How to Choose a Test Prep Service


Maureen McGovern, January 10, 2014

As juniors gear up for SATs and ACTs and high school students of all ages prepare for AP exams, it’s the time of year when parents begin to explore options for test prep. The number of choices of companies and individual tutors offering preparation services can bewilder an unprepared family. How does a responsible parent choose the best?

Don’t let sticker price guide you

Many companies offer tempting deals on low-price classes, but make sure a class is the best option for your child. For a number of students, especially those who already have a strong base score, the information given in a group setting is too basic. You might get more bang for your buck with a series of private sessions targeted to address your child’s particular weaknesses. Chyten makes a special effort to tailor any and all instruction specifically to your child’s needs!

Pick the best coach for your child

Some companies hire employees without a background in the subject they tutor or have classes taught by adults with no background in the field of education. These tutors may have little training in how to individualize instruction and may employ a one-size-fits-all approach. Chyten Educational Services in Asheville, however, requires that all tutors have at least a Masters degree (several have a PhD)and the owner prefers tutors who have experience adapting curricula to students at many different levels. We look for master teachers – tutors who are comfortable working with many different students.

The best tutor for your child is the one who understands your child’s needs and is willing to do what it takes to meet them.

Real SAT, ACT and SSAT Tests

Choose a service that offers plenty of real practice tests. The benefit of an “actual conditions” test is two-fold: you will gain real-time data on progress and the student will acclimate to the rigors of test-taking.

Finally, think of test prep as an investment. Everyone knows that the ACT and/or SAT scores are used for college admission, but many don’t realize that the scores are also a factor in scholarship awards from nearly all colleges and universities.

An engaging teacher. An inspired plan. Daring to dream higherand bigger doesn’t just happen. Dreams need a spark. Chyten provides that spark with proven steps, systems, and strategies for success. But these factors only begin to describe the Chyten difference. Chyten has made a difference in so many lives; now it is time for us to help your child reach and exceed your expectations. Put the experienced Chyten Asheville tutors to work with your child.

Contact us at (828) 505-2495 or at



Five myths about college applications and financial aid

Saving for college, applying for admittance and getting financial aid can all be complicated processes, so it’s not surprising that many myths have sprung up about paying for education.

The following five myths, however, can wind up costing you dearly:

1. Saving for college hurts financial aid.

Saving in a child’s name — such as in a custodial account — definitely has a big negative impact on potential financial aid, since financial aid formulas expect 35 percent of the student’s assets to be spent each year on college.

Money in 529 college savings plans, on the other hand, typically has little impact, since it’s counted as a parental asset and less than 6 percent of the balance will be counted against financial aid.

Income counts far more heavily than assets in determining financial aid, in any case. The more income you make, the more colleges will assume you’ve saved for college, whether you actually have or not.

Meanwhile, most financial aid these days comes in the form of loans. That’s why Stuart Ritter, senior financial planner for T. Rowe Price, suggests substituting the phrase “massive debt” for “financial aid” when you hear someone say they’re afraid saving for college will hurt a child’s ability to get financial aid.

“What they’re really saying is they’re afraid they’ll hurt the child’s ability to get massive debt,” Ritter said.

2. We aren’t rich, so we will get financial aid.

First, understand that financial aid experts didn’t design the Free Application for Federal Student Aid used by most schools to allot financial aid. Congress did. And Congress regularly tinkers with it, further increasing its complexity. So any relation between the FAFSA’s assessment of your financial resources and your actual ability to pay may be purely coincidental.

Okay, that’s a little harsh, but I’m regularly contacted by parents who are flummoxed by how much they’re expected to pay. Again, income counts heavily, and those with higher incomes can’t expect much need-based help regardless of their expenses.

“I have attended several paying-for-college seminars and found their estimated contributions quite sugar-coated compared to the reality,” one mother wrote, after her family’s “expected family contribution” for a younger daughter turned out to be $43,000. The family’s six-figure income meant they would getlittle help.

Even those who earn much less can struggle to pay their share. The woman’s older daughter, who was 23, was expected to pay about a quarter of her income for graduate school, the mother wrote.

“How can someone earning $25,000 pay for an apartment, phone, car insurance, food, taxes, etc. AND be expected to pay almost $6,000 in college costs?” the mother wondered.

3. If I have financial need, colleges will fill it.

Only about a third of public institutions and fewer than one out of five private schools are committed to meeting 100 percent of their students’ financial need, according to a 2008 study for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The vast majority of colleges instead engage in “gapping,” which means they deliberately leave a gap between a student’s demonstrated financial need and what the institutions are willing to provide in terms of grants, scholarships, loans and work study.

