Why Is SAT Prep So Expensive?

Ever wonder why SAT courses can be so expensive? When you think about what goes into them, it starts to make sense -- but what's the best test prep option for you?

I should be up front: there’s not really a good answer to this question. The truth is definitely more complex than what I’m going to talk about here. That is, SAT prep is expensive largely because people are willing to pay as much as they are, so then the question becomes, “Why are people spending so much?” That gets into the arena of economics, and I’m not an economist, so I won’t pretend to be.

And of course, I should qualify the question to begin with, because it’s not really relevant to some forms of prep. Private tutors are are particularly expensive because hey, it’s tutoring. It’s always pricey to get a single person to sit down with you and teach you individually, especially considering the preparation, travel, and other time that the tutor spends on you outside of lesson. Test preparation isn’t special there—and keep in mind that the tutor has to have a pretty rare skill set if they scored very well on the test when they took it.

Online SAT prep, meanwhile, is not always expensive at all, so the question is kind of irrelevant. You can get top-tier lessons and practice material for a fraction of the cost of a tutor or classroom. And SAT books are, of course, plenty cheap.

What I want to talk about is classroom courses. Specifically, classroom courses that are arranged by major test-prep companies. In those situations, the prices can seem a bit . . . exaggerated. Let’s say it’s $700 for a class, and there are 20 students who sign up. That’s a total of $14,000 dollars for what might total about 40 hours of class time. That’s $350 per hour. How much is that teacher getting paid, anyway? I won’t name names, but the starting teacher's wage for at least one big company is $20 per hour. Something is missing, right? $330 per hour, specifically.

You have to consider the teacher, the material, and the rented room—all the visible things you associate with the class itself—as just the tip of the iceberg. Behind that might be an enormous company with layers upon layers of people (teacher managers, class coordinators, teacher trainers, hiring managers, I.T. workers, practice material writers . . . ) and expenses (material distribution, advertising, office rent. . . ). It really just goes on and on. If any part of that system isn’t set up to be as efficient as possible, the cost of running it starts to trickle down into the price of the classes. And the bigger the company, the harder it is to keep everything under control.

So, in other words, if you pay $700 for a class, most of that money isn’t actually paying for the thing you get: the lessons themselves. Most of it just helps keep the giant machine behind the lessons running. This is almost always true—only so much of the price you pay for an $8 hamburger actually pays for the food itself—but it can be especially noticeable with private classroom courses. Luckily, if you think it’s a bit absurd, there are other options out there. There are many ways to prep.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Lucas Verney-Fink

Lucas Verney-Fink is a resident TOEFL and SAT expert at Magoosh. Standardized tests and English grammar are two of Lucas’s favorite things, and he’s been teaching both since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and his time spent teaching abroad, he’s tried to learn a total of three other languages. He speaks none of them well.

You can follow Lucas on Google+.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Keydi Banegas

Keydi Banegas

Scholarship for Students of Color Winner, Class of 2022

CollegeXpress is a great application that helped me search for many different scholarships, and it narrows the scholarships depending on how you set your profile. Not only that, but it helps you choose different colleges to apply to by finding matches through the description of your profile. It was the best experience for me.

Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!



High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress helped open me up to many colleges that fit my interests. I’m only a sophomore in high school, so I like having a lot to look at, and CX does a great job of picking colleges that meet my wants. It's a great website that I'll continue to use until it comes time for me to apply for colleges. I also like that it notifies me through email with options to look at. Thanks CX!

Rayan Hamdan

Rayan Hamdan

High School Student

I joined CollegeXpress just a few months ago. I had been struggling with severe anxiety, causing me to not be able to tour schools and make sure a college would be perfect for me. I came across CollegeXpress one day when I was searching for colleges online, and it completely changed the game. I was easily able to choose colleges that would suit me, and I also entered a few giveaways! Thank you so much!

Dani York

Dani York

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped in my journey by comparing multiple colleges for my final decision. While looking at different colleges, I was able to compare the tuition expenses and that landed me with the college that I’m currently enrolled in, Western Kentucky University. Thank you!

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Asbury University

Wilmore, KY