How Do You Spell Cash Relief for College Tuition? Big SAT Sores

By Sam Rosensohn

The dreaded SATs take on entirely different look when students realize that they are an opportunity to win meritorious scholarships – and not just for the top scorers.

“More and more merit-based scholarships are being offered to attract students,” notes Branford High School guidance counselor, Douglas White, who says, “most students are pretty naïve about the money realm.”

“Merit scholarships are no longer just for the top student,” White says. “More colleges every year are extending their requirements deeper into the applicant pool.”

It’s really quite simple. Every college wants to attract better students. One way colleges do this is by offering merit money to students who score above the SAT standard established by that school.

Dr. Eileen Donahoe, the dean of guidance at Nathan Hale-Ray High School in East Haddam, says that not enough students are aware that good SATs translate into four-year scholarships.

“I think that students are becoming aware of the scholarship money, but probably too late,” said Donahoe. I’m with Donahoe on this one. The time to start thinking about meritorious scholarships is no later than fall freshman year.

That’s because good SAT scores alone will not do the trick. A student’s grade point average and four years of extra curricular activities are also deciding factors.

“Students should be preparing for a marathon, not for a mile race,” said Donahoe, who will be retiring this June after 23 years of service. Donahoe notes that if students are to win meritorious scholarships they need to be aware of the criteria for the scholarships long before their junior year.

She points to UCONN’s Leadership Scholarship. It’s based on an 1100 SAT score, being in the top 15 percent of the class, and with evidence of community service. This four-year award is good for between $5,700 and $8,700 a year.

That’s somewhere between $22,800 and $34,800 over four years, and while this is within many students’ reach, it requires forethought and realized annual goals. Another reason students should focus on the meritorious scholarships sooner than later.

Haddam-Killingworth’s guidance counselor Maryann Grimaldi notes that she has some students who choose to go to their safety schools, because they receive 50 percent or more of the tuition in meritorious scholarships.

“Sometimes a student gets a real sweet deal to go to school, because of SAT scores, and if the student is planning on going to graduate school, they may want to take the undergraduate scholarship,” Grimalidi said.

Grimaldi notes that more and more students have to complete a masters to do business in their field. “I say to kids who think they’re going to go to grad school, get a great undergraduate education at a reasonable price, and you’ll have more money for graduate school. That’s just one option.”

Valley Regional High School’s Eileen Fitzgerald notes that schools outside the New England corridor, particularly southern and western schools, are looking for students from Connecticut with respectable SATs.

Fitzgerald said she was impressed with Kent State that offered New England students “a nice package” with 1000 on the SATs. She encourages students to “broaden their search and to look into some really gem schools that are not the most popular schools, and are looking for students from New England.”

My niece is a sophomore at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. She received a considerable meritorious package, because her SAT scores exceeded Macalester’s range.

So how then to boost the SAT scores? Students might purchase a copy of 10 Real SATs, $19.95; and One-on-One with the SAT, $29.95; both of which are published by the College Board. The first book offers over 1,400 questions.

One-on-One with the SAT offers a study plan that lets students work on the areas they need to focus on most. The book offers detailed explanations for every answer choice, feedback on performance, including pacing and guessing strategies.

They might also pick up Cracking the SAT by the Princeton Review.  This test-buster is filled with strategies to help students rule out the wrong answers to get to the right answers. The book focuses on how to do the test rather than on math and verbal content.

If I had to offer one tip for students to help them improve their scores on the verbal SAT, it would be for them to read everything that they can get their hands on. And when they read, they should read with a dictionary. Every word they don’t know, they should look up.

If what they’re reading doesn’t require a dictionary, it’s too easy.

They should look the words up in The American Heritage Dictionary, $5.99, because the SAT draws its definitions from this book. They should also note the word’s secondary meaning. The SAT often uses secondary meanings in the critical reading portion, which makes up just over 50 percent of the test.

The trick, as the guidance counselors said, is to think of it as a marathon. Students should read as much as possible, and they should stop at the end of every page or two, and try to summarize what the passage was about and what it implied.

The end of each page or two is a good stopping point, since the text on the critical reading section ranges between 400 and 900 words. The more students read for meaning, the better they’ll be prepared for the test that can help to pay for college.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com