Countdown to the Common App: Test Scores & Letters of Recommendation
Okay, so technically we have zero(!) days until Common App goes live, but we wanted to put out one last post about the application process so that you can officially begin your college application journey! Our last Countdown to the Common App post focuses on the last two parts of the St. Mary’s application: Test Scores & Letters of Recommendation. Let’s begin.
Standardized Test Scores
We understand. Standardized tests are stressful. First off, they can take over four hours. On a Saturday morning. When you could be doing anything else. Literally, anything else. The younger staff in the St. Mary’s Admissions Office probably still have flashbacks to taking the SAT or ACT in high school. So we get what you are going through. That being said, most schools, St. Mary’s included, still want to see some sort of standardized test scores with your application. Here are some questions that you should ask colleges and universities before applying:
Which test scores do you prefer?
At St. Mary’s, we accept both/either the SAT and ACT test. We do this because many students take both, and some do better on one test or the other. Some colleges only accept the SAT. Some colleges also look at or even require the SAT Subject Tests (St. Mary’s does not require them). Make sure you research each school’s test requirements before sending your scores.
Do you superscore?
At St. Mary’s we superscore— which means that we only take your highest combined test scores. If you take the SAT twice, for example, and do better on the math but worse on the reading the second time, we will take your reading scores from the first test and math from the second. St. Mary’s does this so that you can be rewarded for taking the test again. However, not all colleges superscore! Some see all of your scores for each time you take it. Some only want one score set sent. Make sure you find this out!
What is the average SAT and/or ACT scores for your college?
It is a good idea to see the average for applicants to the universities you are applying to so you can see if your scores are in the ballpark range. At St. Mary’s our averages are about 1200 (reading + math) for the SAT and 27 (composite) for the ACT. We do not use these numbers as cutoffs! They are truly averages, so we do not discourage you from applying if your scores are below these averages! We have many students who fall both above and below. It is true, however, that some select universities might have cutoffs for scores. Ask an admissions counselor or look at the website to see if there are cutoffs or averages before you apply!
Letters of Recommendation:
These can be tricky- especially because usually you don’t know what your teacher or guidance counselor is writing! Would you trust this guy to write a letter about how great you are?
However, if you choose the right teachers, you can get some stellar letters of recommendation out of it. Here are some things to help you get a top-notch rec letter:
- Pick someone who knows you really well. Not just your AP Calculus teacher that you’ve had for 2 months because you think it will look impressive. What about your Honors History teacher who has known you for three years and mentored that really great project you had for National History Day on the history of Drake Crying in Music Videos?
- Give them a copy of your extracurricular resume. Teachers and guidance counselors might not know all of the amazing things you do outside of the classroom, so help them out. Knowing what types of service or sports you do can improve the content of their letters, and provide context for all of the great things they are saying about you.
- Consider picking a teacher who challenged you. It is so exciting for an admissions counselor when they read a letter from a teacher who was inspired by how much their student improved and grew in their class. Consider asking teachers whose classes were tough, but helped you become a better student. You might be surprised how good their letters can be!
- Always write a hand-written thank you note! Teachers and guidance counselors are asked by several students each year to write rec letters, and they can be time-consuming. Make sure you show your appreciation with a hand-written thank you note. A good letter of recommendation can tip your application over the line into the acceptance pile, so make your teachers and guidance counselors feel appreciated.
One last note: St. Mary’s accepts non-academic letters of recommendation as supplements to your application. This means, if you have a coach, a troop leader, a pastor, a music instructor, or someone else in your life who knows you in a non-academic context, they can write a rec letter and our counselors will read it as part of your file. This is another great way to stand out as an applicant.
Well folks, this brings us to the end of our Countdown to the Common App blog series. *Sniff, sniff* We hope this has helped you feel more confident about starting your application to St. Mary’s or any other colleges and universities that you are applying to. We can’t wait to start reading all of your awesome applications this fall! Until next time…