Testing Advice and Improving Your Application


You can improve your application in countless ways. Focus on strengths rather than weakness. Remember that college admissions officers look at more than just SATs. Here are some ways to strengthen your application:

Testing Advice (there is no way around them, but they can be worked with)


Plan ahead! Make sure you know the dates of tests - and registration dates - in your area. These can be found on the College Board website for the SAT and on the ACT website.

Check to see if you qualify for fee waivers for these tests:

  • Also, be sure to contact your high school guidance counselors about the qualifications and procedures for fee waivers.
  • Don't be afraid to request fee waivers! Applying and attending can be very expensive - you want to cut corners wherever you can.
  • It's worth taking some time to navigate the College Board and ACT's websites: they describe the tests, offer helpful study tips and test questions, and can prepare you for success on your tests. The College Board also has a lot of helpful information on other college-related realms on its site.
  • If possible, take an SAT or ACT prep course.
  • If this isn't readily available to you, either because of proximity or price, go to your local library or bookstore and check out a prep book.
  • Dedicating an hour or two a day or a few hours on weekends to studying the test and doing practice problems can make a huge difference.


  • The preliminary SAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is generally taken at the beginning of a student's junior year in high school, though some students also take the test at the beginning of sophomore year.
  • The test itself is essentially a "mini-SAT" that measures critical reading, writing, and math problem-solving skills. The PSAT can be a helpful tool to determine what skills you need to focus on for the SAT itself.
  • The PSAT also serves as the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, which awards top-scoring students monetary scholarships.


  • The SAT II Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple-choice tests on a variety of specific subjects.
  • The College Board website has a list of all the tests and their descriptions. Many selective schools require that you submit 3 SAT II scores in 3 different areas (some schools require specific tests, such as math reasoning or writing - this will be specified on the school's application or application website) in addition to your SAT I.
  • If you are taking any AP course in May, consider taking the corresponding SAT II subject test soon after so that the information will still be fresh in your mind.


Some helpful websites for testing tips:

  • "Study Hall" - This is a website with a free SAT prep course. They have 4 options for their program on the website based on how much time you have before your test: 1 week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, or full schedule. It requires the College Board SAT book to complete the full program, but there are many helpful modules and tips on the website: http://www.studyhall.com/index.html

If none of these have given you exactly what you're looking for, your mentor can answer many of these questions. Very specific questions can also be handled by the Admissions staff.

The Admissions Essay

  • With many schools eliminating the personal interview, the essay is the only way admissions officers can distinguish the applicant from the sea of applicants with similar test scores and GPA's.
  • Admissions officers tend to ask questions that will get to the inner applicant and they want to see how you think and react to issues.
  • Your application should be your own voice and ideas. Admissions staff are pretty good at distinguishing the writing of a 17-year-old from that of a 30- or 40-year-old.
  • Although it is a good idea to let your English teacher or counselor read over your essay to check for errors or grammar, you should make sure that even after the third draft, your essay is still your voice.
  • Have a friend read your final essay. If they think it doesn't sound like you, then somewhere along the editing process, your originality was lost.
  • Admissions staff want to read about personal experiences and how you responded. SAT scores can't describe losing a family member, winning your swimming meet, the best view in your town, or how it felt to cook Thanksgiving dinner for your family for the first time. A good essay will draw the reader in, give them a glimpse into your everyday life.

Letters of Recommendation

  • You should be sure that the person writing your letter will say something positive about you and can express that well.
  • Extra letters of recommendation from coaches, employers, or family friends can be useful if it genuinely shows something about you that wouldn't otherwise be found in your essays or application. However, too many can be counter-productive.
  • Avoid recommendations from famous or well-known people unless they actually know you.


Note: This section provides general information on interviewing. Amherst College does not offer admission interviews.

  • For interviews, you should do your best to sell yourself as a candidate. This is not the place to be modest. Be confident but not arrogant.
  • Make sure you convey to the interviewer that you are a fit for the school, just as much as it is a fit for you. Cite specific programs or professors that interest you.
  • Finally, when they ask you if you have any questions, make sure you have some questions. Address specific concerns about a college fit for you.