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College Prep is About Much More Than Test Prep by Jessica Bush

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

College Prep is About Much More Than Test Prep by Jessica Bush, Bergen County Moms

As schools reassess their admissions criteria, your college-bound high school student must focus on more than their GPA and standardized test scores.

Colleges and universities across the country are offering a “test optional” admissions process that allows students to apply without being required to submit SAT or ACT scores. What began as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on access to testing for high school students appears to be here for the long term.

Reflecting what Harvard College calls its “whole-person” admissions process, standardized tests are now just one factor among many considered by schools that have acknowledged the need to reassess their admissions criteria – and have seen the merits of a broader, more holistic review process for admittance.

According to my colleague Shari Kramer of Kramer College Consulting, “Colleges want good kids who do good things.” Schools have determined that a student’s GPA is more indicative his or her intelligence. They are looking at factors such as the rigor of a student’s classes and how he or she challenges themselves. Accomplishments in and out of the classroom during the high school years – including extracurricular activities, special talents, creativity, independence, community involvement, employment, and life experience – are all considered important parts of the admissions process.

Colleges want to see that students are working and learning the value of earning money. They are also giving weight to the student’s commitment to serving their community. For instance, students who have taken advantage of COVID-time to do well and serve others will shine. Letters of recommendation are now considered more closely and could include employer and club advisor recommendations as well as teacher recommendations.

What does this mean for your student? And as a parent, what can you do to help prepare your college-minded high school student to achieve their goals in this new reality?

While planning for college today seems to be an ever-changing process, one thing is certain: the earlier you learn the steps to navigate through the process, the better. At Tutor Doctor, we encourage families to have their first planning consultation at the start of the student’s freshman year. This allows us to assess the student’s strengths and interests, identify any challenges, and begin to plan their next four years with college in mind. This includes choosing classes that will be both challenging and interesting, as well as addressing any gaps the student may be experiencing as a result of remote learning.

Among the non-traditional measures of success that colleges are evaluating, work experience looms large. Some students have to work to help contribute to their college savings, and help support their families. Those who have a choice should be encouraged to look for work that is meaningful or can make a difference in the community. Learning the value of money in high school is important to help your student build a strong sense of independence and responsibility. It is a good feeling when your child has money in their pocket that they have earned on their own. These intrinsic traits are looked upon highly in the college acceptance process

A word of caution to parents: there is a fine line between starting early and putting too much pressure on your child, too soon. Overloading them early on can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety, so it’s important to support them in being focused and dedicated as you gradually ease them into the college planning process. We also encourage parents to make parts of the process fun and exploratory. For example, because you will have plenty of time, you can plan road trips to visit colleges in a low-key, no-pressure way. The key is to know your student and understand when they will benefit from a push and when to back off.

When it comes to the value of tutoring, investing in SAT and ACT test prep is still important for some students. However, focusing on improving grades is a wise investment for every student. Keep in mind that colleges look for students who are not afraid to push their limits. So, earning a B- in Honors or AP Chemistry will carry more weight than an A in a regular Chemistry class.

If you are a parent who is navigating the college preparation or application process for the first time – or there are areas where you know your child needs to improve – we can help. In addition to tutoring and test prep, we offer advice and counsel for parents on everything from when to meet with guidance counselors to start the conversation to the importance of students learning to self-advocate and reach out to their teachers independently. Remember – you do not have to go it alone!


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Meet Jessica Bush

For Jessica, “making learning personal” is not just a slogan – it’s the foundation on which she has built Tutor Doctor North Jersey and Rockland. For the past 10 years, her instinct for uncovering the unique needs and desires of students and their families – and her passion for helping them achieve their dreams – have been the hallmarks of her tutoring practice.

Jessica understands that learning is often about more than just mastering academics. Whether it’s test anxiety, executive function, or school avoidance, her expertise lies in helping families address even the most complex learning challenges holistically. Families can count on her not only to connect the right tutor with the right student, but to build a support team with a shared commitment to seeing each student succeed – in school and in life.

Tutor Doctor North Jersey, Rockland, Bergen County Moms

Connect with Jessica at (201) 492-1888 or visit

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