How I Learned to Take the SAT Like a Rich Kid

By Dylan Hernandez for The New York Times

FLINT, Mich. — The summer before my junior year of high school, I boarded an airplane for the first time. Three hours later I was in picture-perfect New England, where I was soon to be surrounded by a diverse and extremely accomplished group of peers. I had been awarded a generous scholarship to attend the Phillips Exeter summer semester — five weeks of classes and sports, with some optional SAT prep mixed in.

I’m from Flint, Mich., and even though I recently transferred to a private Catholic high school in my city, top tier-education is new to my family. Neither of my parents went to college, and in Rust Belt regions like the middle of Michigan, education is falling behind the rest of the country. Stanford researchers found , for example, that sixth graders in our town are two to three grade levels behind the national average. They are almost five grade levels behind students in more prosperous counties 30 miles away.

The friends I made at Phillips Exeter were from fancy-sounding towns and seemed to have it all. Most attended prestigious private or highly ranked public schools. They were impossibly sporty, charming and intelligent, with perfect smiles and impeccably curated Instagram profiles. The program we attended costs around $10,000, so they were clearly affluent, but they also came from diverse backgrounds. They had been on exotic vacations and had volunteered for the needy. They were truly interesting people.

So I didn’t understand why so many of them were enrolled in the optional SAT prep section of our summer program. Why would such impressive high achievers spend their summer nights storming through a massive SAT book? Many of them already took weekend SAT prep courses back home. Did they just think it was fun to time one another on practice sets?

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