How a Navy SEAL studies for the SAT

If your son or daughter is taking the SAT or ACT in the coming weeks, here are some tips to help them maximize their score:

Common (but good) advice

  • Register for the exam
  • Prepare well in advance
  • Match study style with learning style (e.g. book, online, classroom with students, tutor, etc.)
  • Learn tips and tricks to help manage time, guessing strategies, etc.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before

PrepWell's "uncommon" advice

Take practice tests under real test-taking conditions - over and over again!

Let me elaborate. Many students spend a lot of time looking for hacks, tricks, and shortcuts to improve their test scores. They also normally study in "short bursts" (e.g. Study Math for 40 minutes every M, W, F) - when they really should be spending a lot more time and effort simply taking more full-length tests.

In my opinion, a large component of how well you perform on the test will be based on how much mental endurance you have built up by test day.

Most high school students aren't...

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PrepWell Podcast - Ep. 21 | How involved should you be as a parent?

prepwell podcast Feb 22, 2020

Show Notes:

In today’s episode, I talk about how much input (or, how little input) parents might want to have in their child’s college admissions journey. What should your strategy be? How much should you get involved? When should you get involved? When you should back off? In other words, how to thread the needle, to make sure your child - and you - have a positive and productive experience.   
Of course, there is no right or wrong answer here - every child, parent, and dynamic is unique - so there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, I will discuss 3 strategies that you, as a parent, might consider when dealing with this important period of time in your teen’s life. 
We’ll start out with the extreme strategies - parents who provide a ton of input and direction - and then move to those who provide little-to-no direction. And then we’ll explore the middle-of-the-road case,...
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Is your Child Well-Rounded or Angular?


Back in the day, highly-selective schools were impressed by the proverbial "well-rounded student" who seemed capable of doing just about anything - from sports, to academics, to community service.

"Old School" Well-Rounded Student:

  • 4.0 GPA
  • National Honor Society
  • Soccer player (2 years)
  • Piano (3 years)
  • Vice President of Spanish Club (Junior Year)
  • Soup Kitchen volunteer (various)

College Admissions Officers used to assemble their incoming classes by selecting many of these "well-rounded" applicants. 

Campuses eventually became havens for lots of students who were good at lots of things.

Today, things are different.

In fact, many schools today are not as impressed by generic "well-rounded" students and have turned their attention to more "angular" students.

Angular Students

Angular students take a deep dive into one (or two) core activities  -  often at the exclusion of others - to become world-class in their field. 

"Modern Day" Angular Student:

  • 4.4 GPA
  • ...
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The Golden Years | Freshman and Sophomore Year


A Broken Model

After years of engaging with hundreds of high school students, parents, and guidance counselors from around the country, I've witnessed an unfortunate pattern.

These individuals continue to operate under the assumption that "college preparation" should begin in junior year.

I strongly disagree.

In fact, before stepping one foot into junior year, students should have a firm understanding of the expectations, milestones, and context for what lies ahead. [More on exactly what these factors are in a subesquent post].

Otherwise, students (and parents) risk feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and ill-prepared to manage the onslaught of information dumped in their laps. Once a student enters junior year, there are no do-overs.

In my private counseling practice, I find that a student's freshman and sophomore years (The Golden Years) have disproportionate impact on their readiness for the college admissions process, college selection, and life itself.

They are - as an economist...

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PrepWell Podcast - Ep. 20 | How To Help Your Child Develop a Theme

prepwell podcast Feb 14, 2020

Show Notes:

In this episode, we dig into what it means for a college application to have a “theme”?  A theme is an overarching framework that highlights what your child is interested in, what they’re good at, what they may want to major in, may want to pursue a career in, or maybe just a field they want to work in. 
How do their classes, grades, extracurriculars, clubs, letters of recommendation, summer experiences - all come together to create a compelling and memorable theme? Can you describe the theme with a word, phrase, or sentence?  
I cover the following themes in this episode: (1) Medicine, (2) Math, (3) Business, (4) Engineering, (5) Environmental Science.

Here is what I discuss in this episode:

0:01:25 What is a college application theme?
0:03:40 What is the application reader thinking?
0:04:43 What’s the catch?
0:07:08 Case Study Theme: Medicine
0:12:16 Case Study Theme:...
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How To Select, Prepare, and Perform on the SAT & ACT

Your number #1 priority this summer is to prepare for your official standardized test at the end of August or beginning of September.