Just 10.2 percent of Loyola University Chicago undergraduates have their financial need fully met, according to College Board statistics, and, on average, the school meets just 79 percent of undergraduates’ financial need.

The statistics at New York University are even worse: just 4.4 percent of undergraduates have their financial need fully met, and overall the university meets an average of 55 percent of financial need.

4. Private colleges are always more expensive than public schools.

At first glance, this would seem obvious: the average published tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year institutions was $8,893 in 2013-14, according to the College Board, compared to $30,094 for private four-year schools.

But colleges are like cars: few people pay the sticker price. And sometimes private schools discount their prices enough to make them competitive with public schools, said college consultant Deborah Fox of Fox College Funding in San Diego.

Also, you may be paying for more years of school with a public institution. Only about one in five public college students graduates in four years, compared to about half of private college attendees, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

5. My kid can work his way through school.

Working your way through community college is certainly do-able, and some motivated students support themselves long enough to get a four-year degree.

Butstudy after study has made the point that the more hours a student works, the more likely he or she is to drop out. It’s simply harder than it used to be to get an education on one’s own.

The real cost of college has more than doubled since 1980. Also, Congress tightened the rules dramatically on who is considered “independent” for the purposes of financial aid, making it much harder for undergraduates trying to do it on their own.

Read the full article here!

Offbeat essay prompts gauge student creativity

As legions of high school seniors polish their college applications, plowing through predictable essay topics about their lives and goals, they might also run across something like this: “Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.”

A small but growing number of select colleges have turned to off-kilter questions like that one, part of this year’s application to the University of Chicago, or like this one, from Brandeis University: “You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?” This year’s most-discussed question, from Tufts University, was about the meaning of “YOLO,” an acronym for “you only live once,” popularized by the rapper Drake.

And even those are tame compared with some choices from the last few years, like “If you could choose to be raised by robots, dinosaurs or aliens, who would you pick?” (Brandeis), or “What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?” (Chicago).

For the colleges, such questions set them apart, though the applications invariably give a choice of subjects, including some that are closer to traditional. And at a time when some elite colleges worry that high school students are more likely to be high achievers than independent thinkers, oddball essay questions offer a way to determine which of the A-student, high-test-score, multi-extracurricular applicants can also show a spark of originality.

Most elite colleges use the Common Application, which contains fairly standard essay questions, and require their own supplemental applications, with more writing exercises.

“In the day of the Common App, there’s such a sense of sameness in applying to the different schools, so we’re trying to communicate what’s distinctive about us and determine what’s distinctive about our applicants,” said Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis.

A quirky essay subject can seem like a burden to students who, already stressed out by the application process, find that being diligent and brilliant is not enough — that colleges also want them to be whimsical and creative. Teenagers pepper social media with complaints about the questions, though they do not want to be interviewed, for fear of alienating their colleges of choice.

But others embrace the chance to express themselves, seeing it as a welcome relief from the ordinary applications.

“Usually, the essay prompts are boring,” said Sam Endicott, a high school senior from Edmond, Okla., who said he chose the University of Chicago’s topic on explaining a joke. “They don’t inspire a whole lot of creativity. I like the ones that allow more free rein to be a little different.”

Looking at the same application, Matt Bliss, a senior from Portage, Ind., seized on the invitation to make up his own topic. Recalling that one of the University of Chicago’s essay choices last year was “So where is Waldo, really?” he wrote his essay on “Can Waldo find himself?”

“I see it as a way to really show the college, ‘This is me,’ to establish your voice as a writer and show that you’re willing to take a risk,” he said.

Most students prefer — and are better off — avoiding the unusual questions, said John B. Boshoven, a counselor at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“There are the kids who find it just invigorating, but they are not the majority,” he said. “The linear, sequential, mechanical kids of the world usually don’t want to play that game, no matter how smart they are.”

Counselors and private admission consultants say quirkier questions are more of a challenge for students getting a late start and feeling the pressure of an application deadline — usually November for early admissions or January for regular admissions — and for overseas students.

“In the next few days, I’m going to be seeing stressed-out seniors trying to bang these things out and wondering why they’re bothering,” said Don McMillan, a consultant based in Boston. “And we’ve got kids from Brazil or Nicaragua who are going to have trouble even getting the joke, much less know how to answer it.”

The University of Chicago, well known for its off-the-wall questions, began asking them in the 1980s and invites current students and recent alumni to submit ideas. The results have become more unorthodox over the years, producing applications in the last decade that have offered topics like “Destroy a question with your answer” and, in reference to the industrial-size products at some big-box retailers, “Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.”

