Last year, Baltimore Fishbowl writer Rachel Monroe reported on the parental angst incited by the low acceptance rates of Baltimore students at elite colleges.  Since then, not much has changed: acceptance rates remain relatively low at area high schools while  New England’s best prep schools still send students by the dozens to top colleges.  Why is this so?  Myths abound claiming either children of billionaires or impoverished students who have overcome impossible circumstances have the advantage, but, in truth, these applicants remain the exception.

Well, what’s the difference?  Do the most competitive colleges have a prejudice against Baltimore?  Not at all.  The difference lies in a simple reality: Baltimore is situated in one of the most competitive geographic regions in the nation.  Colleges first evaluate applicants on a regional basis, and the vast majority of admissions offices group Baltimore with the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  Savvy D.C. parents—like those in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston—understand the level of competition and realize that, in college admissions, doing well at a good school is only half the battle.  That’s why those aforementioned markets are saturated with excellent SAT tutors, subject tutors, and private admissions consultants.

In this respect, Baltimore lags behind.  Indeed, many Baltimore parents might balk at the rates that the best SAT tutors and private college counselors charge in hyper-competitive markets.  But in New York, $150 an hour for a private SAT tutor is considered on the low end.  Similarly, private counselors offer packages that range from $4,000 to $15,000.  That might sound pricey, too, but these counselors get results.  The best test prep consultants help students achieve an average 300-350 point increase on the SAT, which can make a significant difference in an applicant’s chances for admission.

Affluent Baltimore parents foot tuition bills that rival prep schools in other highly competitive zones. Given that for many top colleges GPA counts for just one-third of a student’s academic profile while the other two-thirds are determined by SAT and SAT Subject Test scores, maybe it’s time for local parents to reconsider high-end standardized test prep.  After all, isn’t the objective of sending a child to private school in the first place to afford him or her more opportunities in the future?

Moreover, studies have shown that higher SAT scores augment the advantage of being a legacy applicant as well as applying early action or early decision  (equivalent to 100 point boost to an SAT score).


Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of standardized testing is that colleges will use a school’s average SAT and AP scores to determine the strength of a student’s GPA.  These figures feature prominently on a high school’s profile, which is the primary document colleges use to contextualize academic performance.  But don’t take my word for it; check out local schools’ profiles yourself.  Here are a few examples Baltimore private schools’ profiles: Boy’s Latin, Bryn Mawr, Friends, Gilman, Loyola Blakefield, Roland Park Country School.

Since founding Streamline Tutors, I’ve been informing parents of the possibilities for their students as much as educating the students themselves.  I use the invaluable knowledge I’ve gained as a test prep guru and college admissions counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area to guide families through middle school and high school to success in college admissions.  I won’t scare clients off with my former hourly rates in Northern California, but I do offer free consultations and provide test prep and tutoring at reasonable prices that match the level of service my business offers.  For more information, check out my company’s website at StreamlineTutors.com or find more insight into college admissions at StreamlineTutors.com/blog.


Office: 410-200-1896

Email: Ian@StreamlineTutors.com
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Ian Siegel

For more information about how to navigate the college tract, contact director of Streamline Tutors, Ian Siegel who specializes in college counseling, test prep, and academic coaching. You can visit his...

15 replies on “Is the Ivy League Out of Reach for Most Baltimore Students?”

    1. This clarifies something that puzzled me about my older child’s application process. I look forward to learning more for my younger children’s sake!

  1. My wife and I attended Dartmouth and our son is currently at Harvard. Indeed, well more than 10% of his classmates from Gilman are at Ivy schools, just a little lower than the ratio of my graduating class years ago. It’s indeed much harder to get into an Ivy or its ilk these days on grades and test scores alone than it used to be. Crazy hard to differentiate oneself with the numbers with the majority of valedictorians rejected despite their numbers. Our son is a bright, hardworking, well-rounded student, but certainly not the highest scorer in grades or SAT’s; lots of classmates with amazing academic talent. On the other hand, he has very strong emotional IQ. He did not do any SAT tutored prep, though he did do some practice tests to get a feel for them. My wife and I were probably far more anxious about all this than he was, but that was the result of years of purposeful de-emphasizing grades and scores relative to actual learning and curiosity. The pressure cooker around numbers gets crazy intense; a love of lifelong learning can so easily get snuffed out in all that.

