SoFlo Tutor Riley Vakkas’ college application process was a huge undertaking. He wrote essays and submitted applications to 19 schools and took about 15 practice exams before scoring a 1560 on the SAT. This all ultimately paid off when he was offered a spot at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where he currently studies Finance and Accounting.

In his feature, Riley talks about the lessons he learned from the college application process, as well as advice for students crafting their application story and studying for the SAT.

Riley Vakkas, Georgetown ’26

How Did You Approach College Applications?

I took the “shotgunner” approach to college applications, meaning I applied to as many schools as I possibly could. This resulted in me applying to 19 colleges, with about 15 or so being “reach” schools. The primary factors I considered were size, reputation, and location (and also how many essays the application had). I did EA to four schools, one of them being Georgetown, where I was accepted and ultimately decided to attend.

Why Did You Choose Georgetown?

I chose Georgetown for a number of reasons. Admittedly, one of the main factors I considered was prestige, and Georgetown has quite a good reputation across a variety of fields. Additionally, Georgetown’s location in Washington, D.C. was also appealing as someone originally from a rural area. I figured D.C. would be an excellent place for me to discover internship opportunities, good restaurants, and fun museums. Another important factor I considered was post-graduation opportunities and outcomes. As a student hoping to pursue a career in finance, I was drawn to Georgetown’s significant alumni presence across the financial services industry and extensive pre-professional opportunities.

What Was Your Testing Journey Like?

I prepared for the SAT primarily by completing as many practice tests as I could during the summer before my junior year. By going through these exams under conditions that mimicked the actual exam environment, I became increasingly comfortable with the exam and developed my own test-taking strategies. By the end of the summer, I completed roughly 15 practice exams. The most important thing for me was reviewing my mistakes and truly understanding why I got a certain question wrong. It is very easy to simply brush over any wrong answers, but doing so won’t help to prevent similar errors in the future.  

Do You Have Any Advice For Students Applying To Colleges And Taking the SAT?

My biggest advice for applying to college would be to start early. One of my greatest regrets to this day is spending my entire Christmas break senior year writing application essays (for colleges I was ultimately rejected from). Starting early will save an incredible amount of stress and allow ample time to revise essays and receive feedback from others.

Another big piece of advice is to craft a compelling story. Colleges often look for individuals with a demonstrated passion in a specific subject or topic, which involves showing extracurricular and academic involvement over the course of high school. Think about what story or passion your achievements convey, and then refine and harness this in your applications.

My last piece of advice is to only apply to colleges you genuinely love. Coming from someone who applied to 19 schools, I genuinely liked maybe six of those schools. This resulted in many of my essays coming across as disingenuous, despite how hard I tried to fake my interest. More importantly, the essays for these schools were significantly more difficult and frustrating to write. Though it may feel like applying to fewer colleges will limit your success, chances are your applications will be considerably better if you focus on a handful of schools you genuinely like.

In terms of test-taking advice, there is truly no substitute for practice. I can essentially guarantee a student who does a fair number of practice tests under actual exam conditions will see a significant score improvement. Make sure to be consistent in your preparation and schedule an exam date to stay motivated and impose a tangible deadline.

Attain High Test Scores With SoFlo

Your SAT or ACT score can make or break your application. SoFlo Tutors will help you reach your target score so that you can attend your dream school. All of our tutors attend top universities around the nation and scored in the 99th percentile on their SAT. They will work one-on-one on you to identify and improve your weak areas and increase your chances of getting your target score. Our tutors schedule to sessions to your availability and our costs start at $60/hour. Check out our tutoring services to book a session!

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