Weighing The Value Of College Test Prep Courses

By Yaffa Klugerman
November 2, 2009

Experts are urging students to prepare for college entrance exams while carefully weighing the value of investing in expensive college test preparation courses.

The Reno Gazette-Journal [from an article originally located at http://www.rgj.com/article/20091022/NEWS/910220357/1321] in Nevada reports that the recession is causing families to cut back on enrollment in such courses, but some point out that the investment in higher test scores may very well pay off. At the Huntington Learning Center in Reno, for example, students pay an average of about $2,400 for the SAT prep course and $2,760 for the ACT prep course.

"Obviously, students have to be able to afford it," said Anita Hara, owner of the center. "Parents who have big plans for their children in terms of school and scholarships really understand the investment. For example, a kid who gets the Millennium Scholarship can increase their money by $1,000 by scoring 1700 on the SAT."

She noted that enrollment fell by 50 percent this year for students who were taking the SAT preparatory course. Interestingly, enrollment in the ACT prep course increased by 8 percent, a change which she attributed to better advising of which exam would be more worthwhile for students to take.

The Kansas City Star cautions parents that according to a recent study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, test preparation courses typically add only about 30 points on the SAT and 1 point on the ACT--much less than many companies advertise. Yet others point out that even such slight changes can impact whether a student is admitted to a selective institution or qualifies for scholarships.

Even the best courses, however, will probably not help students who aren't motivated to study for the exams. "Ultimately, what the courses and tutors provide is the structure and forced discipline that some students need to sit down at an assigned time each week and prepare," noted David Burke, head of college placement at Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City.

But others apparently feel that such courses can significantly impact college admission test scores. The Navy Times, for example, reports that two Florida legislators recently proposed that the Post-9/11 GI Bill include reimbursement for the cost of college test preparation classes.

"Sometimes these tests cover subjects the service-members haven't studied in years, which can put them at a comparative disadvantage to other applicants who may have recently graduated from high school," explained Rep. Adam Putnam, one of the sponsors of the bill, called the Test Prep for Heroes Act.

Rep. Ron Klein, another sponsor of the bill, noted that the legislation could produce big results. "By providing access to more tools to help our veterans prepare for entrance exams and licensing tests, we can level the playing field and ensure they do not miss a single opportunity on the road to a college education," he said.

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