    So, what’s the explanation for the change in how hard it is to get in, yet possible for some?

    A few years ago my wife and I attended a talk given by a top person at Dartmouth’s admissions department. He happened to have been my wrestling coach and math teacher from years ago at Gilman where he had been prior to his career move to Dartmouth. He explained the scary facts of huge applicant pools of incredibly gifted students from all over the country, indeed all over the world. And the reality that the burgeoning coffers of these most selective schools enabled them to afford 100% tuition grants for needy students and partial aid for more than 50% of the class. So, money was no longer a factor in who these sorts of schools accept. Indeed, admissions is totally divorced from financial aid for 98+% of students accepted. (Yes, it’s still possible to gift a new building and get your kid in, but that’s increasingly rare and the threshold is very high.) A majority of legacy students are rejected as well.

    So, how to differentiate between all these gifted, well rounded wonderful kids? “Well”, he explained: “We’re looking for something about each applicant which makes them truly special and different. We’re looking for something which makes them ‘world class’ at something of interest to the college.” That can be playing the tuba, that can be a sport, that can be demonstrated scientific innovative capability, that can be a social entrepreneur, or it can be the character to overcome great adversity.” But it can’t be run of the mill, whatever mommy and daddy could buy for the kid to pad the resume. No, it has to be a true passion, something the student poured themselves into, devoted huge time to achieving amidst also doing well academically. “Well-rounded” is now insufficient as there’s just too many great kids to choose from; and even worse for the suburban white kid who has all sorts of early advantages in life. This is true well beyond the Ivies.

    So, my advice to those who want to help their kids achieve admission to a highly selective college, Ivy or otherwise, is to encourage a love of learning, and most importantly to help them discover something your son or daughter is passionate about and encourage them to follow that passion fully; e.g. one of my son’s classmates at Gilman and now Harvard had an early interest in film making and his parents helped him nurture that into winning awards all over the country as an 8th grader and 9th grader and on for films he wrote and directed. “World Class”.

    But if your kid doesn’t happen to find such a passion early in life, don’t despair, that love of learning will eventually lead him or her to discover a passion later. The admissions counselors are absolutely right that there are a huge number of great schools, any of which provides a platform for a curious mind to grow up and discover new frontiers.

    1. Charlie,
      Thank you for your insightful comment. I completely agree with you that differentiating oneself by pursuing one’s own unique passions is also paramount to success in the college application process, and more importantly, beyond college. Success, in my opinion, will always be the by-product of excellence.

      The import placed upon the factors you have mentioned have made college essays and teacher recommendations that much more relevant to an admission decision. GPA, the quality of the high school attended, the challenge of course selection, and standardized test scores have become the baseline.

      The point of my post was not to encourage parents to become score obsessed; rather, it was simply intended to illustrate that SAT scores are important, and getting one’s scores into the appropriate range is possible even for those who consider themselves poor standardized test takers. The SAT takes a certain brand of critical thinking that can be trained and solidified through guidance and practice.

      In other words, standardized test scores need not get in the way of applicants who have followed their passions, developed a love of learning, are intellectually curious–essentially otherwise exceptional.

    2. Hi Ian,
      First of all, good luck with your business. I, too, am an entrepreneur and I respect anyone who enters the fray of making a buck by creating a product or a service valued by others willing to pay.

      Second, thanks for the shared appreciation for the long term importance of developing a passion for learning.

      And, I do agree that students can learn to be better test takers and, thus, put themselves in a somewhat better position to win that coveted slot at a great school, and that can be a valuable service.

