Brian Eufinger, co-founder of Edison Prep, dives deep into the college admissions process. He explains how students should approach grades and test scores to give themselves the best college options.
Brian and Silvia Eufinger run a two-person ACT tutoring company in Georgia called Edison Prep. They both do this full time and between the two of them have tutored about 13,000 students, giving them over 40,000 hours of tutoring experience.
They still take both SATs and ACTs each year to stay current. Brian has the only back-to-back-to-back perfect scores in the history of the ACT test.
With the advancement in college applications, such as the Common Application, that allow you to apply for a multitude of schools with a click of a few buttons applying to colleges is easier than ever. That's good… and not good. It means that colleges are getting exponentially more applications than ever. This makes it harder and harder to get noticed.
Eighty percent of the admission equation at most schools are the big 5 numbers. These numbers are:
- the number of AP classes
- the number of IB classes
- SAT scores
- ACT scores
GPA is the most important part of the application process. As it should be. However, we have to be aware of “grade inflation”.
Brian says “Grade inflation these days is running rampant…Schools are now weighting honors classes, AP classes, IB classes such that an A can sometimes count for 4.5 or 5.0…So what's that done on net is that the maximum GPA is no longer a 4.0 and hasn't been for a while. The asymptote of what you could get if you theoretically took the max AP classes and aced everything would be more like 4.7. at a lot of schools.”
This means that what parents think is a good GPA may not be anymore. In the 90s a 3.5 GPA was pretty good. Today, depending on the school, that may not up to standards with the rest of the student body.
For example, here is a screenshot from Walton High School showing the distribution of GPA for the class of 2016.
However, don't freak out too much. College admission officers do have access to how individual schools grade. When a high school sends over transcripts they also send a document showing how your particular transcript falls in line with the other students at that school. This does serve to even out the differences in grading.
The important thing is to thrive in the environment you're in.
Grade inflation is one reason why SATs and ACTs exist in the first place. With every high school grading differently standardized tests are a great way to level the playing field and compare academic achievement equally across all students.
Even with this being the case, some colleges have gone “test optional“. Meaning that they don't require students to take the SATs and ACTs. However, these schools still require these test scores if the student wants to apply for merit-based aid. Here's an article that discusses why some colleges have made this decision.
When looking for scholarships you will want to know your GPA, your ACT and SAT scores, and desired major. You'll also want a list of schools you are considering. These factors will all play into what scholarships you qualify for.
Your GPA and the difficulty of classes you took will the leading factor in merit-based scholarships.
Brian states “If you read some of the scammy stuff that is online, they will make it seem like there are all these billions of dollars in unclaimed scholarships. There's some. But the #1 fact that I want to put out there before we get into the weed is: most of the merit aid you will ever get will come from the institution itself.”
Brian got about 2/3 of the cost of Washington University from the college and the rest was covered by a variety of smaller, independent scholarships, including:
- Eagle scouts
- Bright flight – a scholarship for Missouri residents
- Southwestern Bell – An employee scholarship program he received through his father's job.
- Robert Byrd scholarship
- Other small scholarships including $1,000 from Walmart. Walmart was giving away $1,000 per store and included an interview with the store manager. Brian later found out only eight people had applied at this particular store.
Look into what merit-based scholarships are available in your area, and at the schools, you would like to attend. Educate yourself early so know what targets you need to hit.
For example; Georgia has the Hope Scholarship which provides tuition assistance to students with a 3.0 GPA. They also offer the Zell Miller Scholarship that provides full tuition at a public postsecondary institution and tuition assistance at an eligible private postsecondary institution.
Florida has a program called the Bright Future Scholarship which will provide up to 100% of tuition to qualifying schools. Students must earn a 3.0 GPA and a 26 on the ACTs or 1170 on the SATs. They must also do at least 75 hours of service work. Click here for full eligibility requirements.
Other School's Published Scholarships
Colleges often publish established minimums to qualify for scholarships that state the required GPA and test scores required. They will also include income requirements for need-based scholarships.
Brian also suggests applying to more schools than you are considering because you may get offered a scholarship from a school you weren't expecting. For example, was accepted to Cornell, Emery, and Washington University. Cornell offered no aid, Emery offered some, but Washington University offered a full ride.
Brian says “It's amazing to me the diversity of merit aid, and just overall aid, that can be offered with the seemingly set of numbers. It makes no sense… It behooves people to apply to one or two more schools than they think if they are strategically merit aid shopping…I'm usually not surprised by who gets in where, but I am surprised in the difference in what aid can be offered for the same set of stats at a relatively peer set of schools.”
Means-Tested Guaranteed Scholarships and Max Loan Cap programs have emerged recently.
Means-Tested Guaranteed Scholarships allow anyone under a set income to receive either a full or partial scholarship as pre-determined by the college.
Max Loan Cap programs set a percentage of AGI that the family must contribute to the costs and then a max amount of student loans that the student will be asked to take out.
- Emory University offers both programs.
- Harvard gives a full scholarship to students from families earning less than $65,000.
- Washington University also has needs-based programs for lower income families.
Need-Blind Admissions are schools who do not take a student's financial situation into account during the admission's process. They may or may not offer lower-income students financial aid.
