Blog · Educational Equity

The “Big Business” of SAT/ACT Preparation: A Mom’s Story

Since the start of this school season — my daughter’s junior high school year — a big focus in our household has been on SAT preparation. My daughter chose to take the SAT rather than the ACT because she is not as strong in math and the SAT better caters to her overall skills and writing style. Our efforts have been geared toward ensuring that she receives a score of 1250+ so she can be competitive enough to be accepted by her top choice of schools.  

We’ve been on three college visits so far and during each presentation the importance of ACT/SAT scores was highly emphasized. It’s quite a daunting experience to sit in a roomful of college hopefuls all looking at the numbers they need to make to be accepted into a college of their choice displayed in big, bold fonts on a screen that seems as large as the room itself. Key among them: a 3.7 GPA and ACT/SAT scores averaging around 29 and 1290+ respectively. And this is the minimum at some colleges, especially those touting a competitive 42 percent or less freshmen acceptance rate. At the last presentation we were at, the looks on the faces of my daughter and her friend when this information was being flashed in front of them captured everything I was thinking.

I have hired tutors to assist my daughter and enrolled her in an SAT test preparation course. Her tutors range from $70 – $150 for a one hour session on top of a nearly $300 eight session course, not to mention the fees involved for taking the tests –$59 for each SAT testing session — which prep course advisors and tutors I’ve used suggest to take three times in order to achieve the best scores possible. This all adds up to significant money being spent. Some of my daughters’ friends began this kind of intensive preparation in the 10th grade, a full year ago. It is a topic they all discuss frequently and are concerned about.

Indeed, test taking preparation has become a very big business for those who are fortunate enough to afford it. But what about kids whose families can’t afford these types of resources? It makes me wonder how this skews in overall college acceptance rates and whether these tests should be reevaluated and weighted to capture this sort of disparity.  

A recent piece of good news that I read is that according to a list developed by the nonprofit FairTest, more than a thousand accredited, four-year colleges and universities now make their admissions decisions about all or many applicants without considering ACT or SAT test scores. This began to ramp up after the SAT was redesigned. In fact, half of the top 100 liberal arts colleges listed by U.S. News & World Report show up on the test-optional list, as do most of the colleges and universities in New England and more than half in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The list covers colleges and universities in every state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

But the fact remains that most of my daughter’s top choices still rely pretty heavily on ACT/SAT scores in making their admission decisions. Direct ACT/SAT coaching in schools that is free of charge to students, would be one way to help alleviate the disparity and stress involved with these tests, as a good prep course can help students to achieve 200+ point improvements, which can significantly open opportunities for all students.


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