Self-study SAT prep?

by Honolulu Mother

The author of this Vox article was charging $650/hour and up and still turning away clients, so he eventually made his lesson plans and materials available for self-study. He found that the self-study students did better than those paying for in-person instruction.

I made $1,000 an hour as an SAT tutor. My students did better without me.

Have you ever considered hiring an SAT tutor for one of your kids, or for yourself back in the day? Or do you think self-study is a better bet?

BTW, I can see that this article is partly a promotion for his expensive test prep software, and I don’t mean to suggest that his is the only effective self-study alternative. Free alternatives such as Khan, or simply taking practice tests and then carefully going over the answers both right and wrong, are more what I was thinking of.

(Sorry Mémé and others whose kids are much older or younger, not to mention those of you without kids — this one’s going to be tedious for you.)

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169 thoughts on “Self-study SAT prep?

  1. The bullshit is strong in that article:

    Ask the average high school girl to use the Pythagorean theorem, to summarize the main idea of a paragraph, or to correct the comma usage in an English sentence, and she’ll have no problem.

    Really?

  2. For one of my kids having a tutor really means having someone, other than myself make sure they are doing the practice tests and reviews. Practicing consistently is important, I think. If the tutor could teach them tips and tricks that would be an added bonus. I don’t know where I would get a SAT tutor in my city. I can email my kids counselors and teachers and I suppose they would have recommendations.

  3. The headline is wrong.

    Not all of his students would have done better without him. The small percentage of potential students who were determined enough to complete the course without his oversight did well, but the students who weren’t motivated enough either needed to hire another tutor or didn’t perform as well as they could have.

    I have never hired a tutor but I have been one. IME, college and AP students need a tutor either because (a) the material is being poorly taught (or not taught) by the teacher, or (b) because the student needs someone watching over his or her shoulder to get the work done. (There are obviously lots of kids who need tutors to address learning disabilities or poor prep in lower grades, but that wasn’t my bailiwick.) For the SAT and similar tests, there are also kids who get tutors to reduce their anxiety.

    The students in category (a) are well served by self study. The rest are not.

  4. I plan on hiring SAT tutors for my younger two. I just didn’t have a clue about the college process with my older one.

  5. As I mentioned before, I took the Princeton Review for SAT and GMAT when I was younger.
    DS finished taking an SAT class from a local test prep school. It was beneficial to both of us, as it forced us to take the test over and over and covered test taking strategies and academic concepts. It’s not cheap (DS’s class was $750), but I think it’s a worthwhile investment.

  6. I personally would learn better from a study guide than I would a tutor. I just absorb information better that way so I guess it depends on the kid. I think his take on the “bad test taker” thing is probably true for most kids. I should have studied for the math part of the SAT, I would have had a much higher score but I honestly don’t remember anyone doing any sort of prep for the SAT back in the day. DH took a SAT prep course and raised his score by 100 points but he went to a private school.

  7. That said, my roommate self-studied for the GMAT and scored 5 points higher than I did. It depends on the person.

  8. DH has always commented on how good he is at standardized tests but I think it’s just because the test he’s remembering most is the LSAT. He did fine on the SAT (maybe high 1200s) but really aced his LSAT (like 98th % or something). It’s not that he’s good at standardized tests, it’s that he’s great at logic so the LSAT was easy for him. He probably would have had to really study for a GMAT or GRE.

  9. “The bullshit is strong in that article:

    Ask the average high school girl to use the Pythagorean theorem, to summarize the main idea of a paragraph, or to correct the comma usage in an English sentence, and she’ll have no problem.

    Agree with you, Rhett. He is so far off on that. Usually the reason a student is a SAT “bad tester” is because he doesn’t know the material.

  10. I think it depends on the kid. Some kids need help staying on task. As others have said a tutor means someone other than a parent makes sure the practice tests are completed and then reviewed. Back in the day, I don’t remember doing any prep for the SAT other than taking the sample test in the sign up packet. For the LSAT, I studied independently and just took many, many practice tests. I was motivated and innately good at test taking. So for me, a tutor or private class wouldn’t have made a difference; but for others I know it did.

  11. I self studied, using a prep book, back in an era and school where nobody even did the sample test in the registration packet. On the other hand, I did not study at all for the GRE and regret it a bit because the math is very low level high school, and I had actually forgotten some of it! It didn’t help that I had a really bad cold the day I took the GRE, and the testing room was so cold that we all kept our coats on. Ah well, I did well enough to get into grad school, so it was OK

  12. DD (10th grader) is good at taking tests (by that I mean that she does well under pressure) and is very motivated so I plan on having her study on her own this summer before taking the PSATs in the fall. I used this approach when I took the GREs (for grad school) and it worked well.

    DS is only 10 but when he hits this stage I will consider hiring a tutor. He is much less motivated and it becomes much more of a parent-child power struggle. When it comes time to writing college essays, I know one parent who sent her kid to a weekend-away “camp” to work on them. I may very well need to do that with DS.

  13. he’s great at logic so the LSAT was easy for him

    Yeah, I remember one section being all logic puzzles which for me was good fun. I guess if nothing else it gets the message through that logical thinking is valued in the field (to a degree).

  14. If the kid is getting a good GPA from a decent school what would be the expectation for a baseline SAT score ?

  15. If the kid is getting a good GPA from a decent school what would be the expectation for a baseline SAT score ?

    1000 combined i.e. an average score.

  16. Agree with Sky at 1020.

    I have the belief, and of course I could be wrong, that a tutor / coach / outside help is actually needed when a student is trying really hard by doing all the reading, trying the problems, seeing teachers outside of class, even (heaven forbid) asking parents for help and still not learning the material / showing improved grades. Paying someone $XX or $XXX per hour to ride herd on my kid(s) just because they are uninterested / unmotivated to do better and so they aren’t putting forth enough effort is a bad use of resources. Show me your honest interest and diligent effort are not enough and I’ll work with you, even hire someone with specialized skills to help you. But you need to move first.

    And, yes, I do believe it’s the kid’s job to deliver the grades. Even if they don’t ever expect to use algebra/geometry/chemistry/philosophy/art again.

  17. no way, 1000 seems low for a kid like the one Louise described.

    If he’s doing all the extra credit? Handing in the essay for review before it’s due, etc?

  18. Louise, here is a table showing scores and corresponding percentiles. To me, the percentiles privide more info than the scores.

    I am trying to decide on this topic. My son will take the new format SAT through school in April. He needs prep in math more than English, but want to balance encouraging him to do well with not putting too much pressure, given his past anxiety issues. If I had confidence it would make a significant difference I would be more likely to encourage a class. I recall seeing a WSJ article indicating they didn’t make much difference. Right now through school he is required to do a certain amount of prep through Khan Academy, and he is tutoring after school four days a week. I think those two things may be all the prep for now, and I’ll re-evaluate for summer after I see his scores from April.

  19. ” Back in the day, I don’t remember doing any prep for the SAT other than taking the sample test in the sign up packet.”

    Back in my day, the A stood for Aptitude, and we were told we didn’t need to study for it.

  20. Fred,

    Think of a good manager. You have a team of people working a “meh” job for “meh” money. A really good manager is going to be able to motivate them to do more than they would ever do left to their own devices. Same with a good teacher or tutor.

