COLLEGE GUIDANCE

Academic Planning

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"Do I need to take AP Calc if I am applying as a business major? Do I need a fourth year of a foreign language? Will US History  over the summer drop my GPA? How many AP's should I be taking first semester senior year?"

Admissions officers are like palm readers when it comes to high school transcripts. In them, they can see your past, your present, and your future. Well, maybe not exactly, but in a way it is their job, to summon who you are and what you want to be from your course selections, their level of rigor, and how well (or not well) you performed.     

At Blue Train, our counselors take families on thoughtful tours of the different pathways, examining expected workload, potential burnout, and what picture your choices might (or might not yet) be painting. It's never too early or too late to set yourself up for success with thoughtful, experience-based academic planning!

 

Activities

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Should I be joining a thousand different clubs? Should I be seeking leadership positions in all of them? Should I be building, researching, or inventing something? Oh yeah, what about volunteer hours? And what about being a happy and balanced teenager? 

The answer to all of these questions depends on who you are. Because ultimately, admissions officers are not looking for checked off boxes; they’re looking for bright, passionate young individuals to make a community. What you choose to do with your time says a lot about you. At Blue Train, we help shake off any preconceived notions and instead encourage you to forge your own unique and empowering pathways that will help you grow while also impressing admissions. 

And yes, helping your community is important. Formal volunteer opportunities and organizations can expose students to new worlds and experiences. Informal opportunities can be done in countless ways, ways you might already be doing: encouraging your family to recycle, advocating for people or causes, helping friends, neighbors, and loved ones, etc... Not least of all, don't forget about helping yourself. You're only a teenager once, so be sure to carve out some time to live in the present. And yes, even that can make it onto your application!

Freshmen and sophomores: Click Start Your Journey to schedule an On Track session!

College List Building

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When you think of college, do you imagine old brick architecture with falling autumn leaves? Or a big sprawling university with fountains and palm trees? How about a "vertical campus" in a big city? As for your major, do you want to jump right in or do you want to explore during your first two years? Are you more of a paint your face for the big game or join the class for pot luck at your professor’s home? Liberal, conservative, somewhere in between?

 

September Town Hall (for seniors) - "Majors, Majors, Majors!"

 

We know our students and families will often have more shrugs than answers when first confronted with what they want in a college. But that's exactly what makes it fun, the journey of it all. Getting to know you as we take you on whirlwind tours of quads, course catalogs, campus communities until you arrive at an exciting yet balanced list. And for our financially focused families, we'll happily help you shape a list that will keep those dollar signs down, except for the ones attached to merit scholarships.

 

As the creators, cultivators, and caretakers of The Blue List, you could say we know a thing or two about colleges. In fact, we see ourselves as exceptionally qualified tour guides who enjoy nothing more than flashing potential futures before our Blue Trainers' eyes. Depending on the family’s needs, we assist with complete college list building or targeted assistance. Blue Trainers who build their list before June of senior year save money and often benefit from extra time to explore their thoughts and feelings.

Applications

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While everything in the universe is getting more complex -- international politics, artificial intelligence, hairstyles -- at least take comfort in that college applications have become simpler. Better technology, fewer applications, improved teacher and counselor communication, the actual process has never been more streamlined.

So, what's all the fuss? First and foremost, essays are the biggest time commitment, especially for the more competitive schools. After that, it's your activity sections, which with effort and care can become one of the most expressive (and effective) parts of your application. Which activities will you choose, how will you title, rank, and describe them?

Also, we would be remiss if we didn't mention organization and timelines. Usually when you see a twitching, balding teenager during application season, it's because they are playing desperate catch up or trying to accomplish too much too early. Knowing the process inside and out, we are able to help you stay balanced, empowered, and ahead of the curve with Summer Workshops and/or one-on-one On Track sessions!

First Semester Junior Year:

     Lay the foundation for your GPA and your college process by starting junior year strong. Focus on keeping a balanced load and remember that it’s okay to swap out or drop a class if it’s better for your GPA and mental health. Too many students wait too long first semester junior year to make adjustements. The goal is to set a healthy and manageable academic pace this semester.

Second Semester Junior Year:

     Once you get first semester grades, reflect and adjust course load and/or activity commitments if necessary. Best case scenario, in addition to your classes you are able to continue exploring and developing interests outside of the classroom whether through clubs, organizations, or your own do-it-yourself efforts.

