Preparing for College

Will Low SAT Scores Keep First-Gen Hispanic Out of Cal and UCLA?

Question: I am a Hispanic student who is in his junior year of high school. My grades are good;however, my standardize test scores are low. I have a 1680 in the SAT (480 Reading, 680 Math, and 500 Writing) and a 24 in the ACT (English 21 (22 with writing), 33 in math, 20 in reading, and 23 in science). My dream school is Cal and/or UCLA. I plan to major in math or statistics. However, due to my test scores, I do not think that I have a chance to make it to these schools. I wanted to ask if the fact that I have a speech impediment, I am first generation to go to college, and I am the oldest of five will help my application. Thanks.

College admission officials will definitely take your ethnicity and background into consideration. Your speech impediment won't be either a plus or a minus unless you make it work in your favor. You might do this by writing your college essay about overcoming whatever challenges it has presented. (Perhaps you were teased by other students? Or you used to be fearful of answering questions in class but have pushed past those fears?) If you choose to write your essay about something else (for instance, growing up as the oldest of five would be a good topic), you can explain your speech problem in the "Additional Information" section that you'll find on many applications or in a supplementary letter to admission committees. (The gist of your explanation should not be simply that you have this problem but that you've surmounted it, and it's made you stronger.)

However, do note that public universities typically have stricter test-score cut-offs than private colleges may. You might want to consider some private schools--especially those with fairly low Hispanic populations that are looking to diversify their student population. (Would you consider going out of California and, if so, where are you willing to go?)

Moreover, your test scores aren't as low as you seem to think they are. Your writing and Critical Reading scores are weak for Cal and UCLA, but your math score is good. Since you are a prospective math or stats major, this will work in your favor as well. In addition, you're just a junior now. If you re-test in the fall, you may find that your scores go up a bit, even without any further test preparation. You might also want to try the SAT Subject Test in math. Even when not required, a good score can highlight your strength in this area. Check with your current math teacher if you're not sure whether the Math 1 or Math 2 Subject Test is the best one for you or read this information from the College Board that explains some of the differences between the two tests:

So let me know how far from home you would be willing to travel. Remember, private colleges are sometimes cheaper than public colleges. Although their price tags are usually higher, they also can have more money to give away. And you will often get more personal attention in a small private college than you would get in a huge state university.

(posted 3/3/2011)