Princeton University

Confessions of a College Planner – What I Learned About the High Fee SAT Prep World

Earlier this month I traveled to New York because I’m opening a branch office there. I had occasion to speak to two successful SAT tutors/instructors about a variety of subjects related to the SAT, the College Board (who administers the SAT) and parents. I thought I’d share some of that info in this article.

First, if you or your child is a Junior or going to be a Junior and not taking at least at online SAT course, you’re behind the eight ball. Here’s why. Assuming you live in an affluent or upper-middle class area, your SAT (and ACT) scores are graded differently than if you lived in a less desirable neighborhood. How?

Because college admissions officers will assume that you’ve prepared for the test because you’re likely to have enrolled in an SAT prep course – like Kaplan or Princeton Review – or hired a tutor. Even if you haven’t!

In other words, kids from less affluent areas who don’t score as highly may have their scores “grossed up” to be on par with students likely to have taken SAT preparation classes. So an inner city student who cracks 1100 could be as impressive as a high schooler from Long Island with a 1400.

Now, say what you will about the SAT and other standardized tests – the fact remains that they are critically important to admissions officers – even though they’re flawed.

The next thing I learned is how much money parents in affluent areas will devote to college prep. Granted, Long Island is not exactly Boise, but it is similar to pockets of Miami, Boca Raton, Newton, Mass. (my hometown), the North side of Chicago, parts of L.A. and other affluent areas around the country.

So I’m sure there are thousands of families shelling out $5,000-$10,000 just on SAT prep! One private tutoring company charges close to $1,000 to sign up, then $200-plus each session. And the sessions are generally weekly – so it’s easy to drop $800 per month for several months!

Do they get value for that kind of money? Of course the answer is “it depends.”

I believe that the tutors that College Pete and I recommend are all top-quality, results-driven educators.

But the other half of the equation is that no tutor can get blood from a stone – if the student doesn’t follow the plan, it doesn’t matter how much Mommy or Daddy spent on test prep.

Which brings me to my third point – its seems that the kids whose parents were shelling out the upper end of the spectrum in tutoring fees tended to be highly motivated. In other words, they respected the investment their parents made and were forced to be accountable by their instructors.

So that bolsters the argument that you ‘get what you pay for.’

If you’re looking to hire an SAT tutor, here are a few questions you should ask, especially if they charge a high fee.

1. What is your philosophy? Meaning, are you the same as all the other options, like Sylvan, Kaplan or Princeton Review or do you do things differently?

2. What characteristics do your most successful students share? In other words, what are you looking for in a potential student?

3. Who does the instructing? How is he or she trained or qualified?

4. Why would a student be unhappy with his or her results after you work with him/her? Give examples of students or parents who were not pleased with your services and cite reasons why.

5. Do you offer any type of guarantee? Why or why not? Then, go with your gut feel. If you received reasonable answers to the above questions, use your instincts to make a decision. Then get your little student cracking!

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