How Much Is Too Much to Pay for SAT Prep?

As college admissions become increasingly competitive, so does the race to prepare for the SAT.

Dozens of test-prep companies and methods have rushed to meet the demand of students who want to ace the test. With so many decisions to make — and with the variety of costs and logistics each can bring — determining how to prepare for the test can be overwhelming. Here are some questions you may have about how to get started.

How much should parents expect to pay?

Lots of different factors will affect how much you pay for SAT test prep. Here are a few considerations you should take into account:

  • Your location: Areas where there is a larger, more competitive market for SAT tutoring will tend to have higher rates, while more remote areas will tend to have a less expensive market. For instance, parents in New York can expect to pay more than parents in a smaller city like Providence or Charlotte.

  • The method: The kind of test prep you select will also affect the price. One-on-one tutoring (either in person or via Skype) will typically be the most expensive option, followed by group in-person classes, then group online classes, and finally, self-study.

  • The brand: Whether you are looking at books, classes, or one-on-one tutoring, renowned companies or tutors with a lot of experience will charge accordingly.

Here is what you can expect, generally,with different styles of test prep:

Tutoring

This type of SAT prep is the most variable in cost, with factors such as the tutor’s location, experience, and availability all playing a role in setting the price of each tutoring session. For instance, in New York City, a market with ample tutoring opportunities and an expensive cost of living, tutors can charge anything from $50 an hour to several hundred dollars (or more!) an hour.

What parents should look for: Parents who seek out an SAT tutor for their child should look for an educator who can also serve as a mentor and provide structure. Additionally, it's more important to consider the score the student wants to receive than the scores the tutor received. It's great if the tutor achieved a 2300 on her SAT, but none of this matters if she can't effectively communicate test-prep skills to her students.

Classes

The price of an SAT prep course will depend on the duration of the course as well as the brand, but families can expect to pay several hundred dollars for a course that spans a few weeks. For example, an 18-hour course with Kaplan starts at $749, and an 18-hour course with Princeton Review starts at $699.

What parents should look for: Parents should consider what environment their child learns best in. Does your child find being in a classroom with others distracting? If so, perhaps an online SAT course is a good option for her. If a student is energized by being around others, then it is important to look for an in-person course.

While brand names are a good bet when it comes to SAT courses, parents should still explore local options, which may be more affordable and equally comprehensive. For instance, maybe a teacher at your child’s school has been offering SAT courses for several years. Talk to parents in your community to see if they have had positive experiences with local resources.

Self-study

Studying on your own is certainly the least expensive way to prepare for the SAT. In this case, the primary costs will be studying materials. The Official SAT Study Guide, which I recommend since it is made by the test provider, can cost $10 to $20, while SAT books from leading companies like Princeton Review or Kaplan cost about $15 to $25.

There are also plenty of free resources that students can explore online. For example, Khan Academy partnered with the College Board to produce free study materials for the redesigned 2016 SAT.

What parents should look for: Parents can encourage their children to try out different self-study materials, since books and online resources are relatively affordable. It may be a good idea for students to buy a couple of books from different providers so they can see which methods work best for them. Students can also consider experimenting with different formats, such as workbooks, videos, or online guides.

Is getting a tutor worth it?

There are a variety of opinions on this question. Acknowledging the inequality that can arise when the best test prep can be so expensive, the College Board decided to redesign the SAT for 2016 so it would more directly align with new Common Core standards, and, at least in theory, require less preparation — since it would match what students are learning in school. At present, however, the test-prep tutoring industry is booming.

Dr. Kat Cohen, Noodle Expert and the CEO and founder of IvyWise, writes that if parents can afford it, tutors are definitely worth the expense. She argues that students wouldn’t go into any other test unprepared, and that the SAT has particularly high stakes in the competitive college admissions process.

Dan Edmonds, Senior Director of Research and Development at Noodle and an experienced SAT tutor, says that selecting a test-prep provider really depends on what the student is looking for. For disciplined students who want to raise their SAT score by 50 points or so, self-study can be enough. He suggests that students whose scores place them in the middle of the pack and who are looking for modest improvements (50–100 points per section), an SAT class is a great option. Finally, he explains that students who benefit most from one-on-one tutoring are those who score far above or far below average, since tutors can adapt programs of study to meet their individual needs.

Want to know more about which students thrive with different test-prep methods? Check out: How to Prep for Your Next Big Test.

How can parents get started?

Taking a practice test

To find out what your child’s baseline performance is, have her take a practice test. The College Board offers a free practice test, and so do many test-prep companies. This will give your child an idea of what areas she may want to work on and help her set personal goals.

You can review the results from this test in a one-hour consultation with a tutor. (Some tutors provide consultations for free.) This session will provide information that can help you decide which avenue is right for your teen.

Pursuing more than one option

Sometimes, the best choice for a student is to mix and match a combination of tutoring, classes, and self-study. For parents concerned about affordable test-prep options, Edmonds suggests combining an SAT course with supplementary tutoring. Students can either attend a couple of tutoring sessions in conjunction with their course (to clarify questions or focus on a student’s weaknesses), or attend a few one-on-one sessions once the course is done to clear up any questions that remain.

Interested in finding a tutor to help your child with the SAT? Use the Noodle tutor search to find qualified tutors in your area.