Spring Break Junior Year:    

     Consider visiting schools on spring break/ski week. Local visits or focused trips to one area where you can see multiple schools are highly recommended. Try to mix things up by seeing big and small, rural and urban, reach and safe schools. Having a greater cross section allows for better understanding and extrapolation when researching new schools later in the process.

     Please Note: Students shouldn’t feel obligated to “want to visit” at this stage, as many have their hands full just staying afloat in junior year. If spring break feels like it would be better served to decompress, then we believe that should be honored. Seeing schools under duress is much less fun for everyone! 

Junior Year Finale:

     With APs in full swing, finals on the way, and end of year burnout creeping in, May can be a tricky month. Add to this, many ACT and SATers just finished an exam or are preparing for the next one. 

     Ultimately, through all of this, we encourage our Blue Trainers to find a pace and balance that allow them to prioritize their second semester grades. This may mean delaying an ACT or SAT, talking to a teacher about redoing assignments or exams, or just staying the course until the summer whistle officially blows!

Senior Summer Has Arrived!

     Step One: Rest.      

     After a busy school year, rest is important. Take a few weeks to shake off the steady drum beat of exams, morning announcements, and period bells. Sleep in, scroll your phone, eat ice cream, ride your bike in the sun, dance in your room. Relax and reboot, unapologetically! 

     Step Two: Get Ready.   

     By the end of June, many students will begin to feel the weight of the college process looming. Rather than curl into fetal position, Blue Trainers will begin taking steps by getting an understanding of their workload in terms of college list building, essays, and applications. Having a clear vision and plan for your next two months will streamline and empower. 

Senior Summer: Part I

      Blue Trainers looking to have most of their apps and essays locked down before September will use July to its fullest, including:

     Getting Started on Essays 

      Many Blue Trainers begin their essay process with our Personal Statement summer workshop. Arrive confused about what you want to write about, leave inspired, your head spinning with ideas, structures, and possibilities. Blue Trainers may continue their process by attending Writing Labs or working with an Essay Specialist. Beginning earlier in the summer allows more time to explore, craft, and polish.

     Building Your College List

      Students who have not yet started building a college list should dive into the deep end of exploration this month. Not only is this a critical aspect of the college process, but also much of the organizing, timeline, and workflow strategizing cannot be done until a student knows which schools he or she is applying to. Whether you attend a summer workshop, work with a Blue Train counselor, or click around with excitement on The Blue List, do your best to have a solid list drafted by the end of July.

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Senior Summer: Part II

     August 1st: Apps Goes Live

     On August 1st, the Common App and UC App reboot and "officially open" for the new year's class of applicants. Working on the applications before this time (other than essays) really doesn't help expedite things and quite often updates and changes are made to the application. Starting in August, Blue Trainers will participate in Summer Workshops and/or polish their applications with the help of a Specialist. Outside of the essays, activity sections require the most attention and care.     

     Refining Essays and College List

     August is also a time to take your rough drafts to the next level, whether it's your Personal Statement, UC Insight responses, or college list. Blue Trainers will do their best to get as much done before school starts. While there will still be supplemental essays to write and other todos, locking down your major essays and college list will keep you ahead of the curve!   

Senior Year Has Arrived!

     September Time Flies.

      Whether it’s your course load, fall sport, or any number of obligations involved in the college process– letters of rec, portfolios, interviews– there is no doubt that first semester senior year can be a lot. Remember, the majority of schools will want to see your first semester senior grades, so getting a solid start should be your priority. If you used July and August fruitfully, you should be in good shape with your apps and essays. Breathe, find your balance, and set achievable goals for each week. 

     School Specific Supplementals.

      In addition to their primary essays, many schools will ask students to respond to more specific prompts, such as "why are you interested in this school?" or "tell us more about your intended field of study" or "how will you contribute to our community?" Blue Trainers collect supplemental prompts in advance, identify potential overlaps, and streamline their workload. Most students will be buffing and polishing their supplementals right until they submit their first application.

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Early Application Season Has Arrived!

     Countdown to November

      November 1st is the most common Early Action and Early Decision deadline; therefore, October tends to be a month when ambitions meet ticking clocks and perfectionism meets practicality. Even the most proactive students will find October to be a busy month of dotting i's and crossing t's on their mini-masterpieces, not to mention having to keep up with their high school's requests for brag sheets, teacher recs, college lists, scholarship forms, and more.

     Prioritizing  

      Blue Trainers avoid the common mistakes of applying Early Action to all their schools or choosing emotionally (or arbitrarily) as to which schools they will submit early. Deadline strategy should be based on admissions impact (or lack thereof), merit aid impact (or lack thereof), departmental deadlines, and number of school specific essays. Families needing assistance with their timeline and workflow will set up On Track sessions this time of year.

