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Frequently Asked Questions

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General Questions

1. Do my kids need to buy the expensive "College preparation services" or "Four year study plan" packages?

As the competition intensifies, the college application process is also becoming very confusing. Colleges do not use the same criteria in selecting students, and for that exact reason, even those who claim they have worked in some certain college application offices for years cannot identify the colleges' specific selection criteria. You probably can easily verify this point if you have any of the numerous college application seminars sponsored by the college application service centers or colleges themselves.

However, there are still some well-known guidelines all students can follow. Generally, colleges want students who are well-rounded in academics and extracurricular activities/accomplishments, unless the students are exceptional and well-recognized at a certain level (for example, state or national champion/ranking).

Therefore, students need to have guidelines, to plan their high school years accordingly, and finally to carry out those plans. The guidelines and plans can be done in a number of hours. Carrying out the plans takes some effort, but a periodical review every quarter or semester, to make sure they are on the right track, should be sufficient for most students.

Some centers charge as much as $3000 or more for college application "coaching" and "management" but these services are costly and unnecessary, and unfortunately, take advantage of parents' and students' fears about the college application process. At MT Learning Center, we offer regular college application counseling service at only 10% - 15% of what those other centers charge. We offer the same service at a much lower cost, because we do not need to charge our clients extra to pay for expensive advertising, and we do not offer free electronics such as iPods as inducement.

Some centers even say they "guarantee" admission to dream colleges. But before signing the contract, look carefully at the colleges they guarantee. Do they guarantee every student Ivy League schools or Stanford? No, they only guarantee certain colleges based on the student's credentials: if they only guarantee the colleges students are already able to attend, then what is their expensive membership for?

Actually, because those centers charge so much, even if 90% of their students fail the "guarantee" and earn refunds, they can still make a reasonable profit. So what does this "guarantee" mean? If a student already has a good plan in place, and carries out the plan, then the student is already guaranteeing his or her own success, and the center's "guarantee" makes profit from the student's effort, rather than by providing any actual help or service to the student.

Begin early. Be organized. Research schools, programs, and locations to determine what would be the best learning environment for your student.

If the student is applying to the University of California, the nine campuses use one straightforward application and 2 essays. Most private schools, such as Stanford and those in the Ivy League, use the Common Application and a set of supplemental forms (including recommendation letters) and essays.

By senior year, the challenging coursework, standardized tests and extracurricular activities are done, and only essays remain. Students should begin working on their college application essays the summer between junior and senior year.

Help place your student in the most positive light and advantageous position with well-polished, thoughtful, standout essays. Most prepared students will require only a few hours' assistance with writing and editing their personal statements for each school. Our knowledgeable college counselors can answer any application questions and ensure your student's essays shine.

Go to College Application Service page

2. How important are SAT scores vs. GPA?

The UC system weights tests scores and GPA equally in the computation of the College Board Index. This is different from the Eligibility Index.

The UC system admissions committee accepts half of the applicants based on the College Board Index, which is GPA (multiplied by 1000, and capped at 4000) plus the SAT I and traditionally three SAT II Subject Tests. Due to the changes on the new SAT I, they require only two subject tests, and the SAT II: Writing Subject Test has been discontinued. The College Board Index has a possible 8000 points. One half of the open slots are awarded solely based on the CBI and the other half of the slots are awarded after reviewing the students' entire application. The 4% Eligibility rule applies to the UC system only, not to the UC of your choice, and it includes spring admission as well.

About the Grade Point Average

All campuses use the same method of calculating a preliminary grade point average for purposes of determining an applicant's UC eligibility. The GPA is calculated based on all "a-g" subjects completed in grades 10 and 11 including summer sessions by assigning point values to the grades a student earns, totaling the points, and dividing the total by the number of "a-g" course units. Points are assigned as follows: A=4 points, B=3 points, C=2 points, D=1 point and F=0 points. Courses taken in the ninth grade can be used to meet the Subject Requirement if the student earns a grade of C or better, but they will not be used to calculate the GPA.

The University assigns extra grade points for up to four yearlong courses of University-certified honors-level, Advanced Placement, and/or designated International Baccalaureate courses taken in grades 10, 11 and 12: A=5 points, B=4 points, C=3 points. College-level courses in the "a-g" college preparatory subjects that are transferable to the University are also assigned honors grade points. A maximum of four semesters of honors courses taken in grade 10 are assigned honors grade points. Grades of D are not assigned extra honors points. (Extra points will be awarded to 10th graders only when they take courses that have been certified by the University as honors-level courses.) At the end of the 12th grade, campuses verify an applicant's UC eligibility based on the final high school record.

