Ask the Expert

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I am 53 years old. 20 years, I (for a host of personal and family issues) I had to leave Graduate School. I had earned 36 credits towards a 42 credit degree program in Secondary Ed/Social Studies.

My undergraduate and graduate index stands at an impressive 3.725.
Honors include: "Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges,’ 1986 edition, History Honor Society, Psychology Honor Society, National Honor Society for General Academic Excellence and the Graduate Education Honor Society.

I am sick and disabled now…in the time I have left, there is nothing more than to finish my Master’s. Money is an issue, as I am in default on my original student loan (again, related to my Personal family issues).

I was thinking of scholarships, and credit for lifelong experiences, etc…as for ‘Community Service,’ I have an extensive background in that, as well, having been the Chairman of the Greater Ossining Volunteer Network (founded after the 1997 Philadelphia Summit with the former presidents).

Time is running out for me, but I know, if given the opportunity, I could excel, and gain my lifelong ambition.



It is good you are pursuing your education which gives you a healthy focus.

We are not exactly sure what your question is. Are you asking about funding for finishing your master’s? If so, certainly applying for scholarships could give you the financial support you need. Having defaulted on your previous student loan will affect you application for more aid monies; however, it may be possible to consolidate your old loan with a new one. You would have to pursue that question through the loan agencies you had you previous loan with.

If, however, you are asking about getting credit for life experiences, that would depend upon the type of degree you are finishing. You would need to speak with a department chair in your area of study. There also are many new graduate programs that are connected to practicums and experience. You might even conisider transferring the graduate credit you have already earned into such a program.

At any rate, these are all goals worth investigating. College Basics wishes you the best, and we believe with some phone calls to specific colleges/universities, investigation of scholarships on the Web and discussion with the federal or private loan institutions you defaulted on, you might very well be on your way to realizing your dream.

I have a student starting college in the fall. Total cost is approx $12K a
year($5.5K in tuition and $6.5K in room/board). I have $48K in I bonds, $30K
in EE bonds, and $7K in IN 529 plan). What should I start to redeem first to
take advantage of tax savings and maximize my rate of return. Thanks.

Although we do provide general financial information in regards to college planning on, we do not feel qualified to give individual investment advice. We highly recommend that you speak to your own financial advisor or to a certified financial planner to obtain the counsel you are seeking.

Hello, my name is Pamela and I’m a senior in high school. I know I shouldn’t have put my essay off until the last minute but I’ve been trying so hard to get a good essay and I have no idea what to write about for my college essay. It’s the common application main essay and I can write about just about anything and I think that is the problem. I have completed all my supplemental essays, but those had questions. Every time that I start writing something it doesn’t turn out right. I play the piano, and I tried to turn that into an essay but i couldn’t. I tried to write about my family and how my mom is Haitian and my dad is Irish and how that affected me but I didn’t know what to say. I have no idea what to do…can you help me please? How do I come up with the perfect topic? Thank you so much, any advice you could give me would be much appreciated.


Hi Pamela!

We think you have two great topics. Where you may be stuck is with a theme that goes with the topic. One possible theme for playing piano might be that through learning how to play the piano, you learned a lesson that has impacted you: that sticking with something long enough really pays off. If you picture your essay as a structure that has an opening, a conclusion, and two to three body or development paragraphs, it might help you write the essay.

Start with a paragraph that captures the reader’s attention. You might start with a scene of you practicing while the sun is shining and you can hear the sounds of others playing or laughing outside. The opening could be a conversation between you and your mother about sitting down and practicing. It could even be a question like, Ever heard Beethoven’s Fifth played like the bumble is sick and barely able to flap its wings?

The next two or three paragraphs might describe how much you hated practicing at first with little anecdotes of stops and starts or a description of how you felt playing Chopsticks. The next paragraphs would talk about the point where playing the piano turned around for you. The third body paragraph might give examples of the things you play now and the activities piano has introduced you to, etc. The final paragraph is where the theme is stated: that you understand something about the process of learning and that it gives you insight into the way you learn. It’s always good to have one sentence or two in the conclusion that relates to you as a student about to embark on a college education.

If you are going to write about your parents, you can use the same framework for the essay suggested above. The themes could vary. Perhaps you might have a theme about how good it is to have two view points to reach your own truth. Another theme could be that diversity has brought many rich experiences to you and that you look forward to college enriching your background in the same way. Maybe the theme could be about observing the harmony in differences.

We hope this helps you get started.

I’ve already taken the ACT, and I got a score of 28. I have already signed up for the SAT Resoning test on December, but I am not sure whether if I should take it. From doing my SAT practice book, I learned that my practice SAT score is not as good as my ACT equivalence. Should I still take the test? I am very afraid that I will do bad on it, and thus giving the colleges that I want to apply a bad impression.