     October 1st

      On October 1st, the Cal State Application, the FAFSA financial aid form, and CSS Profile institutional aid form go live. (For the Class of '24, the FAFSA form will open in December 2023.) For more on the FAFSA and CSS Profile, see Scholarships and Grants under College Guidance.  

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November 1st: EA and ED Deadlines. 

     Early Action and Early Decision.

      November 1st is when the vast majority of Blue Trainers will submit their first batch of applications, mostly comprised of Common App schools with early submission deadlines. Blue Trainers submit a high percentage of early action applications but also know when to withhold important applications that they want to commit more time to (and whose merit aid isn't dependent on an early deadline.) Families will use On Track sessions to strategize with a Blue Train counselor.  

     Countdown to November 30th!

      While EA/ED deadlines might hog the spotlight the first half of November, in California it's the UC's and Cal States who take the stage in the second half. Due November 30th, the UC Application has lots of moving parts: majors, alternate majors, expanded activity sections, etc. Put simply, do not procrastinate on starting your UC App. Also due November 30th, the Cal State App is much simpler, as it does not require any essays or activity descriptions.

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Homestretch of Deadlines!

     December 15th: First Round Notifications

      December 15th is the first major day of notifications for EA/ED schools. Updated applicants will find out if they have been accepted, rejected, or deferred to the main applicant pool until further notice. Since going test optional, more schools have taken beyond the December 15th deadline to notify their early applicants.

     Priority Applications & Early Final Deadliines 

      Once the November deadlines have passed, including the UC's and Cal States, students must pay attention to any priority or final deadlines in December. Priority deadlines can be for specific programs, merit aid, or honors colleges. Early final deadlines (often December 1st) are becoming increasingly common (UT Austin, Gonzaga, U of San Diego, etc.)  

     Wave Two Applications 

      Some Blue Trainers split their application process into Wave 1 and Wave 2. Wave 1 consists of a full range of reach, target, and safe schools that should reap a solid return of options. Wave 2 schools are ones you would apply to if you still had time, energy, and desire once Wave 1 has been submitted. Separating by waves allows for a reasonable pace without letting dream schools hog all the tender loving care that all apps need. Some students will work on Wave 2 schools into January and February.

Happy New Year of Waiting!

     The Waiting Game.

      While some students will continue to grind out a few last applications in the New Year, the vast majority have begun the waiting game. Increasingly, schools have been lengthening their review period which often means later notification dates, more waitlists, and more requests for updates and letters/expressions of continued interest.

     First semester grades.

      First semester grades are the most common update request, as they are the last snapshot of your academic performance that the school will receive. This is all the more reason...

     Early Decision II

      First semester grades are the most common update request, 


Final Final Deadlines!

     February Finish Line.

      While the vast majority of students will have finished their applications before the New Year, some students will continue to work on what we call Wave 2 applications into January and February. Wave 2 apps are those that a student will do only after they have submitted their primary list of applications. These may include last minute additions or work intensive apps like Stanford (yes, we've seen many students get into the highest caliber schools with later applications because they benefitted from the extra care and growth.)

     Financial Aid Deadlines.

      While many Early Action and Early Decision schools will have financial aid form deadlines in November, the majority of schools will have their FAFSA and CSS Profile deadlines in February. Overall, we encourage all Blue Trainers seeking need based aid to get their financial information in sooner than later. Institutional aid is flexible in how it is allocated and being late to the party will not help your cause. Also, depending on your situation, these forms may require more time and energy than you expect. For example, asssets, divorce, remarriage, self employment can all add to the complexity of the applications.

Keep An Eye On Those Portals!

     Accepted? Rejected? Still Waitlisted?

      March is when Blue Trainers are most regularly visiting their portals to see if any new notifications have arrived with that oh so coveted first word "Congratulations!" While there is no doubt students will continue to twist and turn on waitlists for weeks and months to come, March is when the majority of schools will notify their applicants, including the majority of the UC's and the Ivies towards the end of the month. 

     Waitlists

      As waitlists become increasingly common and extended, students are left trying to make decisions with only a fractional return of their submissions. Unfortunately, this is the way it is, which means families will need to consider the choices they have in hand, while also remaining aware that more acceptances may come as late as April, May, or yes, even June and July. Blue Trainers are encouraged to remain engaged and responsive to any waitlist school they are still interested in. 

