February is a month for planning ahead

By Lee Shulman Bierer, College Admissions Strategies – Founder


Last week I talked about planning campus visits over spring break and the importance of selecting the courses with an appropriate level of rigor. Two other areas that are important to talk about in February are testing and plans for summer.


Although the latest announcement by College Board regarding the new digital SAT won’t affect the 2023 grads, it is something that should be reviewed with current sophomores and freshmen. Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT were once thought to be a great tool to level the playing field when comparing a student from Utah with one from New Jersey. When the added emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion were combined with the issues of testing accessibility during the pandemic, it was a one-two punch to testing. Almost all schools (not state universities in Georgia or Florida) have been test-optional for the last two cycles. With test-optional being the norm, many of these colleges have been the recipients of huge increases in applications.  This year applications soared to 55,000 at the University of Maryland vs. 32,000 last year; a 51% increase. An important caveat is that Maryland also chose to accept the Common Application for the first time, making it much easier for students to apply. While high application numbers may mean more work, colleges are eager to accept fewer students percentage-wise and increase their selectivity rankings.

All this means that it is now a very complicated testing environment. Schools say they are test-optional, but when faced with similar student profiles with some students submitting great test scores and others choosing not to submit them; it has proved in many cases to benefit the students submitting test scores.

If all of that didn’t confuse you about your own testing options, my advice is to continue testing through the spring, maybe even over the summer and then evaluate the best test scores compared with the colleges middle 50% scores; which unfortunately have increased and will continue to do so.



Thankfully once students reach high school, they are no longer required to write the often painfully boring “what I did over my summer vacation” essay. But that doesn’t mean that what they do choose to do over summer isn’t important.

One of the key components of any strong college application is how a student has set themselves apart from their peers. It can be challenging for students to distinguish themselves during the academic year because every student at their high school has the same opportunities to take the same rigorous classes and participate in the same clubs, organizations, sports and activities. So summer jumps out as a great opportunity for a student to do something different than what everybody else at their high school is doing.

Think of summer as an open canvas and then start filling it up with what’s important to you as well as things you want to do and things you need to do. I usually suggest creating a patchwork quilt of different summer experiences. If possible, I think it is a good idea for students to pursue their academic interests in a college environment. This demonstrates an intellectual curiosity that colleges value. Don’t be misled into believing that taking a course at “Selective U” guarantees an acceptance letter down the road. However, spending a week or two on campus and going into more depth in an area of interest will absolutely be helpful as a student tries to determine what colleges should remain on their list and which ones should be eliminated.




Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com