Frequently Asked Questions
- Which test should I take - the ACT or SAT?
- How do I know if a college requires the ACT or SAT?
- What courses should I take to be admitted to a selective college?
- I have questions about World Language as a Freshman/Sophomore
- I have questions about World Language as a Junior
- Should we file the FAFSA?
A: Juniors (Started with the Class of 2018 and beyond) are in the position to choose whichever test they feel is better for them but the State of Illinois will require all juniors in public high schools to take the SAT in order to graduate. In the past, the State required (and paid for) the ACT but they recently switched to SAT because they negotiated a better price with College Board (the SAT/AP company).
In order for students to determine which test is best for them, they can sign up to take a Saturday ACT test (all dates and link to register are located on the CCRC website) and compare that performance with their projected SAT score from their junior PSAT results. If students are going to take an ACT for this purpose, it would be best to take it earlier in the junior year (no later than December) to get a sense of their performance. It should be noted that a number of the Test Prep companies (ie: Huntington, Princeton Review, etc.) provide a practice test that is also designed to help students determine which test is better for them.
The only clear differences between the ACT and SAT that we (counselors) feel we can clearly state are:
1. Students who are weaker in math may prefer the ACT. On the ACT, math is only 1/4 of their composite score but on the SAT, math is 1/2 of their composite score. The math content on the SAT appears to measure a slightly higher level of math as well. The SAT math also has some free response questions, which means there are not multiple choice answers to help the students check their work.
2. The SAT does provide a bit more processing time for each section than ACT so students who feel they perform better when they have a little more time, may find the SAT to be a better test.
Otherwise, the two tests are really much more similar than they used to be due to recent re-vamp of SAT and some changes in ACT.
Colleges typically accept either score, and many colleges remain test optional due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether or not students choose to take an ACT test, all juniors are encouraged to take the PSAT in October (which is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) and the SAT in the spring, per the State of Illinois requirement.
A: If a student has specific schools in mind, they can determine if the colleges require standardized tests by going to the college's admission website. If a student doesn't have a list of potential colleges in mind, the website www.fairtest.org has a comprehensive list of colleges that are either test optional or test blind. With the COVID-19 pandemic a significant percentage of colleges became test optional due to the difficulties the Class of 2021 had in finding open test sites. Many colleges have continued this test optional policy and some have announced that they will remain permanently test optional which others have agreed they will remain test optional for several years to track the success of their test optional students who chose to enroll. There will always be test optional schools but the testing landscape will continue to change and evolve.
Freshmen will make their sophomore course selections and sophomores will make their junior year course selections in November/December. Counselors meet with students in large groups before those individual course selection meetings begin and will discuss things that help each student evaluate what's right for them.
Ultimately, we want all students to take the most challenging courses they can reasonably manage while performing well and without being overwhelmed or over-stressed (because some stress is ok but too much stress isn't). As a general rule, students who aspire to attend Ivy League and similar types of colleges (the most selective) should be taking as much Honors and AP course work as they can muster and still earn good grades while also maintaining their sanity. It's not a deal-breaker to take a regular class in one or maybe two content areas but it's also not a guarantee that a student will be admitted to one of those highly selective schools even if they take all honors/AP coursework either. So, students have to make decisions based on their own strengths, determination, discipline, stress level, and goals.
Hopefully this helps a bit. My calendar does open up in January to underclassmen though I encourage parents and students to have these conversations with their child's counselor. Our counselors all understand the value of rigorous coursework for highly selective admissions and also can talk with their students about their feelings regarding course selection. If underclassman parents/students do want to meet with me during second semester, they can call Mary Armstrong, the CCRC Secretary at 630-617-2472 or stop by the CCRC to set that up.
Q: I’m a freshman/sophomore in the second year of World Language at York (Spanish 2/2H, French 2/2H, Italian 2/2H, Chinese 2/2H) or a sophomore/juniors in my third year of World Language at York (Spanish 3/3H, French 3/3H, Italian 3/3H, Chinese 3/3H) and don’t want to continue in this language because:
-I want to try a new language
-I am struggling and/or it’s killing my GPA
-I just don’t like learning other languages
-I really want to fit in some other classes I’m dying to take and/or may help me figure out what career I may wish to pursue.
Is it OK if I don’t take any more years of this language at York? How might this impact college admission? How might this impact the need to take a world language in college?
A: These are some of the first decisions you must consider based on what is in your best long term interests, balanced with what you enjoy and want to take. Sometimes what you want and enjoy matches up well with your long term interests and goals. Sometimes it doesn’t. Things to consider:
- It is important to know the difference between what colleges require and what they recommend.
- If a college REQUIRES two or three years of language, a student applying for admission COULD be outright denied, no matter how strong of a student they are, if they are short on a REQUIREMENT.
- If a college RECOMMENDS a certain number of years, it may make a student a more competitive applicant (and may lead to larger merit scholarships) by fulfilling that recommendation. However, a student who has less than the number of recommended years can still be admitted to the college.
- How colleges define the “number of years” of a world language varies.
- Most colleges, that require a world language for admission, view the level of proficiency as the number of years of world language a student has taken (example: Level 2 as a freshman=2 years because it’s level 2).
- A few colleges consider the number of years of a language taken in high school as the number of years of a world language a student has taken (level 2 as a freshman = 1 year because you are in your first year of high school language).
- Therefore, we encourage students planning to attend a four year college to stick through at least two years taken in high school so that you are not omitting potential colleges. However, stopping after freshman year does meet the requirement for many colleges.
- A few colleges are now requiring THREE years of language. These schools do tend to look at level of proficiency (level 3 of a language) and not so much at how many years were taken in high school. If you are considering more competitive colleges, you may want to play it safe and stick with a language through at least level three.
Conclusion: If you are really struggling in your world language course, seriously dislike taking a world language, and/or wish/need to take some other classes, you could stop taking world language after level 2 as a freshman. If so, you will still meet the admission requirement for many colleges. It is possible that you will exclude yourself from some colleges that require three years (proficiency) or from those that require two years taken in high school. Students who wish to study a new language starting in sophomore year may be able to take three years of that new language before graduating so, you would meet the highest level of requirement for any college.
Students applying to the most competitive colleges will likely stick with the same world language throughout high school to be most competitive. Any student may opt out of world language at some point in high school in order to take other/additional courses in other content areas due to their specific plans (ie: music or art students may want to take more than one music or art course each year in order to be stronger in auditions or with a portfolio). This is why we ask students to really consider their needs, wants, and plans to make course decisions and this is why we encourage students to talk with their counselor to reason through their decision-making process.
Q: I’m a junior in a 4th Level of World Language (Spanish 4/4H, French 4/4H, Chinese 4/4H, Italian 4/4H) but I’m not sure I want to take level 5/AP next year because world languages are not my strength (or maybe I really want to fit in an elective I haven’t had time to take yet).
What will colleges think if I don’t take language in my senior year?
A: This partly depends on the colleges you are considering and the major you are considering. If you are considering a HIGHLY SELECTIVE college (Ivy, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Washington U, etc.) they typically prefer to see you in that rigorous 5th year of a language. Otherwise, if you have a really good reason for not continuing, your colleges may be ok with it. You should discuss these reasons with your counselor.
- Some colleges view your years of world language based on the level of proficiency.
- Others will consider how many years you’ve been in that language IN HIGH SCHOOL.
So, if you are in level 4 as a junior some colleges will say that’s four years, while other colleges might say that’s three.
Colleges almost never require more than two or three years for admission.
A lot of/most colleges do require a certain level of language proficiency in college (usually 3-4 semesters which equals 3-4 years in high school)….that’s where things get complicated.
If you plan to switch to an entirely different language in college (anything but the language you are currently taking), you need only be concerned with being admitted and in that case, you wouldn’t need to take the language next year.
BUT, if you think you would stick with the same language in college, sticking with it for another year in high school might help you in one of two ways:
- The college might waive you from that requirement in college (because they automatically waive the world language requirement if a student takes all four years in high school) OR,
- For a school that doesn’t automatically waive it, you would take a placement test to determine your level of proficiency and you would be more likely to test higher if you stick with it for another year.
The State of Illinois now requires all high school seniors to file the FAFSA or the Alternate FAFSA or a Wavier indicating they will not be applying for financial aid in order to graduate. Generally, you are not "required" to submit the FAFSA. On some occasions (far more rarely than used to be true), colleges issuing merit-based funds may require it to be filed to verify that all aid is merit-only and has no need component. But, as stated, it's not common practice any longer.
So, are there any reasons you may want to file? Here are the most common reasons why a family still might file:
1. They want access to the Federal Direct Student Loan, which goes in the name of the student. Some families do this because they want some "back-up" funds available in case any issues arise during the school year in which the family needs to access the loan for payments, even if temporarily and paid back soon after.
2. They want access to the Federal Direct Student Loan because they want the student to have some, "Skin in the game." This is most common when a student is selecting a more expensive choice than the parents had planned to fund (even if they can make it work, they may want the student to take some responsibility for the more expensive choice).
3. Even families with high income may have "need" at a college. If the total Cost of Attendance at a college is higher than the student's FASFA-calculated EFC (or CSS Profile-calculated EFC, if there are any colleges on the student's list that require it), they may receive some aid from the college.