Fictional School Rankings

College Admissions, College Applications, Test Anxiety, Uncategorized
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Number 1:  Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Somewhere, Scotland

Tuition and fees: $42,752

Enrollment:  about 300

Setting: Rural

While many Muggles will only see ruins and warnings of danger, the Hogwarts castle has been on the Daily Prophet’s most beautiful campus list since its founding in the 10th century. Hogwarts offers a wide variety of challenging classes to give every witch or wizard the best possible magical education.

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Number 2:  Xavier’s Gifted School for Youngsters - New York, USA

Tuition and fees: Unknown

Enrollment:  Varies, first class was 8

Setting: Suburban

Mutatis Mutandis. Located on historic grounds, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters has long been an institution that promotes equality between mutants and humans. Class sizes are very small and students have the unique opportunity to learn from teachers just like them.
*Note: Pre-req for admissions – must be a mutant

X Men


Number 3:  Jedi Academy - Coruscant, A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Tuition and fees: Unknown

Enrollment:  First post-war class – 12

Setting: Urban

Jedis have suffered from persecution throughout the history of the galaxy. While Jedi Academies were banned and destroyed during the Great Jedi Purge, since the Galactic Civil War many locations have re-opened to provide young Jedi quality instruction in the ways of the Force.

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Number 4:  I.F. Battle School - Space Station, Orbiting Earth

Tuition and fees: Unknown

Enrollment:  about 650

Setting: Galactic

The Battle School not only gives students a top notch education but also trains them for war with the Formics. At the Battle School students learn military strategy and tactics as well as mathematics and science. Before graduation students must also pass  mock battle simulations. Graduates of the Battle School also stand a very good chance of later acceptance to the Command School.

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Number 5:  Starfleet Academy - San Francisco, California, U.S.A., Earth

Tuition and fees: Money does not exist in this time period

Enrollment: High

Setting: Urban

Founded in 2161, Starfleet Academy has an excellent reputation for training Starfleet officer corps. It’s stellar reputation is upheld by a rigorous entrance exam. Notable alumni include Jean-Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway. Ex astris, scientia; From the stars, knowledge!

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Number 6:  Empire State University - New York, United States

Tuition and fees: about $34,000

Enrollment:  about 22,000

Setting: Urban

ESU has been compared to both NYU and Columbia University.  Empire State has a policy of integration, making sure all types of students feel welcome – human and mutant alike. Given this history, ESU has many notable alumni including Peter Parker, Johnny Storm, Gwen Stacy and Emma Frost.

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Number 7:  Camp Half-Blood - Long Island, New York, U.S.A.  

Tuition and fees: Free (must be half-blood)

Enrollment:  37

Setting: Rural

While Camp Half-Blood has had some reputation issues as a party school (being run by Dionysus), there is no better school for demi-gods in the world! Camp Half-Blood is a safe environment in which demi-gods can grow and mature amongst their peers while  maintaining ties to the outside world.

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Number 8:  Pennbrook University - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Tuition and fees: about $43,000

Enrollment: about 9,250

Setting: Suburban

One Pennbrook University student chose to attend PU over an acceptance to Yale. She told people this was because of the friends and community she was sure to find while attending Pennbrook. With world class professors like Mr. Feeny, who could say no to Pennbrook? Go Penguins!

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Number 9:  Greendale Community College - Colorado, United States

Tuition and fees: $64 per credit hour

Enrollment:  about 21,000

Setting: Suburban

GCC may not be at the top academically, but it’s definitely an affordable option! With over 80 fields of study including air conditioning repair school, all headed up by a very colorful dean, Greendale is a fun place to obtain a degree. Notable alumni of GCC include Luiz Guzman! Greendale also features many options for getting involved on campus and even features an annual paintball tournament.  



Number 10:  Hudson University - New York, New York, U.S.A.

Tuition and fees: unknown

Enrollment: mid-range

Setting: Urban

Hudson University has long been described as a campus having a very high crime rate.  However, the University has a very close relationship with the NYPD and most cases are solved relatively quickly. If you choose to attend Hudson University be sure to have the NYPD SVU unit on speed dial.

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We hope that this list has given you a welcome break from the stress of the U.S. News College Rankings.  Be sure you go to the college that is best for you — rankings are very, very subjective.  

–Brian Stewart

Pros and Cons of Doing a Gap Year Between High School and College

College Admissions, College Applications, High School, Test Anxiety
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There is no rule saying that you have to go to college immediately after high school.  So often, we become stuck in doing things simply because they are “the next thing” to do.  You may want to think about doing a Gap Year – take a year off between high school graduation and college to do a whole host of things.  Here are several reasons to do a gap year. 

1.       You want to see what different careers are like.  The best way to see what a career actually entails is to do some job shadowing.  If you are coming out of high school and you feel torn among several career options, taking the time to do some internships or apprenticeships may be a great way to spend a year. 

2.       You want to build work skills.  With as competitive as it has become to find jobs after college graduation, having a year of real world work experience may set you apart from other applicants.  If you are in a financial position to be able to do unpaid internships, you’ll have no trouble finding opportunities to build great work skills.  If you must work part time, try to fit in at least one day a week of job shadowing in areas about which you are more passionate. 