In addition to the preliminary GPA used for establishing UC eligibility, campuses may look at an applicant's academic record in a variety of ways during the selection process. These GPA variations may include a fully weighted GPA that includes all honors grade points earned in grades 10 and 11 (this is the GPA used to rank students at each high school for purposes of identifying ELC students) and an unweighted GPA in which no honors grade points are included in the GPA calculation.

Semester Grades: A student's GPA is based on semester grades, unless the high school gives only year grades.

Intensive or Accelerated Courses: Grades earned in intensive or accelerated high school courses are treated the same as any other grades on the student's transcript. Any instructions or recommendations to the contrary are disregarded.

Repeating Courses: Courses used to satisfy the "a-g" requirements in which the student earns D or F grades must be repeated with grades of C or higher. In a small number of instances, as described below, the D or F may be cleared through other means than repeating the course. The repeated grades are used in calculating the Scholarship Requirement GPA. Each course in which a grade of D or F has been received may be repeated only once. If a student repeats a course used to satisfy the "a-g" requirements in which he or she originally earned a grade of C or higher, the repeated grade will not be used in calculating the Scholarship Requirement GPA.

D and F Grades, Pass, Credit and Incompletes: In calculating a student's Scholarship Requirement GPA, the University follows the rules listed below regarding use of grades of D, F, Pass, Credit and Incomplete. Special rules regarding use of D and F grades earned in chemistry, languages other than English and mathematics are described in the following subsection.

  • Courses used to satisfy the "a-g" requirements taken in the ninth grade or earlier in which D or F grades are earned are treated as subject omissions. As with all ninth-grade courses, the grades are not included in calculating the Scholarship Requirement GPA.
  • Courses used to satisfy the "a-g" requirements taken for the first time in the 10th-12th grades, in which D or F grades are earned, are treated as subject omissions and scholarship deficiencies. If the courses are not repeated, the D or F grades are used in calculating the Scholarship Requirement GPA.
  • Courses used to satisfy the "a-g" requirements may not be taken Pass/Fail or Credit/No Credit.
  • Courses used to satisfy the "a-g" requirements in which the student earns an Incomplete are treated as subject omissions.
3. Should my kids take regular classes to get A's or take honors/AP classes for B's?

Students should always take the most challenging coursework possible to prepare themselves for the rigor of college studies. The UC system does weight honors and AP classes. GPA is compiled for sophomore and junior year coursework only, even though all the courses a student takes will be listed on the application. If your student has a GPA above a 4.0, then they will receive the 4000 maximum points for the GPA portion of the CBI regardless of whether they take regular or honors/AP courses.

4. How important are extracurricular activities for college applications?

Depth of extracurricular involvement is important. If a student belongs to many different clubs, but does not seem to participate extensively (either by holding an office or making other significant contributions), this can be regarded by college admissions as superficial "resume padding." In my experience, it is better to be devoted to a few activities with true passion and commitment rather than a litany of many interests. Editors of the yearbook and school newspaper, along with student body presidents and bandleaders tend to have high acceptance rates into college, because admissions committees understand that these positions require serious involvement. Band, orchestra and sports also demonstrate this desired commitment.

5. Does it help if my kids have a lot of community service hours?

Community service is counted as an extracurricular activity.

6. Is the college essay important?

Yes! One cannot overstate its importance. This is the only way to truly reveal your desirability as a candidate for admission. The essay is the most critical piece of your application, after your grades and test scores. Among many students with similar academic profiles, the essay is the one place to showcase your individuality and set yourself apart from other applicants. The ability to write effectively is the most important skill any college student can have. Use the essay to demonstrate that you have this ability in spades and to show the admissions committee what a valuable asset you will be to their incoming freshman class.

7. Are recommendation letters important? (Do UC & CSU require recommendation letters?)

The UC and CSU systems do not accept letters of recommendation with their applications. However, if your student has an exceptional bond with a teacher or counselor, securing recommendation letters for scholarships, and possible appeals processes could be beneficial at a later date.

Yes, if your student is going to be applying to private school. Private school applications usually require 3 recommendations, with at least one from a counselor and another from a teacher who is familiar with the students' quality of work and work ethic. The third letter is usually from another teacher or a personal reference who can comment on the qualities, attributes and achievements that your student can contribute to the university.

Testing Questions

1. Do my kids need to take SAT I & II both? (CSU does not require SAT IIs, but is it better to take them anyway?)

The UC system requires the SAT I and two SAT II subject tests. For 2012 freshman, there are new requirements, and the subject tests will no longer be required (see current and new requirements below). Your student should take SAT II: Subject Tests in Math, and in subjects where they can show mastery of skills. If your student plans to major in science or pre-med, it is recommended that one of the SAT II tests is a science such as Chemistry, Biology or Physics. Students should take SAT II tests in line with their intended majors.

