My 24 thousand dollar mistake college prep SAT

My $24,000 Mistake on College Tuition*

My Mistake

I think I could have requested an accommodation for the SAT based on my son’s mild anxiety. Doing so might have helped him qualify for a $6000 per year scholarship.*

First, I do characterize it as my mistake. As a parent, I was in the position to anticipate the impact of his anxiety and request an accommodation. I simply didn’t have enough information or experience to anticipate the series of events that led me to believe that an accommodation might have been appropriate. I’m trying not to beat myself up about it.

You’re probably thinking I’m reaching for excuses and maybe you’re right. I’m convinced that Luke did everything he could to prepare (including taking the test three times and studying for months). I’m certain he would have performed better if he wasn’t worried about the time. Either way, it’s done. I’m writing about this topic so others can benefit from our experience.

I Missed These Clues

Luke has exhibited mild symptoms and episodes of full-blown anxiety as young as 8 years old. He even agreed to a break from little league baseball and competitive tennis for a couple of years because of it.

Homeschooling and cyberschooling has largely insulated Luke from the pressure of timed tests and other deadlines. I convinced him that his score wasn’t important on the standardized tests required in 3rd and 5th grade. Although he took state standardized tests as a cyberschool student, time was not a factor for those assessments.

When he enrolled in cyber school, Luke panicked during his placement test and barely answered any questions. He returned from the test room in tears. I was able to look at the suggested curriculum to determine his proper level for math and English. Had I explained to him that his performance was just to place him in appropriate levels, he wouldn’t have panicked. Still, the SAT was not on my radar back then.

As his junior year approached, we both had a goal of “good enough” on the SAT  to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. The NCAA applies a sliding scale based on GPA and SAT. His GPA is high enough that the SAT threshold is pretty low. I’ll admit that I object to the SAT as an indicator of anything valuable but realize it’s a requirement.

Misinformation and Incorrect Assumptions

I had heard of top students getting academic scholarships for good SAT scores but I assumed those scores were in the top 90th percentile (1450+). I was wrong. Many schools award merit-based scholarships for much lower SAT scores. One lesson, click around college websites to educate yourself about this.

Luke’s first SAT score was about average. Good enough for admission at the schools he was considering and for NCAA eligibility. We didn’t expect him to take it again. After Luke visited and committed to play tennis at Cleveland State University, we learned that with his GPA, he could qualify for $6000 more a year if he improved his SAT score slightly. We were both confident that since he barely prepared for the first attempt, he could improve.

A New Challenge

I bought *an online prep course that helped him get organized, focused and motivated. I wrote about our impressions of that course in a previous post. Luke was grateful for the resource and felt good thoughout his preparation. The strategies were helping him miss fewer questions on practice sections. The night before his second attempt, he felt great.

On the day of the test, Luke was confident after answering the questions for the first reading passage but panicked when he realized he had taken too much time. From that point on, he couldn’t focus on the passages or the questions because he was so pre-occupied with the clock. He tried everything to calm down for the next 3 hours. He almost walked out but stuck with it even though he had to guess on the last 15 questions of the math section (just enough time to fill in bubbles). Luke was discouraged then devastated when he didn’t raise his score enough to earn the academic scholarship. He still had one more chance.

That was when I remembered that a friend had requested an accommodation for her son who had a documented disability. I had never discussed Luke’s struggles with a pediatrician because he was able to control it as he got older and it was never a factor in his school work-with the exception of the one placement test. I would have had to request an accommodation months in advance-not enough time before his 3rd attempt.

Had I anticipated how Luke’s anxiety might have affected his ability to concentrate and perform on the SAT (and other situations in life), I would have discussed it with his pediatrician over the years. I might have had the required documentation to support an official accommodation for the test and requested it in time. By the time I considered it, it was way too late.

Lessons for Future Reference

Looking back, I’m not sure I would have wanted Luke’s anxiety to be labeled as a disability but moving forward, I might discuss strategies and treatment options to help him manage at college.

I still don’t know whether Luke would have received an accommodation for the SAT or whether it would have improved his score. He was a lot calmer the third time he took the test because I was able to convince him that we could manage the cost for now and we would just take it year by year.

His writing score improved considerably, reading score slightly and math was a little worse the third time around. (He still thinks the math section on the January test was harder than both previous tests). If Cleveland State accepted superscores, he would have easily met the threshold. But that’s not the case.

Hopefully my experience will help you anticipate circumstances in your child’s future especially if he struggles with an issue that would be magnified or addressed in a conventional school setting.

Since Luke’s condition didn’t clash with his school-at-home environment, it never occurred to me that it might be an issue down the road. I’m grateful that being at home has helped him manage his anxiety-to the point that I didn’t realize that he has been managing it. At the same time, I feel badly that I haven’t been advocating for him in this regard because he was managing a little too well.

[Editing to add that Luke did earn the scholarship! It turns out, they combined his highest math score and his highest critical reading/writing score from the 3 exams he took. (woo-hoo for superscoring!)] 


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