I wish to apply to University of Washington, Seattle



According to the recent statistics of the last entering class at the University of Washington, your ACT score of 28 is at the 80th percentile of the average range of scores for students admitted to the University. Needless to say, this score is quite good, but you might do even better if you took another ACT. It is obvious to me from your question that you do not have confidence in your ability to get a higher equivalent score on the SAT so it only makes sense to repeat your ACT test rather than take a new SAT. As you know, once you take an SAT, your score is permanently recorded on your test history. However, the ACT allows you to send only the best score of any ACT administration to the colleges of your choice. This is another reason why I would recommend that you take a second ACT . However, I believe that you have missed the regular registration deadlines for the december ACT and the only way you could take the December administration is to walk in to the test center early on the test day and take the test as a stand-by. It will be expensive but it might prove to be worth the extra cost.

Hi! I’ve combed the sites, but can’t find out if there is a necessary
wait time between taking an SAT II Subject Test and retaking it if the
first score could be improved on. My daughter (a senior) is taking SAT
II’s today: could she take the December ones if things go badly today?

If this is the first time your daughter ( a senior in high school) is taking the SATIIs, it would be wise to register to retake the Subject Tests in December. In doing so, she would give herself another chance to improve on one or more tests. It is the general practice of admissions committees to use the highest test score of a Subject Test from any test administration in their consideration for admission. Although it will mean added expense (especially since you would incur a late fee for registering now) and another few hours of test-taking, it definitely is worth the price if it helps her reach her goal. For a senior, the December administration is the last opportunity to take the SAT and meet college deadlines. I urge you to have your daughter register TODAY at the CollegeBoard website as the deadline for the Late Registration date for the December SAT test is fast approaching!

Hope I have answered your question. I wish your daughter the best of luck in the college admissions process!

Good morning,
What resources do you have that can help me create my college list? I am unsure of how to generate a list of colleges that would best fit my interest.


Your question is a little unclear. I am not sure if you have gone through the appropriate steps of how best to select a college or not. If you are at the initial stages of the college selection process, I would refer you to the articles posted on at We have broken down the selection process into manageable steps. It is most important to start with the first article, “The First Step in College Selection: Self-Analysis”. Evaluating yourself by doing some serious thinking about your personality, your academic strengths/weaknesses, your future goals, your interests, and your values will help you decide what factors are important to you in a college and will enable you to know what to look for as you research various colleges. Your selection criteria might include the following: location (distance from home, surrounding environment), major field of study, academic selectivity, academic environment, size of school, extracurricular activities on campus, and special affiliations (religious, military, or neither).

However, if you have already been through the process of deciding what type of college you want and the specific characteristics of that college, then you are ready to start your college research. There are a multitude of resources available to you to help you compile a list of schools that match what you would like in a college. I suggest that you read the article at College Basics titled, “Step 3: Gathering Information on Colleges” ( This article elaborates on the three primary resources: people, print, and technological resources (software and internet) used in college selection.

I hope I have answered your question. If you need further help, please feel free to Ask the Expert again!

My daughter Alexa is a high school junior and interested in a career in Photography. The two main questions we are asking ourselves at the moment are (1) whether she should attend a university, an arts institute or a photography school (like the Brooks Institute in California), and (2) whether she should major in Photography or in Visual Arts (focus or widen her range)? We (and by we, I mean Alexa as well as we her parents) have done some research and know the pros and cons for the various options, and we’re aware that ultimately, this is a decision that she alone can take, but at this stage of our brainstorming, we could really use some specific advice (of the what-would-you-do-if-it-were-you kind). In the 30 years you’ve counseled students, you must have seen them go for certain options and how that worked out for them, and you have the benefit of hindsight, which we don’t have. I’d be grateful for any comments and advice you can give us. Thank you in advance! (And thank you again for a great website!).

First of all, thank you for your faith in our counsel and your nice feedback about our website.

Not knowing your daughter at all (her personality, her academic achievements, her artistic ability, her level of skill especially in regards to photography, and her goals for the future), it is difficult to provide a specific answer to your query. What I can give you is a framework that will help narrow down your options.

There are four questions that she needs to honestly answer for herself:

1.) Does she want a school that is primarily career-directed…or a
school that offers a broader education? A visual arts school has
limited options if she decides that she wants to change majors.

2.) Does she have a solid background in studio arts to be successful in a
BFA degree program? Most photography BFA programs require
additional study in studio arts and prefer candidates with a solid high
school foundation in the arts. For those students primarily interested in
photography who have not taken art classes in high school, the
program to take is the BS degree in photography or media studies.

3.) What is her career goal and how firm is she in that decision?
Photography may be an avocation, even one which brings in income,
but she may want to consider a career track that is more traditional.

4.) What type of individuals does she prefer to mingle with? Most art
schools attract an homogeneous student population (i.e. the “artsy”
type kids) while universities and colleges tend to have a broader mix
of people.

