This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the SAT Program at the College Board. Since her expertise is highly acclaimed in the college planning field (please see one of her popular articles on college planning here), I felt honored to have an opportunity to get her expert advice on questions regarding the SATs, BigFuture--the College Board's latest online endeavor, and college planning tips. The interview is below:
1. Hi Jen! Could you first tell me a little about your Executive Director of the SAT Program position with The College Board? How did you get involved with the College Board, and what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Hi Annette! I have been with the College Board for five years. In my current role, I take advantage of my prior experience in both education and communications to make sure that students, parents and educators of all kinds have the best information possible about the college planning/college admission process. I work with my SAT and BigFuture colleagues across blogs, social media, news articles, etc., to ensure that people understand the SAT, what it is, what it does – and dispel the many confusing and outdated perceptions people have, as well as help people understand how closely the SAT is connected to the entire college planning process….and BigFuture.
2. Can you tell us a little about your background? What positions and responsibilities did you have prior to working for The College Board?
Nearly all of my professional life has been connected to education and/or marketing. I was a high school English teacher here in New York, as well as a dean of students. Immediately prior to working for the College Board, I worked for a very well known test prep company, so I understand that side of the college entrance exam world very well.
3. I see you're promoting The College Board's BigFuture website in your article... Can you tell us a little more about BigFuture? Who should use it, and what makes it different from other college planning websites?
Bigfuture.org is an excellent one-stop resource for students of all ages and their parents as they work together to discover college opportunities. The site has a wealth of information and step-by-step guidance on how to find, apply to and pay for college, including very detailed information on very nearly every college in the United States. The new College Search feature has integrated guidance and instant results that change as you alter your criteria.
We have a very longstanding history of working directly with colleges to publish their information and help students get ready for college. BigFuture is a digital way to get expert guidance and hear directly from real students – and because students can create an account and profile on the site, they can track and personalize their entire college planning experience with a customizable action plan.
4. Should a student register with this site? If so, will the student be subject to lots of spam or mail solicitations if he or she joins?
We take great care with students’ information and never sell it or share it with anyone. The account is unified across all the student resources on the College Board site, so registering with BigFuture will enable students to save and personalize their planning, as well as register for the SAT, print their admission ticket and engage with a variety of other practice features. I would encourage students to create an account.
5. In your opinion, when should a college bound teen first begin using BigFuture? When is a good starting age?
I think this is different for each student and family. Certainly, students can actively start using the site as early as the eighth or the ninth grade, as they consider how to construct their high school course of study to ensure they take rigorous coursework. Understanding how colleges perceive and use information like grades, transcripts and the SAT can also be very useful. Similarly, as students hear about various colleges, looking them up on BigFuture is a great way to start to understand what they will need to go to the college they think is a good fit for them. Getting a jump start on the financial aid process and will be very useful for most families, too.
6. I see there is info about career planning, the college search process, the college application process, and financial aid. In your opinion, is there one particular category where BigFuture excels? What is the best feature of the website? Do you have a favorite tool?
I can’t say that I have a favorite feature, but BigFuture has a wonderful sub-site called YouCanGo! that hosts interviews with dozens of (now) college students who didn’t think college was an option for them when they were in high school. The students on the site share their incredibly inspirational stories of how they overcame their challenges. I am constantly impressed and amazed by these young people.
7. Are you aware if guidance counselors use BigFuture with their students as they guide them through the college planning process?
We hope so! We have an educator resource center, with excellent handouts, webinars, videos and other materials to help counselors support their students. There’s also our College Ed curriculum to help foster a college going culture in high schools.
8. What is the greatest benefit to using BigFuture?
It's crucial for families to have reliable, objective and comprehensive information on the college going process. BigFuture gives everyone access to an authoritative source of guidance for college planning, and it’s completely free.
9. Since you are Executive Director of the SAT Program, I do have a specific question for you about the SATs. If a student scores poorly on the SATs, what do you suggest the student can/should do to better his or her score? Can a student be coached to perform better?
The SAT website offers a wealth of free and low-cost practice resources. Students who have already taken the SAT once, should definitely take advantage of Skills Insight, where they can drill down by score and skills to hone their strengths and weaknesses. If they haven’t already, all students taking the SAT students take the full-length practice test, sign up for Question of the Day and work with our unique Answers Imagined videos will offer creative solutions to difficult problems. For students unsure where to start, there are also study plans available. Independent research shows that there is no substitute for rigorous high school coursework, doing well in those courses and reading as much as possible when it comes to getting ready for the SAT. Many credible, independent studies show that short term test preparation only increases scores by about the same amount as taking the test a second time. For instance, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released an analysis two years ago that showed test prep courses had minimal impact in improving SAT scores -- about 10-20 points on average in mathematics and 5-10 points in critical reading.
10. How many times should a college bound student take the SATs? Is there statistical proof that students perform better each time they take the exam?
A student should take the SAT once or twice, and the majority of students to take the test more than once. We do not recommend that students take the SAT more than that. More than half of all students who take the SAT a second time increase their score, but there is no evidence to support the idea that taking the SAT more than twice results in significant score gains.
11. Do you have any final words of advice for our college bound teens and/or parents?
Take advantage of all the information that is available on BigFuture.org and SAT.org. Ask your school counselor for help when you need it. Don’t get overwhelmed – there are plenty of resources to help you plan and prepare. It’s a very exciting time – try to enjoy it!
I'd like to end this interview by thanking Jennifer Karan for the valuable time and effort she spent in answering these questions. I hope to interview her again soon, so we can futher discuss and dispel some of the ongoing myths associated with the SATs.