Academic Success: Is it all Money, no Skill?

By Emma Tu and Alex Li

Competition is good; it leads to improvement and innovation…right? Our society seems to agree, but when it comes to the education of America’s children, that same competition is what causes the cost of education to skyrocket. 

With masses of students applying to colleges in recent years, the college admissions process has become more competitive than ever before, which has convinced many parents to pay a premium for their child’s academic edge. According to USA Today, Even basic SAT/ACT test prep courses can reach prices up to $1000 — a minuscule amount compared to private college counselors, which cost from $850 up to $10,000 per year. 

Despite these high prices, parents continue to pour bucket loads of money into education. According to USA Today, Americans spend roughly $500 million each year hiring educational consultants. This exuberant spending shows no signs of slowing down in coming years, as parents continue to deplete their bank accounts to allow their children to adapt to the increasingly competitive college admissions process. This raises the question, just how much does it cost to succeed, and how does this affect those who can not afford these high prices? 

Not all families can afford to partake in this increasingly expensive system, yet many still try — classes are booked, bank accounts are depleted, parents are stressed, and students feel guilty. The mental toll of burdening one another often tears many families apart, but the alternative of falling behind in school is an overwhelming fear that many families are even more unwilling to face. Others cope with their lack of financial privilege by voicing out their circumstances and fighting for more equity to be served, and colleges are listening. In recent years, colleges have begun to collect information about students’ background and financial situation, seemingly anticipating that they’ve paid for large portions of their success. 

With these new accommodations being implemented, the road seems even bleaker for those in the upper middle class who don’t want to spend extra money on their academic success. If colleges are predicting such actions, what choice do they have?

However, it is important to analyze the other side of such academic success: isn’t it all worth it? Isn’t it important to invest in tools to help students? It is important to note that these tools do improve performance; for example, a study by Ohio state found that SAT private prep classes increased a student’s score by an average of 30 points. The main point of this counterargument is – despite the negative drawbacks of the cost of academic success –  it works, students are able to increase scores and improve grades. 

At the end of the day, if the money spent leads to academic success, isn’t it all worth it? If a nicer resume is all that families are looking for, perhaps that’s the case, but paying to succeed breeds a variety of unhealthy habits and perspectives, and that may be the larger cost behind this emerging pay to play culture among students. Not only that, this culture may create an unfair advantage over some students who may not have access to such exuberant resources. 

Besides, a high school student has so many cost-friendly alternatives to explore. Engaging in academic clubs, learning through free online classes, or joining study groups, are all multifaceted options that encourage independence while fostering all the elements of self growth and knowledge consumption that paid programs echo.


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