This is what you should do:

  • Select a standardized test to take (SAT or ACT)
  • Register for the exam
  • Study your face off
  • Take the exam
  • Never look back

Let me remind you why I recommend this strategy in case you start to waver on implementing any of these steps:

  • An SAT or ACT score is a top 3 criteria for college admissions
  • Summer provides maximum time and flexibility to study
  • Studying for this test in the middle of junior year is a disaster
  • Ability to maximize energy, sleep, and hydration before test
  • Fewer distractions and potential scheduling conflicts
  • Less-crowded testing sites
  • Results provide an early indicator of what tier of colleges to consider
  • Potential to score well and never take test ever again
  • Ability to re-test later in the year if things don't go as planned
  • If a re-test is necessary, the bulk of studying is already done
  • Ivy League...
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PrepWell Podcast - Ep. 19 | How To Help Your Child With Their Summer Plans

prepwell podcast Feb 09, 2020

Show Notes:

In this week’s show, I try my best to help you, help your child, figure out what to do this summer. If you’ve been following this podcast for some time, it shouldn’t take much to convince you how important summer experiences can be for your child - not only to make their college application look better - but for real life as well. 
I know, it’s not easy to figure out what to do with teenagers over the summer. Especially if they don’t drive, or work, and you do work, and everything seems so expensive. That’s why I’m recording this podcast - to give you some ideas. Yes, this is challenging time - and yes, colleges are expecting bigger and better things from students as competition grows. It means that it will take more effort and planning on our part. No problem. Ill show you how to make it happen. I believe the effort will be worth it - no matter how things end up in the college admissions process.  
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Will Erin Get Into Princeton?


As a college admissions counselor specializing in students with big ambitions (e.g. Ivy League, Military Service Academies/ROTC, Athletic scholarships), I have seen dreams realized, shattered, and everything in between.

Case Study

In this case study, I reveal what goes through a college admissions officer's mind as they review an application. What do they care about, what do they disregard, what jumps out, and what factors might seal the deal (for good or bad)?

In this blog, I review Erin's profile. Erin is a junior at a public high school in CA. She's an elite soccer player, near straight-A student, member of student government, and involved in community service.

Sound familiar?

Many parents of talented 9th and 10th-grade athletes tell me similar stories. They want to know their child's chances. 

Here's how the story goes:

Hi, Phil. I've heard you're the expert in helping kids get into highly-selective colleges by mentoring them early in their high school careers. Can I tell...

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PrepWell Podcast - Ep. 18 | How is Your Child Wired?

prepwell podcast Feb 02, 2020

Show Notes:

Ive identified three different types of teenagers and likened each one to a lightbulb: (1) Bright Bulb, (2) Flickering Bulb, (3) Dim Bulb. Where does your child fit into this paradigm? How can you use their status to help them through these formative years?

Here is what I discuss in this episode:

0:01:40 What are the three different types of teenagers?
0:04:35 The Bright Bulb
0:07:45 The Dim Bulb
0:10:45 The Flickering Bulb
0:16:02 How are the Bulbs distributed?

If you want to support the show, here are 3 immediate steps to take: 

  1. Subscribe to the podcast where ever you listen to podcasts
  2. Follow me on Instagram or Facebook
  3. Give us a review
  4. Share this episode with a friend
  5. Join our mailing list
  6. Enroll your 9th or 10th grader in the program

Follow us:

Podcast Host: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking...
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Is it Worth Pursuing an Athletic Scholarship?

The Dream

Many young athletes today aspire to play Division I sports in college. This dream is fueled, in part, by the prospect of securing the ever-elusive "full-ride athletic scholarship".

The dream often originates as early as 3rd or 4th grade, when young athletes are shunted onto "elite" travel teams if they show above-average skill for their age. Unfortunately, once this train leaves the station - it's hard to get off.

For the next 4-6 years, most weekends and holidays are dedicated entirely to the sport - no matter the cost, travel, time, or energy required. And the beat goes on for years - with an unwavering devotion. Parents and children are equally afraid to step off the train for the fear of missing out.

Though rarely admitted in public, most parents mistakenly assume that their child is on a path to some type of athletic scholarship. They don't really know what this means exactly - and are afraid to ask too many presumptuous questions - but they sure hear a lot of chatter...

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