Last year, Baltimore Fishbowl writer Rachel Monroe reported on the parental angst incited by the low acceptance rates of Baltimore students at elite colleges. Since then, not much has changed: acceptance rates remain relatively low at area high schools while New England’s best prep schools still send students by the dozens to top colleges. Why is this so? Myths abound claiming either children of billionaires or impoverished students who have overcome impossible circumstances have the advantage, but, in truth, these applicants remain the exception.
Well, what’s the difference? Do the most competitive colleges have a prejudice against Baltimore? Not at all. The difference lies in a simple reality: Baltimore is situated in one of the most competitive geographic regions in the nation. Colleges first evaluate applicants on a regional basis, and the vast majority of admissions offices group Baltimore with the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Savvy D.C. parents—like those in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston—understand the level of competition and realize that, in college admissions, doing well at a good school is only half the battle. That’s why those aforementioned markets are saturated with excellent SAT tutors, subject tutors, and private admissions consultants.
In this respect, Baltimore lags behind. Indeed, many Baltimore parents might balk at the rates that the best SAT tutors and private college counselors charge in hyper-competitive markets. But in New York, $150 an hour for a private SAT tutor is considered on the low end. Similarly, private counselors offer packages that range from $4,000 to $15,000. That might sound pricey, too, but these counselors get results. The best test prep consultants help students achieve an average 300-350 point increase on the SAT, which can make a significant difference in an applicant’s chances for admission.
Affluent Baltimore parents foot tuition bills that rival prep schools in other highly competitive zones. Given that for many top colleges GPA counts for just one-third of a student’s academic profile while the other two-thirds are determined by SAT and SAT Subject Test scores, maybe it’s time for local parents to reconsider high-end standardized test prep. After all, isn’t the objective of sending a child to private school in the first place to afford him or her more opportunities in the future?
Moreover, studies have shown that higher SAT scores augment the advantage of being a legacy applicant as well as applying early action or early decision (equivalent to 100 point boost to an SAT score).