Countdown to May 1st!

     May 1st is National Decision Day

      Excitement, uncertainty, a ticking clock: April is the official action thriller month of the college process! Blue Trainers will be boarding planes, embarking on road trips, visiting all the schools that have made it to the top of their option list. Visiting as an accepted student feels completely different and will give you a whole new perspective on these schools. No longer wondering what it will take to get in, now it's about how much do I love (or not love) this town, campus, community? Blue Trainers often schedule college decision consultations at this time of year to process all the moving parts, from fit to finances. Truly, it is an exciting honor to sort through things with our families and it is our favorite and most rewarding time of the college process.

     Committing and Beyond

      It's official! You've committed, bought the t-shirt, and registered for your orientation. Next it will be getting your roommate(s), shopping for your dorm, and spending a wonderful summer with your family and friends before you head off for your freshman year. There are few summers as magical as the one when you graduate high school, so make the best of it. Lie in the sun, all the hard work behind you, your entire future before you... Congratulations!

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The PSAT    

      While some students may take the PSAT sophomore year, most will take it for their first time in October of junior year. By design, this exam is supposed to be a low pressure first run at an abbreviated SAT under official conditions. This can be a good experience for students planning on taking a real SAT in December or in the spring. On the other hand, for those taking the ACT, or not testing at all, the PSAT may turn out to be an unnecessary trial to put onself through.

      Lastly, for those aiming to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, it is important to note that only junior year scores are eligible. Please see PSAT/NMSQT for more information. 

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December 2nd, 2023

     Beware Of Testing Too Early.      

     Although you will hear of students taking SAT's as early as October of junior year (with the goal of "just getting it over with"), decades of experience has shown us that peak scores more commonly come after first semester. Therefore, we encourage our Blue Trainers to pace themselves, for not only will their math and reading skills continue to strengthen and improve their confidence, but also the college process will become more ambient and less abstract which often translates into more driven and focused test day performance. 

     December Testers.

      While the majority of Blue Trainers will take their first official SAT in the spring of junior year, some students might consider taking the December test. If you are someone who is already hitting close to your target score on practice exams or you are prospective athletic recruit who might need to share scores with coaches, then December might be a good first test date for you. Remember, test dates can always be postponed. If you register for December but don't feel ready, you can always reschedule for March. Depending on their skill building needs, Blue Trainers will begin prepping for the December SAT anywhere from mid October to early November. 

      Please Note: Students who know they will have their hands full first semester junior year will often do skill building preparation over junior summer in what we call "jumpstart prep." These students will stop prepping once school starts, then begin again with speed and endurance training closer to the December test date. 

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March 9, 2024 (digital only)

     SAT Officially Goes Digital!       

      March will be the first nationally administered digital only SAT. For some students, this change of platform may add additional considerations into their test choice. Put simply, we will not know fully how students respond to the differences until several exams pass. The inability to interact with math questions and figures on paper can cause the greatest issue for some. We encourage students interested in taking the SAT to discuss how the test format change might affect their performance during their free Meet and Greet with a Blue Train counselor. 

     March Testing      

      Situated after the end of first semester and before AP season fully heats up, March has traditionally been a popular month to take the SAT. For some students March will be a follow-up to December, for others it will be their first official sitting. Students taking it for the first time will often consider May or June as a second exam, depending on how light or heavy their AP courseload is. 

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May 4th, 2024 (digital only)

     AP Season in Full Swing!       

      Traditionally, May is less popular for SAT testing because it lands right in the middle of AP exams. On the other hand, students who are not taking two or more AP's may consider this date as it tends to be less crowded and, in turn, often less anxiety producing.

      For non AP students, the May/June exams can be a great back-to-back testing experience, where the proximity of the exams can be used to tweak performance and build endurance. With this said, we must remember this is the end of the school year when many students are at their peak of exhaustion and burnout.  

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June 1st, 2024 (digital only)

     Are You Tired or Rejuvenated?        

      How a student's last six weeks unfolded will often determine whether June is a good month to test or not. If a student had an extrordinarily heavy AP season mixed with teachers who still haven't stepped off the gas yet, they might be in for a bleary eyed test in June, which often takes the greatest toll on the reading section. Tired students may choose to hold off until August when they have had time to rest and reboot

      June First Time Testers

      While the June SAT is most often a follow-up to a March or May exam, for some late testers this will be their first time sitting. While these students may be a little late to the party, we have seen the majority hustle up and make great score gains. Sometimes being late lights the fire; nonetheless, these students should plan on taking follow-ups, most likely in August and/or October (scores still admissible for Early Action applications.)

