Decision Time For the SAT: In with the New or Stay with the Old?

Parents of high school students are most likely aware that changes are coming soon to the SAT. High school juniors and seniors especially need to be in the know. The last test date for the current SAT is January 23, 2016. In March, the new one takes over. Now is the time for strategic family conversations to either go with what you know or wait for the new version.

So what’s all the fuss about the switch? Plenty. For those who can take either, this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. If your teen has already been studying with prep-tests and seems to have a feel for the type of questions asked, I’d opt for the current version. On the other hand if your family isn’t at that stage yet and can wait it out a few extra months, I’d most likely suggest going with the new version. Arguments can be made for both sides.

The College Board has two SAT sites now, one for the old, another for the new. And a recent New York Times article explains the abundance of changes.

Here’s the bottom line of what you need to know:

  • March 5, 2016, is debut day for the new SATstopwatch
  • The test consists of two sections now instead of three: Math, and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
  • Students won’t be penalized for guessing answers anymore
  • The new test requires a lot more reading – even in the math section
  • Archaic and obsolete language are out of the reading sections, current language is in
  • Math sections dive deeper into each subject area, and more advanced math from a greater number of courses is included. This may tip the scale towards taking the test later in high school
  • The essay will become optional, and relies more on reading and comprehension than in the past

The new SAT is heavily based on the Common Core curriculum. Translation: it’s centered on what students are actually learning in school now. Again, if you’ve got the time I’d research both before making a decision.

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Paying For It All

pastels - financial aid 101.indd

With decision day behind us, seniors are breathing a sigh of relief. College plans are made. Woo hoo!! Let the partying begin.

Now it’s time for juniors to begin feeling those uneasy twinges; where will I go? How will I make my decision?  What factors should I include in my decision process?

Clearly, the increasing cost of a higher education needs to play a considerable role in your thought process. The cost of attending college is still on the rise, and the impact is significant for everyone involved. In fact, even the famed Cooper Union has been affected by the rising tide, stating in a press release last week that after more than 100 years the school will begin charging tuition to undergraduates. Add in the fact that accumulated student debt has outpaced credit card debt, and it’s enough to make every college-bound student and family nervous.

Ever an optimist, I do see a glimpse of good news on the horizon. Yesterday’s Huffington Post claimed “Class of 2013’s Starting Salary Tracking Higher On Average Than Last Year’s Grads.” Keep in mind it reads “on average,” but still, the news isn’t all doom and gloom.

So what does this roller coaster of news mean for high school students looking at art schools? Financially speaking here are three things to focus on:

1 – Be smart about your college choices.  There’s where you want to go, and where you can afford to go. They may not be the same place. This may also mean foregoing an arts college and instead choosing to attend a comprehensive liberal arts university. (Read: if you’re not sure you want to make a career out of your artistic passion you’ll find more potential career opportunities at a comprehensive institution.)

2 – Compare the detailed costs.  Make sure you research and understand all the costs associated with each institution. That means tuition, room & board, health insurance, transportation fees, books, art supplies, etc. It’s a long list. And some schools will have a breakdown of different costs associated with different art majors. If that information isn’t readily available, ask for it.

3 – Make time to thoroughly understand financial aid and scholarship opportunities for each school on your list.  This process can be thoroughly confusing, frustrating, time consuming, and daunting. But from personal experience I can tell you it is worth the effort. The Net Price Calculator, made available through College Board, is an excellent tool to help you estimate your eligibility for financial aid options, and it’ll help you compare schools in the process. Current participating art schools include Ringling, CCAD, FIDM, Pacific Northwest College of Art, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, SVA, and Pennsylvania College of Art & Design.

As for scholarships, remember you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck from the college you attend. That doesn’t mean searching for privately funded scholarships isn’t worth the effort; it just means that the latter typically give out smaller allowances, so be realistic about what you can get.

Knowledge is the key. So whether you’re a rising junior or senior – starting your research now is a smart idea.

Next week we’ll continue this discussion.

This is the first of two posts focusing on financial options and opportunities for art students. 

To AP or not to AP?

That is the question for many high school art students.

AP Studio Art and AP Art History are available on many high school campuses.  So, should you sign up for them?  The short answer is: yes!  But let’s get to why.  For those serious about attending an art and design program, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college level classes – backed by the College Board  – which you can take while still in high school.  At the end of the year students are required to submit a portfolio to the AP review board (Studio Art) or take an AP exam (Art History).

Moored, by CCAD alum Bev Darwin;

Moored, by CCAD alum Bev Darwin;

AP Studio Art students create a high quality, college-level portfolio which can then be used as part of a college application.  This challenging and rigorous course is available in three formats; drawing, two-dimension (2-D) and three-dimension (3-D).  It offers advanced art students the opportunity to focus on one medium or area during an entire school year.  Each completed portfolio is required to address three sections; quality, concentration and breadth.  The AP review board is looking for proficiency, an area of focus and exploration, and the extent of your understanding of artistic principles like composition, contrast and balance.  Drawing and 2-D design portfolios require actual artwork submitted as part of the AP exam; the 3-D format only accepts digital images of created work.

AP Art History leads to an understanding of the purpose art plays in society, an appreciation for the process of creating and displaying art, and the ability to analyze it.  The path you’ll take to understanding includes study of an enormous range of art and artifacts.  You’ll analyze early Pre-Columbian, Greek and Roman Art, learn to discern the differences between Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque Art, study cultural and religious influences of Asian and Indian art, and observe the changing art styles and subject matter of the 20th – 21st centuries.  Course resources include Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Janson’s History of Art, Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing About Art, and many more.  (Believe it or not I still have my copies Janson and Gardner.)  You’ll finish the course with a broad understanding of art throughout the ages.  It will truly open your eyes!

Taking both courses clearly shows that you’re ready to learn at an advanced level.  It confirms your commitment to art and your willingness to push yourself by taking some of the most challenging high school courses available.  Additional benefits include the possibility of skipping equivalent-level college classes, substituting foundations or electives, or even graduating early.  The latter might make mom and dad happiest since graduating early means less money spent on college.

AP courses require planning.  With the goal of creating a stellar portfolio you’ll want to enroll in as many studio classes as possible before you sign up for AP Studio Art.  Your high school should have plenty, but don’t overlook other opportunities.  Portfolio submissions may include work done over a year or longer, in or outside of class. Translation: take local community art courses as well as those available during the summer at a local art school; your work can count towards your portfolio.

A potential downside to consider is that many colleges don’t accept AP credits.  So, while you’re planning ahead, do some research into who accepts them and who doesn’t.  That way you won’t get your heart broken after you’ve fallen in love with a school.

Lastly, if your high school doesn’t offer AP courses, don’t worry.  Online opportunities exist.  Start your research on the College Board site.  Your high school art teachers should be great resources as well.

I won’t be putting up my regular posts during the next couple of weeks due to the holiday season, but check back at the beginning of January, I’m hoping to continue this conversation and include insights from college admission counselors.