      While I think Carl may be a bit rough on your effort to make a case for your business, I’m not aware that he has any personal interest in those other service providers. He was my son’s college counselor and I know that he did not push any particular service and, indeed, to my recollection he didn’t argue for incremental effort of using such a service. So, his critique, I think comes from an honest and consistent skepticism about the value of test prep. There might, just might, be a little bias based on a notion that there’s something inherently wrong about rich kids getting a special advantage but that’s total speculation on my part. Frankly, I think Gilman (only school I have direct knowledge of) could do a better job of providing test prep in-house as a service available to all their students who want access to it, including those on scholarship. I think that’s a missing piece at most schools, which of course leaves open an opportunity for services like yours.

      I can confirm your #’s re the 2/3 test scores component of the academic index at Ivies applied to athletes, etc.

      The ‘one leap’ you make about the relationship between those highly affluent kids and their average, higher SAT scores seems to be a ‘leap’ a bit too far. You suggest a causal relationship between that affluence and therefore the use of test prep, however ‘unfair’ that might be. I suspect there is indeed a small component of the differential due to test prep. But it seems more likely to me that the differential is primarily due to inherent genetic and family environment factors. smarter folks tend to do better economically and those who are well educated tend to value the intellectual endeavors more highly than those who don’t have that background. These are indeed serious advantages held be the lucky ‘haves’. And secondarily, a significant component is hopefully the accumulated impact of good educational stimulation over a period of years…that’s primarily what we presumably are paying for at these private schools. And, then, test prep.

      That said, i do think that for some kids test prep has indeed raised scores markedly. Partly this is from familiarity with the test, reduction in anxiety, and some simple ‘tricks’ of understanding what the test is looking for, therefore increasing probability of a right answer reached more quickly.

  2. I see that this is a sponsored post, which means this is an ad looking to move product and create profit. Fair enough. I’d like to think that Baltimore Fishbowl has standards even for sponsored posts, but given the economy, I understand the importance of revenue and, in this case, the regrettable and irresponsible misrepresentation of current admission realities. This sponsored post is so egregiously false and misleading, it gives self-serving hucksters a bad name.

    There might also be an article, perhaps not quite as bad but more true, entitled: Is the ‘Ivy League Out of Reach for Most Applicants World Wide?’ With admit rates at 6-11%, the Ivy League is, so to speak, out of reach for just about everyone who applies. No article is necessary. The answer to both of these questions is a clear and plain, YES. To suggest, however, that these eight universities are more out of reach for Baltimore students, because they are from Baltimore, is patently false, and clearly designed to line the author’s pockets rather than enlighten your readership.

    Other exploitative misrepresentations in the post:

    -The notion that testing comprises 2/3s of a “student’s academic profile” is so egregiously untrue that one must wonder about the test prep credentials and competence of the person offering that ‘advice.’

    -That successful legacy applicants may have lower testing on average is certainly true in certain circumstances at certain institutions. This disparity does not mean that an SAT increase by that number will, therefore, make one more likely to be admitted to an Ivy League institution or any university. The author has founded a test prep and advising firm, but hasn’t yet mastered the difference between causation and correlation. A pity.

    -The example of “New England’s best prep schools” was also offered in a disingenuous and deceiving way. I am uncertain which schools the author has in mind, but even a passing familiarity with the most selective New England boarding and day schools includes an understanding that these secondary schools enroll the most diverse and most academically gifted students from around the WORLD. Any success by their graduates at enrolling at the nation’s most selective universities should come as no surprise to anyone.

    Toward the end, Ian, our self-assigned “guru,” tells us that he “won’t scare clients off with my former hourly rates in Northern California.” What a relief. I thought Baltimore was the scariest place from which to aspire for the ivies, but now I’ve learned it is San Francisco. Of course, we see clearly that the author has every intention of scaring families. Fright, in fact, is the foundation and currency of this entire post. He is, indeed, the Guru of Fear.

    Finally, the most curious falsehood is the author’s suggestion that Baltimore lacks sufficient high end test prep. Without much thought at all I can name two: Capital Educators and Omni Test.

    For over twenty years, my wife and I have taught and coached in five independent schools around the country. We have four children enrolled in three different Baltimore area independent schools. We couldn’t be happier with the education they provide. It is money well spent. When the time comes, we (and they) will pay for their test prep, if they choose this path for themselves. We will then confidently direct them to firms like Capital Educators and Omni Test.

