Need Help Writing Your College Admissions Essay?

Need Help Writing Your College Admissions Essay?

From the Author

Writing a college essay can be a daunting task, but it is also an opportunity to showcase your personality, strengths, and passions to the admissions committee. Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when writing your college essay.

• Choose a topic that reflects your personality and experiences

One of the most important aspects of a college essay is the topic. The topic should reflect your personality and experiences. Admissions committees are looking for students who are unique and have a clear sense of self. Don’t be afraid to be creative and choose a topic that is not typical.  

Jennifer Howard, Woodlands Test Prep’s college essay coach says, “The most important part of the college essay process is taking the time to discover the strengths and stories that make you, you.”

• Use the essay to highlight your strengths and passions

Your college essay is an opportunity to highlight your strengths and passions. This is your chance to showcase what makes you stand out from other applicants. Use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points and make your essay memorable.

“Remember,” Ms. Howard says, “you may think you don’t have anything interesting to write about because you haven’t invented the newest tech, won the state championship, or saved the world, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In fact, it’s the little, everyday moments and perspectives that make an interesting essay and showcase your unique personality.”

• Focus on your personal growth and development

The college essay is not just about your past experiences but also about your future aspirations. Show how you have grown and developed as a person and how you plan to continue to do so in college and beyond. This will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a thoughtful and reflective individual.

• Use a clear and concise writing style

It is important to use a clear and concise writing style in your college essay. Avoid using jargon or overly complex language, as this can be off-putting to the reader. Instead, use simple and direct language to convey your ideas. Make sure to proofread your essay carefully for spelling and grammar errors.

• Show, don’t tell

Instead of simply stating that you are passionate about a particular topic or activity, show the reader through specific examples and anecdotes. This will make your essay more engaging and memorable.

• Be authentic and honest

Finally, it is important to be authentic and honest in your college essay. Don’t try to be someone you’re not or pretend to have experiences that you haven’t had. Admissions committees can usually spot insincerity and it can hurt your chances of being accepted.

Writing a college essay is an important and often challenging task, but it is also an opportunity to showcase your unique personality, strengths, and passions to the admissions committee. By choosing a topic that reflects your experiences, highlighting your personal growth and development, using a clear and concise writing style, showing rather than telling, and being authentic and honest, you can create a compelling essay that sets you apart from other applicants.

According to Ms. Howard, “The college essay is the part of your application that makes you more than a GPA, test score, or list of accomplishments–it makes you human. Don’t waste that opportunity.”

Join Jennifer Howard this summer in our College Essay Workshop, so she can help you bring out your unique qualities to best showcase YOU!

At Woodlands Test Prep, we teach, so you can relax.

The Digital SAT: A Brave, New Frontier

The Digital SAT: A Brave, New Frontier

From the Author News Tests

Revised February 1, 2023

Visit our new Digital Adaptive SAT Page with ALL the scoop you need.

The College Board announced that the SAT will be going digital in March 2024, and the PSAT will be going digital in October 2023.  As if *that* isn’t big enough news, they are also changing the format substantively to be more student-friendly.

Update: The first widely available practice tests are available! Click here to download the app and check out the new format!

So What’s Changing?


  • Same scoring format, still on 1600 scale
  • Shorter overall test time – approximately 2 hours instead of 3.25 hours
  • Adaptive scoring – performance on the first section of topic affects the difficulty of the second section
  • Much more time per question
  • No more long reading passages
  • Built in Desmos graphing calculator for ALL math questions


  • Moving to an all-digital format – bring your own device or use one of the College Board’s
  • Students will still test at a testing center
  • Students will install the testing app prior to testing day
  • Digital PSAT will be much the same as the Digital SAT in structure
  • Much faster score receipt – in days rather than weeks
  • Accommodations will be handled in the digital environment
  • National test dates will remain unchanged; many more choices for School Day dates

Overall, the changes are good for students!

When Is All This Happening?

First up, the PSAT will be Digital Adaptive in 2023 – this coming fall! Then, the regular SAT will switch completely to the Digital Adaptive format in March 2024. The Class of 2025 – this year’s sophomores – have several choices to make.

What Does That Mean For My High School Student?

If you are a junior this year (Class of 2024), you won’t see any changes. Just keep on doing your thing!

If you are a sophomore this year (Class of 2025), this change affects you significantly. See the table below for options, and contact us to schedule a free consultation to help you navigate these changes.

Note: If you are aiming for National Merit in 2023, prepping will be more complicated due to the switch. We are ready to help you navigate the new format with confidence!

If you are a freshman this year (Class of 2026) or younger, this will all be old news by the time you get there. You’ll be able to choose between paper ACT and Digital Adaptive SAT.

As always, Woodlands Test Prep is on top of the change to the Digital Adaptive PSAT and SAT. We look forward to helping with all your questions!