3.       You know that you need to build your independence and self-discipline.  Freshman year is a time when many students “go nuts” since they are out from under the watchful eyes of their parents.  If you know that you are not prepared to handle yourself in a totally free environment, take a bit of time to get yourself together before having a terrible freshman year experience. 

4.       You want to travel.  The year before college is a fantastic time to see the world.  Even if you have little spending money, you could find a job teaching English in another country, being a tour guide, or house sitting for a wealthy family.  Travel may help you clarify your thoughts about what you want to do with your life before you invest tens of thousands of dollars in your education. 

5.       You want to improve your college applications.  Perhaps you’ve already been accepted to a school, but you would really like to go to a more selective institution.  You can potentially use a gap year to improve your college application.  You can focus on improving your AP, ACT and SAT test scores, and more importantly, having some in-depth extracurricular involvement that will distinguish you from other applicants. 

6.       You are already in, but you need a break before starting.  Many colleges will allow you to defer admission for a year if you would like to spend some time working or travelling prior to matriculation.    

Now, here are some reasons not to do a gap year. 

1.       You don’t want to lose academic skills.  It is said that the first 2 months of school after summer break are spent reviewing material from the previous year.  If you know that you are going to have a difficult time getting back in the academic groove, you may as well go to college right after high school. 

2.       You feel ready and eager for the independence of college.  Many students, more frequently female ones in my observation, find that they are ready to move on from the confines of high school and living with their parents. If you are ready to spread your wings, having a gap year when you will have to live at home may be an absolute nightmare.  If you are particularly ready to move on to the next level, you may consider graduating a year early!  I know many students who have done this. 

3.       You are planning on lots of education after college.  If you are planning on becoming a doctor, earning a Ph.D. or doing post-doctoral research, you probably don’t want to add another year to when you will be able to begin your career.   (Then again, if you want to avoid burn-out and the fear of regretting that you have only been in school you entire life, taking a gap year may in fact be a good idea!)    

Thanks for reading.  If you found this helpful, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  –Brian Stewart


10 Real Worst Case Scenarios when Taking the ACT, SAT and PSAT and How to Handle Them

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT SAT Registration, PSAT, SAT Prep, Test Anxiety
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It can help you prepare for the ACT & SAT by knowing some of the worst things that could happen to you when testing.  In my years of tutoring, here are 10 things that I have had students actually experience while taking the ACT, SAT or PSAT. 

1.       A Bird Flew Through the Window of the Testing Room!  While everyone else completely freaked out about this, my student was able to remain calm and focused.  The proctors ended up giving the room 5 extra minutes to finish the test section, and my student ended up doing quite well!    

2.       The Proctor Messed Up the Timing.  This has happened a few times to my students over the years, and even happened to me once in high school.  The only recourses afterthis happens are to (A) complain to the proctor directly after the timing error, (B) complain to the test site administrator directly after the test is done, (C) complain directly to ACT or SAT, or (D) ACT or SAT will give you a credit to take the test another time free of charge.  Unfortunately, the damage is already done at this point.  The better thing to do is to make sure that a proctor timing error never happens in the first place.  Here are three ways to do all you can to prevent proctor errors:

  • Gently ask the proctor if he or she will be keeping time on a watch or a clock, and how often they will tell you when there is time remaining.  This subtle reminder certainly can’t hurt anything.  It can help in the sense that proctors are reading the instructions about timing as a script – sometimes they may not really be processing what they are reading.  By asking a polite question about timing before testing begins, you may be helping the proctor remember what he or she has to do.
  • Bring a watch.  How can you be sure that timing was off unless you keep time yourself? 
  • Take the test at a place that has been doing it a while.  Most of the proctoring errors my students have had have occurred at test sites where the ACT or SAT has not been administered very long.  The proctors are not familiar with the whole process, and they are more inclined to mess things up.  If you are not sure about how long a school has been administering the test at that center, call the school directly and they can likely tell you. 

For an interesting article on how the SAT responded when their proctors made errors, read this New York Times piece:

3.       You are Accused of Cheating by the ACT or SAT.  Over all my years of teaching, I have only had one student have this happen.  He had a sizeable score improvement after we worked together, and based on reasons unknown to me, the ACT felt that he had cheated.  They offered him the opportunity to take the test again, but it was too late for him to do it again for his college application.  I don’t mean to alarm any of you, but I can assure you that having this happen is very, very  rare.  If your score is significantly different  from previous scores and if your scores are significantly out of line with your grades, it may raise some eyeballs, but the standard of proof is extraordinarily high.  The worst that seems to happen in a case like this is that you will have to retake the test. 

4.       Your Batteries Run Out on Your Calculator.  I had this happen to a student in the spring of his Junior year on the ACT – he turned in his booklet before testing was over and cancelled his scores.  If this happens to you on the test, I would encourage you to keep on trying – most of the questions can be done without a calculator.  This is more the case on the ACT than the SAT, but is still applicable on both.  Prevent this from happening by putting in new batteries the night before the test, and also bringing a simple backup calculator. 