  21. Houston, which SAT did your DS prep for? The old one, or the new one that will be given starting in March?

  22. I disagree with Sky and Fred. DS is diligent, but he still benefited greatly from the instruction. Pretty much 75-95% of the kids in his AP/IB classes have taken test prep. They do it to maximize their scores, so as to get NMF status and get access to merit scholarships. Some people are great test takers, and some need a little extra boost.

    Why skimp on something so important? I’d rather cut back on a family vacation, or lawn care, or eating out, or other things.

  23. Interesting that the two options HM presents are tutoring and self-study.

    Of course, there are other options. One is a prep course, which I believe is what Houston’s DS took. Another, which is anathema to most totebaggers, is to just take the test.

  24. Oops, I forgot, there is yet another alternative: Don’t take the SAT.

    Under that heading, there are at least two options:

    -Don’t take any test; an increasing number of schools are going test-optional.

    -Take the ACT. Of course, this route has its own set of choices, and is not necessarily mutually exclusive with taking the SAT.

    Increasingly, and especially for the class of 2017, the ACT has been the chosen alternative.

  25. “DS is diligent”

    .

    Houston…see that meets my criteria. What I was describing was the opposite . Your DS is trying and needs more help. Where I draw the line is when a kid (my kid) is NOT being diligent, evincing no self-motivation/effort to do better. I will gladly shell out for additional help, whether in the form of 1:1 tutoring, self-study guides, and/or group classes when my kid is showing interest/motivation/effort and that on its own doesn’t improve things.

  26. Where I draw the line is when a kid (my kid) is NOT being diligent, evincing no self-motivation/effort to do better.

    Isn’t that where a good manager, coach, officer, etc. adds the most value?

  27. Both kids had an hour or two of private tutoring on the essay section of the ACT/SAT. That’s one part where you don’t need to know material but you really need to know the tricks to get a good score.
    One thing I will say–applying to highly selective colleges can be very stressful for the kids, and with some kids removing the parent from as much as possible can do wonders.
    Both kids are very good test takers. (Both NMSF). DD always says that her principle academic skill is one that has no relevance in real life.

  28. HM, are a lot of your kids’ classmates even planning to take the SAT?

    My understanding is that they all have to take the ACT. Does their school provide a lot of test-specific prep for the ACT? The stakes on that test to the DOE, school, principal, etc., would seem to provide a strong incentive to them to provide a lot of test prep.

    I assume your kids would take the SAT regardless of the ACT mandate, because it’s a necessary step from NMSF to NMF.

  29. On the general topic to hiring tutors for kids: I am actually having to force DS to take driver’s ed and to get his license.

  30. Probably fighting a losing battle so I may quit after this…

    Show me you want it (to improve) and I’ll find a way to help. By that I mean “be diligent” to use Houston’s word. Show me you don’t care about getting better then I’ll view tutoring, etc., at no small expense as a waste of resources.

  31. Do schools do away with learning vocabulary words weekly after a certain grade ? I noticed that spelling for older kid went away but vocabulary is assigned and tested every week. Is this due to vocabulary being on the SAT ?

  32. Louise – my kid is a junior and he has a vocabulary book…not done weekly, something like 6 chapters/units per semester.

  33. Finn, they do some of the earlier grade ACT tests, now all lumped together as the ACT Aspire, that aren’t for college admissions. And I think it’s ACT that’s behind the standardized end-of-year exams they have for a few classes (mostly math). And I believe the 11th graders do take the ACT proper through school — I was thinking about checking some prep books out of the library this spring to see which looks good. (My son is in 10th this year.) However, the main standardized tests that count for No Child purposes is what’s now called the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is not the same thing as ACT / ACT Aspire.

    I guess I can let you know next year if they do any ACT prep. They don’t really do SBA prep to speak of, except insofar as the curriculum is supposed to cover the material that will be on the test and the test is supposed to be on the material covered by the curriculum so theoretically they’re prepared by the spring testing.

  34. I agree with the author of the article that the select subset of people he was hired to tutor probably did know or could learn the material and had some other issue (speed, familiarity, test anxiety) that he was able to help with. He didn’t see the bulk of the population, who will score well on a standardized test if they also do well in AP classes. I am so confident of my standardized test taking abilities that I offered to help my friend with her GMAT math/analytical without ever having seen the GMAT. When I was deciding what to do in college, I read through MCAT and LSAT prep books and decided I could excel at those, possibly with a few hours of effort to optimize my score. My GRE score was probably the highest in my department that year, in no small part because English is my first language.

    The way math is taught right now (think it through, write out all the steps) makes some people slow at doing SAT math type problems. I am incredibly lazy and I don’t do stuff like think through steps or write out my work. This makes me a poor candidate for many tasks, but it makes me AWESOME at filling in bubble dots. (Like LfB and RMS, I’m not big on taking notes either. My engineer partner’s motto on grades was, “You can always rely on the incompetence of your peers.”

    The SAT was originally designed to measure aptitude, and to an extent, it still does that. It is also possible to work hard, learn the material by consistent effort and score well. Probably both sets of high scorers will be successful in later life, the first because of raw intelligence and the second because of diligence. Mr WCE is less academically diligent than I am. Right now, I’m hassling DS1 about getting his piano music right, because I want him to have to work at learning something. I hate hassling him and he hates being hassled. It’s unclear if we should all just give up piano lessons and be lazy.

    My kids are unlikely to attend “very selective” schools and if they are motivated to optimize their SAT scores to get scholarships and expand their affordable school choices, I will allow/encourage that. I’d choose an adaptive software program rather than a class, I think, because available classes are targeted at the middle, not the top scorers. But Mr WCE won’t be pushing…

  35. I want him to have to work at learning something….My kids are unlikely to attend “very selective” schools

    ?

  36. “because available classes are targeted at the middle, not the top scorers.”

    ITA.

    Perhaps this is why HM only mentioned the two options of self-study and tutoring.

    “My kids are unlikely to attend “very selective” schools”

    I seem to have heard this before. And you may also have heard my response before as well.

  37. Houston, I’m doing parent-taught drivers Ed, and my son also has no particular interest in getting his license. He had friends over this weekend working on a commercial they are Doug for a class project. They needed footage of a car, and boldly asked the neighbor to drive his corvette down the street so they could film him. The very nice guy ended up letting the boys drive it. I think that is the first time he wished he had a license.

  38. I’ll share some of DS’ recent experiences, which may help those with slightly younger kids make their decisions. Caveat: he took the old SAT, and I don’t know how relevant this will be to the new SAT that will commence this March.

    I’m not sure when DS started prepping, but I think some time in his 8th grade year, he downloaded the SAT Question of the Day app to his iPod and started doing that. I think he learned about that from classmates who were already doing it. That seems to be a good, low-pressure, low-bandwidth way to start.

    The summer after freshman year, after the end of summer school, he did some self-study, using some used prep books I got at the school carnival, downloaded tests, and practice tests he had picked up at the college counseling office. The practice tests projected good scores, so we signed him up for the SAT that fall (IIRC, November).

    Actual results from the SAT were mixed. In the objectively scored parts of the test, he did well, as predicted by the practice tests. However, his essay score was poor. He consulted his English teacher, who was just out of Yale and still remembered the process, and found out he was probably too concise, i.e., he got marked down because of the brevity of his essay. She passed on what she’d learned about essay scoring, effectively providing him with a tutoring session on the essay part of the test, and DS and I also did some online research.

