October 28, 2021 | UHCL Staff
For college-bound high school juniors and seniors, the increase in universities that adopted an SAT-optional policy during the pandemic might have come as a relief. Although opportunities for students to prepare for and take the SAT and ACT were limited, University of Houston-Clear Lake freshman Pavisha Sargunan said she took an SAT prep class offered in the UHCL Center for Executive Education — and her excellent resulting SAT score helped her earn a full-ride New Hawk Scholarship.
"We live in Clear Lake, but my mother was educated in India, which is very different from America," she said. "She didn't know how to prepare me for an American college, so we sought out this program to help me prepare for the SAT and the essays. I hoped that this preparation would give me a good chance of being accepted. It worked."
She recalls coming home on a Saturday evening and seeing a box on her doorstep. When she opened it and read the letter of acceptance from UH-Clear Lake, along with the full scholarship offer, her entire family was shocked and excited.
"My mom started crying and saying she was so proud of me," she said. "It was amazing to realize my education would be paid for, and it made me determined not to let anyone down. Taking the SAT prep course undoubtedly gave me a great advantage."
Brenda Guerrero, CEE's events coordinator and marketing assistant, said college-bound students should be aware that although it's possible to gain entry to a university without the SAT, there are multiple scholarships or admission to honors programs that still require those test results. And with end of the pandemic approaching, the college admissions testing process will almost certainly return to its pre-pandemic, mandatory status.
"I attribute the success of our program to the structure of our course, which has been online since the pandemic," Guerrero said. "Many elementary and secondary schools report poor performance while conducting online learning, but our SAT prep course has not had that issue. We insist on excellent communication with parents, so they are very invested in the success of the course."
She added that the course begins with a parent meeting because they're an integral part of the journey. "They must be involved, they must make sure commitments are lived up to, and students complete assignments as required," she said. "They're paying for this course, but we are all concerned if students don't succeed. We've found that parent meetings encourage engagement and involvement well beyond the financial investment they've made."
Sargunan said she has surprised herself at how well she's doing in her first year at UHCL. She had not considered applying simply because it was so close to home.
"When I learned that UHCL is considered one of the top universities with outstanding services, I quickly reconsidered," she said. "And now I'm having a tremendous experience and have been challenged and rewarded for hard work. My professors take a real interest in me and are very good at explaining clearly."
Guerrero said that while SATs may be daunting, they are designed with a very specific purpose. "SATs aren't a random test, administered as a way to make money or to frustrate students," she explained. "They measure for skills students will need when they enter college, so skipping the test could allow unprepared students to enter college — and later fail."
She said that students in the course receive hands-on work to develop reading, essay composition and math skills rather than focusing on timed tests.
"It's best to take it even if it's not yet required, because if the test would reveal where there are deficiencies, they could be addressed sooner," she said.
The Center for Executive Education is an initiative in UH-Clear Lake's College of Business. Applications for the New Hawk Scholarship are accepted through April 1, 2022. Depending on eligibility requirements, students can receive up to a "full ride" scholarship.
For more information about the New Hawk Scholarship, go online.