Summit certainly isn't alone in the tutoring and test prep world. How does Summit do test prep differently/uniquely?
In a word, customization. Our focus is one-on-one, in-home tutoring for standardized tests and, within that niche, we pride ourselves on customizing a program precisely to the needs of each student.
Like other companies we offer a diagnostic test which allows us to get an early read on strengths and weaknesses both from a skills standpoint and a strategy perspective. Different students need different doses of those two things. During an initial conversations with the parent (and sometimes student), we create a profile of the students that contains basic data- like grades, courses, and extracurriculars- but goes much deeper to include descriptions of the student's favorite teachers, the student's learning style, the student's personality, the student's feelings toward standardized tests. All of this data gets considered when we match the student with a particular tutor. There is no "standard" student, and the match is critical.
In addition, we've designed our course materials specifically for use in a one-on-one setting. The books are unique in that they make it very easy for tutors to tailor the material to individual students. Our web-based database is state-of-the-art and allows for tutors, families and Summit staff to communicate effectively and efficiently. Everything is transparent and the transparency allows for day-by-day monitoring of the program. If adjustments need to be made, they're made quickly.
You face many large competitors. How does Summit set itself apart?
Most of my answer resides in my response above, but to add to that, I feel like we are much more customer-focused than the "bigs" and, frankly, we're more customer-focused than most of the smaller companies as well.
Call Kaplan and you're calling a call center in NYC and talking to someone who likely knows no more about test preparation and tutoring than what they learned in their training. Call a smaller company and you'll get an answering machine. Call Summit, and you'll immediately talk to a Program Director, who is, or has been, a tutor for us, who is extremely knowledgeable about all facets of college admissions testing, who will go the extra mile, and who will be involved in your program from your first call to the time that results from your final test come back. Our Program Directors feel very invested in each and every one of their families.
What drew you into the test preparation business?
As an undergraduate at Yale, I spent much of my time tutoring high school students from surrounding towns. I loved it, and for much of my time at Yale, I was sure I'd become a teacher. But as my tutoring load increased from word-of-mouth (the way our business grows today!), I actually hired classmates, and lo and behold, I had a business going!
Ever since I can remember, my father who owned a small business, gently pushed me and my siblings to be entrepreneurial. I sold seeds and greeting cards door to door before I was a teenager, and I had a thriving garden-tilling business throughout high school. Combine that entrepreneurial bent with my love of teaching and education, and you have the makings of a tutoring and test preparation business.
How do you approach the different tests and, then, translate the findings into approaches and lessons for your tutors?
We study and analyze the tests relentlessly and have been for 20 years. We are very systematic in our analysis, and that analysis directly affects the content, structure and layout of our course materials and our lesson plans. Successful test prep companies understand the inner workings of the test and then translate that effectively into their materials and curriculum.
How do you find your tutors? And, what to they bring to test prep teaching and lessons?
Our programs are only as good as the individuals who teach them. That's why we devote so much time and energy to recruiting the most talented instructors. All of our tutors have outstanding standardized test scores and have graduated from some of the most competitive universities in the country. Summit tutors come from a wide variety of backgrounds; in fact, we have over 200 tutors in Massachusetts and over 70 tutors in the Maryland-Virginia-DC area. The variety of tutors allows us to fulfill our mission of making the best match for each student. Each tutor is a skilled and enthusiastic educator who brings an ability to inspire, to connect with, and to engage students.
Importantly, and this is a difference between Summit and many other test prep companies, each tutor specializes in either math or verbal; tutors aren't asked to work in areas in which they're not expert.
Tell us a bit about what families seek from test preparation?
The immediate goal, of course, is higher test scores. But the reason they want higher test scores is to get their students into the best possible colleges and universities. Beyond that, I think parents are interested in giving their kids confidence and the ability to do well on standardized tests in general.
Specifically, given how busy students are these days, parents want something that is convenient and flexible, and for that reason alone sometimes, they'll call Summit since we do the tutoring at home on a schedule that works for the student.
From a pedagogical standpoint, some parents are looking for strategies to beat the test, some parents want certain skill deficiencies addressed, and other want both. As I mentioned before, successful prep addresses both the strategic side of taking a standardized test and the underlying skills.
I'm sure it's different for each student; what's the goal for each a student upon successful completion of a Summit Test prep course? Our goal is to get each student to score to his/her potential on the test, whether that test is the SAT, the ACT, Subject Tests, etc. For one student that might be to break into the 500's on each part of the SAT, and for another that might to score a perfect 36 on the ACT. I'm not sure that it's any more complicated than that!