    It turns out the essay scoring is quite opaque, and not necessarily based on writing well. There are apparently certain criteria the scorers are trained to look for, e.g., length, and they apparently ignore a lot of bad writing practices. E.g., multiple sources suggested fabricating evidence, because the veracity of references is ignored, but citing evidence to back points is; IOW, you get scored higher if you make up evidence to back your points than if you don’t cite evidence because you don’t have any real evidence readily on the top of your mind.

    DS retook the SAT last month, and this time his scores were in line with what the practice tests predicted.

    Based on this, I will steer DD toward self-study for the objectively scored parts of the test, but will consider use of additional resources for the essay. At the very least, we’ll spend time combing test prep books, and doing online research, for information on how the essay is scored.

    If she asks for tutoring or a prep class, we’ll consider that.

  39. “ I am incredibly lazy and I don’t do stuff like think through steps or write out my work. This makes me a poor candidate for many tasks, but it makes me AWESOME at filling in bubble dots. “

    I liked your 12:58 comment, and I just want to emphasize a critical part of the explanation: The reason you are awesome at filling in bubble dots is that you are highly intelligent, at least in ways that are important for success in highly selective colleges and in other areas. The incredibly lazy but less intelligent student would NOT be awesome at filling in bubble dots.

    “The way math is taught right now (think it through, write out all the steps) makes some people slow at doing SAT math type problems.”

    A big part of most SAT tutoring I’ve seen is finding “tricks” to speed up your test taking.

  40. “It turns out the essay scoring is quite opaque, and not necessarily based on writing well. ”

    Which is why the writing part of the SAT has still been under-emphasized by many colleges.

  41. Fred – I totally get it. Hiring a tutor is a waste of resources that would be better targeted somewhere else if the kid is disinterested in SAT success in general.

    Finn – You know I only have a second grader, but I appreciate your info anyway. It’s interesting to think ahead. I would have never thought of something as low key as a “SAT Question of the Day” app, but that seems like a good suggestion for a low key intro at a younger grade.

    Of course, everything will change 8 years, so it’s really not worth me even thinking about right now. I’ll need to worry about getting my kid into HS well before college!

  42. So at what point do you decide to take a prep course? My child took the ACT in the 7th Grade (3.5 years ago) and scored a 24. Took this year’s “new” PSAT as sophomore and scored a 1340 (680 reading/ 660 math) out of a max of 1520.

  43. Temp: I’d take the prep class in July/August, before Junior year. That way, your child is primed for the PSAT in October.

  44. “A big part of most SAT tutoring I’ve seen is finding “tricks” to speed up your test taking.”

    One trick DS mentioned he read about for the math questions was quite interesting.

    Apparently in the old SAT, the possible answers are always given in numerical order, and it is often easiest to find which of the answers is correct, as opposed to solving the problem. In that case, it often makes the most sense to try the middle answer first, as you might be able to eliminate either all the higher or all the lower possible answers.

    Those who have studied numerical analysis might recognize this as based on Newton’s method, one of the most basic NA techniques.

  45. It definitely depends on the student and the tutoring. We have found that most students, when driven and desires to improve their score, they usually do. Thanks for the post!

  46. I will likely spring for a class or tutor for my kids for standardized tests that matter. For the LSAT, I took one of those review classes. It made the test pretty easy. Once you know the 5-6 types of logic games and 7-8 questions in the other sections, it just becomes a speed issue (which is one area where I do well). Best $800 I have ever spent. For the SATs/ACTs, I don’t remember anyone preparing at all. At least not that I knew about.

  47. disinterested in SAT success in general.

    Isn’t that fairly typical? Aren’t most kids at that age more interested in more immediate concerns and more long range concerns only become important as they mature?

  48. “So at what point do you decide to take a prep course?”

    For DS, we decided after he took the SAT the first time, as a soph, that his score was good enough that a prep course would not be worth the time and money.

    But we already had a pretty good idea that would be the case the summer before, when his practice tests projected him scoring that well, at least in the objectively scored parts of the test.

    “I’d take the prep class in July/August, before Junior year.”

    At my kids’ school, the most common time for the prep class is the summer before Jr year, as a summer school class. For class years other than 2017, this would normally prep them for the PSAT in Oct as well as the SAT. My kids’ school signs up all kids for SAT in December of Jr year, and pays for that test, although they can opt out.

    DS did not want to take that prep class, since it would preclude him from doing what he wanted to do (work as a science TA in summer school), which is part of why we decided on him self-studying the summer earlier, and taking the test as a soph.

  49. The elite colleges assume (expect) that kids from certain zip codes, private or public high schools will have a SAT tutor or private prep class. The admissions office actually build this assumption into the scores that they expect from a typical totebagger child vs. a kid from a less privileged background or HS. They generally expect that these kids should have a combined score that is 200-300 points higher (on the old version out of 2400) than a kid coming from a different background.

  50. “disinterested in SAT success in general.

    Isn’t that fairly typical?”

    I think that depends on the school and peer group.

    As mentioned earlier, DS started studying on his own, and I think that was mainly because he had friends who had already started before him, in middle school.

    My guess is that some of his peers started thinking seriously enough about SATs to start studying in January of their 8th grade year, when the school had them start planning out their HS courses. A big part of that is college requirements, e.g., HS does not require 4 years of science, but kids are told that many colleges, especially the more selective ones, require, or desire, 4 years of science.

  51. They generally expect that these kids should have a combined score that is 200-300 points higher (on the old version out of 2400) than a kid coming from a different background.

    How do they expect this when all the evidence says prep classes add maybe, at the very most, 100 points?

  52. I am under the gun and will have to catch up later, but I bow down to the complete weeniness of the school system. From The Twitter:

    “All Baltimore County Public Schools will be closed Thursday and Friday, January 28th and 29th. Offices are on a 2-hour delay both days.”

    AARRGGHHHHHHH.

    Even my Type-B-ness is starting to lose it.

  53. HM, is your DS going to take either the SAT or ACT before Jr. year?

    One reason DS took the SAT in soph year was the hope that he’d get a good enough score that he could then not need to worry about it. We were influenced by my niece, who took it in MS for a Johns Hopkins program, got a good enough score for admission to flagship U, and went through HS without worrying about SAT at all (she went to flagship U).

    In particular, scheduling could be a problem. The test is not offered all that often, and on many of the Saturdays it is offered, there could be conflicts, especially for typically overscheduled kids of totebaggers. E.g., many totebaggy kids take AP and subject tests, and thus rule out the Jr year May and June test dates for the SAT.

  54. LfB – and if you had known in advance the kids would have the whole week off…think of the possibilities!!!

  55. I hear there are SAT subject tests, but don’t recall this from going through myself. When should you take them? One person suggested taking as soon as you finish the course…such as the chemistry test right after taking sophomore chemistry.

  56. One reason DS took the SAT in soph year was the hope that he’d get a good enough score that he could then not need to worry about it.

    With employers using SAT scores as a resume sorting metric, wouldn’t it always make sense to keep trying to get a higher score even if you score was high enough to get into your first choice?

