While most companies are facing financial setbacks in the current economy, at least one industry is still booming — test-prep companies. College students’ desire to do well on graduate exams has turned this industry into a massive money-maker. The end result is that students who can afford expensive prep services have a definite advantage over those who can’t, and this unfair advantage only serves to widen socioeconomic inequality. Universities have a responsibility to ensure that all of their students are on equal footing when they apply to graduate schools. To achieve this, the University of Michigan, for its part, should offer inexpensive and competitive test prep courses.
Whether it’s the MCAT, LSAT, GRE or GMAT, it’s well known that the level of success students achieve in these exams is related to how much preparation they had beforehand. Even the most intelligent and qualified students can score poorly if they come unprepared, so it’s not surprising that more students are resorting to expensive commercial test preparation services offered by companies like Kaplan Test Prep or Princeton Review. These services give students much better odds at scoring well on graduate exams.
While the idea of taking a test prep course prior to the scheduled date of an exam seems reasonable, the price tags on such resources are often anything but. The cost of a package that includes classroom instruction, course materials and online access through private test prep businesses can run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 — a fee that is out of the reach of many students, especially in current economic conditions.
Graduate school exams are supposed to be objective measurements of a student’s ability to do well in a graduate program. But when some students can afford thorough prep courses and others can’t, these exams inadvertently become biased against less fortunate students. The competitive edge will go to the wealthiest students instead of the ones who are most intelligent. This leads to graduate programs that are increasingly bastions of better-off students.
Currently, the University isn’t leaving disadvantaged students with many options. While the Career Center offers a $50 LSAT familiarization course — the only test prep course offered by the University for post-undergraduate standardized exams — students and teachers have noted that it lacks the extensive preparation that law school hopefuls students would need to fully prepare for the LSAT. And the Career Center recently announced that it has no intention of expanding its test prep program.
To fix this socioeconomic split, the University should offer more thorough, inexpensive courses to all students who plan to take graduate school entrance exams. It’s very much within the scope of the University’s role to offer test prep courses that will place all students on a level playing field with the Kaplan and Princeton elite. It’s also necessary for ensuring that access to higher education does not become prohibitively expensive for students who have no affordable alternatives to Kaplan and Princeton.
The University could at least act as a mediator between prospective grad students and GSIs, offering them a classroom to meet and prepare for grad exams. While not the same thing as what Kaplan offers, this would at least amount to a less expensive option.
Among the many things looming in students’ mind as they sit down to take their exam, the last thing should be whether or not they would have done better had they taken a more expensive test prep course.