In my experience working with students interested in photography, I find most students decide to apply to universities or to liberal arts colleges with strong photography programs, such as Bates College in Maine or Ithaca College in New York. I am presently working with a boy who is interested in photographic studies, but he wants to have the opportunity to minor in business just to make sure he will be able to secure viable employment after graduation.

However, if your daughter is passionately involved in the arts and seeks just an education in photographic studies and has no other academic interest, then an Arts/Photography school might work out for her.

I wish you and your daughter a great journey through this complicated process; I can promise you that everyone will discover a little more about oneself when the journey is over!

My son is working on his resume. What exactly should be included–should he list all his scores, all his high school courses, etc. essentially all that will be listed on the common application. Is the information a duplication of the info that is on the common application with possibly a little extra? Thank you for your help.


The high school resume is simply a marketing tool that your son creates to sell himself. Not only should it be used for his college applications, he should also use his resume for college interviews and scholarship applications. In addition, teachers who have the task of writing letters of support love to see a student’s resume to help them write a stronger recommendation. The resume also allows a student to provide much more detailed and fuller explanations and descriptions of activities and accomplishments than what was provided in the information on the Activities chart in the Common Application. For all of these reasons, taking time to develop a full, detailed document that comes alive with his strengths, accomplishments, and personal interests will enhance his application significantly.

The article, The Basics of Developing a High School Resume at, addresses your question of what should be included in the resume. To clarify one point though about the testing scores, I would advise you to only report the highest scores on the SAT and/or ACT since colleges usually choose the best scores in their evaluation of the applicant. After you have read through this article, I think you should also see the Sample Resume that we included so that you will have a better idea of what a completed resume should look like.

One last point: Always be sure to use high quality business paper to print your completed resume. You want the finished product to create the image of a dedicated, serious student.

Hope this information helps you. If you have any other concerns, please be sure to return to CollegeBasics. We will do our best to help you!


I am a rising senior and was wondering about taking some language courses.
I had taken latin 1 and 2 during freshmen and sophomore year but decided to take another AP course instead of latin 3 in junior year.
I already have 2 korean credits, but was very concerned that ivy does not accept students without 4 years of a language.
I can also speak Japanese but never took a course in school. What should I do?
I moved to the United States 5 yrs ago.
My SAT scores are 2350,
and I have gotten all A’s in 7 AP classes I took until junior year.
I took
AP World H (10th)
AP Chem (10th)
AP Bio
AP Physics B
AP Literature and Comp
AP Calculus BC
My ap test scores are two 5’s (Bio,World H) three 4’s (Calculus, US H, Chem) and two 3’s (English and physics B).
I wish to major in biology or medical.
I am a violinist, and have placed 2nd in All State Orchestras and Senior Regional Orchestras. I have other prizes from being a musician and various other extra curricular activities(Red Cross etc.)
Thank you for your comments and please help me!

-from the Desperate
First of all, let me say you should not feel "desperate" at all! You are definitely a HIGHLY qualified applicant for any top caliber school in the USA. The results of your SAT testing (2350 out of a possible 2400) is superb and the strength of your coursework (7 APs through your junior year) and results of your AP tests (a majority of 4’s and 5’s) are excellent as well, especially considering you have only been in this country for 5 years. I do not believe that the fact that you only have taken 2 years of Latin will hurt your candidacy at all, since in reality English is a foreign language for you anyway. Because you have studied English for 4 years while you have been in high school in the U.S., that in itself should satisfy the 4 year foreign language requirement in your case. Furthermore, the admissions committee will definitely take into consideration that English is NOT your native tongue.

However, I would recommend that you speak to your guidance counselor who will write your secondary school report recommendation and make sure that he or she emphasizes your family background, your recent relocation to the United States, the fact that English is your second language, your fluency in other languages (Japanese and Korean), and the fact that you could not fit in a language into your schedule last year because of the AP courses you wanted to take.

All in all, since you are an outstanding student who has only lived in the United States for the past five years, the fact that you could not schedule a 3rd year of Latin into your schedule last year should not adversely affect your application in any way to any school. However, if there is a way to schedule the 3rd year this year, you might want to consider taking it if you are still concerned about not having a traditional foreign language sequence on your transcript. Keep in mind the most important factor for any admissions committee is your excellent academic achievement in strong courses and great recommendations from your teachers supporting this fact. It is quite apparent to me that you will bring so much to any college campus—a true love of learning, superb intellect, special talent , and a dedication to excellence. I truly believe that if you just continue to demonstrate that excellence and you should be all set.

We at wish you the best…and look forward to hearing from you again when the admissions letter comes. We are anxious to hear your good news!

Congratulations on your stellar achievements!

Followup from Desperate:
I wanted to thank you for your generous advices and help. I gained confidence from your comments and will work hard to update you with good news!