Not Just One College Ranking to Rule Them All

Not Just One College Ranking to Rule Them All

From the Author Uncategorized

Every summer, the well-known U.S. News and World Report releases its U.S. News Best Colleges List, ranking more than 11,500 schools, each vying for as close as they can get to that #1 spot. Students and parents hurry to see which schools made it into the top ten, hoping to start sending their college applications and essays to the schools highest on the list. However, college ranking lists are not like The Lord of the Rings: There is no one ring, or list, to rule them all. There are, in fact, many different college rankings.  Depending on your priorities, different rankings help to see other facets of those college application choices.

As one of the oldest ranking systems, U.S. News and World Report is the most famous vehicle that families use to decide which schools are the “top schools.” However, what students and parents should realize is that there are actually many ranking lists out there, and they all have different methods of ranking schools. You can explore multiple ranking systems to tell you what are the best schools for the criteria they’re measuring. To get started, you and your child need to ask yourself, “What matters most to ME for my college experience?” You might consider a specific major, student outcomes and success, affordability, cultural aspects such as sports or art programs, and many more. 

So what is U.S. News Best Colleges really telling you?

U.S. News Best Colleges considers a multitude of factors. They consider graduation and acceptance rates, class sizes, GPA and test scores of students, student debt after graduation: all categories you might expect. However, one unique category is called “peer opinion.” This category accounts for 20% of a college’s overall score. What is peer opinion? U.S. News asks the president, provost, and dean of admissions of each school to rank other schools on a scale of 1-5. The higher opinion they have of that school, the higher up the list the school goes. This ranking system means that the same ancient ivy leagues and selective schools remain at the top: everyone’s heard of them and knows them to be a “good” school. Therefore, if you’re only looking at this one list, you’re really looking at prestige.

If prestige is not what matters most to you, it’s time to begin the important process of thinking about who you are and why you’re going to college. Search for college ranking lists that prioritize the same criteria that are important to you. Below are a few lists we recommend and what you can find out from reviewing them.

Academic Influence

Created by data scientists, this website ranks thousands of universities using a program they have dubbed the InfluenceRanking engine. Their goal is to create lists that are as unbiased and ungameable as possible, so you can make an informed decision about where to go to school based on your likelihood of success, along with other criteria you can filter for such as major, online programs, and affordability. Academic Influence measures what they consider “influence”: How many students graduate from that college who go on to have influential careers in their fields, and how influential are they? If your main focus is post-graduate success in your field of study, this may be the ranking system for you.


Niche ranks based on recommendation: What are real people saying about the colleges and universities they’ve attended? They rank schools using millions of ratings, reviews, and surveys. Along with general rankings, they have some unique categories that might help you determine the best school based on what’s important to you, such as best athletic programs, social scenes, or campuses. You can also filter based on the major you’re interested in. Start with this list if your most important criteria is the college experience.

Colleges That Change Lives

CTCL is a nonprofit organization that helps students to consider more than the big, selective schools. They coach students on how to find a school that fits them with questions to ask and topics to consider. Their brochure “How to Choose a College That’s Right for You” is a great place to start if you don’t know what you’re looking for. They also have resources for senior year anxiety and how to make the most of your campus college visit. CTCL member colleges are small liberal arts colleges and universities with holistic admissions processes, challenging and supported academics, residential communities, and schools that offer aid to make learning more affordable.

(Edit added 4/20/2023) New York Times

The New York Times recently published an article pointing out the variety of criteria that a student might base his or her college decision on along with a meta-list creation tool. You can weight a lot of different factors to see how your list might change. It’s dynamic and pretty fun!

What’s the bottom line?

There is no one list to rule them all. U.S. News Best Colleges’ ranking system is the best known, but it is not the only college ranking system out there. Find out what is important to you and make that criteria the center of your college search.

Unpacking the PSAT and Change to Digital SAT Seminar

Unpacking the PSAT and Change to Digital SAT Seminar


Wondering what your PSAT scores mean? Watch our seminar from December 8th to learn more about your PSAT scores and what they mean.  We also discussed the switch to the Digital PSAT coming up next year! Finally, we touched on how you might be able to become a National Merit Scholar. Click here to learn more about when and how your PSAT scores will be available.

Watch the seminar here

Download the presentation with our notes here

Congratulations 2023 National Merit Semifinalists!

Congratulations 2023 National Merit Semifinalists!


Woodlands Test Prep congratulates all students who have achieved Semifinalist status in the 2023
National Merit Scholarship Program. All of these students have worked hard to reach the top levels of
the scholarship program. The Company especially congratulates the FOUR students with whom it
has worked with as they prepared for this scholarship competition including Brooke McMullan, Jack
Pittenger, David Udoh, and Emily Valerio.
Semifinalists will go on to compete for Finalist standing, and
from there, become National Merit Scholars. Woodlands Test Prep wishes these students all the best
as they continue on in the competition.

The National Merit Scholarship Program honors individual students who show exceptional academic
ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies.

Woodlands Test Prep will hold an informational meeting on Wednesday, October 5th at 6pm, both in-
person and by Zoom, for students and their families who would like to learn more about the “Road to Becoming a National Merit Scholar.” Join us at our office or on our Zoom link!

Sign Up Here!

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