PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 174 | Rapid Fire Q&A (Part II)

Phil Black answers more listener questions in a rapid-fire Q&A (Part II)

Show Notes:

In this continuation of last week's Rapid Fire Q&A, I answer another batch of listener questions that have accumulated over the last week.

Here's a sample of what I cover:

  • What is the one trap that most PrepWellers fall into that hurts their chances?
  • What are the most undervalued experiences that most teenagers are not thinking enough about?
  • At what point is it too late for a high school student to do well in the college admissions process?
  • Should I take the SAT or ACT? 
  • How much difference is there between Div I and Div III sports in college?
  • When does my financial profile matter most?
  • I got a 1200 on my PSAT10. What should I expect to get on the real SAT when I get into junior or senior year?
  • What's the key to writing a great college essay?
  • Should I do summer school?
  • Your best parenting tip?
  • and more...

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. Last week we did a part one of a Q&A where I tried to answer a bunch of questions from students and PrepWellers and parents that had been accumulating over the last few weeks. And this week we are going to continue with part two. So let's get right to it. Question number one, what is the one trap that most of your prep students fall into that hurts their chances of success? The most? That would be procrastination. Teenagers are highly susceptible to procrastination for many reasons. Number one, they're scared. They're scared of the unknown. They're scared to make decisions. They're scared to challenge themselves. They're scared to think about the future. They're scared to disappoint. They're scared to write a first draft of an essay. They're scared stiff. And to add to that, number two, they're easily distracted. And this is a deadly combination because when you're prone to procrastination, because you're scared and you have your phone or your video game console within arm's reach at all times, procrastination gets worse. So to combat this, either get over being scared and thus you won't procrastinate. You'll just do it or have the discipline to manage those distractions, your phones and your game consoles. Question number two What are some undervalued experiences that most teenagers are not thinking enough about? Well, I like that question.

[00:02:03] There's a few of them. I mean, right off the bat, number one, taking a gap year. I would say 30 to 40% of students should at least consider taking a gap year. Number two, community college. 30 to 40% of students should consider starting out at a community college with the intent of transferring to a four year college. Number three, How about international experiences? 25% of students should consider some type of overseas experience before they go to college. In my opinion, number for military academies and ROTC, 25 to 30% of students I think, should think about taking the challenge of a service academy or of an ROTC program. Number five trade schools. I would say 25% of students, especially males, should consider a job in the trades, whether it's electrician, plumber, carpenter, welder, diver. And then lastly, number six, direct to work force. Maybe 10 to 20% of students should consider bypassing college altogether and just going directly into the workforce. Very, very few students are thinking about these paths. Unfortunately, most teenagers are content to get on the college conveyor belt and get spit out the other side, likely with a lot of student debt and a very big hill to climb. So I'd love to see more students consider some of these, call them unconventional paths. Question number three. At what point is it too late for a high school student to do well in the college admissions process? Well, it depends on what your definition of doing well in the college admissions process is. I would say generally for a student who wants to attend a competitive, selective college sometime toward the beginning to middle of sophomore year is the point of no return. Students who wake up in the middle of junior year and they haven't put any thought into college and they just took the SAT cold and they get a mediocre score.

[00:04:11] They're toast. That's not to say that they won't get into college or their life will be ruined or anything like that. It just means that they've missed the window to be intentional about their approach to college admissions. I'm sure they'll muddle through it. Thousands and millions have done it, but it might get ugly and they certainly won't learn as much as they would have had they paid attention in ninth or 10th grade. Question number four Should I take the SAT or the A.C.T.? Theoretically, colleges are not supposed to have a preference between the two, and I think that's probably right. However, I have heard through the grapevine admissions officers who say that they secretly give a little bit more weight to the S.A.T. than the act. They say that they feel like it's more of a serious exam. I don't think that's written anywhere, but it's kind of an undercurrent. Maybe it's just an implicit bias. Generally, the SAT tends to have more reading, both on the verbal and on the math section. The act has a science section. It also tends to favor students who prefer slightly more basic math problems that you have to do faster than the math problems. Pacing is the big deal with the act. I always recommend that my prep while students take a practiced SAT and an act within a few weeks of each other in the spring of their sophomore year to see which test they naturally do better on. Most students do about the same on both, which is the way it should be, theoretically. But every once in a while, a student will do significantly better in one versus the other, or they'll just prefer one a lot better than the other, even though their scores are about the same.

[00:05:51] The best way to gauge which one would be better is by taking them both. And if you want to get a diagnostic test like this for free, you can take it at home. Reach out to me and I'll set you up. Question number five What's the difference between merit aid and academic aid? I'd have to hear a little bit more about the context here. I think there may be some confusion with the terms because I think they're mostly the same term. Let me just break it down. Merit aid is money that a college offers you because of your academic achievements. That also might be referred to as academic aid. Keep in mind that the most selective schools do not offer merit aid. Ivy League schools, for example, do not offer merit aid. And if you're wondering why, it's because the students who apply to those schools are already so academically gifted that it would be almost impossible to find a way to stratify them. They're all clustered at the very top of the academic band. And they don't need Ivy Leagues, that is, they don't need to use an enticement of money to get those students to attend their schools. Merit aid or academic aid, if you will, is typically doled out by colleges that are just below the top tier academic schools who want to recruit the high academic students to help them get their school's average GPA up and their SAT average up and their ACT average up. These colleges use it as a tool to attract students who would otherwise want to go to an Ivy League type school. But they decide to go to Fordham, for example, because Fordham offers them a $25,000 tuition discount. Question number six How much difference is there between Division three and Division one sports in college? I would say a big difference.

[00:07:41] Major difference. Division one schools have prioritized sports on their campus, and they're a big part of the school's mission. Depending on the sport and whether it's a male or a female sport, they're allowed to give full scholarships, partial scholarships, book allowances. There's all kinds of booster shenanigans. And once you accept a scholarship of some kind, some people like to say that the school then owns you. They can determine every move you make when to get up, when to train, when to eat, what to eat, what majors you can take or not take. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it is true that once you're on some kind of athletic scholarship, that there is a different level of expectation for the athletes. The athletes. Sport often comes first in front of maybe every other aspect of college life. I'm not suggesting that's good or bad, but it is the reality. And if you accept a scholarship of some kind, be ready to put your full time and attention on that sport. 24 seven 365 It will be relentless. Division three schools. On the other hand, they're not permitted to give athletic scholarships of any kind to any athlete. Male, female. Doesn't matter. They have decidedly de-emphasized sports on their campuses, and thus the expectations of the players are lower. They aren't expected to drop everything in their entire life for the good of the team. Now, there are plenty of Division three teams out there that are super competitive. They play around. They're really into it, but it's just not as institutionalized, if you will, as it is in a Division one program. And by the way, the Ivy League here is the outlier. The Ivy League is Division one, but also not permitted to offer athletic scholarships of any kind.

[00:09:34] So there are hybrid of the two. They do care a lot about their sports. They can be competitive with some of the big name Division one athletic programs, as we saw with Princeton basketball this year. But there is no financial help for athletes. So the athletes have a little bit more freedom not to live, die and breathe. Sports. 24 seven. And as a basketball player who played at Yale, I have to say that I'm partial to the Ivy League model where the athletic talent is high, but maybe not the highest. But the trade off is that you have a more normal college life. Question number seven When does my financial situation matter for my child's eligibility for financial aid? This is a good day to know and know well the year that will determine your child's eligibility for financial aid in their freshman year of college runs from January 1st of their sophomore year in high school. To December 31st of their junior year in high school. She's going to say that one more time. January 1st of their sophomore year, that full calendar year until December 31st of their junior year in high school. Let that sink in. Let me give you a real world example here. If you have a freshman right now, the amount of money you make this year will be immaterial when it comes to your child's first year in college. It's it's too early to matter. You have another year roughly to go before anything really matters. If you have a sophomore right now, they. Meaning? Meaning, meaning meaning you are in the hot zone. You are actually three months into January, February and March, three months into the 12 month period that will dictate how much money you will or won't be eligible for in your child's freshman year in college.

[00:11:30] So if you have a sophomore and you're a salesperson who works on commission. This would be a great year to have a crappy year in sales because your income would be down, presumably, which means that your eligibility for a need based financial aid would go up. All other things being equal. But remember, that would only work for that one year because once your child hits January of their sophomore year in high school, the money that you make for the next four years will be assessed. The colleges don't just look at that one year and then lock you in for four years worth of financial aid. They're going to revisit your finances every year and reassess your financial needs, if any. So it's not like you can drop your income for one year by eating ramen noodles every night, thinking that once you lock in that one down year, you're good to go. You have to fill out the financial aid documents anew every year. Question number eight I got a 1200 on my PSAT ten as a sophomore. What should I expect to get on my realized when I get into junior or senior year? Theoretically, if you don't do anything, no extra studying, no preparation, no practice tests, you should get pretty close to a 1200 again. At least that's the way the test is supposed to work. Now, I may be reading between the lines here, but maybe what the student is asking is something along the lines of since I got to 1200 on the S.A.T. and I'm only a sophomore, surely I'll do a lot better when I'm a junior. A senior? Because I'll be older and smarter. Should I assume that I'll get a 1300 or a 1400 by then? No, I would not make that assumption.