Dear CollegeBasics,

I am 45 years old and I’d like to earn a college degree. I have a high school diploma but no transcript. I took the SAT test back in 1979 or 1980 but I do not have a record of nor do I remember my score. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get started?

Thank you.


You don’t need to worry about your SAT score because most colleges do not require SATs for applicants who are older than 20 years of age. You will, however, have to contact the high school that you graduated from to request an official transcript be mailed directly to the college you are interested in applying to. Because you have been out of school for a long time, you might want to consider applying to a community college first so that you can enroll in refresher courses if needed and work for an associate’s degree first. You then can transfer those credits to a four year college if you ultimately desire a Bachelor’s degree in your interest area.

Congratulations for taking the first step toward your goal. We wish you the best!

Dear CollegeBasics,

My son will be a freshman in high school next year and we are now trying to choose his classes for him. He has always been an accelerated student in middle school but he never has shown his true potential. He usually gets B’s and C’s on his report card even though his Metropolitan Achievement Test states he is above the 90th percentile in all subject tests. I would like him to enroll in all Honor classes because of his aptitude and our dream for him to attend an Ivy League school after high school, but we are not sure this is wise. We would appreciate your opinion. Thank you!


I certainly agree with you that your son possesses strong academic aptitude as indicated by his results on the standardized test. And it is important to colleges that students elect to take challenging coursework. But his grades in his middle-school accelerated classes demonstrate that he might still be academically immature and not quite ready to undertake the demands of such an intense course of study that a full load of honor level courses might require.

As you know, colleges do want to see evidence of a student’s “thirst for knowledge” through his elected course-load, but you must also keep in mind that grades are exceedingly important too. If a student selects to take an honors level class, then he should maintain at least a “B” average in them (an “A” would be even better!). Therefore, I would advise you to proceed slowly and allow him to take one (or perhaps two) Honor classes in his favorite subjects during his first year of high school. In this way, he will not become overwhelmed by the intensity of the work and the amount of time needed to do well on homework, independent learning, research projects, and more difficult tests that are all part of an Honors curriculum. He will also have a chance during this transition year to learn how to balance his classes with his extracurricular efforts. If he has success in the transition from middle school to high school academic expectations and he does well academically, then you can start to increase the number of honors classes each and every year and even include Advanced Placement classes in his junior and senior years. I wish him the best of luck in the exciting years ahead!

Dear CollegeBasics,

I really want to get into Tufts next year but I just got back my SAT results and I didn’t do well. I have always taken strong classes in high school (Honors and AP classes) and am #2 in my class but I obviously am not a good standardized test taker. Are SATs THAT important to colleges?


First of all, it is important to keep in mind the SAT is never the only element considered for admission. Your academic record is perhaps the most important criteria to college admissions committees as they want to see outstanding achievement in rigorous coursework throughout high school. However, grades are a subjective evaluation tool, and, unfortunately, admission committees know that grade inflation is becoming more prevalent in today’s high schools. Colleges who choose to require college entrance exams do so primarily because they perceive them to be their only standard measure of comparison between applicants. Because of this fact, SATs are also a very important factor when considering a student for admission to a college.

That said, the SAT is not only the college admission test that is accepted at Tufts. I believe that based on your high academic achievement in the classroom you should consider taking the ACT. Unlike the SAT, which is designed to be an aptitude reasoning test, the ACT is essentially an achievement test that is constructed to test concepts already learned in the classroom. You have proven your skills in the classroom so you should do well on the ACT. I would strongly recommend that you practice the ACT before the test is administered by at least taking the free ACT test in the booklet provided by the ACT. That way you will know what to expect on each section and can learn to pace yourself better. There are also free ACT prep test sites such as that you can access online that might help build your confidence in taking this test.

Building your confidence in test-taking will help reduce your test anxiety. I have faith that you will do well in the ACT! Hope you will follow my advice…and then let me know how you do! Good luck!

Dear CollegeBasics,

I am a junior in high school and have always taken a schedule filled with hard academic classes. I think I deserve to have some fun in my last year of high school. I would like to take the required English and math, and fill the rest of my schedule with easy electives. My parents disagree with my decision. What do you think of my plan?


I am sorry to say that I do NOT agree with your plan; I have to side with your parents on this one! If you go through with your plan of taking easy electives rather than continuing to take a strong core of solid college-prep academics, then you will be throwing away all your hard work and achievement in the past three years. You might even be risking acceptance at the colleges you choose to apply to!

All colleges consider the final year of high school as a truly important year in preparation for your studies at the college level. If you take a schedule filled with “gut” classes, it will indicate to the admission committee that you lack motivation and do not have the strong work ethic they desire their students to have.

It would be a very costly mistake to slack off now in your studies, as it might cost you admission to the college of your choice. I certainly hope you amend your thinking!