Some parents call it the acronym soup: SAT, ACT, SATII, AP. They say trying to get through all of them can be just as stressful for parents as it is for students.
"It's the math and science that are painful," says parent Gloria Fleming.
The Flemings, from Nyack, are getting ready for the college entrance exams -- even though son Will is the only one actually taking the exam.
"It's a little tense but I know it's better because I'm getting the direct help," says Will Fleming who has a private tutor to help him with not only college entrance exams but also the applications and essays.
Lisa Jacobson, the CEO of Inspirica, a test prep company, says higher results equals greater opportunities.
"What we try to do is open up more options for kids and that's what we say to parents. Every 50 points, every 100 points will open up another school," said Jacobson.
Unlike traditional programs, boutique agencies like Inspirica match one student with one tutor. The personal-touch companies, part of a growing trend in the multi-billion dollar test-prep industry, feel private tutoring delivers better results.
"This is all about performance. It's about what you do on game day," says tutor Donald Viscari, who for 23 years has helped get kids into Harvard, Yale, and other top school by dishing out tips like this: “Never leave an answer blank on the ACT. [But] on the SAT there is a guessing penalty. A quarter of a point in deducted for every incorrect answer so guess judiciously.”
But the tips and the coaching come at a price. Rates for private tutors can at $150 an hour. So one hour a week, every week, for one year would cost a parent more than $7,000 (No, this is not an SAT math word problem).
"On average the increase in test scores from test prep is about 30 points," says New York University Vice-President of enrollment Randall Deike. That number comes from a recent study done by the National Association of College Admission Counseling, which Mr. Deike worked on.
Yet Deike says getting into college is about more than just test scores. He does not discourage parents from getting tutors or paying for traditional test-prep programs. But do kids with more money have more of an edge?
Deike doesn't believe so. "Given the research no I don't think they have an edge," he said.
The Flemings are still believers. They credit Inspirica with getting their oldest son into Villanova, and Will (fingers crossed), hopefully into Duke.
"If I don't have him in an environment where he's being challenged personally to the top of his ability he's not going to get the most out of it and I'm not going to get the most of my money,” said Will’s father Thomas Fleming.
Some tips from Private SAT/ACT tutor Donald Viscari: