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Suniti's Advice Corner

Sonali Mathur

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Juniors! 4 Ways to Make the Most of Winter Break

Posted by Sonali Mathur on Tue, Dec 11, 2012



Yes, finals are over and the holiday season has begun. But don't lose steam just as yet. Keep up your strong work ethic to use the winter break to get ahead of the game. What game am I talking about? Applying to colleges of course! The upcoming year is going to be about you. Your parents, counselors and advisors are going to help you put your best foot forward as you apply to colleges but there is only so much they can do if you are not prepared.


Use this winter break to do the following 4 things:

1. Start your research

There are over two thousand four-year colleges and universities in the United States. You owe it to yourself to pick the college or university that best suits your educational needs and future aspirations. Books such as The Fiske Guide to Colleges and The Insider’s Guide to Colleges are  good resources as you start thinking about this serious question. Don't stop there. Talk to current students or alums from schools you have shortlisted to get a sense of what student life is like. 

2. Make a test prep calendar

Take out a calendar and start with the end in mind. You want to be done with taking the SAT/ACT by November 2016 at the latest. So circle that in first, then work backwards from there.

I recommend taking the SAT/ACT at least twice. Once in the spring of your junior year and once in the fall of your senior year. You can register for your spring test now to help you set a goal (U.S. SAT registrations or U.S. ACT registration). Check your prospective college website to see if they recommend taking the SAT subject tests. If so, budget in preparation for the SAT IIs as well.
(Related Article: 7 Ways to Get Ready for the SAT/ACT this Winter Break)

Get in the habit of populating your calendar with other important dates such as midterms because balancing applying to colleges while maintaining grades is essential in getting into a top U.S. college.

3. Start preparing for the SAT/ACT

Your calendar must be looking full now! It might seem like your spring test date is just around the corner. Winter break is the best time to get ahead in test preparation because you don't have competing demands such as midterms, homework or finals to worry about. Preparation is key in achieving your target SAT/ACT score.

4. Reflect! 

Yes, this one sounds odd, but do it! Use your break to quickly assess the following two things:

  1. Do you have a good relationship with your teachers and counselor? Be honest. If the answer is no or so-so, go into the new year with a mindset of changing that because teacher and counselor recommendations are a crucial part of your application.

  2. What about extracurricular activities? If you have been seriously involved in a couple of activities, keep up the good work. If you have been dabbling in a few, it is time to pick 1-2 activities that interest you most and pursue them to the fullest this coming year. Admissions professionals are not looking for a laundry list of activities but a handful of activities where you have shown meaningful involvement and leadership.

There is a lot of advice you will encounter about what more you can be doing. While there is always more, I assure you, that if you focus on the four tasks outlined above, you will be in good shape, if not great shape, at the start of 2016.

Let's get started!

Your private tutor,


TestRocker Private Tutor

Suniti is the creator of TestRocker, an award winning personalized ACT and SAT program. For a free trial (no credit card) required, click here. If you are a parent and want to learn why TestRocker is the best program for your teen, visit our parent page here.

Tags: For Students

6 Things to Consider When Shortlisting U.S. Colleges as an International Student

Posted by Sonali Mathur on Wed, Nov 28, 2012


colleges in usa 

What is your learning style?

Some colleges provide small classes or seminars where you have considerable interaction with the professor and are expected to participate in class. Big state universities have many classes in the form of lectures with large class sizes where you can be more anonymous. Pick a college that best matches your learning style.


 international student

Is it important for you to be with other international students?

Even some of the top-ranked institutions in the U.S. have few international students. If it is important to you that there are students from your country at the school, you will have to do some research and perhaps even stick to bigger schools.

 applying to college

Is there a dedicated international student office?

If the university is dedicated to international student welfare, they should have an international student office led by an experienced professional. Such a resource can be useful in answering questions about student visas, work permits, internships, etc. They can also provide useful information on things like where to store your belongings during summer break, how to get a driver’s license, etc. 

 best college

How far is the closest international airport?

Many great colleges and universities are located in remote locations. Such institutions boast of a fantastic campus life. However, be aware you might have to take multiple trains, planes and buses just to access an international airport to go home during breaks. This can also make it harder for your family to visit you.

 international student

Where do you plan to live after graduation?

Shortlist universities just by looking at US News rankings if you plan to live in the U.S. Otherwise, consider the college’s reputation in your country. Some very highly ranked colleges & universities don’t have a strong presence or alumni in countries outside the United States. 


How expensive is the college or university?

Unfortunately, the majority of U.S. colleges don’t offer financial aid for international students. Don’t forget to take expenses beyond tuition into account such as housing, living & travel. Do your research.

International student guide Like what you've read?  Download our FREE GUIDE!

Tags: For Students

Getting Creative: Ideas for Counselors at Small High Schools

Posted by Sonali Mathur on Fri, Nov 02, 2012

High School Counselors

College counseling at a small school can be an enviable position because of the opportunity to directly impact each student’s path and take pride in their college placement. However, come application time, you might not feel so blessed with competing demands on your time from student break downs to hundreds of emails from over-involved parents.