[00:13:11] Or that's at least not the way it's supposed to work. The PSA ten is designed for 10th graders. The questions are calibrated to test what a 10th grader should have already learned. You're not getting the real S.A.T. like you would take an 11th or 12th grade. So let's not make the assumption that your score will magically go up in a year or two just because you're older. The test has already taken into account that you're only a sophomore, and it's supposed to signal what you will likely get once you get to 11th or 12th grade. So don't get complacent with what you think is a good score just because you're a sophomore. A 1200 is probably what you will get. Or at least it's in the ballpark. At least. So if you want to score higher than that, it's time to start studying. Question number nine What's the key to writing good college essays? I need a couple of hours to answer this thoroughly, but. For our purposes here, I would say that the biggest key is to start early, and I know that sounds cliche and students hear it all the time. They just don't do it. I get it. The idea of writing college essays is so fraught these days. That it's so much easier to procrastinate and not start. It's just what most students do. And with the phone and the game console within reach at all times, it's easy to get way behind schedule. The reason you want to start early is because your first essay drafts will likely go through a lot of changes and edits and overhauls and brainstorming, and it takes time. That's what's supposed to happen. It's supposed to be challenging. But if you start early enough, by the time you're done polishing up your main essay.

[00:15:01] You'll still have two months left to do all the other supplemental essays. And once you figured out how to do the main essay through all the trials and tribulations, the other essays tend to be easier because you don't repeat the same mistakes you did the first time. You're an old pro. The problem with procrastination and waiting is that by the time you get your main essay done, you might only have two weeks left instead of two months to write 20 plus supplemental essays. And what happens then is panic sets in, overwhelm happens and the supplemental essays turn out like crap. How could they not? You physically don't have the time to write that many essays in such a short period of time, or at least write them well. And then students get into copying and pasting and creating these frankensteinian essays with bits and pieces from different essays. Or they hit the chat button and then it's all over. So the key here is hold yourself accountable to starting early on your essays. I don't know what you have to do to make it happen, but do something. Question number ten Should I do summer school? Yes, you should. Let's move on to question number 11. Now, in all seriousness, the answer is yes, you should take summer school. But let me explain a bit. I'm assuming that this person doesn't have to take summer school, but instead they want to do it to get ahead. The answer is yes. All four of my sons took summer school. They didn't have to. And it helped them tremendously. And they took it for different reasons, by the way. One of my sons took math over the summer so he could skip to a more advanced math class the next year.

[00:16:46] One took math over the summer so that he could specifically avoid a specific math teacher who was the worst teacher in the school. And one of my sons took math over the summer just to reinforce what he learned in the prior school year. So as you can see, there are all kinds of reasons to take summer school and not just in math these days with so many online options. It shouldn't be that hard to find a program that you can take remotely, so it'll have less impact on all of your wazoo Summer plans. One of the overarching reasons to take summer school classes is to make sure that your brain doesn't turn to mush over the summer, especially in a subject like math, where it's important to really nail all of the building blocks before moving on to the next level. You need to have that foundation. The summer gives you an opportunity to make sure that you have completely mastered math before moving on. This is incredibly important and thankfully, math is relatively easy to teach remotely compared to English or history. So yes, I would think very seriously about taking something over the summer. The last thing you want to do is turn your brain off for nearly three months. You end up taking three steps back and then you have to make up for all that learning loss in the first few months of school in the fall. Please don't let that happen to you. Question number 11. Any parenting tips? Well, that's a doozy. Probably too much to bite off right now as we're trying to wrap up this episode. But let me leave you with this notion that I heard a few years ago that I will never forget, which is the following about parenting.

[00:18:29] Parents often take too much credit when their kids turn out great and too much blame when their kids turn out bad. There's got to be a balance in there somewhere. So chew on that one for a while. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies, online mentoring program for high schoolers, and their parents receive weekly videos from me where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Purple Academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Remember, registration is only open during freshman and sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or a sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you'd like to get more content like this tailored specifically for your child, for their specific grade, with their specific goals in mind, go to and enroll today. And if you're a parent with a middle schooler or high schooler that might find this podcast helpful, please share the episode with them and give us a rating if you have a shot. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcast reach a much wider audience. If you have questions, comments or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email. Demi on Instagram, Check out our blog Facebook page. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you. Until next week, Goodbye. Good luck and never stop preparing.

[00:20:12] This podcast is brought to you by PrepWell Academy. PrepWell Academy is my one of a kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week. Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about to stay ahead of the game to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to and enroll your child today.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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