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At the University, demand rises for test prep courses, but options remain limited

BY MALLORY BEBERMAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 6, 2009

When LSA senior Kelli Huntsman started preparing for the LSAT last year, she took advantage of the one graduate school entrance exam prep course offered by the University.

But when she started the LSAT Familiarization Course through the Career Center her junior year, she realized it wouldn’t be enough.

“I thought it was a good introduction course to see the different kinds of questions the LSAT had,” she said. However, Huntsman added, “I felt I definitely had to take another class after that to be fully prepared.”

Facing the prospect of a graduate school entrance exam that could determine the course of their professional careers, students around the country are turning in increasing numbers to test prep classes for the LSAT, MCAT, GED and GMAT. But, with a void of alternatives from their respective universities, students are forced to fork over big bucks to commercial test preparation companies like Princeton Review and Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions to get a leg up.

While the rest of the world may be hurting on account of the economy, officials at Princeton and Kaplan report that business is booming.

Nick Lysaght, the marketing manager at Princeton Review in Ann Arbor said current economic conditions are beneficial to Princeton’s enrollment rates.

“Obviously since the economy is not doing so hot right now and jobs are hard to come by, we are seeing a lot of people choosing to go back to school when they would have in the past gone straight to the job market,” Lysaght said.

Typically, courses at Princeton and Kaplan, which both have locations in Ann Arbor, run for about $1,000 to $2,000 and offer several classes for students to choose.

According to Lysaght, enrollment rates are up between 10 and 20 percent this year for all of Princeton’s graduate school prep classes.

Kaplan enrollment rates for the LSAT, GMAT and GRE programs are also increasing, according to Priya Dasgupta, the director of graduate programs for Kaplan.

"Since the beginning of the financial crisis starting in September, we’ve seen double digit increases in interest in our business, law and graduate test prep courses for the GMAT, LSAT and GRE,” she said.

Dasgupta explained that good early indicators of increased enrollment rates were the hoards of students at Kaplan’s free informational events and the scores of students who registered to take Kaplan’s free practice tests.

“During an economic downturn, many students will reassess their career paths,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for people to increase their education and to ride out the storm.”

But at some universities, high-priced courses at commercial test preparation companies are not the only option. For example, the University of Wisconsin at Madison offers an MCAT course for $675.

Despite its plethora of resources, classrooms and graduate students who just aced these tests, University officials say there are no plans to add any more test prep courses to the LSAT Familiarization Course currently offered.

While the University’s Career Center website and advisers offer information and advice to students interested in learning about the application process for graduate school, there is an absence of University programs that instruct students on how to take the examinations.

University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said, “the University has never offered test-preparatory services for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT or similar standardized tests, because that level of instruction falls outside the University's mission and customary roll.”

In response to the lack of University prep courses, Mariella Mecozzi, senior assistant director of pre-professional services at The Career Center, said that a few years ago the LSA Student Government approached The Career Center to create a program for graduate examination prep services.

The result of their collaboration was the one preparation course catering to the LSAT exam.

Mecozzi said The Career Center does not offer an MCAT class because the nature of the test is too specific for one generalized course.

Instead, The Career Center website offers the following advice to students planning on taking the MCAT: “Closer to the date of the test, you may wish to join a study group in preparation for the exam or contact a test preparation organization.”

Mecozzi added that students have not confronted The Career Center with a demand for GMAT or GRE prep courses.

Around the country, few colleges use the resources and personnel on campus to offer a low-cost alternative to high-priced exam prep courses.

Though the University of Wisconsin offers oan MCAT course to students, they are advised to consider it as a part of their normal courseload. According to the University of Wisconsin’s website, students are expected to have regular attendance and to treat the course like any 3 to 4 credit class.

Susan Nelson, a pre-health advisor at The University of Wisconsin, explained that 32 students are accepted into the course and meet two times a week from October through April. She said medical school or Ph.D. students with experience in teaching are hired for the class.

Nelson said that they “generally have a waiting list of students hoping to get in, but it is a fairly small course given the size of the overall pre-med population at UW-Madison.”

She said the University of Wisconsin does not provide prep courses for other graduate school entry exams. Nelson added that many students register in commercial prep courses or online courses instead.

Here at the University of Michigan, the LSAT Familiarization Course offered by The Career Center is compiled of eight sessions and costs $50, said Mecozzi. Each semester there are one or two sections of 25 students each.

Mecozzi said the course includes an overview on the law school application process, lessons on the different sections of the exam and a final practice test to evaluate students’ progress.

She said students who have taken the course have been satisfied with their results.

“They recognize that it’s an unbelievable bargain, so everyone recognizes the value of the initiative,” Mecozzi said.

She said students do complain that the course is not long enough, but added that test preparation is not one of The Career Center’s core goals.

“We don’t want to run a full-blown prep course,” Mecozzi said. “We just want to give students a good sense of what the test is about.”

Mecozzi said she does not foresee an expansion in graduate school prep course services in the near future.

According to The GW Hatchet - George Washington University’s student newspaper, many students are seeking LSAT prep from private tutors like Jefferson Prep and Mentor Test Prep, a company based in Washington D.C.

One of the top reasons cited by students for seeking outside help, according to the Hatchet, was limited assistance from GW as well as the desire to excel.

The University of Texas at San Antonio offers a Summer Law School Preparation Academy, created to boost the number of its students admitted to law school. Interested students submit applications to gain access to the program.

Mecozzi said a course is not always necessary to achieve optimal performance on graduate entrance exams. She said as long as students set aside time everyday to study on their own and review old exams that are available to the public, an expensive preparation course is expendable.

Huntsman, who said she felt that additional preparation was necessary, eventually enrolled in a Kaplan LSAT course.

“I would tell someone to ask themselves if they are really committed to studying hard-core for a month by themselves and if they can’t, I would definitely recommend taking the (Kaplan or Princeton) class. It’s really down to personal preference,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman said that despite the hefty cost of her Kaplan class, the tremendous amount of helpful resources she received made it worth the price.

“I got four huge books of practice questions and tests and online access to every old LSAT test possible,” Huntsman said. She added that the Kaplan class included “in-class activities, things online and four diagnostic tests.”

Huntsman said a major difference between The Career Center’s Familiarization Course and the Kaplan class she took was that at Kaplan, her instructor had much more teaching expertise than the law student who taught The Career Center’s class.

For students who do not have the financial means to pay for The Career Center’s LSAT Familiarization Course, Mecozzi said that a scholarship is available. For Kaplan and Princeton courses, students can apply to qualify for financial assistance to help cover the $1,000 to $2,000 cost.


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