  57. Finn, nah, he’ll probably take it spring of junior year. The new test will be a little more settled in by then, and I wouldn’t say he’s worried about it in any case. If he wants to worry about something he could more profitably worry about being more conscientious with his schoolwork, as his grades are more likely to be the weak point in his college applications. High test scores with mixed grades does not make for a good profile.

  58. “How do they expect this when all the evidence says prep classes add maybe, at the very most, 100 points?”

    One conversation with his English teacher was worth about that much for DS on his essay alone.

    The new SAT, with its addition of a penalty for not guessing, will probably increase the value of test prep.

    But my guess is that the expectation is that the school in general, over and above test prep, also has a causal relationship with higher test scores. IOW, take the same kid in the less privileged HS, move him/her to the more privileged HS, and with the same test prep in either case, the kid will score higher at the more privileged HS.

  59. Finn,

    Then why the almost total lack of evidence that SAT prep provides anything more than a very modest boost?

  60. “he’ll probably take it spring of junior year.”

    This year, it’s offered in Jan, March, May, and June.

    Spring means March or May. The May date is right in the middle of AP exams, so a lot of kids don’t want to take the SAT then. A lot of kids also want to take their subject tests at the end of the school year, before they have a chance to forget, so they take them in May or June.

    So that pretty much leaves March for SAT. If he doesn’t do as well as he liked and wants to retake, he either has to retake in May or June, which may be in conflict with AP and subject tests, or in October, which is pretty late if he plans to apply early anywhere.

    Working back like that, I would suggest he take it for the first time no later than Jan of Jr. year.

    My suggestion is to take SAT for the first time no later than November of Jr year. Prep during the summer before Jr year, which will prep for both PSAT and SAT, and use PSAT results to tailor additional prep for SAT. That leaves Dec, Jan, March of Jr year for retakes, and by the summer after Jr year, kid (and parents) will have a pretty clear picture of what schools might be a match for kid.

    During summer after Jr year, kid can research colleges, including possible campus visits. Kid pretty much needs to know by end of summer which school(s), if any, to apply to early. Ideally, application essays can be done during summer.

  61. “But my guess is that the expectation is that the school in general, over and above test prep, also has a causal relationship with higher test scores.”

    Yes, so the expectation is more for higher test scores, not necessarily test prep.

    Of course, I would argue that the causal relationship is mainly in reverse. IOW, the students cause the school to have higher scores.

  62. In the department of, “It’s A Small World”, I just got out of a meeting with the guy whose daughter went to school with Meme’s daughter in the department-school associated with our nearest particle accelerator, did graduate work at the Boston school with the unpronounced R and is now working at a national lab in Washington in the same field/area as RMS’s stepson was, or a closely related one. He regaled me with stories of fixing the valve, wheel bearing and replacing the engine in his VW van along I-5 between UC Davis and southern CA. At the same meeting was the guy who turned an industrial garbage disposal into a high volume cider press and invited the boys and me over to help him process the apples.

    Knowing people who can figure out how to do stuff is fun. Diligently learning how to take a test that no one cares about later is… not fun. We are a fun family.

  63. “Then why the almost total lack of evidence that SAT prep provides anything more than a very modest boost?”

    IDK. Anecdata I’ve heard of is that prep impact ranges from modest to fairly substantial (e.g., totally clueless student + great prep). I have no anecdata to suggest prep hurts scores.

    Of course, that does not prevent me from speculating. Some guesses:

    -Most prep providers aren’t very good, pulling down the average boost.

    -Most kids who take prep go into prep already not totally clueless.

    -Stats might include some very minimal prep classes.

  64. Rhett – That’s disheartening about the charity, but I’d heard casually from some people that that was the way it was going. The head of it seems like a prick.

  65. “I hear there are SAT subject tests, but don’t recall this from going through myself. When should you take them? One person suggested taking as soon as you finish the course…such as the chemistry test right after taking sophomore chemistry.”

    That’s pretty typical. DS, along with most of the rest of his chem class, took the SAT chem test at the end of that class. A lot of kids will take subject tests in May, right in the middle of AP testing. so they can study from both tests simultaneously.

    Fun fact: when I was in HS and took the subject tests (they were called achievement tests back then), there were two people in the room: the proctor and me.

  66. “Of course, I would argue that the causal relationship is mainly in reverse. IOW, the students cause the school to have higher scores.”

    Some of the students cause some of the other students to have higher scores also. E.g., my kids’ friends who told their classmates about the SAT prep apps, and who share test taking and prep info.

  67. “With employers using SAT scores as a resume sorting metric, wouldn’t it always make sense to keep trying to get a higher score even if you score was high enough to get into your first choice?”

    Not necessarily.

  68. I dislike some of this college stuff because it even trickles down to 6th grade. Our district offers a world language choice to all 6th graders. Kids and teachers from the HS come to the middle school for an assembly to “promote” their language. The flyers for each language came home in the backpack, and the first bullet point for reasons to take Italian – makes you stand out on your college applications! The teacher included the exclamation point. The second bullet point was that Italian is the closest language to Latin, and it will help you with your English vocabulary for the SAT. These kids are 11!! I thought it was unnecessary to introduce those facts at this point.

    DD was more interested in the junior year trip to Italy vs. a trip to Costa Rica if you study Spanish.

  69. “They generally expect that these kids should have a combined score that is 200-300 points higher (on the old version out of 2400) than a kid coming from a different background.

    How do they expect this when all the evidence says prep classes add maybe, at the very most, 100 points?”

    Probably a combination of mostly competent teachers from kindergarten on, constant exposure to the English language, having textbooks every year, being told that prep for the SAT was important, having some support/expectation from the school that they take and/or prepare for the tests, being told to take the subject tests after they finish the class (e.g. take the chemistry subject test after finishing chemistry).

  70. “I dislike some of this college stuff because it even trickles down to 6th grade. Our district offers a world language choice to all 6th graders. Kids and teachers from the HS come to the middle school for an assembly to “promote” their language. The flyers for each language came home in the backpack, and the first bullet point for reasons to take Italian – makes you stand out on your college applications! The teacher included the exclamation point. The second bullet point was that Italian is the closest language to Latin, and it will help you with your English vocabulary for the SAT. These kids are 11!! I thought it was unnecessary to introduce those facts at this point.

    DD was more interested in the junior year trip to Italy vs. a trip to Costa Rica if you study Spanish.”

    Don’t complain about having steak every night when some of us are starving.

  71. Murphy, what kind of prep did your DD do?

    She might be someone who suggests another possible reason for the stat Rhett cited: low improvement due to limited headroom.

  72. Not necessarily.

    How so? You can choose to send the scores from the sitting of your choice is my understanding.

  73. Finn,

    She didn’t do any. She didn’t even get to bed early the night before she took the ACT.

  74. How so? You can choose to send the scores from the sitting of your choice is my understanding.

    Some schools want all scores from every sitting of ACT and SAT

  75. “She didn’t do any. She didn’t even get to bed early the night before she took the ACT.”

    Thus, one more to the list of possible answers for Rhett.

  76. Murphy,

    Lauren said, “The elite colleges assume (expect) that kids from certain zip codes, private or public high schools will have a SAT tutor or private prep class. The admissions office actually build this assumption into the scores ”

    It seems, from her comment, that they are judging the scores on the use of test prep classes and tutors above and beyond whatever else is to be expected.

