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

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.