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August 24th, 2024 (digital only)

     Sunscreen or Scantrons?        

      While the August date does come after a nice sumer rest and occur before senior year starts, it can be a sand trap for some. Simply put, some students are not in the testing mindset with the smell of barbecues and sounds of laughter all around them. Therefore, students who are aiming for August should remember there tends to be an easiness of the summer that can contribute to laggy starts and gasless performance pushes. To shake themselves of the summer sandman, Blue Trainers are encouraged to participate in the August proctored exams and spin class style performance sessions leading up to test day.

     Postpone Until Fall?

      Students who feel the August exam lands too squarely in summer land (for whatever reason), may consider waiting and taking the October and/or November exams. We know it feels scary to test so late and it might not have been your first plan, but rest assured many Blue Trainers have found these months to be the gold at the end of the rainbow. The back-to-back nature of these two exams allows students to benefit from the endurance build, which lightens their need to do as much prep in these busy months. Think how a runner would need to do less daily roadwork if she were competing in back-to-back marathons. Just another reminder to stay hydrated, Blue Trainers!

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October 5th, 2024 (digital only)

     Start Your Engines, Again!        

      With most of the seniors having taken the SAT one or more times, the October exam has an air of experience and focus like no other. Students are not as jangly and chatty; tests are not so foreign and scary. When October testers start their engines, you can feel them thinking back to previous exams, what went right, what went wrong, and now they are just waiting for the light to turn green. October exams are admissible for the vast majority of Early Action deadline dates. 

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November 2nd, 2024 (digital only)

     Let's Do This!        

      Whereas the October SAT has a vibe of assured experience and focus, the November exam comes in with a more naked fearlessness. Students sitting for November are either those who got a very late start, those with extra stubborn test anxiety, or those who are trying to put a cherry atop their score. While we never want you to test more times than you want to or have to, we do want you to know that there are more viable opportunities than many initially think.

     November & December aka the "WTF" exams.

      Whoa, whoa. Don't blame us, we didn't nickname these last chance test dates! To be fair, we did adopt the profane little acronym fairly early because it reflected the power of attitude when sitting this late in the game. Because their skills and techniques should already be locked down, Blue Trainers taking November or Decemer tests tend to do minimal prep. Rather, just like their in-your-face nickname, these tests come with a hand me the bat and just let me swing swagger. In other words, if you're on the fence about taking a test this late but feel you could give it one more Satruday morning try, then we say knock it out of the park, late testers!

      If they choose, Blue Trainers can participate in free Performance Sessions and Proctored Exams. As well, Test Prep Specialists are always at the ready if you need some late game tweaks or performance enhancing drills.

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December 2nd, 2023: Not Too Late! While December usually isn’t a senior’s Plan A for testing, there is no doubt that December scores have changed students’ destinies. Regular decision schools with deadlines in December, January, or February will certainly use December scores. But for schools that won’t use it for their initial admission decision, a strong December score can be a great for any schools you’re wait listed at or any school where a score boost could mean score-dependent merit aid (potentially tens of thousands of dollars over four years.) And remember, this could just be another opportunity for that “Why Not?” Test — no more prep, no more practice tests, just sharpen the pencil and be on time. This evaporation of expectation can often unlock the tumblers of test anxiety.
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junior year
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December 9th, 2023

     Beware Of Testing Too Early.      

     Although you will hear of students taking ACT's as early as September of junior year (with the goal of "just getting it over with"), decades of experience has shown us that peak scores more commonly come after first semester. Therefore, we encourage our Blue Trainers to pace themselves, for not only will their math and reading skills continue to strengthen and improve their confidence, but also the college process will become more ambient and less abstract which often translates into more driven and focused test day performance. 

     December Testers.

      While the majority of Blue Trainers will take their first official ACT in the spring of junior year, some students might consider taking the December test. If you are someone who is already hitting close to your target score on practice exams or you are prospective athletic recruit who might need to share scores with coaches, then December might be a good first test date for you. Remember, test dates can always be postponed. If you register for December but don't feel ready, you can always rescedule for February. Depending on their skill building needs, Blue Trainers will begin prepping for the December ACT anywhere from mid October to mid November. 

      Please Note: Students who know they will have their hands full first semester junior year will often do skill building preparation over junior summer in what we call "jumpstart prep." These students will stop prepping once school starts, then begin again with speed and endurance training closer to the December test date. 

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February 10th, 2024

     Prime First ACT Date.      

