Recently, Jon Houk had a discussion with a client about planning for college for high school age teenagers, and since Jon has three college age kids of his own, you might say he speaks from some personal experience.

One of the things he suggested was to look at doing SAT prep work in the summers. However, a common objection we hear to that idea is that “my son/daughter doesn’t have time, because he/she has a summer job.” Jon’s point was that when you really dive down into the numbers, increasing your SAT score, everything else being equal, can be more valuable than a summer job. It comes down to basic economics: your teenager only has so much time, so allocating his/her hours to the best per/hour return makes sense (and cents!)

Later, the client with which Jon was having that conversation, referred us to a blog post on, that does a great job of illustrating the point:

A high school student who works 40 hours a week over the summer (June – August) at $8.00/hr. (a little higher than the federal minimum wage) could expect to earn approximately $3,500 in net pay. Assuming the student worked for the summers of their junior and senior year, they would accumulate around $7,000 to be used toward college. If they kept that same summer job through college, another $14,000 would be earned over the next four years.

$21,000 for six summers’ worth of employment. That’s not bad, but here’s another option.

Let’s look at the merit-based scholarships granted by my alma mater, Cedarville University in Ohio. According to their website, a 3.75 GPA student who scores an 1100 (combined score of the Math and Critical Reading subtests) on the SAT would be eligible for their $4,000 Faculty Scholar Award. However, if the same 3.75 GPA student were to raise his or her SAT score to a 1360 or better on those two subtests, they would be eligible for the President’s Scholar Award. The price tag on that scholarship – $12,000. That is an $8,000 increase in scholarship money just by improving the SAT score by 260 points, which is doable with preparation and by taking the test multiple times.

That $12,000 scholarship is renewable for four years as long as the student maintains a cumulative college GPA of 3.2 or higher. So in four years that’s $48,000 for college. How’s that summer job paycheck looking now?

(Special thanks to Brian from for this thoughtful article. Check out the rest of his posts as well!)

So, food for thought. Looking back on my own high school motivation level, one problem may be drumming up the same effort level of effort for SAT prep coursework as employment under the watchful gaze of one’s boss. However, leaving that aside, the economics of SAT prep courses may just warrant a second look.