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Test Scores Turned into Dollars

Note: I'm excited to publish a blog post today by Erika Brucia, a test prep expert I work with to help families of college bound kids cut the cost of education for their kids. 

Erika holds a Master's Degree in Secondary Education and has over twenty years of educational experience. A former high school English and History teacher, Erika now runs her own test prep business in La Costa. In addition to preparing students for standardized tests, she also helps kids with college essays and term papers, and tutors for several Advanced Placement courses. Erika has four daughters in the San Dieguito school district.

Nearly every parent who contacts me about test prep expresses the wish for their child to achieve a "good" test score. Naturally, the definition of good varies according to the colleges on that student's wish list. Most families focus on that magic number which grants their child admission to his or her university of choice. But test scores can do much more than gain admission: the higher the test score, the more money a student can get towards the cost of tuition. 

Just how much money does a higher test score mean? Depending on the university (public or private) and whether or not a student places that university as a top choice, it can be anywhere from a few thousand to over $40,000 per year! (Check the Baylor University Cost Estimator on their website www.baylor.edu) Yes, that's right. A student with a high class ranking and top test score (over 1500+ on the SAT or 35+ on the ACT) can earn well over six figures for their efforts. Parents who may balk at spending $1000-2000 on test prep would be shocked to learn the potential return on their investment.

 Take a look at the example below from the Colorado State University website:

As evidenced from the chart, one additional point on the ACT or 10 additional points on the SAT can save up to $8000 on total 4-year tuition. Students with an already strong GPA should capitalize on this opportunity and keep taking these standardized tests to achieve an optimal score. Of course, financial rewards vary by institution and are subject to other variables, but there is no question that the money is there for the taking when the test scores are right. In some cases, the money saved per test point can be up to $10,000 per year!

How can you increase the chances of merit awards and maximize your student's potential? One important step is to have your student prepare for the PSAT. This precursor to the SAT is the way that National Merit Scholars are recognized and selected for scholarship money. According to www.nationalmerit.org, last year the National Merit Scholarship Corporation awarded scholarships valued at more than $42 million to over 8,500 qualified students. Ideally, your student can stand out from the start as a National Merit Scholar and get financially rewarded while gaining the attention of colleges and universities throughout the country.

Next, don't underestimate the value of subject tutoring. Many colleges require several Advanced Placement classes in order to be competitive. Not only are these classes weighted toward your student's overall GPA, but higher scores on AP exams mean more money saved on tuition. I speak from experience: I entered NYU with over 22 college credits earned from my AP scores and saved my parents a full year of college tuition (close to $50k today). If your child is enrolled in an AP class and needs academic support, hire a tutor. A small investment now will pay large dividends later. Waiting until the AP test is looming won't cover a year's worth of fast-paced material, so keep a close eye on grades throughout the year and don't let your student flounder. Even if your student is in regular or honors classes, keeping the GPA up is essential for admittance to college as well as for gaining merit scholarships.

Finally, invest in good test preparation for the SAT and/or ACT. Students should spend approximately 12 weeks preparing for their first standardized test, and be ready to take the test several times thereafter. Not only does repeated testing benefit college applications (the opportunity to superscore), but every extra point earned is more money saved. That "magic score" for college admittance is not necessarily the score that gets the most merit dollars. Seniors can continue to take standardized tests through December if necessary to increase their chances of getting merit scholarships and easing the burden of paying for college. With proper college planning and test preparation, the cost of college tuition can be a fraction of what you might expect.