Resource: 75 College With Free Or Reduced Tuition
When To Start Thinking About College
Start early. Be thinking about college as early at 7th or 8th grade. Brian says you'll want to make sure you get on the right math track.
He says Georgia Tech has a joke “98.5% of kids who got into Georgia Tech last year took AP Calculus before graduation and 1.5% of kids are the football team.”
That's a joke of course, but it underlines the point of a strong math track in high school.
Also, many school districts will include the higher level math classes and intro to foreign languages taken in jr. high on the high school transcripts. This means those classes in jr. high could count towards your high school GPA. This can work for or against you depending on the grades you get.
What To Focus On By Grade
Freshman year – Get great grates and get involved in a few activities you are passionate about
Sophomore year – Get great grades, stay involved in your activities, and take the mock SAT and mock ACT sometime in the Feb to May timeframe.
Junior year – Get great grades, take AP/ IB classes if they are offered and you can handle them, study and finish the ACT and SATs
Senior year – Get great grades, don't let senioritis affect your GPA.
Brian says “Freshman and Sophomore year, you should do two things. Get as stratospherically high of a GPA in challenging classes as possible and get involved in a few activities that you love. That you aren't doing for college reasons. That you are passionate about. That you enjoy doing. Depth over breadth. The kid who does one year of 15 activities looks different than the kid who really enjoys and does, for the longitudinal standpoint a much smaller number of things.”
The Biggest Risk Factor To Your GPA
With GPA being the biggest factor in getting accepted to college and getting scholarships you'll want to protect it at all costs. Brian says the biggest risk factor is taking to many extra circular activities, especially sports since they can be so demanding of your time.
Playing too many sports during high school can really take away from a students ability to get the great GPA that colleges are looking for.
Quoting the Director of UG admissions, Brian says “When parents or students say that their kid's schedule is too busy with other activities to handle more challenging courses, instead of dropping rigorous courses, maybe an activity could be dropped.” Here's more about that.
Of course, this doesn't apply if you are looking at being recruited. If you are being considered for a football scholarship it would be crazy to drop football.
Preparing For The Tests
Take real published full-length practice tests in the second semester of Sophomore year. You don't need to study for this test, you are just establishing a baseline. You'll want to take both a practice SAT and ACT test so you can find out which test you are stronger on. This will allow you to study to the test you are more likely to do well on.
Study and take a lot of practice tests. When studying, focus on grammar rules and math formulas.
Treat studying for these tests as a class at school. The scores on these tests are worth as much as several semester grades when applying for colleges. So spend time doing this. Don't take one practice test and think you got it. Study and know that you can improve your scores with study and practice.
Even a small increase can mean big gains. The score range that most students fall into is quite small. 85% of students fall within 300 points of each other on the SATs, and a nine-point range on the ACTs. That means if you can increase your scores by only a small number you have surpassed many other students
For example, a score of 23 on the ACT is in the top third of scores. But a 26 is in the top sixth. That's a huge jump with just a small increase in score.
- Here's how different ACT scores fall in the percentiles.
- Here's how different SAT scores fall in the percentiles.
- Here's how the ACT and SAT scores compare to each other.
Brian told a story of one of his favorite students who played Basketball and had average ACT scores. Instead of quitting Basketball, he woke up an hour early each morning and worked on practice tests. Because he put in the work, he ended up getting a full scholarship to Vanderbilt.
Take the test for real Junior year so you will have the numbers when you apply for colleges and scholarships. Taking the tests Senior year is for emergencies.
Click here for study resources from Brian's tutoring company, Edison Prep.
One purchase you'll need to make is to buy the proper calculator. Brian recommends the TI-84 plus CE . You can definitely ask around and find a used one, they wear like iron.
Also, keep in mind that the test changes every year. You'll want to make sure you are using current study guides. If you are using old books you will not be aware of new types of questions, which will affect your grades.
Here's the Official SAT Study Guide with 8 full-length tests.
Here's the ACT study guide with 5 full-length tests .
Getting the test finished on time is often a struggle for kids. There are timers that will help them meet this challenge.
Tips On Hiring A Tutor
Brian suggests that parents be involved and committed to the process. This will help keep the costs of tutoring down as it will allow the tutoring to be more effective. Make sure your kids are doing the studying and practice that their tutor is recommending.
He also recommends hiring someone who is a full-time tutor. Someone who earns their full time living from tutoring. You want to avoid college students who are just looking for side income. They will not be as experienced or committed.
Also, avoid big box tutoring companies. You will pay top dollar for lower quality tutors.
Questions to ask when looking to hire a tutor.
- When was the last time you took the test?
- What grade did you get on the test?
- Do you do this full-time?
- Ask for references
- Perfect ACT/SAT Scores Don't Mean Admissions To Top Universities
- Unpublished Changes To The ACT Part One
- Unpublished Changes To The ACT Part Two
- Resource List From Edison Prep
- Edison Prep Facebook Page
- Senwoo's Musings On College
- Big Future–College Selector Tool
- College Transition–Dataverse
Favorite Life Hack: Text Expander. It's an app that allows you to code strings of characters that will pop up into predetermined text. Brian said it saves him 200 hours a year and only costs $39. This is similar to canned responses but it works anywhere, not just Gmail.
Biggest Financial Mistake: Staying in his corporate job too long.
The Advice You Would Give Your Younger Self: Do meaningful internships in college and high school.