The truth is counselors at smallhigh schools wear many hats, often with fewer resources. At a session titled “Challenges and opportunities of college counseling at small high schools” at the NACAC 2012 conference in Denver, three high school counselors shared their tips on how to successfully navigate the challenges you face in this role.

Get to know your students in class

Try to teach students in their junior year so that you can get to know them better. This will eliminate the need to have one-on-one sessions just to ‘get to know’ students so that you can write their recommendation letter with ease. John Kurdelak from Trinity School at Greenlawn in Indiana follows this practice and uses 5 minutes of the start of his class to answer questions about the college application process since very often students have the same questions.

Take advantage of the ups and downs of the admissions cycle

You know things are going to get hectic close to application time so work ahead. Consider drafting school recommendations over summer break. You can finalize your recommendations closer to application time but at least you’ll have something drafted for every student that you can easily add to.

Help me, help you

Similarly, you should encourage students to draft their essays early so that you can have some time to review them. Set up sessions on financial aid/scholarships and the ins and outs of the Common App early. Make it mandatory for students to attend. This way you can save precious one-on-one time with the student on things like building college lists and giving feedback on their essays. Getting information out in groups is not only efficient but leads to more questions because students feel secure in groups. Even those who are nervous about asking questions might have the questions answered through another student.

Parents can be babies

College applications can make parents very anxious. They see it as an important crossroad for their child and have thousands of questions regarding the process. Ellen Masten, counselor at York School in California said, “ Worried parents need attention. Communicate with them. Always be firm, but fair.” One tactic is to create parent newsletters that can be sent home. These newsletters should contain college tips and reminders. Masten said she also schedules six special college related evenings for parents where she can answer their questions at once. She creates handouts on all the material she covers so that it can easily be emailed to those who could not make the session. 

College admission reps want to be your friends

When you are a small school it is all the more important for college reps to get to know your school well so that they can better evaluate applicants from your school. If you don’t offer AP or IB classes, the burden is on you to explain the rigor of your curriculum. Encourage college reps to come to your school at a time many students can attend. If the rep can’t come in person, you can set up a Skype meeting with the rep and your students suggests counselor Judy Schmitt from Chandler Preparatory Academy in Arizona. She also suggested creating a consortium of small schools in your area and creating a students-only college fair to attract more college reps to your area.

Don’t go the distance alone

You’ve got a big task ahead. To make sure you’re using your time efficiently, that is, focused on actually counseling students, enlist help from others to help you with the less value-add albeit necessary tasks. You can enlist other teachers in your school or even parents to help students set up their Common Application, make endless transcript copies, advertise the college fair you have organized, etc. Just show them how to do it once.

We would love to hear from you! Do you have suggestions for small high school counselors on how to juggle competing demands on their time? Please comment below.

Tags: For Counselors

Practical tips: How to get your students to apply for scholarships

Posted by Sonali Mathur on Wed, Oct 10, 2012

Yes, scholarships are wonderful for college bound students because they reduce debt burden. But scholarships are also important for schools because when students win prestigious awards, it enhances the school’s reputation.  If you are a small school looking to improve visibility with colleges or even a large school trying to increase community pride in your school, you should be encouraging your students to apply for scholarships.

NACAC 2012 Denver resized 600At a session titled “Helping students find and win private scholarships”, Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of fastweb.com and finaid.org provided some practical and actionable tips. First, Kantrowitz pointed out that schools shouldn’t make group announcements when they announce scholarships because very few students will apply. A better method is to have teachers or counselors encourage students individually, followed up by a personal letter to the parents.

Second, Kantrowitz said it is necessary to track and publicize scholarship statistics from your school to create a tradition of applying to scholarships and a culture of pride. How to get students to self-report scholarships they have applied for? By celebrating winners! Consider announcing scholarship recipients at graduation ceremonies and profiling winners in your school paper. Inspire community pride by sending a press release to the local paper when your student wins a prestigious scholarship.

Students should look both offline and online when searching for scholarships. The best offline resource is the public library, which houses books listing scholarships. Libraries also often have scholarship announcements on their bulletin boards. Kantrowitz said another offline resource is the coupon section of your Sunday newspaper, where big companies often advertise their scholarships. Of course, there are a plethora of online resources but the best free scholarship matching services are Fastweb, CollegeBoard, and Peterson’s. A point to note here – free scholarship-matching services are comprehensive and there might not be any need to subscribe to any for fee scholarship matching services.

Like everything else, tell your students to think about scholarships early. Kantrowitz pointed out that students often wait till spring of senior year and have missed half the deadlines already. In fact, some scholarships are aimed specifically at younger classes. Also, writing essays for scholarships is good practice for college applications so thinking about scholarships early doesn’t hurt. Encourage your students to be authentic in their essays giving specific examples and anecdotes that reflect their passion. Very often, scholarships are funded by private donors and these donors want to be able to connect with the student by reading their essays.

Students with good grades and above average standardized test scores are more likely to win scholarships. Increase the chance of your students winning scholarships by making them aware of test prep options. Ask teachers or parents for help in setting up mock interview sessions for your students. If possible, videotape the students’ mock interviews so that they can self identify their bad habits such as overuse of the words ‘um’ and ‘like’.  During this time you can also give students tips about proper attire and etiquette. After all, this is the first time most of them will be in a formal interview setting.