  77. “With employers using SAT scores as a resume sorting metric, wouldn’t it always make sense to keep trying to get a higher score even if you score was high enough to get into your first choice?”

    There are a number of reasons:

    -As mentioned before, the SAT is not offered all that often, and typically overscheduled totebaggy kids will often have to give up something to take the test, and to prep for it.

    -Taking the test again, especially without prepping, could lead to a lower score, and as Murphy points out, some schools require submission of all scores.

    In general, once a kid reaches his /her ceiling, the point of diminishing returns has been reached.

  78. We chose not to join the SAT rat race until summer after sophomore year in high school, when we signed up for test prep. Now the SAT/PSAT mania is over (7 months later).

  79. Even if you get a lower score the second time you take the SAT, most schools now “super-score” (take the highest math/verbal score and combine them), so it’s not as big a risk as when we were kids.

  80. My son’s private school enrolls everyone in an on line adaptive learning test prep course called My Prepworks. Our school has a ton of National Merit Scholars. I’ve since found out that a lot of prestigious boarding schools enroll the entire class in this and the college counselors can see who is using it and who is not. I guess it’s in between having a private tutor and self study, it seems very effective.

  81. The best test prep DS2 had was one particularly good teacher for AP english language. He took the SAT before her class, and after her class, and did no prep in between, and scored 120 points higher on verbal. A really good teacher who drills grammar can make a difference! DS1 improved with a prep course, but now that DS3 is that age I think we’ll use the Khan Academy option that wasn’t available to the older boys.
    We didn’t send scores to “reach” schools directly from registering for the test, but instead, just paid the fee to send the scores when they applied. That way, we knew if he scored high enough to be competitive before we sent the scores. And yes, schools do seem to take your highest in each category if you have taken the test several times.

  82. I took a paid course to prep for my graduate entry exam. That made sense to me – it is a knowledge based exam, so there is necessary review of material that needs to happen. I really appreciated the 5 or so half exams we took (4 hours) and one or two full exams (8 hours). I needed to learn some test taking stamina. I scored well on my last practice exam, and was invited to come teach for the company.

    I was interviewed – requested to teach a 5 minute lesson. They asked a bunch of people to leave and then the rest of us went to learn the patented teaching method for a few hours. Then we were assigned our own classes. They asked me what my SAT/ACT score were on my application, but I am pretty confident they never confirmed them (I never signed permission for them to do it). I remember this because it struck me as odd at the time.

    I think I was a pretty average teacher. I found it hard – we had a list of bullet points to cover for each class – so that each 5 minute block was structured. There was no room for chatting, or anything pleasant (not that the parents were paying for me to chat with their kids). The economics of it blew my mind. I made $15/hr. The kids paid $600 (if I recall) for 24 hours of prep. There were 15 or so students in my class. Most of the kids in my class were aiming for a place in the state school system (big and famous) – I remember that not a single one mentioned applying to a school out of state. The students were very unengaged. This was in an expensive area of a major metro.

    I would never pay for my kids to take such a class (I know, way to early to make such declarations). Maybe, I might pay for an online program, but it seems like there are good resources. I might even pay an older student to work through problems with them – they might need the butt in seat time and detachment that is easier for someone else to enforce.

  83. Interesting mental exercise: Subtract 100-200 points from your SAT score. Would it have mattered?

    For me and DH, yes – I got a merit scholarship based on my score and DH went to a very difficult to enter school. For my brother, no (state flagship, well above the cutoff). For many of my very smart high school friends, no.

  84. “Subtract 100-200 points from your SAT score. Would it have mattered?”

    For me, probably (I’m including SAT and GMAT). For DH, no. For DS1, likely.

  85. Subtract 100-200 points from your SAT score. Would it have mattered?

    For my sibs and me, yes (very selective schools). For my husband, maybe not (state flagship).

  86. For my sibs and me, yes (very selective schools). For my husband, maybe not (state flagship).

    But would going to state flagship instead of the very selective schools mattered for you and your sibs?

  87. Going to different schools would of course have changed things in our lives. My sister met her husband there. My brother’s school was especially well suited to his interests and career plan. And for me, no question that the name has opened doors. Plus we all really enjoyed our college experience. Is that what you were asking?

  88. I was following up on Ada’s mental exercise of how people’s lives would be impacted if they scored 150 points less on the SAT. Obviously we have no way of knowing how our lives would have turned out if we went to different colleges. Maybe your sister would have met an equally great husband at a different school. Maybe you would’ve taken a different career path that would’ve been even better than the one you ended up on. Or things could have turned out worse. There’s no way of knowing.

    It’s like when people who get divorced say they don’t regret the marriage because they have two great kids from it. If they didn’t marry the person, maybe they would have married someone else and had two other equally great kids and also had a marriage that worked out. But there’s no way to know.

  89. “It’s like when people who get divorced say they don’t regret the marriage because they have two great kids from it. If they didn’t marry the person, maybe they would have married someone else and had two other equally great kids and also had a marriage that worked out. But there’s no way to know.”

    I smiled when I read this because this is the same thing said when marriages are being arranged by family and friends. “if you don’t like this guy or that girl, don’t take it personally, move on, you still have a good chance for a happy life”.
    I like reading through the comments because even though my kids are a few years away, like Lauren mentions there are already choices that need to get made and totebaggers have offered good advice from different points of view which has been very helpful to me.

  90. OT: DD was in a school bus accident on the way home yesterday, and now I think we need to get her a phone just for the bus ride.

    When the bus was 20 minutes late, a neighbor called the school and was told about the accident and that there were no injuries, so we should just wait.

    When the bus was 45 minutes late, I called the school to get an update – and got the answering machine. They had locked up and gone home!

    Luckily all the kids were okay and eventually the bus brought them home – the damage was minor. DD said an assistant principal stopped by the accident scene, so at least someone did something.

    Any recommendations for a phone with no data? I only want her to be able to call us and her grandparents, and to receive texts.

  91. Sky,
    I would recommend you get your DD an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. WalMart.com has a ton of basic phones. I don’t know if there are really simple phones from the main providers anymore that limit the phone to calling 911 plus a few other numbers without any data services. Going the prepaid route also avoids having to add her to your plan.

  92. In threadjack news, the seller accepted our offer and we are now doing the inspections and so forth on the house in Santa Cruz and DH and I are having total heart attacks at such a big step. I went to bed at 7pm last night because I was so stressed out. But really, it’s not like I’m taking this big bunch of money and playing baccarat with Le Chiffre, right? Buying a second house isn’t an absolutely stupid thing to do, it’s only stupid in comparison with putting the money in an index fund which historically will provide better returns. ::hyperventilates::

  93. “The elite colleges assume (expect) that kids from certain zip codes, private or public high schools will have a SAT tutor or private prep class. The admissions office actually build this assumption into the scores that they expect from a typical totebagger child vs. a kid from a less privileged background or HS.”

    Well, sort of. Our admissions office takes the rigor of the high school into account when determining the weight of rank — the top 5% at Sidwell or New Trier is equivalent to the top 20% at a less competitive school, for example. URM/legacies/athletes/donors get a boost all around. Not much allowance for the working class white kid attending a mediocre school, but when I see promise in those applications I flag them despite test scores. The truth is that there aren’t very many of them. Most of our applicants are totebag kids.