When asked whether the past question “How did you get caught?” exposed unsavory behavior or whether this year’s query about a joke elicited anything obscene, John W. Boyer, the dean of the undergraduate college, said, “As long as it doesn’t violate the criminal laws of the State of Illinois, it’s fine with me.”

In recent years, unusual questions have appeared on applications for other colleges, including Tufts, Brandeis, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania and Hamilton College (which once asked, “If you were reduced to living on a flat plane, what would be your greatest problems? Opportunities?”). But some of those institutions have reverted to more traditional essay topics, and the unorthodox approach remains limited to a relative handful of elite universities.

Dr. Boyer said the questions had helped build the University of Chicago’s identity; years after graduation, alumni often remember their essay topic.

“It requires a little bit of wit and more than a little bit of imagination,” he said. “We want to give students an opportunity to be unconventional in a pushing-the-boundary sense and see what they can do.”

Read the full article here.

SAT and ACT classes begin in early March!


Preparing your student for ACT test day

If you are the parent of a student who will be taking the ACT on a national test date, make sure your student follows the new ACT test security requirements.

Please help your student upload or submit (via ACT website, mobile device, or mail) a recognizable head-and-shoulders photo of himself or herself when registering for the ACT.

The photo will be printed on your student’s admission ticket, which he or she is required to bring to the test center in order to be admitted. Your student also needs to bring and present an acceptable photo ID on test day.

Your student’s photo will be printed on the examinee roster that testing staff use to check in students on test day. Staff will match the name and photo on the student’s admission ticket, the test center roster, and the student’s photo ID before admitting the student.

In addition to helping your student meet the ACT photo requirements, please also review with him or her other test day rules, such as what to bring to the test center, expected behavior on test day, which calculators are permissible, and whether mobile phones can be used.

With a little help in advance from you, your student’s test day experience can go smoothly and successfully. Check ACT’s list of FAQs for more information.


What’s new in the Common App?

The Common Application is a not-for-profit group that offers print and online versions of one college admission application that students can submit to any of the organization’s 488 member institutions.

The Common App is currently undergoing major changes and getting a fresh new look for the 2013-14 admissions season. So what’s new?

The Essay

This pressure-packed word alone can strike fear into the hearts of applicants. I encourage students to look at the essay as an opportunity to set yourself apart from the numbers that define you (GPA, class rank, test scores, etc.). Here’s what’s new for the 2013-14 essay:
Higher (but stricter) word counts. Essays now carry a 250-word minimum and a 650-word maximum, an increase of 500 from last year. Additionally, where in the past students would aim for somewhere around 500 words, the 650-word maximum is now enforced. The essay box will keep a running tally and cut off at the maximum. As a result, word choice and concision will be essential.
New prompts. CA4 is limited to only five prompts. Gone is the “topic of your choosing” option; however, there are a number of great options, which students can craft their essay to fit. Check out the new prompts here.
Copy and paste option. Previously, students crafted their essay in a Word document and uploaded it to the application. Now students can copy and paste their essay, adding bold, italic, or underlining for emphasis. (A note about uploading: In previous versions of the Common App, students could use the upload feature to add their résumé. Now they must copy and paste text versions of their documents while adhering to the strict 650-word limit.)

Activity Essay

As in years past, the new application lets students list and rank their activities in order of importance. Up until last year, students were then asked to write approximately 250 words describing one of their activities. This is no longer part of the main application shared by all colleges. If a college still desires to have the activity essay, it will now be found on the college’s supplemental application.

Test Scores

The Common App asks for self-reported scores, however most schools require scores to also be reported directly from the testing agency. In the past, students reported their highest individual scores across ACT, SAT and SAT Subject Tests. You now have the ability to customize which scores are reported to which schools based on that school’s requirements. For example, if a college doesn’t require or recommend SAT Subject Tests, the student would not have to provide that information to all schools.

The 2013-14 Common App will be released on August 1st. In the meantime, get started on those essays!



5 reasons to take the SAT or ACT more than once

Taking the SAT or ACT the first time is hard enough. It takes months of studying to prepare, not to mention giving up your Saturday morning and hard-earned money to pay for registration fees. But once you get through it the first time, the second time really is a charm. Here are five reasons you should take the SAT or ACT more than once:

1) To overcome first-test jitters:

College Board studies show that more than 50% of students that take the test a second time will raise their scores. You’ll be more familiar with the test structure and timing on the second go-round, plus you’ll be less stressed, since you’ve already completed it once before. Chyten’s actual conditions practice tests can help work out the kinks, as well.