      All things being equal, the February exam offers many advantages as a student's first official exam. You will have your first semester behind you, you will be refreshed and ready after holiday break, and you will have the opportunity to take two official exams before AP season begins, with the space between the Feb and April ACTs allowing for continued practie and score growth. Blue Trainers will often begin prepping for the February exam in December or over the winter holidays.

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April 13th, 2024

     America's Favorite ACT Month.      

      While April is historically the most popular ACT test date, for many Blue Trainers this will be their second exam. Building off the experience and results of the February exam, they head into April with a strong sense of focus and mission. Blue Trainers who take the February and April ACTs usually do not take the summer exams, as they often prefer more time to reboot.

      Students taking the ACT for the first time in April will often begin prepping in mid February. Depending on how well they do, they will usually either test again over the summer or wait until the fall for another swing (or two) bat. 

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June 8th, 2024

     Are You Tired or Rejuvenated?        

      How a student's last six weeks unfolded will often determine whether June is a good month to test or not. If a student had an extrordinarily heavy AP season mixed with teachers who still haven't stepped off the gas yet, they might be in for a bleary eyed test in June, which often takes the greatest toll on the reading and science sections. These tired students might be wise to kick the testing can down the timeline a date or two.

      Students who didn't have a heavy AP load or who have teachers who have been going easy on them at the end of the year might find a sweet spot in June. If June is your second test, we often recommend waiting until the fall to take your next exam. On the other hand, first time testers in June will often make use of July as an immediate follow-up.

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July 13th, 2024

     Sunscreen vs Scantrons      

      Testing centers in July tend not to be as busy as the previous months. There are multiple reasons for this, including both burnout and barbecues. Hard as they try, some students have a trickier time getting their head in the game in July.

      With this said, the July exam can be a perfect second test for those who sat for the first time in June. Feeling a little late to the game sometimes, these testers tend to appreciate July as a time to catch up to the college process in a more peaceful testing month. Just remember to shake off the sand and take off the sunglasses on test day!

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Sepetmeber 14th, 2024

     Two Magic Months for Many!      

      We could bore you to testing tears with stories about students who flatlined in the spring only to spike dramatically in the fall. Sometimes it's the late starts, other times it's the ones who have no more patience for their test anxiety, and still for others it's the perfect storm of senior September/October momentum that delivers big. No matter what it is, we make sure our Blue Trainers understand that September and/or October can be profitable test dates. And if you're not sure if it's worth it, just remember squeezing out an extra point or two never hurts for admissions or more merit aid.

      Most September testers will be on their second or third exam so they need not put in much prep time other than getting their gears moving again. Participating in our proctored exams will help shake off the rust, and if desired, Blue Trainers can request a specialist for quick review and performance work. Many students will pull their ACT book out from under their flip flops in early to mid August to be ready for the September exam.

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October 26th, 2024

     Still Valid For Most Early Action Schools      

      Many schools with November 1st early deadlines will accept the October test scores if they are sent to them upon receipt (following your application that has alredy been received.)

      Blue Trainers who take the September exam will often preemptively register for the October exam as well. Not only do the two exams work collaboratively in an endurance building, process focusing way, but also students report they are more relaxed in September knowing they still have October. By no means do we want our Blue Trainers to over test, but we want to assure them that the options are there if they wish to sit again. For many students, prep at this time should be minimal.  

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December 7th, 2024

     The Good Old "What the Heck" Test!      

      Although December is late in the college process to be testing, there are times it can be advantageous. Students who still haven't hit the score they've been getting on practice exams will sometimes say, WTH (or something similar), and sit for one more Saturday. Pencil sharpened, sleeves rolled up, no regrets. If a higher score comes through, as they somewhat regularly do, that student can use if for any schools he or she has not applied Early Action or Early Decision. 

     Also Helfpul For Waitlist Updates!      

      With waitlists becoming frequently more common, students are often seeking new things to report when the school invariably asks if they have any recent accomplishments. For schools that use standardized tests in admissions, an improved test score is certainly something worthy of mention.

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College Essays

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It's true, at Blue Train we do get extra giddy around essay season. How can we not? Just ask a former Blue Trainer (or any of our specialists) and the vast majority will declare essays as their favorite part of the college process!

 

But how can that be? How can something so important, frustrating, and time consuming be 'fun'? Because from day one, you are taught to leave your preconceptions behind. Forget high school English five paragraph thesis driven essays. It's time to explore, both yourself and your creative possibilities. Through the process, our goal is not only to help you find and craft amazing essays but also to help you evolve as a writer and a person.