5.       You Have a Panic Attack While Testing.  This happened to a of mine student once, and she let it run its course and continued testing.  If this does happen to you, know that it will probably pass and just do your very best.  Prevent this from happening by mentally preparing for the test by addressing your test anxiety ahead of time:

6.       You Have a Small Desk.  There is nothing you can do about this once you are there.  You need to take care of this ahead of time by registering to take the ACT or SAT at a location where they provide larger desks.  The general rule is that high schools have larger desks and colleges have smaller ones. 

7.       You Have a Proctor on a Power Trip.  Usually, test proctors want to be left alone to read their novels.  On occasion, you will find a proctor who thinks it is their mission to intimidate test takers.  Just know that they have very little power to do anything other than to seem mean.  As long as you are not doing anything to cheat, such as going back and doing questions for a section that is already completed, you will have nothing to worry about. 

8.       There is a Distracting Student Right Next to You!  Some students are able to tune this out, but for those who can’t, there are two things you can do:  (A) ask the proctor if he or she can do something about it because it is distracting you and (B) bring earplugs to the test – just be certain that you are able to hear the proctor instructions. 

9.       The Testing Facility is Burning Hot or Way Too Cold!  You’re stuck with this unless you plan ahead.  Wear layers to the test so that you can adjust to the building temperature.

10.   You are Distracted by People Cheating.  Know that the SAT and ACT have rigorous measures in place to catch cheaters – for example, they can compare the answers of people sitting close to one another to see if there unusual patterns.  You are welcome to voice your concerns to the proctor or test site administrator, but ACT and SAT will allow you to contact them anonymously using this contact information found below:

How can you avoid problems like these in general? 

1.       Don’t wait until the last minute to take the test.  Take it in your junior year – please don’t wait until the fall of your senior year to take it, because you will have no time to retake it if there is a testing mishap. 

2.       Focus on controlling what you can and letting the rest go.  This is good advice for life in general, but is very applicable here.  Try to go into your own little world while you test as best you can.

3.       Be assertive when needed.  If you have an incompetent proctor or there is a distracting test-taker, let someone know about it!  It will do you no good to just sit around and complain about it – colleges will only see your score.  

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Which Letter is Best to Guess on the ACT, SAT, GED, GRE and other major tests?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, GED, PSAT, SAT Prep, SAT Subject Tests, Test Anxiety
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“Always Guess C!”  How did I learn the hard way the reality of which letter is best to guess? 

Last December, I was tutoring a young lady for the ACT.  I advised her to guess on quite a few questions  because she had difficulty with time management.  On her math practice test, she guessed “C” on the last 20 questions.  Much to my surprise, she only got one of them correct! 

After discovering this, I looked at every publicly available ACT test to see if there was a pattern on the last few questions of the Math test.  On every single one, I found that “C” or “H” (the middle choice of the 5 since the ACT alternates between ABCDE and FGHJK on the Math Questions) was used less frequently than the other choices. 

I thought about it, and it made sense to me why this would be true.  1.  Most students don’t finish the ACT Math section.  2.  Most students guess “C” when they run out of time. 

So, I figured that ACT realized that people guessing “C” quite a bit at the end must be blindly guessing rather than actually knowing the material.  I guessed that they were trying to punish these guessers by turning conventional wisdom on its head and penalizing those who followed the “Guess C!” rule of thumb. 

I thought I was on to something – I advised my students prior to the December ACT to not guess C on the last 10-20 math questions.  I was really excited that I had discovered a hidden strategy that I hadn’t found stated elsewhere. 

Then, I took the ACT in December and ordered the question/answer service so I could review my answers.  And guess what:  THEY USED “C” A WHOLE BUNCH ON THE LAST FEW QUESTIONS OF THE MATH!  I had given my students terrible advice for that test date.  Fortunately, the rest of my advice was much more sound.   ;-)

Lesson learned – one letter is as good as any other on major tests like the ACT or SAT.  If it were as easy as picking a particular letter, why on earth would colleges put any stock in these tests? 

How Going to a Great High School can Negatively Affect your SAT and ACT Performance

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, High School, SAT Prep, Test Anxiety
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One would think that going to a top-notch public or private high school could only help one’s performance on major tests like the ACT or SAT.  Although having a top-notch high school education is indeed helpful for one’s performance on these tests, I have found that it occasionally can harm students.  How? 

Students expect that they should KNOW how to do all the problems.  Why wouldn’t they?  After all, they have excellent teachers and great academic resources.  Many elite private school students with whom I have worked become easily frustrated when they don’t see how to solve things right away. 

What should they realize?  The SAT and ACT do not test your knowledge – they test your critical thinking ability.  If they tested your knowledge, they would be much more like the SAT Subject Tests or the AP tests.  Colleges use the SAT and ACT to have a window into how well students can problem solve and figure out things they haven’t seen before.  Having it set up this way gives students who do not attend really good high schools the potential to demonstrate that they have quite a bit of room for academic growth, given the right academic environment. 

If you attend a great high school, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t immediately understand a problem or a passage –  let things happen rather than making them happen in your thought process.  If you do not attend a great high school, know that the SAT and ACT will give you the opportunity to show your intellectual potential. 

I hope you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

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