by Marwa Eltagouri
High school students today are under more pressure than ever before.
Every year, more and more students are receiving high school diplomas and are seeking out college degrees. But with an increase in the number of applications flooding into universities across the nation comes an increase in college admission selectivity.
Students now find themselves battling nationwide over spots at universities that years ago were not nearly as difficult to attend. And their weapon is their Scholastic Aptitude Test score.
What's the best way for them to get their scores up? Many try to sign up for SAT preparation classes, which teach students tricks, strategies, and techniques for taking the exam. But students often find money to be a hindrance - with courses taught by test-prep giants Kaplan and Barron costing well over $1,000, SAT classes just aren't an option for some.
Recent Grand Island High School graduate and young entrepreneur Maritina Tsembelis therefore hopes to provide students with an effective, more cost-friendly alternative.
A current undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, Tsembelis has been chosen by SAT/ACT program Ivy Insiders to start a Grand Island branch of the service company. Ivy Insiders, which was started by undergraduate students like Tsembelis back in 2003, has become a nationally renowned program known for achieving significant test score improvements.
The course will allow students to prepare for their SAT and ACT tests by giving them 38 hours of preparation over three weeks in an intense, focused setting free of distraction and optimized for learning retention. Students will additionally receive two tutoring sessions with one other student, as well as a study plan once the course is completed that is 100 percent customized for a particular student's needs.
What separates Tsembelis from other SAT/ACT tutors though? She's a young student who recently underwent the stressful college application processes herself.
"As a college student who took the SAT only last year and attended a local high school, I can empathize with the students a lot better," she said. "This will help me better understand their needs and thus motivate and help them."
Tsembelis also took on the business endeavor after realizing from her own experience that students are often unprepared for the test. They not only receive little preparation at school, but also invest more time into improving their grade-point average instead, which she thinks is a mistake.
"The SAT is an opportunity to get maximum 'bang for your buck.' " Tsembelis said. "Thirty-four hours of test prep (the number of hours in an Ivy Insiders classroom course) will do more toward improving your college admissions chances than 340 hours of extra time spent on your schoolwork."
According to Tsembelis, the Ivy Insiders program is far more effective than mainstream courses such as Kaplan, for while Kaplan focuses on general strategies first, Ivy Insiders gets right down to the specifics. Ivy Insiders uses practice tests straight from the College Board, while Kaplan uses copy-cat exams they create themselves. Ivy Insider's average score improvement is about 250 points, higher than any Princeton Review course, Tsembelis said.
Tsembelis also says that a problem with mainstream SAT prep classes are that the instructors often teach by reading off a given script, and that she plans to do the exact opposite.
"My goal is to engage the students with anecdotes, notes from my own experience, and other insights that cannot be offered by a script written by a major testing company," Tsembelis said.
The course also offers financial aid, scholarships and discounts to students in need of financial assistance, allowing money to no longer prevent students from receiving test prep. The cost of SAT and ACT classes are $599 regularly, and hybrid courses (both SAT and ACT prep) are $899.