2) To get more money for college:

A higher test score means greater scholarship opportunities and the possibly of better financial aid offers. Increasing your test scores even by a small amount could boost you into a new score range and open up tons of new scholarship and grant possibilities. Make sure you know what score you need to achieve to be considered for additional offers. Call your admissions office to find out.

3) To get to the top of the list:

If you find yourself on the wait list of your top choice school, sending higher test scores may help your chance of getting accepted. Try to send higher scores as soon as possible, along with other compelling reasons they should choose you. A better application, all around, will certainly help your chances.

4) You can choose which scores get sent to colleges:

Hold your scores, don’t send them automatically! If you don’t get the results you’re looking for on the first attempt, all you have to do is rock the test on the next try and the admissions office will never know about that first score. Soon you’ll be on your way to the college of your choice!

5) To upgrade your education:

If your college plans didn’t work out the way you had hoped and you’re taking a gap year or going to community college first, try taking the test again, when you’re ready to move forward. You’ll be older, wiser, and hopefully more confident, so you’ll have a better chance of getting into that first choice school you had planned for all along.


Chyten offers College Counseling Boot Camp

Late this summer, Chyten will be offering a week-long boot camp which will help students learn about application timelines, construction of college lists, college resumes and interviewing. Test planning for a student’s senior year (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests) will also be discussed in depth! We will also work on our personal statements for our college application essays. By the time students leave this class at the end of the week, our goals are for each student to have a workable college list, all the data necessary to plug into their applications, whether using Common App,, or individual college application websites. Students are encouraged to bring a laptop (or iPad), so they can work as we go along and save all of the data and essays we will be accumulating.

Tuition for this critically important workshop  – which will take place from September 9-13 from 6:00-8:30 PM  – is $495.

Stacey Caskey, a certified college counselor, will be teaching this highly informative and tremendously worthwhile serie. The College Counseling boot camp will sell out quickly! Call us or register on our website today!


Finding the right pre-college summer program

What comes to mind when you think of summer? Summer job? Fun in the sun? Travel? How about college preparation? And did you know that colleges will take note of how you have used your summers as an indication of your educational preparation?

Working at a summer job can certainly help you save money for college and provide adult mentors, but think about investing some time at a summer program on a college campus. Many are free or low cost, with scholarship options. The right choice can help you learn what it’s like to be in college, where your career interests can lead you, and how to connect with more people who can help you in the college process.
Find a program that fits your academic area of interest or just narrow down the list of things that seem of interest.
  • Many colleges and universities host summer programs for high school students. Finding a program on a college campus will expose you to the college experience and help orient you for college life.
  • Ask your local college or university about the programs they offer. Or, if you know what college you might want to attend after high school, look there.
  • Many programs are associated with some type of cost, so be mindful of that. If cost is a concern, ask the program if they have financial aid or fee waivers. And also be aware that there are free summer programs out there.
  • Registration deadlines are extremely important. Some programs accept every student who applies, and some are very selective. The best way to ensure your selection is to apply early. Make sure all necessary documentation is in your application so that it can be processed and so that you can be considered for the program of your choice.

What are you hoping to get out of your pre-college program?

This is a basic one, but it’s absolutely crucial to answer before you can really narrow down any of your choices from a college summer programs search. It’s important to determine if what you’re looking for is an experience of life on your own, or academic opportunities, or an experience of a new location, or anything else. You can read more about pre-college summer programs.

Answering this question is not going to mean that you shouldn’t look at the other traits or qualities of potential pre-college programs. But it does mean that in your search for college summer programs, you’ll have an idea of what the most important criterion is for you. If you want to go to a new place, a new location, somewhere you’ve never been before, then you’ll know not to pick some place to which you’ve traveled previously. If you want to know what life is like on your own, then you’ll know not to pick some place very close to home. If you want to go somewhere to further your own academic interests, then you’ll know to be certain that the program you choose is providing courses or academic opportunities in your subject.

What’s the duration of the pre-college program?

Another simple one, right? Well, maybe not. See, there are going to be all manner of pre-college programs available to you to choose from, and the duration of those programs is going to change your own experience. If you’re there for 3 weeks, that’s going to be entirely different from being there for 12 weeks. What’s more, if you’re at any one of the college summer programs that interest you for a relatively short amount of time, then it may be possible for you to attend more than one of those college summer programs to get an even more varied experience.

Chances are, this question is going to be most important in light of the prior question. If you’re looking into pre-college programs for an experience of life on your own, then you may want a longer program, to get your feet under you and really get a taste for that flavor of life. If you want to see some new places, or experience what life is like across different college campuses, then chances are you’ll want to go to a number of different college summer programs if you can. If you want academic opportunities, then a single, longer program which has excellent offerings may be right for you.