    But at our selective school, the baseline is 1400 SAT and 32 ACT. Below that, the presumption is deny even if you are in the top 5% of the class. It’s unfortunate, but after seeing dozens of really weak files with straight A’s (and Lake Woebegone letters from teachers and counselors), I can better understand the emphasis on test scores. You could fill the freshman class several times over with strong students, and there just isn’t time to sift through applications and discern the “best” among them. It’s apparently hard enough to discern the “best” among the high-scoring, top of the class kids.

  94. Sky – Are you sure you’re thinking this through? What, specifically, are you worried might happen if the same event were to happen and she is unable to contact you? Also, you’re confident that a 7 or 8-year old will regularly keep a phone in her backpack, diligently keep t charged, but reserve it for emergencies?

    FTR, my kids’ bus had a similar minor accident. The principal drove out there, and eventually the bus came. In that situation, kids need to be listening to what the driver, or even police are telling them to do, not calling their parents giving details that they probably don’t have themselves.

  95. Scarlett, you are confirming what I’ve understood about selective schools, that typically one of the first screening tools is test scores. What kind of discussion surrounds an applicant who is the “top 1% SAT score but only top 25% class rank”? Not that I know anyone like that . . .

  96. Milo, one of my concerns is that she has no access to her emergency meds while she is on the bus, per town policy – they are kept at school. For a fifteen minute bus ride, that is okay.

    But in an emergency, I need to be able to find her, and so it is not cool if the school staff just goes home and turns on the out of office reply.

  97. Oops. Obviously, it’s 20% Sidwell = 5% elsewhere.

    The vast majority of schools proudly declare that they do not rank their students. But admissions offices do, and the refusal to provide rank forces admissions either to guess at rank based on highest GPA information, or to rely more heavily on test scores. The minute or more that it takes me to make that calculation is that much less time to read the rest of the application. Not sure where the “we don’t rank!” trend came from, but it doesn’t help most of the applicants, especially those with lower scores.

  98. CoC, I don’t see top test scorers, low grades or otherwise. But my guess is that top grades/lower scores is more competitive than top scores/lower grades, holding all else constant. Presumption is that the former is due to laziness or other undesirable qualities.

  99. Scarlett, all of what you say was true when I worked in admissions for my grad school 30+ yrs ago. Each undergrad gpa was scaled according to a schedule we had so e.g. a 3.0 from Princeton might be = to a 4.0 from a more mid-tier school. And there were some schools where the multiplier was something like a .8 so a kid with a 4.0 from there only had a 3.2 recognized.

    This “calculus” is fun and all, but again for the vast majority of people, including totebaggers and above, actually getting a college degree is more important than the school it’s from. And graduating “with honors”, whether written in Latin or English on the diploma, is important. I know more than a few screeners/interviewers who look for that designation on resumes as deciding who makes the first cut in the hiring process.

  100. Rocky…congrats. Perhaps your first step in becoming, as WCE might say, our “slumlord” friend, if you choose to rent to students.

  101. I want to address the question about would 200 points less have mattered in two ways.

    I once said to the rich parents at my DDs prep school during the interminable college discussions that I would have traded 150 points on DD1’s SAT (2 part) for the ability to write the check. When acceptances came in the kids said, where are you going? And she said it depends on the financial aid packages, something that was incomprehensible to them. She did not take a prep class, but her school had de facto prep classes for the verbal side in the test of that era. In that era nobody thought you could prep for the math, it was just an on off switch. She would have had a fine life if she had attended a different school and followed a different career path, maybe becoming an engineer instead of a finance type. My other DD has chosen a profession for which she could have prepared at any school. But the point is that was no outside prep, nothing fraught about the test taking or college application process. They cast their net, and we waited for the acceptances and aid packages. By the time they were 14, we knew pretty much the ball park for the grades and test scores and let the chips fall where they may.

    Completely OTOH, my younger son used self verbal study to raise his SAT from PSAT more than 100 points, and that broke a certain numerical barrier that certainly gave him a wider range of colleges to attend with his mixed grades from a mediocre high school. But the most important thing about that process (also he took up golf and piano in high school with some success) is that it helped him to feel like self directed effort paid off in tangible results and that he was not the dumb fat kid he saw in the mirror at 14. So even in the same family, YMMV.

    For me, in the old days before test prep, and when SAT was taken primarily by a more homogeneous group of out of state or private college bound students, 150 points less on the test actually measured something and would have meant I was an entirely different person with a different level of native book smarts and quick problem solving ability (exceptions to that measure existed then as now for people with difficulties on standardized tests). So my life would have been entirely different, not because I would have been unable to go to a top college at 16, make my less than optimal life choices and leverage that name in the career reentry process, but because I would not have had the same package of abilities.

  102. Congrats Rocky!

    Sorry I missed this one, although now *I* am hyperventilating at all of the decisions and data and all ahead of us. I’m of the era when you just walked in and took the test, so this is a strange new — and intimidating — world.

    I agree with the article’s point that it largely depends on the kid, and also agree that on average, test prep isn’t going to do a whole lot for most kids. But I do think there are some innate abilities that makes test prep more or less effective. I identify with WCE’s description: I was the kid who’d pull a B in class but aced every standardized test ever given, because I knew the answers and was impatient with the fluff. Yes, part of that was due to native intelligence. But I also loved those tests, because the test itself was like a logic puzzle — you knew they were going to throw in some answers that were way off, and some others that looked tempting but were wrong. So half the challenge was substantive knowledge, and half was figuring out the test itself. Which I actually thought was fun and knew to look for without anyone even telling me. It’s just how I think.

    I think both of my kids have fairly similar innate intelligence. But DS inherited my innate bubble-filling ability, while DD did not. She just does not think strategically, or make connections between apparently unrelated facts. For ex., I used rudimentary 4th-grade Latin to reason my way to identifying the meaning of words that I had never seen before; DD knows things like “bi” = “two” and some similar stuff, but she just sort of stares at unfamiliar words instead of puzzling through them. She knows all of the individual math rules and can apply them perfectly, but she doesn’t always immediately know which rule to apply to a given word problem, or how to start with the information you are given to work backwards to get the information you need in a multi-step word problem. She is a memorizer and a concrete thinker who doesn’t deal well with abstractions.

    So I do think she would benefit from the kind of test prep this guy is talking about — very clear drilling on the specific rules and vocabulary that the test covers, over a period of time that is long enough that it can become innate (and including turning those test-taking skills into specific rules and processes she can follow as she works through the test so she knows how to approach the questions she does not immediately know the answer to).

  103. Congrats Rocky!

    Sky – that is quite scary. The school totally dropped the ball on that one – someone should have been manning the phones, at the very least for information, and at the very most for students with medical concerns.

    I skipped the SAT talk because it’s so different from when I took it. I pray that DS takes after DH in that department. My SAT/GRE score are the lower end of average which probably means I shouldn’t be where I am based on that metric alone. DH’s life has been far simpler because he could take those tests (or has the aptitude/abilities measured by the test) and do well.

  104. “Interesting mental exercise: Subtract 100-200 points from your SAT score. Would it have mattered?”

