If someone told you you could invest $3000 over a year and get $74,000 back over the next 5 years, you’d probably do it, right? Your “it’s too good to be true” radar would probably go up, but if it proved possible, you’d be sort of foolish not to, wouldn’t you?
In the realm of college applications, two things really do have that sort of ROI: GPA and test scores. The good news is that these two things are also very much in the control of the student. (Okay, it’s also bad news that a teenager has that much control over something they may not fully understand.)
Many colleges and universities offer merit-based aid packages that can be especially generous. Oklahoma State University has an out-of-state program that offers students $10,000 off of out-of-state tuition if they have a 3.0 and 1160 SAT. That’s not a very high bar to have to get over. Most students with a 1050 can find enough low-hanging fruit in their test prep to boost their scores 110 points. Brush up on geometry and learn some comma rules.
Spending $700 on a quality course where the student could get that 1160 would mean saving $40,000 over 4 years. That’s 5700%.
How it works
For most schools, the GPA and test scores work in tandem with GPA carrying a little more of the load. Test scores by themselves won’t be a golden ticket to lots of money, but even with a 3.0 GPA a student can qualify for generous breaks. Other schools have similar programs. The University of Alabama offers a range of scholarships.
Their most generous is $26k per year for a 3.5 GPA and 1420 SAT, and a student with a 3.0 and a 1360 could get $15k per year. Those are just two examples, both from public universities. Many private schools have equally generous programs.
It’s not just hypothetical
I got to thinking about this when I heard from a family I’ve worked with over the last year. We’ve met in 1:1 tutorials and helped the student get to an elite score. He got into his top choice university with a academic aid package of $74k over 4 years. That’s just so far. He’s waiting to hear back about 2 other programs he’s applied to. The family is going to save over 20 times what they spent in college prep.
That’s an amazing return on the investment in the five years between Senior year of high school and college graduation.
It’s never too late
One of the most interesting things about automatic merit aid programs like this is that it’s usually never too late to get a qualifying score. Okay, you have to have the score before you start taking classes, but up until that time you can keep working at getting the score you need. I’ve worked with students who took the ACT in July before they started at a school because 2 more points meant another $7k off tuition.
As always, make sure to do your research. Find a tutor who will track your results so you can measure improvement as the test date gets closer. Make sure you’re working with officially released practice tests. Review the questions you missed and the questions you guessed at to see what you could do better.