Regardless, though, the length of the pre-college programs you’re looking at is going to have a significant impact on whether or not you feel they’re right for you.

What’s the cost of these pre-college programs?

Chances are that if you’re a student, then you’re not going to be paying for your pre-college programs yourself, straight out of your own pocket. There’ll be exceptions of course, and for those students who are paying for any pre-college programs, the cost is going to be even more important. But even if your parents are willing to pay for the college summer programs you might choose to attend, or if you managed to get some kind of scholarship, the cost is still going to be very important to your overall choices.

You’re going to want to know the costs of living in the area, the costs of food, and the costs of anything else you might choose to do, be that traveling, participating in activities, or anything. Keep in mind that some cities will host college summer programs with significantly greater expenses than might others. Rural college summer programs especially should have a low cost.

College Admissions 101: What your student needs to know

It’s not your parents’ college search. Way back in the days of yore, high school students pored over college guidebooks the size of doorstops, actually used the Post Office to communicate with admission offices, and painstakingly filled in their applications using a typewriter.

Those guidebooks can still be a big help, but students today have many more ways to research and apply to colleges. The Internet has made gathering information easy. But it can be hard to tell whether all that information is reliable. And online applications can make envelopes and stamps seem positively archaic. But electronic applications can be just as tricky as their paper counterparts. What’s a high-tech student to do?

For some helpful hints on using the latest technology in your college search, read on!

Lesson One: Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true. Okay, so that seems really basic for a tech-savvy person like yourself. But it’s important to keep in mind for everyone that ever received an email about a nonexistent virus. (Quick! Forward this to 200 of your closest friends or the world will end!)

This lesson holds true for college-search sites, too. You probably won’t find listings for nonexistent colleges. But you could end up with out-of-date application deadlines or lists of majors. Also, most college search sites include only the colleges that paid the site to list them. That’s why you’ll get different college lists from different sites (even if you plug in the same preferences).

“Use comparative Web sites only for a general feel and opinions,” advises a representative from the University of Southern California. “Even the best can be only as good as the information they’re given.”

In other words, use the college-search sites as a starting point. Don’t depend on just one site—get lists from several of them. Then go to the Web sites of individual colleges to get the real scoop.

Lesson Two: Don’t judge a college by its Web site. You can learn a lot about a college from its Web site. Many colleges have extensive sites that include faculty and student Web pages, detailed information about majors and programs, and even virtual campus tours.

Other colleges have more basic Web sites: They may have good information, but they’re definitely not high on the “wow!” meter.

Don’t be fooled by the quality (or lack of quality) of a college Web site. A poor Web site tells you only that the college has not yet invested a lot in its Web presence. It says next to nothing about the quality of the college itself.

“The college with the best Web site—just like the one with the best publication—is not always the best college for a particular student,” says a representative at Alfred University (NY).

The one exception to this principle may be students interested in a high-tech major. A well-done Web site may indicate a greater commitment to keeping up with the latest technology. That may not matter much to a history major, but a potential Web designer or software programmer may need a college on the cutting edge.

Lesson Three: Go undercover. Of course, you need to know a college’s majors, activities, and application requirements. But don’t stop with the admission office’s home page.

“First, look for the student newspaper online, and second, look for links to students’ Web pages,” says a director of admission at an Oregon institution. “You can find good ‘unofficial’ or ‘undercover’ information on the institution.” Plus, you can e-mail students and ask them questions about the school.

Undercover information can give you a more in-depth view of the college. It can tell you what the hot issues on campus are (fraternities? politics? bad cafeteria food?) and what students are interested in.

Other pages that can give you good information:

Faculty home pages—some post detailed syllabuses of their classes.
Department home pages—get information about majors from the people who teach them.
Student organizations—check out the schedule for clubs and teams or see what resolutions were passed by the Student Senate.
Alumni association pages—what are alumni of the college doing now? What is the college doing for its alumni?

Lesson Four: An application is an application. Most colleges accept both paper and electronic applications. Many colleges prefer electronic applications because they make it easier to track student data. However, the type of application submitted won’t make a difference in the admission decision.

Tech-savvy students may find applying electronically to be easier and more efficient. But there are some pitfalls to electronic applications.

Some paper applications can be difficult to read due to poor handwriting and some online applications are hard to read because students slip into their poor e-mail writing patterns.

It’s easy to click a button and send an application to a college. But make sure that you take an online application just as seriously as a paper one.

Lesson Five: Sometimes old ways are best. One of the best resources in the college search and application process is still your guidance or college counselor. He or she has firsthand information on colleges, has helped hundreds of students through the process, and can get to know you face to face. Even the most technologically advanced Web site can’t top that!