I have gone from the idealistic educator who was highly self-conscious promoting the benefits of test prep to someone who realizes the foolishness of not advocating the benefits to my Connecticut clientele.
The hesitation stemmed from a combination of worry about being self-serving (still there) and my own educational 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. Now the SAT (and ACT) has become essential to help pay for college. When I work with our college counseling clients, I feel the stress of my parent-clients related to paying 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 college savings plans.