 

Most Blue Trainers begin with our Personal Statement summer workshop, where ideas are sparked and possibilities are set ablaze. From there, they will opt either to continue on their own, participate in highly productive Writing Labs, or work regularly with an Essay Specialist. All kind humans and amazing storytellers, our Essay Specialists run the gamut from college admissions officers to Hollywood screenwriters. As an ever-evolving and collaborative team, we have guided thousands of students out of the swamps of confusion to the peaks of joy, satisfaction, and admissions success.

 

Please enjoy a small sample of Blue Trainer essays below:

Scholarships & Grants

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We understand the words “housing and tuition” can be scarier than “vampires and zombies," but you can come out from under your bed now, we promise. Because while there is no doubt college can be expensive, there is also no doubt that with some basic planning and time-tested strategies you can optimize your merit and need-based offers. So fear not. Whether you stay on track with our general guidance or work with a Blue Train specialist, we promise to keep the "housing and tuition" monsters at bay!

Merit Scholarships

First step, create a college list that will bring in merit scholarships by design. Be sure to include a healthy number of Safety and Target schools, as those are most likely the ones that will want to incentivize you with award offers. But also be sure that these are schools you would actually consider attending; they shouldn't be there simply to fill space at the bottom of your list.

In addition to shaping a scholarship friendly college list, it is also important to know which schools have early action application scholarship deadlines and/or which schools or departments have supplemental applications. Following these basic principles, along with taking your time to craft any required essays, will greatly increase your chances of big scholarships and big smiles!

Schedule an On Track session for assistance with Merit Scholarships and timelines.

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Need Based Aid

Grants and loans are both forms of need based aid, but no one likes loans so we are going to focus on grants. Grant money does not need to be paid back and may be given to the student either by the government or by the school itself ("institutional aid"). On average, only the top fifteen to twenty percent of income earners at any given school will pay full sticker price.

To be eligible, families must fill out the FAFSA form for government aid and the CSS profile form for institutional aid (not all schools require the CSS.) These online forms will request financial information from the previous tax year. Some early action/early decision schools will have fall deadlines, while most others are due late winter and early spring.

Schedule an On Track session for assistance with your FAFSA/CSS forms and timelines.

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On Track Sessions

Click Start Your Journey to schedule an On Track Session!

Need to discuss next year's course load? Maybe toss around some ideas for majors, or what about brainstorming activities that engage your intersection of interests? Or maybe it's time to strategize and create a streamlined workflow towards deadlines, or roll up our sleeves and dig into merit scholarships or FAFSA forms. Or maybe it's our final meeting, when you finally commit to your school with a giant smile on your face!

The best part is that all of these are On Track sessions. When requesting an On Track, we will ask our families the primary focus of the session, but in most cases On Tracks allow complete fluidity between any of the family's needs at any given time*. This in-session flexibility maximizes productivity and relieves stress. On Tracks may be done with the student, with the parents, or with everyone, including the family pets. On Tracks may be requested a la carte ($240) or be used as a regular part of your college prep package

**Note: On Tracks for Financial Aid must be requested specifically as we have different specialists for FAFSA/CSS Profiles. 

A La Carte

A la carte On Tracks can be a great option for families wishing to focus on a specific issue at a specific time and/or for families who want to try us on a small scale before hopping on board. Select On Track on the Start Your Journey form to schedule yours. We look forward to ensuring that you feel confidently on track! 

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Tokens/Package

Families looking for more regular guidance and support will save money if they purchase a package of tokens. Whether you schedule your own On Track sessions or follow a timeline we create for you, packages allow families to benefit from continued and holistic support at a discounted rate.

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Summer Workshops

     The summer should not be a time to sweat about not getting your applications done. Rather, it should be a time when you make so much progress that your future senior self won't stop gushing about how thankful they are that you did our summer workshops. Unlike large scale 'boot camps', our workshops are a mix of small group discussion and private one on one attention led by motivating and experienced Blue Train counselors.

     Many families will combine multiple workshops with one-on-one assistance to create structure, maximize budget, and even take the lonely grumpies out of the application process. For rising seniors, we encourage the following timeline: June/July for building college lists and starting personal statements. August for doing online applications and polishing personal statements. September/October/November for focusing on high school classes, finalizing college lists, and polishing supplemental essays.

  Workshops may be purchased a la carte or at a discounted rate with package tokens.   All workshops are limited capacity, remote, and on a first come, first serve basis.