    I took the ACT being from flyover country, but the same applies. Would it have mattered if my score was 2 points less? Doubtful – I was overqualified for the school I attended and the scholarships that I got. Would it have mattered if it was 2 points higher? Maybe, but I didn’t really want to go to a highly selective coastal school as discussed previously. I also decided against going to highly selective Midwestern schools for other reasons.

    I did not prep for the test beyond taking the practice test. The first time, I got invited to a college party the night before. That obviously was not the ideal test taking scenario. :) The second time, I got a good night’s sleep ahead of time and got the exact same score. I went to a mid-sized high school in a smallish town in a ruralish area. Not totebaggy, but not exactly disadvantaged either. Same general area as WCE, but it seems my schooling experience was much different from hers at the same general time period. Maybe my school district was bigger & had more resources. I don’t know.

  105. I used rudimentary 4th-grade Latin to reason my way to identifying the meaning of words that I had never seen before

    That’s the intelligence the test is attempting to measure – the ability to extrapolate what you don’t know out of what you do know.

  106. What if you don’t know ANY Latin?

    Which include probably >99% of the kids taking the test.

  107. “What if you don’t know ANY Latin?”

    Then you’re disadvantaged. This illustrates why the combination of knowledge and intelligence is important, why content matters in education.

    ATM — That sounds like a stupid idea.

  108. What if you don’t know ANY Latin?

    If you know what bisexual and biplane mean you should be able to work out what biracial means even if you don’t specially know the linguistic origins of the prefix.

  109. CoC – I don’t know how an untimed test would work with kids with accommodations. They in theory could be sitting there all day.

    I know my kids work better with a hard, meaningful deadline.

  110. “Which include probably >99% of the kids taking the test.”

    I originally laughed at LFB’s “rudimentary 4th grade Latin” comment as totally Totebaggy. And then I realized that my kid does start learning Latin & Greek in 4th grade at his school. (which just proves the point really)

  111. I think DS would like more time for a test :-). He could end up sitting there all day. Nothing though could save him from putting down Synonyms for Antonyms even though it says right there – an Antonym is the opposite of the word in bold….

  112. “Interesting mental exercise: Subtract 100-200 points from your SAT score. Would it have mattered?”

    Yes. I needed my NMF $$ to cover 1/4 of my college tuition — and beyond that, the NMF status made colleges want to throw $$ at me to convince me to attend. I needed that money.

  113. Congrats Rocky!

    Sky, that is very concerning and I know the same exact thing would happen in my district. Big, dark hole about why buses are late or missing. The transportation guys in my district never return calls or emails.

    People aren’t there to answer questions when buses are missing at 7am etc.

    I think the prepaid cell might be a good idea for emergencies.

  114. I think having any of the romance languages that are based on Latin probably help with the verbal stuff. I found that high school English was very light on grammar and so taking French and German really helped me with vocabulary, sentence construction, etc.

    Sky – my DD’s bus broke down a few times back when she still took the bus (she’s at the main campus which is .5 mile from our house now so we walk) and the first year I had to call the school to find out what happened. By the time she was in first grade they instituted text alerts to parents if the bus was running late. In fact the PTA has a bus parent liaison that coordinates it all.

  115. Rocky – awesome!

    Sky – is it also verboten for her to keep emergency meds in her backpack? (I am thinking of our niece with severe allergies, who has her epipen on her at all times, including to/from school and at school.)

    I was a really good test-taker – this was at the tail end of the no-study-required times, and I didn’t study at all for the PSAT or the SAT and was still an NMS, etc. By the time I was taking the LSAT, my friends who took the MCAT were taking Kaplan courses, so I got maybe 3 books of practice tests and raised my score from maybe 80th to 98th percentile. I was not a native logic-speaker like HM and LfB. ;)

  116. The ability to find patterns is seldom taught, if it can be taught. Schools seem to want to teach concrete steps and demand that you follow them, regardless of whether they fit your personal learning style.

    This morning, I told Twin 2 that he should not wear favorite sweatshirt #1 so it’s clean for the trip. I then said, “Ditto for favorite sweatshirt #2” and then I said, “Ditto means “the same thing”” because I realized he might not know what I was saying. One of the boys said, “Now I know why the Pokemon named Ditto can only turn into another Pokemon. The only thing he can do is transform.”

    This pattern finding ability does not solve the problem of DS1’s missing new shoe, which is needed for the trip. He’s wearing his old shoes to school today.

  117. Ivy, part of the root of our school perception difference may be that Mississippi River towns were disproportionately affected by the transportation (railroad and barge shipping) layoffs during the farm crisis of the 1980’s. The population of my town dropped by ~20% while I was in elementary school and the people who moved were disproportionately those who could get jobs elsewhere. I observed the same phenomenon later for other blue collar river towns during the Farm Crisis.

  118. “People aren’t there to answer questions when buses are missing at 7am etc.”

    Lauren, really? Our bus operations people are there from about 630am till 4pm…or until the last bus is back from the regularly scheduled route.

  119. Rhode – I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I wonder what you mean by low average. If it’s like Middle Class? 900? The middle 50 %ile is 880 – 1020. Or do you mean Middle Class Low Average, like 1300?

  120. Sky, check out T-mobile prepaid plans. They have one that’s $3/month for 30 minutes or texts. I think you can use any t-mobile phone, so if you have access to an old dumb phone that would probably work well for what you want.

    Some of the newer phones can access the internet (DD’s has wifi), so you want to be careful in choosing the phone.

  121. “the baseline is 1400 SAT”

    Scarlett, is that out of 1600?

    If so, yes, your are very selective. Stanford’s 25%ile is 1390, so you’re dipping into the same pool.

    Is your school a SLAC?

  122. I was struck by how Scarlett’s numbers (1400 SAT/32 ACT) were similar to the numbers of the people that graduated in my department at Land Grant U. Essentially the same selection process was completed during freshman/sophomore years, even though the average incoming ACT for the university was 24. (SAT is/was not a good metric for Iowa.)

  123. WCE, IOW the SAT/ACT are pretty accurate predictors of college performance, at least in your field?

    Perhaps using the test results in that manner might save some kids the time, anguish, and expense of washing out in that major and having to change major. E.g., just start in CS and graduate earlier.

  124. WCE – that makes sense. We had industry not related to farming or transportation and the town still has a pretty steady population.

  125. ” Buying a second house isn’t an absolutely stupid thing to do, it’s only stupid in comparison with putting the money in an index fund which historically will provide better returns”

    Real estate in the greater Bay Area has historically shown a very high ceiling. and given that your offer was a lowball, you could well beat an index fund return, especially if you are leveraged.

    It’s also a way of diversifying your portfolio.

  126. “Not much allowance for the working class white kid attending a mediocre school, but when I see promise in those applications I flag them despite test scores. The truth is that there aren’t very many of them. Most of our applicants are totebag kids.”

    This brings to mind Murphy’s DD, who might be both a ” working class white kid attending a mediocre school” and a totebag kid, not to mention with test scores that don’t require handicapping to meet your cutoff.

    Would she be someone that schools are falling over themselves to accept? Sort of like a URM kid who also exceeds academic cutoffs?

    I’m curious as to how she would stack up against kids from Sidwell.

  127. An URM with top scores and grades can probably get accepted most anywhere. Bonus for being first generation. Change skin color and all bets are off, though I know that the staff here is very aware of SES and that low income helps if all else is the same.
    But it’s rarely the same.

