Over the years, I have gone from the idealistic educator who was a bit self-conscious in promoting the benefits of SAT prep to someone who realizes the foolishness of not advocating the benefits to my Connecticut clientele.
The hesitation in the past stemmed from a combination of worry about being self-serving (still there) and my own liberal arts education purist disposition. My embrace stemmed, oddly enough, more from economic realism than from college admission realism.
In the past, the SAT was a critical weapon to help our clients gain admission to colleges of their choice. Now the SAT (and ACT) has become essential to not only help gain admission but also to pay for college. When I work with our college counseling clients, I become highly empathetic – as a father of three college and soon to be college age children – about the stress they feel in paying for college.
When I started this work in the early 2000s, parents were worried about gaining admission to elite colleges. Now parents are more worried about their capacity to pay for college. I have seen the correlation of test scores and merit aid awards. Test prep has sometimes led to $100,000 over four years. The simple truth is that colleges, at the level one step below the elite, are in a fight for survival. If they do not attract top students, their reputations drop as do those tuition dollars. This can bring a death spiral. To ensure a top reputation, colleges need to attract top students. The easiest way they can demonstrate student quality is through an objective measurement such as the SAT (and ACT). So, they do what any sensible marketer would do: they spend money on what will help get people to buy their product. In the college game, this means giving scholarships to high SAT scorers.
Start test prep now. It turns out to be better than most inputs to a 529 plan.