Click to See Some Happy Blue Trainers!

 

Personal Statement

     There's many reasons why so many Blue Trainer essays have won major scholarships, become examples put forth by admissions committees, and yes, even gone viral. But the common denominator is that they all got their start in our most popular and inspiring workshop. 

     Taught by professional writers with top tier experience in college admissions essays, this workshop weaves through free-writes, guided discussion, and step-by-step deconstruction of former Blue Trainer scholarship-winning essays. Arrive clueless about college essays, leave buzzing with ideas on how you will give life to your own very unique story. 

     Please Note: this introduction workshop is only to be taken one time. Students may continue working on their essays privately with Blue Train specialists or participate in one or more of our Writing Labs.  

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Writing Labs

      Writing Labs take the procrastination, writer's block, and loneliness out of the essay equation. Very efficient (and affordable) in keeping the process moving, each lab opens with a quick group pep talk then moves into breakout spaces, where over the next three hours students will alternately work on their essays and meet individually with Essay Specialists.  

      Students are free to take breaks over the course of the three hours to find their own balance, pace, and productivity. Many students will do multiple Writing Labs to ensure regular progress on all of their essays (Personal Statement, UC Insights, and Supplementals.) 

      Please Note: Writing Labs are intended for students who have already (preferably) attended a Personal Statement workshop.

 

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College List Building

     Confused on what to look for in a campus? Or what major you might be? Worried about which schools you will get into? Or who will give you merit money? Heck, what type of school you would even like? Love?!

     Sit back and relax because help is on the way. During this crash course on college exploration, students will do significant list building, but more importantly they will have the tools and understanding to continue on their own. Students will be taught how to use our Blue List efficiently and effectively. Students new to Blue Train will be given a 3 month Blue List membership upon registration.

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Admissions Int

     After sending hundreds of students off to interviews at colleges and universities around the nation, we’ve learned a thing or two about the interview process. We understand what these formal or informal meet-ups mean, how they are conducted and, most importantly, how to help you put your best foot forward in the you-est way possible.

     So, if you are planning to interview in the fall, why not come in for tips on how to express yourself in a way that will make the colleges want to open that trap door in the floor and keep you forever. A mix of counselor-led group discussions and mock one-on-one practice, this workshop will take away the jitters and leave you feeling confident and relaxed.

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Common App

     They call it the "Common App" for a reason, as it is used by more colleges and universities than any other app by far. Therefore, for many, this application soon becomes a top priority. While very clean and intuitive overall, the Common App's greatest challenge comes in how best to present onself in such limited space. For this reason, the majority of this workshop is spent in individual breakout spaces working with Specialists to boil down your activity descriptions until they taste just right!  

     Days before the workshop, students will be asked to create an account, fill out the basic information, and brainstorm a list of their extracurricular activities. Students should also have access to their college list, as they will want to add a close to complete list for maximum productivity. Fear not, schools can always be added later.  

     Please Note: Students with extra long resumes will often participate in a follow-up App Polish workshop to devote more time for activity descriptions.

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UC App

     There is no doubt the UC Application has a lot of moving parts: campus selection, major selection, courses and grades, scholarship elgibility, and perhaps most monumental, activity descriptions, which come right after essays in having the greatest subjective impact.

     After completing the primary application together, students will break out into individual spaces where they will work with specialists to address specific questions and the more personal aspects of their application. Days before the workshop, students will be asked to create an account, fill out the basic information, as well as brainstorm a list of their extracurricular activities.

     Please Note: Students with extra long resumes will often participate in a follow-up App Polish workshop to devote more time for activity descriptions.

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App Polish Labs

     Questions about courses and grades, dual enrollment, ethnicity? Or do you need help polishing your activity descriptions? Or maybe just a quick organization and review of your supplemental essays? Addressing odds and ends like this are exactly what App Polish Labs were invented for.

     Over the course of two hours, students alternatively work by themselves and one-on-one with Specialists. While these labs are shorter than the 3 hour Writing Labs, the specialist to student ratio is 2:1 (rather than 3:1) which allows for the same amount of one-on-one time. App Polish Labs have kept many a Blue Trainer sane, happy, and on track.

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Cal State App

     Join the workshop and two and a half hours later you will be ready to submit your completed application to any Cal State campuses you choose. This workshop is a mixture of application walk through, majors discussion, and a guided tour of any Cal State schools and programs you are curious about.

     Before the workshop, students will be sent instructions on how to create a Cal State account. An up to date transcript is necessary to complete the application. 

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