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Knowing how to prepare for college can be challenging.

Especially these days, understanding what colleges are looking for and how a student can best prepare isn't easy. We've talked to our contacts in postsecondary education to learn how the universities you care about most are assessing new applications.

College Campus

What do colleges look at in applications?

Colleges will look at many different things in an application, including letters of recommendation and a student's extracurricular activities, but the two most important considerations are standardized test scores and the high school transcript.

Building a better transcript

When evaluating a transcript, university admissions departments are looking at more than just a student's GPA. If a student seems to have been successful in school, these departments will dig deeper, looking at the specific classes that a student has taken.
Colleges want to see that students have pushed themselves academically. Breezing through unchallenging classes is less impressive than proving one's skill and dedication in more rigorous honors or AP courses, even if students don't ace these harder classes. If a student wants their application to stand out, they should challenge themselves to step outside of their comfort zone. Not only does this look good on an application, but the experience will better prepare students for college coursework.

Supplemental instruction, like the tutoring offered at GRT, can help students to succeed when taking more challenging classes. Starting early will ensure that students don't fall behind, setting them up for long-term success.

Standardized testing: SAT and ACT

Standardized test scores aren't everything, but they are one of the first things colleges will see when evaluating applicants. If a student wants to make a good first impression, they should strive for a test score that sets them apart from their peers.

Tests like the SAT and ACT are general knowledge assessments, meaning that they test a student's foundational skills in math, reading, and other topics rather than specific knowledge.
The benefit of this is that students won't need to learn brand-new topics before taking the exam.


However, this broad focus also means that effectively cramming for these tests is nearly impossible. If students want to study to improve their score, they need to work on developing their skills over time.

We can help students to prepare for standardized tests. After meeting with each student, we develop a plan combining tutoring and independent study to help a student achieve their best possible score on the test they are taking.

When preparing for a standardized test, it's always best to start early. Students in 9th or 10th grade can benefit from test prep as much as 11th or 12th graders, and , while preparing for these exams, students will also be practicing the skills they need to succeed in their high school classes.

How does COVID-19 change things?

With the emergence of COVID-19, many colleges waived standardized testing requirements in response to cancelled exams. Now that the SAT and ACT are being offered again, how are colleges responding?

For the time being, most colleges are still designating standardized tests as optional, but this doesn't mean that you should pass up your chance to take an exam. Some colleges are reinstating standardized test requirements, and even those that don't require scores will use them if available to evaluate applications. Leaving a standardized test score off your application may cause schools to assume the worst.

The bottom line: if you are applying to college and have the ability to take the SAT or ACT, you should.

ASVAB, Keystone exams, and more

The SAT and ACT aren't the only standardized tests out there. No matter what exam a student is practicing for, we are ready to help them prepare and achieve the best score that they can.

  • All Pennsylvania students need to pass Keystone exams in Algebra, Biology, and Literature before they can graduate from high school.​ We offer support to help ensure that students pass this hurdle to graduation.

  • Students looking at a career in the military will need to take the ASVAB to be admitted; placement within the military depends on these scores. We can help students see where they stand and practice the specific skills they need to succeed on this exam.

Want to prepare for your test with GRT?

and we will make a plan to help you succeed.

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