  128. Scarlett, Fred, thanks for sharing your insights into the selection process. I’ve heard some of this stuff before, but in less detail. It’s also a lot more credible coming from people you ‘know.’

    “An URM with top scores and grades can probably get accepted most anywhere.”

    Yeah, any time you hear about someone who got accepted to all the Ivies, odds are he/she is a URM. I’ve never heard of that happening to a non-URM.

    But I’m thinking Murphy’s DD is somewhat unusual. Not URM, many of the totebaggy advantages, including SES, but without the totebaggy HS and its advantages, yet still able to get test scores comparable to fully totebaggy kids. Does she get bonus points for that, relative to the fully totebaggy (non-URM) kids?

  129. Over the past 50 years, people like Murphy’s daughter have overwhelmingly left where they grew up and moved to Totebaggy cities. I suspect there are fewer and fewer very talented, non-immigrant disadvantaged children as geographic mobility increases.

    High COL cities and college towns are overrepresented among Totebaggers.

  130. Finn, even if kids like Murphy’s daughter get admitted to a highly selective school, would they attend, for financial and cultural reasons?

    If my babysitter had to choose between HYPS and BYU, I’m not convinced she would or should choose HYPS, given her cultural background and desire for family proximity.

  131. “if kids like Murphy’s daughter get admitted to a highly selective school, would they attend, for financial and cultural reasons?”

    IDK, but I would think that would vary from kid to kid.

    “If my babysitter had to choose between HYPS and BYU, I’m not convinced she would or should choose HYPS, given her cultural background and desire for family proximity.”

    OTOH, there may be kids from similar situations who feel stifled, and would eagerly embrace HYPS, e.g., a kid with liberal leanings growing up in a very conservative environment.

    Also keep in mind that HYPS are very generous with need-based aid, and while Murphy’s DD might not get a lot of aid, your babysitter might find the net cost of HYPS to be less than that of BYU.

  132. Finn, IMHO, HYPS are NOT generous with need-based aid to families with several children who will be in college over 10+ years. Have you looked at the EFC for a family of 6 earning $100k whose savings/inheritance are not locked into a high-priced home?

  133. “now *I* am hyperventilating at all of the decisions and data and all ahead of us. I’m of the era when you just walked in and took the test, so this is a strange new — and intimidating — world.”

    Don’t worry, you have a lot of us here with kids just ahead of yours, and you can always bring up your questions here. I hope you, and others with kids your age (hey, where’s SSM been recently?) are benefiting from some of these discussions.

    That said, I suggest that you dive into this sooner rather than later. IMO, you should start getting your toes wet when your oldest is in MS, and be fully immersed no later than the start of sophomore year.

    I’ve mentioned that my kids plan out their entire HS course plan when in 8th grade, subject to annual review. I suggest this is also the time to start putting together a tentative SAT/ACT/PSAT/NMSQT/AP plan as well, also subject to review and change.

  134. Finn, I stand corrected. When I entered representative data for one kid in college on some FAFSA calculator a while ago, it gave an EFC for one of my kids in college of $40k and divided that by two for two in college. I looked at H and S-specific financial aid calculators and it’s more like $10k EFC.

  135. WCE, no, I haven’t looked into any situations like that. I’ve looked a bit at our situation, just enough to know that our chances of getting a enough aid to affect a decision to attend or not attend one of those schools does not look good.

    Perhaps I’ve drank their Kool-aid. I’ve read anecdotes about low SES kids getting very generous aid packages, and also seen the stats that show those schools being among the best in terms of least amount of debt among their grads.

    Of course, you realize that I am looking forward to the day, a number of years from now, when one of your kids gets accepted to HYPS with enough aid to make that a viable alternative to, or less expensive than, a land grant U, and I can say ITYS.

  136. really. There is an assistant that answers phones from 7:30 – 3:30, but buses start picking up int he district at 6:40am, and end with elementary and late activity buses after 4PM. they never answer the phones during the day. The assistant for the district office answers the phones, but the transportation guy never answers emails or phone calls. it is very frustrating.

  137. Finn, should that occur, I will take the “I told you so” in the friendly spirit with which it is intended. I suppose I’m recalcitrant because I remember how bitterly disappointed I was with the aid package at MIT, and, unlike Meme and LfB, had no idea that I should have applied to a broader selection of schools with, possibly, a broader selection of financial aid packages. It took a lot of lawnmowing to pay the $50 application to MIT.

  138. Maybe RMS will invite Finn and me to a get-together in Santa Cruz.

    For others who struggle with California geography, I remember that “San” or “Santa” cities are probably along the Coast, due to the Spanish missions started there. Other cities (Davis, Irvine, Modesto, Stockton, Sacramento) are usually not along the Coast.

  139. Murphy,
    I can’t remember the details of your situation or your former handle. I am new at this and not working from the top of the pile. What admissions looks for here are

    Taking most rigorous courses offered in core academic areas with top grades, a decent mix of activities (leadership, individual awards, Eagle Scout or Girl Scout equivalent, volunteers work, significant time at ANY job, family duties etc), great essays. Teacher evaluations that say “best student in 10 years” are taken very seriously.
    The few applications I have seen from non tote baggy schools have very mediocre teacher letters. Sometimes with spelling errors. Sometimes just a form. So that is one disadvantage.

  140. “The few applications I have seen from non tote baggy schools have very mediocre teacher letters. Sometimes with spelling errors. Sometimes just a form. So that is one disadvantage.”

    Is a poorly written recommendation letter held against the kid applying, or is it considered evidence of the kid coming from a disadvantaged background?

    I can see a poorly written essay, written by the applicant, held against the applicant, but I would think that a poorly written LoR from a teacher might be considered as evidence of disadvantaged background.

  141. Lauren, I called the principal about not being able to reach anyone yesterday after the bus accident.

    He insisted that everyone stayed in the office until 5. Then I asked so many questions about how I could have gotten the answering machine instead of the secretary and what number I should have called that he finally admitted the staff all left once they heard there were no injuries, instead of waiting until all the children were home.

    It’s a big school and he wouldn’t recognize me now, but if he tries that technique on me twice I may become a lot more memorable.

    And this is going to sound nuts, but have you considered going to the transportation office next time you are nearby (maybe while closing out your building permits)? If you are feeling really evil you could try certified mail, but you can probably get a bus stop moved if you stand there and ask.

  142. A poorly written evaluation would not be held against the applicant, but it deprives the admissions staff of potentially helpful information. The same kid at a tote bag school would get a very detailed letter. Plus the good schools have a history with admissions so there is some context for the gpa and course rigor.

  143. Sky, they know me. I am not complaining about transportation for my child, but on behalf of parents that write or call me to complain since they can’t get to the transportation guy. I sit on a couple of different Boards in my district so I hear from parents. It is ridiculous that our superintendent knows that these guys don’t return calls or emails, but she said that they are very busy because they’re responsible for busing in four micro districts. They were like this when it was just my tiny district so I think it is just them. When I see, or speak to them in the district office – they’re totally fine, and say that they will look into it. I wish they would just send out email or text alerts to the parents when there are delays.

  144. Our transportation people post bus delays on Twitter. Twitter is the fastest way for information to get out because it can take some time for the phone dialer/text alert system to process in a district with 14,000 students.

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