The college process is too expensive, creates winners and losers based on wealth

Jack Parsons

There was one particular week in late May of my junior year during which I remember feeling like I was fully engaged in the “college process.” That week, I had been one of the busiest days of my high school career. After school, I had an hour of math tutoring to prepare me for a test on Friday. I then went to an SAT tutor for an hour and a half, and finally reached my doorstep at 8 p.m. after a meeting with my college counselor for an hour.

At first, these came across as chores. I had no idea of the costs of these sessions and simply attended them because they would push me further towards an A in math, a good score on my SAT and a semi-readable college essay. In all honesty, I took them completely for granted.

Now, application season, the culmination of endless college prep, is in full swing. As deadlines approach, I feel comfortable. I have a solid idea of how to write an exceptional college essay, fill out and submit multiple online applications and submit a test score that I have worked hard for. In retrospect, I now realize that I would be lost in the college application process if it were not for the guidance I received. I have had access to college preparation resources that are not affordable for everyone, which I appreciate, but I am keenly aware that this puts those without access at a disadvantage. There are significant advantages for students who have the financial resources to pay for additional help, which often lands them better grades, better scores and thus a better chance at acceptance. The trend that those with more money are rewarded reveals an inequity that should not exist.

To have a fair chance of being accepted to a university, a student needs a strong SAT score, a transcript and a submitted online application. For some at Redwood, submitting these pieces comes with a sense of confidence and the feeling that everything has been done to prepare. We can rest assured that we tried our hardest on the SAT, received satisfactory grades and knew exactly how to fill out an application because our counselor or tutor was steering us in the right direction from start to finish.

Let’s begin with the SAT or ACT, both of which have significant weight in college admissions. While the wordy reading questions or seemingly impossible math problems may indicate otherwise, the SAT or ACT tests are not particularly complex in their purest form. Performance is rather dependant on whether you know the tips and shortcuts to boil these “impossible” questions down to simple algebra or English. Standardized testing is more a measure of preparation than innate intelligence, and preparation is much easier and effective with the help of a tutor.

On test days, feeling the confidence from preparation is obviously easier when a tutor was involved, but these tutors are extremely costly. According to Prepscholar, families can end up paying up to $200 an hour for a tentative promise of their child’s success, assuming their son/daughter attends the tutor regularly. For middle class and struggling families, getting an SAT or ACT tutor is not a priority when basic necessities come first, and take up the majority of their income. According to The New York Times, students coming from families with an average income of more than $200,000 scored an average of 250 points higher on the SAT than students with families with an average income under $20,000. Clearly, there is an injustice in the system, stemming from the fact that socioeconomic status directly influences the college process.

One of the resources which is most directly linked to financial status is tutoring. Working towards good GPA obviously requires self-drive; it would be unattainable without the late nights studying, hours of homework and meetings with teachers. However, self-drive alone doesn’t cut it for many, which is why many families hire tutors. Whenever I feel stumped by a subject, I am fortunate enough to be able to contact a tutor and get help, regardless of the subject. I also acknowledge that tutors are not a right, they are a major privilege. Tutors can cost anywhere from $45 to $60 per hour according to Angieslist, and can be even more expensive in Marin. While the growth of the internet has provided low cost or free resources for students without the financial backing for a tutor, tutors are more likely able to successfully cater to an individual student’s needs than a YouTuber that is viewed by millions of people. In the end, the best option for maximum performance is a personal, face-to-face tutor.

Additionally, college counselors play a major role in the application process when and if they are hired. They make important individual deadlines, help formulate potential ideas for essay topics and most importantly, provide professional insight on application essays. While public schools offer some form of free college counseling, counselors are often booked and often cannot see individual students an adequate amount of times, highlighting the advantage of a private counselor. While counselors rarely charge hourly rates, their package deals are an accumulation of an approximately $200 hourly fee, according to Ivy Coach, an online college counseling site that provides services through Skype and Facetime. Both tutors and college counselors are very helpful in the process, but many people are held back from hiring them because of financial incapability.

In the end, college preparation is an enterprise, and those who can afford the resources will likely be better off. Standardized test scores should not correlate to how much money was spent on a tutor. College essays should reflect the individual writer’s strength, not that of the paid counselor. While not a necessity, college counselors, SAT tutors and subject tutors often elevate students’ abilities to score higher on tests and therefore have a better chance at acceptance, and the fact that many families cannot afford these resources shows a large injustice in our education system.