How did you put together your list of target schools? Some students select colleges based on the SAT or ACT score they hope to get, but if they don't end up with the scores they think they'll need, sometimes the list may need to be adjusted. That's what happened to Vanessa Luz* when she was in high school. We spoke with Luz to discover how she dealt with this situation and how her approach toward the college application process changed.
College Confidential: Can you tell us how many times you took the SAT/ACT?
Vanessa Luz: I took the ACT at school and got an 18, and then I did an SAT practice test with a tutor and got a 1000 on that, so I decided to focus on the SAT. I worked with the tutor and then took the "real" SAT and got a 900 on it. My mom was not happy, because we'd paid the tutor $3,200, and my score essentially went down quite a bit. Even my ACT of 18 was essentially higher than a 900 SAT. So I stopped going to the tutoring and did SAT prep on my own and then took it again. I got the 980 at that point, and by then it was fall of senior year (this was in 2018), so I talked to my guidance counselor about whether to use the 980 SAT or the 18 ACT – he wanted me to use the SAT. So I applied to six schools with the 980, and he helped me create the list of schools.
CC: Which colleges were on your list?
VL: I wanted a big school with a strong football team. Originally I had always dreamed of going to Michigan State or Nebraska, but I knew with the 980 those might be a reach for me. So those were my two reach schools. I also applied to Old Miss, Louisiana State, the University of Kentucky and the University of Kansas. When I applied, I had only visited MSU and Nebraska, so I applied to four schools I hadn't seen. It wasn't ideal, but I didn't have the time when I applied.
CC: Which colleges accepted you?
VL: I got in everywhere but Michigan State. I was surprised Nebraska accepted me right away (I thought they'd at least defer), but I think my grades (which were mostly B's, with two C's and a couple of A's) and extracurriculars helped me – I had a lot of extracurriculars and also won several awards in DECA and in band. In addition, my English teacher said my essay was one of the stronger ones that she had seen. But because I half-expected to not get into Nebraska, I had spent the time between applying and getting the acceptance letters doing more research on the other schools I applied to. I had really started to think that maybe Kansas was a better choice for me. So once I got in, we toured Kansas, and I really liked it. The program and the campus felt like more of a fit to me than Nebraska, so I ended up enrolling there.
CC: Looking back, would you do anything differently?
VL: Yes! The 18 I got on that early ACT score was basically identical to the 980 I ended up with. I wish I'd retaken both the SAT and ACT a few times, rather than focusing only on the SAT. Even one point may have helped me on the ACT. I mean, I don't know that for sure, but at the time it would have been nice to have had more options. I would advise people to retake each one to see if anything changes.
CC: What advice do you have for students who are applying right now?
VL: Don't base your school list only on a few criteria -- really take a deep look at them. I am really glad now for that early scare when I thought my original dream schools wouldn't take me, because it forced me to look at other schools, too. I've now been at Kansas for a month, and I am so glad I came here. If I'd had a higher SAT score, I probably would have just applied to Michigan State and Nebraska, but the low score forced me to look at other schools, and I'm really glad for that. So if your mindset is to only apply to what you think are the "best" schools that might take you, you could be missing out on a school that may have lower guidelines but could be better for what you want to study or where you see yourself.
*Disclaimer: Name of the student has been changed at her request to protect privacy.
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