Above all, encourage your students to apply! Tell them to always remember that they’ll miss 100% of the shots they don’t take.

You can read Mark Kantrowitz’s bio here.

Tags: For Counselors

TestRocker, a new online learning platform, to be launched in December 2012

Posted by Sonali Mathur on Mon, Oct 01, 2012

Daughters team up with Mother to transform the way students prepare for and perform in the SAT and ACT

New York, NY (Marketwire – October 1, 2012):  In December 2012, educator Suniti Mathur and her daughters, Sonali and Urvashi will launch TestRocker- a unique and personalized online education platform for standardized test preparation. 

TestRocker is based on Suniti’s highly successful and proven method of teaching; a method she has perfected over a decade of tutoring thousands of students in USA, UK, Australia and Asia, to reach their full potential and maximize their SAT and ACT scores.  Her simple and intuitive approach has now been adapted for the online space.  A student who recently had access to TestRocker’s beta site said, “I found the content superb and the execution really professional. It seems as if she is teaching you personally and the concepts become very clear.” 

Suniti’s track record of success led to more requests for tutoring than she was able to accommodate. “I hated turning students away,” said Suniti, “especially since these were all word-of-mouth referrals. I had never actually advertised anywhere, yet all of a sudden I found myself tutoring students all over the world for fourteen hours a day ”. This became a topic of conversation with her two daughters – Sonali, who was working in strategy at a leading tech startup in New York and Urvashi, an account executive at one of the world’s premier advertising agencies. 

Why couldn’t they combine their skills and find a way to share Suniti’s approach to learning with the three million students who take the SAT and ACT each year, wherever they may be in the world? These discussions led to the creation of TestRocker.

 “When I was at Harvard Business School, I never dreamt that I would eventually launch a business with my mother and sister. But the encouragement from students, parents and school counselors has been so strong that I was convinced we needed to create TestRocker. I jumped right in!” said Sonali Mathur, CEO of TestRocker and Suniti’s elder daughter. 

 In March, TestRocker tested its content with students in different parts of the world.  The results were exciting. For instance, after reviewing TestRocker’s grammar content once, students saw an average score increase of 38% and a decrease in average time taken by 35%.  After completing the testing mentioned above, 84% of students said,I am more confident about my test-taking abilities.”

 Based on these results, TestRocker will launch its first product offering in December – SAT test prep. After a one-time payment, students will begin by taking a diagnostic test to assess their strengths and weaknesses and gain access to a customized study plan, which they can follow to study smarter not longer. Content design has been guided by constant interaction with students and their counselors to ensure its effectiveness in helping students.

 The customized study plan takes the guessing out of where to start and how much to study. “Having a personalized game plan reduces students’ anxiety and gives them the confidence to attempt any question because they feel adequately prepared,” said Suniti Mathur, TestRocker’s Ultimate Private Tutor and Chief Content Officer.

TestRocker’s SAT program will consist of over 1,000 questions with Suniti’s video explanations. The course caters to students at all levels of proficiencies by breaking out the questions into easy, medium, and hard. Additionally, Suniti has chosen question types that are frequently seen on the SAT and demonstrates how to tackle them in under a minute. Her explanations show students how to solve the problem using the most “test effective” strategies rather than simply showing what the right answer is.

 “There is increasing competition to gain admittance to the top United States academic institutions. A student’s SAT or ACT score is an important component of a college application and we intend to deliver a comprehensive course that students and parents can pick with confidence,” said Urvashi Mathur, COO of TestRocker and Suniti’s younger daughter. “TestRocker works. It is a unique, customized, convenient method that delivers on its promise.”


About TestRocker

TestRocker is a global start up with operations in Singapore and New York, focused on delivering a comprehensive online education platform for standardized test preparation. TestRocker takes a modular approach to interactive learning based on a product offering that is tried & tested, incorporates a thoughtful user experience, is web optimized, and teaches to the test. TestRocker’s goal is to help students reach their full potential and maximize their scores with life changing impact. TestRocker will be launching in December 2012.

 For more information, please visit www.testrocker.com


TestRocker™ is a trademark of TestRocker Inc. SAT® and ACT® are registered trademarks of the College Entrance Examination Board and ACT, Inc. respectively.

Tags: About TestRocker

About Suniti

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Suniti is the creator of TestRocker, an online learning platform that helps you unlock your dream PSAT, SAT and ACT scores. TestRocker is based on Suniti’s highly successful and proven method of teaching thousands of students how to maximize their PSAT, SAT and ACT scores for over a decade.

TestRocker is an award-winning PSAT/SAT/ACT program that empowers students to take control of their test preparation. After taking a diagnostic test, students receive a customized study plan, individualized to their strengths/weaknesses. Students practice and learn concepts through videos. Each of the 2000+ questions on TestRocker is accompanied by a video explanation from Suniti. TestRocker has the largest video library in the world for PSAT/SAT/ACT preparation. 

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