent. This is because he or she has been up all night crafting an answer to the essay question: "Who, historically or currently, is the world leader you most admire, and how have your actions in grades nine through twelve mirrored his or her leadership style?"

So, in conclusion, hug your student. You will miss him or her terribly this time next year.

Contact Janet at

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