2. Do my kids need take more SAT II subjects than required?

If your student is strong in several subjects, it is recommended that he take several subject tests and report the highest scores or tests where he scored in the highest percentiles.

3. Should my kids take the SAT or the ACT?

The SAT I and ACT are accepted at different colleges. Most schools accept both. The UC system accepts both tests, but the SAT I is more widely accepted overall.

4. When should my kids take SAT tests?

Your student should plan to take the SAT I at least twice. The most common testing practice is to take the SAT I for the first time in the spring of junior year, study over the summer to improve scores and re-take the test in the fall of their senior year. Most students will also take the SAT II: Subject Tests at least twice. There are seven dates a year for testing, the first Saturday of the following months: March, May, June, September, October, November and December. Scores from all test dates can be reported, even for the UCs after the application deadline of November 30. For early admissions to private schools, there are specified deadlines for reporting scores, so not all test dates can be reported. The UC does not have an early admissions option.

Testing dates can be found here: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/calenfees.html

ACT will not permit students to take the Writing Test by itself. Students who wish to use the ACT Assessment as their core exam must complete the ACT Assessment and the ACT Writing Test at the same sitting. (Note: This reflects a change from UC's previously announced policy, which indicated that students could submit a separate ACT Writing score.)

5. The ACT Assessment plus Writing test will provide two additional scores beyond what students receive if they take the ACT Assessment alone —— a Writing score and a Combined English/Writing score. Which score will UC use?

UC will use the Combined English/Writing score.

6. Can a student meet UC's requirement by taking two SAT Subject Tests in one discipline area —— for example, the U.S. History and World History tests, or the Chemistry and Biology E/M tests, or the French Reading and French Reading with Listening tests?

No. The admissions testing requirement calls for completion of two SAT Subject Tests in two different subject areas.

For example, applicants to the following UC campus schools, colleges or majors are strongly encouraged to take the SAT Subject Test: Math Level 2 and a SAT science subject test (Biology E/M, Chemistry or Physics) that is closely related to the applicant's intended major:

Berkeley: Colleges of Chemistry and Engineering

Los Angeles: Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science

Riverside: Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering

San Diego: Jacobs School of Engineering; also recommended for students considering majoring in the biological or physical sciences

Santa Barbara: Engineering and Computer Science majors

Irvine: Applicants to the Henry Samueli School of Engineering are strongly encouraged to take the SAT Subject Test: Math Level 2 as one of the two required SAT Subject Tests.

7. Are specific SAT Subject Tests required for admission to certain campuses or majors?

Specific SAT Subject Tests may be preferred for admission to certain majors.

8. If a student takes the ACT or SAT more than once, will the University use the highest score?

Yes. The University uses the highest scores from a single testing administration.

9. If a student takes more than two SAT Subject Tests, will the University use the best two scores?

Yes, provided that these scores represent two different subject areas.

10. How will UC admissions reviewers use the essay portion of the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT Assessment Plus Writing?

The University of California has no plans to view the essay portion of either exam or to use the essay subscore.

11. Will UC use the SAT Reasoning Test (Writing) to satisfy the University's Entry Level Writing Requirement?

Yes, UC will use the writing score from the SAT Reasoning Test (Writing) to fulfill the Analytical Writing Placement Examination (formerly the Subject A Examination) requirement. The ACT English/Writing score can also be used to meet this requirement. Information on the required minimum scores to fulfill the University's Entry Level Writing Requirement using these new tests is expected in winter 2006.

12. Will UC use the SAT Writing score to demonstrate English proficiency in lieu of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)?

Yes, the University of California will use the writing score from the SAT Reasoning Test (Writing) to demonstrate English proficiency. The ACT English/Writing score can also be used to meet this requirement. Information on the required minimum score to demonstrate English proficiency using these new tests is expected in summer 2006.

SAT Subject Test Requirements

Freshman applicants must submit scores on two SAT Subject Tests in two different subject areas of the student's choice: history and social studies, language, literature, mathematics (Math Level 2 only) or science. The University accepts the following Subject Tests in partial fulfillment of the admissions testing requirement:

  • ENGLISH
  • Literature
  • HISTORY AND SOCIAL STUDIES
  • U.S. History (formerly American History and Social Studies)World History
  • World History
  • MATHEMATICS
  • Math Level 2 (formerly Math IIC)
  • SCIENCE
  • Biology E/M (Special emphasis is placed on either ecology — Biology-E — or molecular biology — Biology-M)
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • LANGUAGES
  • Chinese with Listening French
  • French with Listening German
  • German with Listening Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening Modern Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening