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Is there more to a happy college social life than Greek life?

Students frequently either have a strong aversion to or a major attraction to Greek life. The funny thing is that high school students only know what they’ve seen or heard about fraternities and sororities; they haven’t experienced it first-hand. It’s the movies they’ve seen, think Animal House to  Sorority Wars. Or it’s what they’ve heard from their parents (“Greek life was the most significant piece of my college experience” or “it’s exclusive and avoid it.”  But the dominance or absence of Greek Life on college campuses can be a push/pull factor.

Pros to participating in Greek life:

  • They provide a network of friends, where friends become “family.”
  • Your “sisters” and “brothers” are acquaintances with similar interests.
  • Fraternities and sororities can become a major part of a student’s social life, providing a built-in set of activities and a social circle.
  • This network is long-lasting. Many parents are still great friends with their “sisters” and “brothers”
  • The network can also serve as a conduit for internships, jobs, and reconnecting with alumni and is especially helpful when settling in a new city.
  • Many of these organizations are very involved in community service
  • There are great opportunities for leadership that can make a difference when applying to grad school and for jobs.

Cons to participating in Greek Life:

  • Money. Participating in Greek Life can be very expensive. Some require students to live in their Greek houses and pay for room and board. The expenses can add up quickly with social dues and attending all the social functions, events, and contributions.
  • Cliqueeness. Students have been known to label “good” and “loser” fraternities and sororities and students can be labeled as such.
  • Many of these organizations have been known to engage in excessive drinking and hazing rituals which are illegal in many states and can be physically risky.

Data on the percentage of students in Greek Life is available on a variety of sites including and, but beware that it is a little more nuanced than you might think. As an example. Princeton lists 0% in fraternities and sororities. That’s because they are not supported by the university and there are no Greek houses on campus. However, Eating Clubs operate in a similar fashion and are very popular at Princeton. Many of these clubs are “bicker” clubs that require students to go through a very stressful application process to be accepted.

Campuses feel dominated by Greek Life when the participation levels are greater than 25%. When fewer than 20% participate in Greek Life, it’s part of the social fabric but doesn’t dominate. At colleges located in more rural areas, there often isn’t much else to do and participation in Greek Life is, therefore, more appealing.

While the old stereotype of drunken frat boys still exists, it definitely doesn’t define all the options out there. Tour guides are asked these kinds of questions all the time and are trained to respond putting the college/university in the most positive light. The best way to really decipher if the school offers the best-fit social environment for you is to spend the night with a current student and get the low-down directly.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. She can be reached at;

Great Counselor Resources (with links)

High School Counselor Resources

Career Counseling

Visit our Career Exploration and Post-Secondary Planning Page for more resources


College Planning

Financial Aid


The College Search

For Students with Learning Differences

Gap Year Information

  • Americorps – Corporation for National and Community Service



This list was compiled by the New Jersey School Counselor Association. Check their full list out here:

How to take advantage of today’s college award landscape and obtain higher awards – Free Archived Webinar

The College Solution hosted a great webinar recently with Lynn O’Shaughnessy (founder of the College Solution) and Mark Salisbury (creator of TuitionFit). In the presentation they discussed how TuitionFit, which is a free tool, can help counselors, students and parents get access to real award letters from schools across the country. They also have a nice Q&A at the end. It can definitely help your students and their families save a lot of money to follow their advice.

Here is a link to the recording which can be shared: Recording on Vimeo

Here is a link to TuitionFit’s tool: Free tool

For What It’s Worth… Musings on College Admissions 2023

“There’s something happening here… 

But what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

If you heard the distinctive, haunting tremolo of Buffalo Springfield’s opening chords as you read these words, you might think that I am reminiscing about the 60s. Not quite. I’m an 80s kid.

I am instead referring to the recent period of accelerated change in college admissions. As with many cultural shifts that emerged from COVID, the college admissions landscape is rapidly evolving to… well, whatever comes next.

The process that got us into the state we are in is called cultural habituation.  I can still remember how I learned the concept, sitting in Mary Pipher’s audience as she discussed Reviving Ophelia with an opera house full of earnest adolescent girls and their allies. If you throw a frog into a pot of hot water, it will immediately jump out. But if you very gradually turn up the heat, the frog will remain in the water until it is poached. Gradual, subtly imperceptible changes can–in combination–result in seismic shifts.

Which is what has happened since 1986 when–armed with my parent’s typewriter, a super-sized bottle of Wite-Out, and nearly across-the-board demographic privilege (that I would only recognize and unpack as an undergrad), I cast my fortunes to the winds and sent four inexpertly typed applications to two reach, one realistic, and one likely school. Without completing a Math beyond Algebra II (much to my delight, my small high school scheduled Advanced Math and Spanish IV simultaneously and there was no way back then to do both) or a single AP/IB/EC course, I was accepted into all four. I started at one of the reaches but it was a mismatch, transferred to the likely (my state’s flagship) after a semester, and continued on to grad school to obtain the degree necessary to do what I wanted to do.  Looking back, it seems so simple. And I don’t think it’s me misremembering.

While the unsuspecting public went about its business in the intervening years, the college admissions process became a gauntlet worthy of a post-apocalyptic hellscape. This was not by accident.  I have learned over the years that anyone that has anything to do with colleges does not do anything without intention. At some point, some individual or team decided to use technological advances to track every interaction (down to the mouse click) in which a prospective student engages. There was a meeting at which upper management at US News and World Report decided to get into the college ranking game.  There was a retreat at which a new way to identify talented students was envisioned by a nascent College Board.  If any one of these things existed in isolation, we might not be where we are today.  But, thrown all together in the same pot, the US admissions process has become a toxic morass that chews up and spits out “regective” college aspirants with impunity. The “rules” to the selective college admissions game are well articulated by Jeffrey Selingo in “Who Gets in and Why.” The odds, it seems, favor whomever a college’s enrollment management folks most value in any given year. I hear my childhood self complaining (as I often did to my Mom), “That’s not fair!” “Life’s not fair,” was her standard retort. No it absolutely is not.

When COVID hit and institutions had no choice but to endlessly pivot to manage the worldwide pandemic, previously sacrosanct elements of the process changed in ways once seemed unfathomable. It started with the SAT. The SAT will be administered electronically moving forward. If the College Board had anticipated the need and made this change in time for COVID, we could very well be in a different situation.  But the CB did not see into the future, and they were not ready for a raging pandemic that made it impossible for students to gather for a group administered standardized test.  So colleges went test optional. Just a few at first, then in waves as it became apparent that there was just no viable alternative. Then something amazing happened. Colleges realized that they preferred it.  I attended a webinar of three Boston area Directors of Admissions after the first season with newly optional test scores and they used the word “liberated” to describe how it felt to be able to make decisions about students without being tied to test scores. They talked about the shift to holistic admissions, what that consists of, and the end result: a thoughtfully selected student body that represents the ideals of each institution, the people that they want contributing to their campus culture irrespective of their performance filling in bubbles with #2 pencils. They drew attention to the influx of underrepresented groups, particularly Indigenous students (Tufts welcomed so many that they elected to create a new Center for Indigenous Students) that were previously scared off by the testing requirement but, in its absence, decided to take their shot. And made it.

Although some schools have returned to requiring the SAT/ACT–perhaps most prominently MIT–they too cite equity concerns as the underlying justification.  Keeping the SAT as a part of their process enables MIT to identify students who have no other way to irrefutably demonstrate their collegiate readiness. Although it seems counterintuitive to reinstate an element of the process that is widely acknowledged to be racially biased and inaccessible to already underserved kids, this practice apparently allows MIT to identify the diamonds in the rough languishing in impoverished high schools and to get them onto campus.

But these schools are now anomalies, outliers.  The Common Application, a frequent access point for college applications, recently reported that only 4% of its member schools require standardized test scores, a precipitous drop from pre-pandemic levels. Perhaps most important, longstanding believers that the SAT is an essential cog in the wheels of college admissions are finally starting to believe that it is no longer what it once was. Honestly, parents have been harder to convince. Kids are pumped to have a conversation about optional SATs and almost universally relieved to learn that they don’t have to stress about it. But for Gen X parents who grew up with the SATs as an essential building block of the admissions process, it’s about as hard to let go of as Saturday morning cartoons. Yes, Gen Xers-it’s OK. Your kids don’t have to submit scores. If they did reasonably well on the PSATs there’s no harm in taking the SAT; scores may be good enough to yield some merit aid or help a student gain admission. But the days of mandatory, all-or-nothing, stomach churning maelstrom of high stakes testing are no longer a thing; if they take the test they can do so dispassionately.

The recent announcement that two prestigious colleges–Columbia and William and Mary–have gone permanently test optional may be a bellwether for the future, calling into question the continued viability of the SAT/ACT. I’m curious to see who goes next.

But that’s not the only pillar of the college admissions process that is on shaky ground. So too is the US News and World Report ranking system under threat.  It started when Harvard Law issued a statement that it would no longer participate with the enormously influential rankings. But this was Harvard. Law. They could do just about whatever they pleased and still have thousands more applications than available spots.  Harvard Med School followed, but again Harvard is Harvard and will never want for applications. A sizable number of Med Schools and Law Schools followed, but it was Colorado College that became the first undergraduate institution to take that step. Others will surely follow. A good measure of the rationale for cooperating with US News was fear-based. Sort of like a bad mobster movie in which all the neighborhood shops pay for “protection” until one of them stands up to the bully and the others feel emboldened to do the same. Colorado College’s audacity to break from the stranglehold paves the way for other colleges to defy the rankings as well. It will be interesting to see who goes next. BREAKING

These two massive changes join the existing anti-legacy movement underway in higher education.

As these Titans fall, the inevitable question of “What do we do instead?” is no doubt playing on your mind. No standardized test scores? No rankings? No legacies? What will we do without these? We are absolutely in uncharted territory here, so there is a certain amount of experienced conjecture–but here are my suggestions for parents of college bound students.

  1. Acknowledge your anachronistic perspective.  Be open to learning what you don’t know. Chances are better than average that what you think you know is no longer a thing. Your student REALLY doesn’t need a printer; that is in the dot matrix past. But they may be able to bring their emotional support animal or room with a person of the opposite sex. We are in the unusual position in which first generation parents may actually have a leg up on parents that had their own college experience because it is so different now. Parents with a collegiate past need to forget and relearn way more than first gen parents have to assimilate. Now is the time for humility, not hubris. Be curious, don’t assume anything, and ask lots of questions.
  2. Follow your guide. School Counselors are paying attention to all of these changes and are adjusting accordingly.  The information that we are receiving daily is akin to drinking from a firehose, so there is a lot to process, but counselors are sorting through everything and relearning what they need to know. If you are fortunate to attend a school with reasonable counselor:student ratios, you should be all set with your assigned school counselor.  Reach out to them and ask to have a conversation so that you can identify what has changed since back in the day. If your student’s counselor has unwieldy numbers, you may want to consider the services of an Independent Educational Consultant.
  3. Find the niche rankings for particular characteristics that are important to your student. Campus Pride helps 2SLGBTQIA+ students find rainbow friendly campuses.  Speaking of Niche… There are lists of vegan/gluten free colleges, colleges friendly for students with disabilities, Do a Google search for colleges where you can legit play with LEGO. And the old stand-by Colleges That Change Lives is still as relevant as when it was first published, although—as Ron DeSantis’ hostile makeover of New College amply demonstrates—you need to #knowthestatewhereyoumatricuate and pay attention to what is happening in states that are actively seeking to dismantle higher education diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (Texas, Virginia).
  1. Get to know the Common Data Set. Think of the hardest school that you know to get into, then Google “school name” and “common data set.” What should appear is a bunch of statistics. You can read all that if you want, but you could also skip ahead to C7, where—what to your wondering eyes should appear—a roadmap for what the institution prioritizes in the college application process. It plainly shows what value each school places on the myriad elements that aspiring scholars need to demonstrate in their applications. They literally tell you exactly what is the most important to them. All you need do is apply this knowledge.
  2. Remember what, and who, college is for. An untoward outcome of the toxicity of the American college process for parents is FONI-Fear Of No Ivy. Where kids get in and where they go drives a lot of parental behaviors–what you talk about at cocktail parties, the sticker that you put on your back car window, what you post on Facebook. You’ve spent your kid’s whole life managing the tenuous balance of connection-independence. Now is NOT the time to slip up and make it about you. In fact, your kids need your help keeping it about them. Help them drown out the voices of others that think they should have a say in their choices.
  3. Look north! While Americans created a system that is overly complex, labyrinthine, and cutthroat, our kinder neighbors to the north have kept it simple, the way it used to be here.  You send in your application. And your transcript. And maybe a letter of recommendation. That’s it.  No strategizing about the sequencing of EDI and ED II, EA I or EA II, RCEA, etc. No meticulously scrutinized admission percentages. No need to deliberately curate your image or engage in activities just because it looks good to colleges. Canadian Universities say to give them a couple of weeks to decide, but in reality that’s in case someone has the flu or is on vacation.  If everyone is in the office, they can turn around your decision in a day. There are a lot of great reasons to study in Canada. And you can just avoid the mess that we’ve made of admissions.

I’m a hopeful person. Maybe, just maybe, the shifts we are seeing are a sign that the pendulum is about to swing the other way, back toward sanity, back toward humanity, and back towards those self evident truths on which our nation was founded.

Author Piet Lammert is a 25-year veteran public High School Counselor who loves helping kids navigate the college process so much that he became an Independent Educational Consultant as a side hustle to do it more, DiriGo College Consulting. For more about intersection of School Counseling and Educational (College) consulting, check out this College Spy podcast.

61 Terms Every Job Seeker Will Need to Know

All of your students will be in the job market someday (some right even after graduation). Here are 61 terms they should know as they seek that job:

Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

An application tracking system is a software program that employers use to automate recruitment tracking and screen applicants. Resumes are scored based on keywords and should have clearly identifiable sections to be ranked correctly.

Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication occurs between team members without the expectation of an immediate response. It is used frequently among distributed workforces to accommodate varying time zones and flexible work schedules.

Blue Sky Thinking

Blue sky thinking is creative brainstorming that allows you to dream without limits based on reality. The idea is that we unintentionally limit our creativity with checks and balances, but during blue sky thinking, we allow ourselves to dream without judgement.

Career Development

Career development means actively managing your career growth through education, experience, and other activities.

Chronological Resume

A chronological resume is a traditional resume format that outlines job history in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent position.

Company Culture

Company culture is the sum of a company’s beliefs, behaviors, values, and formal and informal systems. Culture is essentially determined by how things are done in a particular workplace.

Company Research

Company research means exploring potential employers to gauge their mission, values, and culture and gathering information relevant to the position and the job description.

Compressed Workweek

A compressed workweek entails working longer hours in fewer days, such as four 10-hour days or three 12-hour days, rather than five eight-hour days.

Cover Letter

A cover letter is a short letter of two to three paragraphs introducing yourself to the hiring manager and highlighting a few skills or experiences that make you an ideal candidate. Generally, a cover letter accompanies your resume unless a posting explicitly states not to include one.

Coworking Space

Coworking spaces are workspaces available to rent for various lengths of time, from hourly to a long-term basis. Coworking spaces provide a more professional setting and collaboration opportunities than a home office.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

CV is short for curriculum vitae, which means “course of life” in Latin. As such, a CV is a detailed account of the course of your entire professional life, including every position you’ve ever held, awards you’ve won, grants you’ve received, research you’ve conducted, and anything else related to your professional history. A CV is similar to but longer than a resume and is not tailored to a specific job posting.

Digital Nomad

A digital nomad is someone who works virtually from various locations. Digital nomads move from location to location but use technology and communication tools to stay digitally connected while working and traveling.

Distributed Company

In a distributed company, the majority (if not all) employees work from remote locations. Communication generally involves strategies to ensure everyone feels included, rather than focusing on physical interactions.

Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a short pitch (short enough that you could give it during an elevator ride) that offers an overview of who you are, your career goals, and why you’re an excellent fit for a role.

Exempt Employee

An exempt employee is exempt from federal and state labor laws, meaning they are not eligible for overtime pay. They are generally in salaried positions, rather than hourly positions.

Flexible Job

A flexible job entails various flexible work arrangements that fall outside of the traditional 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday, in-person work arrangement.

Flexible Schedule

A flexible schedule comes with varying degrees of control over when you perform your job tasks. Policies vary significantly between companies and positions.


Freelancing is independent contracting with an organization to perform agreed-upon duties in exchange for specified compensation. Contracts will vary based on the length of tasks and commitments. When freelancing, you’ll be responsible for your taxes and benefits.

Functional Resume

A functional resume is a type of resume format that emphasizes skills and accomplishments vs job history.

Gig Economy

The gig economy is a labor market with short-term positions and independent contracting, instead of more permanent arrangements.

Green Jobs

Green jobs are positions with companies that focus on sustainability, renewable energy, and other green initiatives.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are technical skills in a specialized field, such as coding or proficiency with specific software.

Hiring Manager

Hiring managers are decision-makers in charge of the recruitment process but not necessarily the manager you’ll report to if you are awarded the job.

Hybrid Remote

A hybrid remote job entails dividing work time between in-person time at the company’s office and workdays outside of company-provided offices. The schedule of days in-office vs days at home or elsewhere varies by company and position.

Hybrid Resume

A hybrid resume is a resume format that combines elements of both chronological and functional formats.

Informational Interview

An informational interview is a meeting with someone in the industry or company you’re interested in. The purpose of an informational interview is networking and gathering information, rather than seeking a job offer.


An interview is the process of evaluating a candidate for an open position by asking questions about their experience, skills, and qualifications and determining if they’re a fit for the role.

Job Alerts

Job alerts are notifications that inform candidates when jobs of interest become available.

Job Board

A job board is a website that hosts job postings for open positions at different companies. Job boards range from generic (posting every available job) to niche-specific (targeting one industry or job type).

Job Fair

A job fair is an organized event with specified times where businesses, schools, and other organizations come together to connect job seekers with potential employers.

Job Reference

A job reference is a professional or personal contact who can speak to your skills and experience, usually for the purpose of providing a recommendation to potential employers.

Job Seeker SEO

Job seeker SEO entails strategically using the best keywords in your profiles and resume to ensure that you show up as a match for your ideal position when recruiters search for applicants.


Keywords are specific words or series of words that match those used in a job search or posting.


A mentorship is a one-on-one relationship between a mentor and mentee focused on exchanging knowledge, supporting career growth, and providing feedback and guidance.


Negotiation is the process of considering and sharing proposals with a prospective employer in order to reach an agreement on salary, benefits, hours, or other job terms.


Networking entails developing relationships in your professional and industry circles to support career growth and development.

Networking Event

A networking event is an organized event, typically in the form of a meeting or seminar, that brings together professionals from various industries to meet, share information, and grow their professional contacts.

Nonexempt Employee

A nonexempt employee is not exempt from federal and state labor laws and must be paid overtime at time-and-a-half for any hours worked beyond 40 hours in a week. This generally applies to those in hourly positions, rather than salaried positions.

Paid Time Off (PTO)

Paid time off (PTO) is a paid leave policy offered by employers that allows employees to use days off for vacation or personal time.

Panel Interview

A panel interview, otherwise known as a team interview, is an interview conducted by two or more people at the same time. A panel interview can include managers, supervisors, team members, HR representatives, and other company decision-makers.

Part-Time Job

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has defined part-time hours as working less than an average of 30 hours a week.

Passive Job Seeker

A passive job seeker is a person who is open to new job opportunities but not actively seeking out new positions or responding to listings. Instead, they might attend networking events or join professional organizations to increase their visibility.

Personal Branding

Personal branding is the way you market your career focus and expertise. Effective personal branding means providing a cohesive message across your social media channels and application materials.

Personal Reference

A personal reference is a referral from someone who has known you in a nonprofessional capacity, such as a friend or family member.


A portfolio is a collection of work samples that demonstrate your skills and expertise, usually in the form of a website or an app.


A recruiter is a professional responsible for finding the best candidate for a position based on skill requirements. Recruiters can be independent professionals or company employees.

Remote-First Company

In a remote-first company, most employees work from remote locations, rather than a central one.


A remote-friendly company has policies and procedures in place to accommodate remote work but is not a fully distributed team.

Remote Job

Remote jobs are positions that can be performed outside of company-provided offices.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

A results-only work environment (ROWE) is a type of work environment in which employees are assessed by the work they produce, as opposed to hours on the job or time spent in the office.

Resume Summary

A resume summary is a statement near the top of a resume that provides an overview of your experience, accomplishments, and qualifications.

Resume Writing Services

Resume writing services assist job seekers in crafting a customized resume tailored to the position they are applying for.

Seasonal Job

A seasonal job is a temporary role that is available during certain seasons, such as summer jobs and holidays.

Skills, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) Analysis

SWOT analysis is a method of assessing a job opportunity to determine and communicate how your skills can benefit an employer.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are less tangible but highly sought-after qualities, such as communication, team-building, problem-solving, and creativity.

STAR Method

The STAR method is an interviewing technique that helps you communicate specific examples of your skills. STAR stands for situation, task, action, result. By framing your responses as stories that cover all of those details, you can paint a clear picture for the interviewer.

Temporary Job

A temporary job is a role that is available year-round but for a limited and defined amount of time, such as a six-month temporary assignment to cover someone.

Transferable Skills

Transferable skills are skills that you have developed in your prior work experience in other positions, industries, or sectors that will benefit you in a new role because they can be applied, or transferred, to another role.

Virtual Interview

A virtual interview is any interview that isn’t completed in person. Standard interview technologies include videoconferencing and phone interviews.

Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance entails maintaining equal focus between your career and personal life by creating boundaries to fit your unique scheduling needs.

Work-Life Integration

Work-life integration entails integrating work and personal time throughout the day. Work-life integration looks different for everyone, but someone who integrates work time and personal time might work a few hours early in the morning, take a break to walk the dog, return to work for a couple more hours, take a lunch break in the afternoon, and then return to work for the remainder of the day.

Here is a link to FlexJobs post and blog where they have links to more information on each of these terms:

Average High School Counselor Salary by State

Salaries can vary widely from state to state so it is always helpful to benchmark your salary versus other Counselors in your area. Here are the average salaries for High School Counselors by state (based on data from Zip Recruiter)

StateAnnual SalaryMonthly PayWeekly PayHourly Wage
New York$60,579$5,048$1,164$29.12
New Hampshire$56,189$4,682$1,080$27.01
New Jersey$52,847$4,403$1,016$25.41
Rhode Island$52,299$4,358$1,005$25.14
North Dakota$51,095$4,257$982$24.57
West Virginia$51,056$4,254$981$24.55
South Dakota$48,998$4,083$942$23.56
South Carolina$47,616$3,968$915$22.89
New Mexico$46,475$3,872$893$22.34
North Carolina$39,899$3,324$767$19.18
Average High School Counselor Salary By State

As you can see the top state Washington ($63,474) has an average salary that is $23,000 higher than the state with the lowest average, North Carolina ($39,899). Of course, there are other factors such as cost of living, taxes, quality of life that should always be taken into consideration.

ACT Science Section: Facts your students need to know

Misconceptions about the ACT Science Section

As a professional tutor, I spend a lot of time helping students maximize their scores on the Science Section of the ACT.  As I tell my students, one of the things you need to do is make sure you have a strong background of science facts from your middle school years.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the ACT Science Section.  Yes, it does cover physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, meteorology, geology, and a few other “ologies.”  Yes, the passages are at the high school and even the college level.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do well on this test if you haven’t taken high school-level classes in all these topics.  The ACT Science test is passage-based, meaning all (or at least most) of the information you need to answer the questions is given to you.  For instance, I was working on a passage with a student today that referred to tomato plants as Solanum lycopersicum and pepper plants as Capsicum annuum.  Does that mean you need to memorize the Latin names of thousands of species to do well on this test?  Of course not!  The first paragraph of the passage explained which plants were which.  When you saw the Latin words a few paragraphs down, you just had to have the presence of mind to look back for the detail you needed.

What you really need to do well on the ACT Science Section is the ability to think like a scientist.  You need to read and process technical information very quickly.  The questions will ask you to find specific details mentioned in the passages or find patterns and trends in tables of data.  All of this will need to happen at a very brisk pace.  In my opinion, the most challenging part of the ACT Science Section isn’t getting the correct answers, but doing so in a very limited amount of time.  There are two tips I give my students to accomplish this task.

Tips to Maximize Your Speed

First, you shouldn’t read the passages first.  In fact, you should barely read them at all.  Instead, you should go right to the questions and scan the passage for the answers.  (Please keep in mind that this strategy is only for the ACT Science Section.  In the reading section, you should absolutely read the passages first.)  In the science section, you’ll find that the topics are extremely complex and include several details you’ll never need to answer the questions.  Attempting to fully understand the passages is a surefire way to run out of time.  It breaks my teacher’s heart to say this, but you’ll have to stifle your scientific curiosity to do well on this test. If you encounter a word you don’t know in a question, there’s usually no need to figure out what it means.  Instead, scan the passage and the data to see where that word is mentioned.  Usually, you can determine the answer to the question at hand without ever learning the definition of the word.  If you do need to know the definition, only then should you take a look at the first paragraph, where applicable terms are most often defined.  (Please bring your scientific curiosity back for all non-timed types of scientific reading!)

The second tip I have for speeding up the ACT Science Section is to make sure your background knowledge is as strong as possible.  Even if you didn’t take AP Chemistry in high school, you probably had a chemistry unit in a middle school science class.  So you probably know that water has the chemical formula H2O.  Here’s an example of how that can be useful:

If the researchers had collected the gas that was produced by the boiling water and analyzed its components, which of the following elements would they be most likely to identify?

A) Carbon

B) Nitrogen

C) Oxygen

D) Neon

If you know that water is made of up hydrogen and oxygen, then you don’t have to read the passage at all to know the answer to this question will be C.  Once again, I would never recommend this for the reading section, but in the science section, trust your knowledge!  These passages will include topics you’ve never heard of, but there will also be things you do know about, such as water.  Moreover, everything in these passages will be scientifically accurate, so there’s no need to double-check that the authors got their facts right. It is safe to circle C and move on to the next question without referencing the passage for this one.  This will give you more time to spend scanning the passage when you’re working on the harder questions.

Not only should you trust your own scientific knowledge for questions where the answers are in the passage, but you’ll also find about 2-3 questions on the test where you have no other option.  My example above is actually modeled on an actual test question in this category.  If you had gone back to the passage to look for one of the elements listed, you would have never found it.  You might have spent more than a minute looking for something you already knew.  If you insist on always finding confirmation in the passage, then these quick and easy questions can become big time wasters.

The Science Facts You Need to Know

In order to help my students best prepare for the ACT Science Section, I’ve prepared the following list of science facts to know.  I analyzed about two dozen ACT science tests and idenified the topics that were found in a question but not specified in the passage.  These are the ACT Science Facts you need to know!

Experimental Design

  • Independent vs Dependent Variables
  • Control Groups
  • Holding other variables constant (aka “controlling for a variable”)
  • Common conversions in metric system (1000 mm = 100 cm = 1 m = 1000 km)
  • “Lab words” to know: tare, balance, graduated cylinder, filter, distill


  • Animal Cell Structure (cell membrane, nucleus, ribosomes, mitochondria)
  • Plant Cell Structure (cell wall, nucleus, chloroplast)
  • Photosynthesis (plants use light, water, and CO2 and produce glucose and O2)
  • Cellular Respiration (cells convert O2 and glucose into H2O, CO2, and energy in the form of ATP)
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Erosion
  • Popular research methods: how bacteria are grown and counted in a lab, the transect method
  • Genetics (Punnett squares, Women have XX, Men have XY)
  • Systems in the human body (endocrine system, nervous system, digestive system, etc.)


  • Density/Buoyancy
  • pH Scale (0-6=acid; 7=neutral; 8-14=base)
  • Recognize the abbreviations for common elements and compounds (O, C, H, N, Fe, H2O, H2, CH4, NH4, OH, NaCl, etc.)
  • Atomic structure (protons, neutrons, electrons)
  • How to read a molecular diagram
  • How to read a phase change diagram
  • Exothermic vs. Endothermic
ExothermicReaction gives off heatEnvironment gets warmer
EndothermicReaction takes in heatEnvironment gets cooler


  • Free body diagrams, including friction and normal force.
  • Gravity
  • V=IR (Voltage is in volts, Current is in Amps, and Resistance is in Ohms Ω)
  • Terrestrial Planets vs. Gas Giants, Solar System (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus)
  • Popular research methods: free fall tower, Atwood machine, photocell, the double slit experiment

Here’s a link to a handy PDF of the list above:

Science Facts you should know for ACT


If you want to do your best on the ACT, you’ll need to prepare.  Make sure to take a science class in school every year and learn all you can.  If you missed any specific classes, take the time to look up the facts from my list you didn’t have a chance to learn.  In addition, you will need to do several practice science sections under timed conditions.  There is no substitute for practice.  If you search the internet, you’ll find several ACTs that were given in past years and then released as practice tests.  These are the best preparation you can get. If you find that you need more support to reach your goals, there are several ACT classes you can take.  You can also consider hiring a tutor like me.

I’d like to finish up with a story about my student, Ting.   Ting had already taken the ACT and earned scores of 34-36 on the first three sections.  Since the maximum score for any section is a 36, those scores are amazing!  However, her science score was only 25.  She hired me just to get that science score up with the others.  We met weekly for six weeks, and each time I have her two practice tests for homework.  Ting scored a perfect 36 on her last three practice tests!  When I asked her what made the biggest difference for her, she called it mindset.  She explained she had to put her natural curiosity on hold and get laser-focused on getting the answer and moving on to the next question.  She had always been distracted by all the other “really cool science stuff” in the passages.  Ting already had an excellent foundation of scientific knowledge.  Once she learned the correct technique, all that was left was several rounds of timed practice.  Hopefully, this advice will help you as well, and you can find the same success when you take the ACT Science Section!

About the Author: Heather Krey

Passionate about helping her students achieve their college dreams by being their coach and cheerleader as they prep for the SAT and ACT, Heather Krey is an experienced instructor with teaching certificates in math, physics, chemistry, and English. She knows the best tips and strategies for these tests – and she also understands that students need encouragement and practice to do their best. With dual bachelor’s degrees in industrial engineering and psychology from Lehigh University, she also holds masters of education degrees in mathematics from DeSales University and in teaching from Kutztown University. Heather lives in Allentown, PA, with her husband and three children.

Check out her other blogs here:


Help Teens Put Down Their Phones

Many teens waste a big portion of their days on social media and playing video games. What can you do to help them realize this is a big time waster for them? They are missing out on a lot of other opportunities due to this addiction. Keith Deltano has put together a great video as part of his Character video series where he uses comedy to get his message across to teens.

He just released his newest video: Social Media and Gaming Addiction In Youth – There Are No Do Overs

Here is a link to share with your students:

Helping High School Students Develop Realistic Expectations for College

As high schoolers, we spent huge amounts of energy understanding our high school environments. We sought to understand how our peers operated; how to fit in; how to excel; how to be liked; how to fulfill our academic aspirations; and how to operate within the rhythms and structures that outline the high school experience. This is just as true today.

And then for students who continue into a college degree program, they can find themselves in a baffling and difficult transition. Many high schoolers have expectations regarding the college experience that are different from reality. These expectations can ultimately make the transition into collegiate environments much more challenging and exacerbate emotional strain, disappointment, frustration, and more.

It’s important that high schoolers develop realistic ideas of the college experience so that, when they arrive, they are prepared to thrive from orientation to graduation. As a counselor, you have unique opportunities to help prepare your students for what they might encounter when they enter their college years.

The College Experience Will Push Your High School Students to Develop

Obviously (but sometimes contrary to fanciful expectations), the college experience is about increasing one’s education. College environments are designed to propel growth, both academically and individually. As individuals develop and progress through growth stages throughout their lifetime, they are exposed to increasingly complex and demanding environments.

The collegiate environment will often demand from its students an increase in exertion, focus, performance, and more compared to high school. It will also expose students to bigger and deeper questions about their core identities, how they approach relationships, what they need, and what they aspire to.

These kinds of questions and challenges are necessary for individuals to advance through those developmental stages. This process can be difficult, demanding, and uncomfortable. It’s important that high schoolers are aware they might experience hardship during college, but that engaging with that hardship is the only way to grow.

 Attending College Includes a Range of New Choices and Responsibilities

For most students, college is an environment that lowers the safety rails, so to speak. Farther from the direct supervision of parents or other authority figures, high schoolers often find increased leeway to make decisions they may not have had the opportunity to make during their younger years.

Of course, balanced against those new liberties are increased responsibilities and expectations. Whether that may look like more autonomy and less support in the classroom, the responsibilities and realities that come with living more independently, or the time management required to be involved in social clubs or sports – college comes with it a host of responsibilities and freedom that can be helpful for students who are ready to manage them but harmful for students who aren’t prepared.

College Environments Include Different Types of Diversity

For many students, college won’t look or feel like the environments or communities in which they were raised. In many cases, this can be a good thing. College often exposes students to an increased spectrum of diversity, worldviews, origin stories, cultures, and more.

Diversity is a forefront value and priority for many college campuses across the nation. This can be an important reality to prepare students for before they arrive. Depending on a high schooler’s personal background and previous experiences with facets of diversity, this can affect high school students in different ways.

Oftentimes it is a very positive experience that teaches individuals about how to effectively navigate differences between themselves and those that belong to different demographics. Sometimes, however, this can be difficult or jarring for high schoolers who weren’t adequately prepared to encounter much higher levels of diversity.

On the flip side of that experience, sometimes an individual from a strong cultural heritage or background that attends a college devoid of familiar individuals or cultural representations can also struggle with their college experience. Likewise, members of minority groups that attend campuses with student bodies that are largely homogeneous may also struggle to relate to their peers and faculty. These possibilities and more should be shared with high schoolers before they enter a college environment.

The College Atmosphere Isn’t What They Show On TV

A large percentage of the inaccurate or outdated college stereotypes floating around in society today can be attributed to depictions of college life or experiences on TV and in movies. Why college is so often portrayed so differently than reality is a convoluted and perhaps fruitless question. Nevertheless, for high school students that enter college with starry-eyed ideas of what awaits them there, these depictions are quickly proven wrong and those students often experience a degree of disappointment and deflation.

As a high school counselor, you can help students better understand what they may actually experience during their college careers and how to separate the incorrect depictions from reasonable expectations.

Academic Performance at College Affects Professional Opportunities Post-College

Students who enter their college educations without an appropriate respect for their college education and the degree they are pursuing can end up wasting time, flunking classes they can’t later remove from their transcripts, having to pay for extra semesters, dropping out of school, or ultimately jeopardizing career moves they may have wanted to make in their futures.

Students can self-sabotage themselves by not taking their college academics seriously. It’s important for your high schoolers to understand how college performance might affect their career opportunities down the road.

Especially for students who have aspirations of pursuing competitive career paths like becoming lawyers, getting into med school, applying for high-level corporate or government jobs, or pursuing a career in academics or research, their college transcripts will remain a part of their applications long into their career.

High schoolers that aren’t aware of how that reality could affect them and their ability to pursue the career they want to pursue often regret the choices they make in college and wish they could redo them later in life. Helping them understand this reality before they reach college orientation can help them achieve the careers they dream of.

How School Counseling differs from Independent Educational Consulting: An Interview with Piet Lammert – Free Podcast

In the latest episode of The College Spy Podcast, Michelle McAnaney interviewed Piet Lammert who is a school counselor and independent educational consultant. In the episode, Piet and Michelle talk about making the transition from school counselor to IEC. In Piet’s case, he is still a school counselor, and his IEC practice is a side hustle. In Michelle’s case, she left school counseling to start The College Spy. Thinking about starting an IEC practice of your own? This podcast imparts some great wisdom from two people that have done it on their own terms. They also talk about letters of recommendation in the episode.

Here is a link to the podcast:

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