    In the meantime, all parents would do well to read this study on the questionable benefits of formal test prep —


    Carl Ahlgren
    Baltimore, MD

    1. Carl,
      Thank you for your comment. Your response certainly opens a great forum for discussion not only for this topic, but for the merits of quality debate itself. I’ll endeavor to address your concerns one at a time:

      1. You deem this post exploitive, reasoning that Baltimore students face a disadvantage because they are from Baltimore. I’m not sure if you read the post carefully because it directly contradicts that idea. Perhaps more interesting is your lambasting the post for being sponsored when local private schools post ads incessantly appear on this site as well as many other news sources. By your logic, one would assume that we should all deny the validity of any claims made in these ads. It’s important to remember that private schools are businesses, too.

      2. In discussing a student’s academic profile, I am specifically referring to what Ivy League admissions offices call an applicant’s academic index, for which I provide a link in my post. This number, initially used for recruited athletes to ensure a high overall academic standard on varsity squads, is also used for every applicant because varsity teams must meet a standard based on the AI of the entire accepted class. The three factors that affect this number are indeed GPA (contextualized for strength compared to classmates), SAT scores, and SAT Subject Test scores. If you carefully study the algorithm for calculating one’s academic index (published by the NY Times, not me), you will easily decipher that SAT scores and SAT Subject test scores indeed comprise two-thirds of this number. Whereas the academic index is just one facet of a holistic review; it’s an important one.
      a. For those who aren’t aware, the accusation made without data to back it up and the subsequent belittling of the writer is very near to an ad hominem attack. I hope we can keep personal attacks out of the discussion moving forward.

      3. In response to your attack on my use of elite New England private schools for comparison, I have a few points. One, their draw “of the most academically gifted students in the world” completely undermines any possibility that the quality of education students receive has anything to do with how “gifted” they are academically. Two, the cost of admission to New England Prep schools presupposes a significant level of wealth for families who don’t receive financial aid. Meanwhile as the College Board reports, children from families who make $200k+ per annum score a whopping average 85 points higher than the second highest tier (the highest jump for students who don’t live in poverty). Here is the only jump I’m making: that these students are also the ones who can afford and use high-end test prep. The burgeoning test prep markets in those areas would attest to that. This reality is unfortunate for disadvantaged students, but if you take a look at another post about the implications of college rankings, you’ll realize that colleges are businesses too.

      4. I want to achieve the opposite of fear-mongering: to inform parents honestly of the realities of college admissions, using data to back them up. I think many parents would agree that knowledge is more fear-reducing than the anxiety of not knowing how the college admissions process truly works. Though well intended, notions of a “good fit” and “holistic evaluation” are often misleading and too abstract for parents to act upon.

      5. Though your comment is not sponsored, you overtly advertise two prep companies in Baltimore. It’s hard to take your claims seriously when your relationship with these companies is all too apparent.

      On a final note, my practice is not just about test prep. My goal is to help students succeed on every level, especially, as another reader mentioned, helping students realize their true passions. I think we can all agree that test prep is just one part of the equation albeit an important one. And I hope we all can work together to provide Baltimore students with the very best educational opportunities.

      Ian Siegel

    2. I trust (or at least hope!) this gentleman is not the same person who works at Gilman School. We were thinking about having our son apply there. I appreciate any advice I can get on the college admissions process and appreciated Mr. Siegel’s perspective. I’m not sure why this gentleman felt the need to sound so mean spirited. Wowzers…

  3. Quite insightful and well written. I am very impressed with the website as well. Will definitely be giving you a call to see what you can do for my kids!

  4. I received this post from a good friend of mine who lives in Baltimore. As a parent of high schoolers living in the highly competitive Bay Area in California, information of the sort Mr. Siegel provided has been a godsend. Many top students from my sons’ high performing high school were unable to obtain admission into top ranked University of California Schools, despite high GPAs, slews of AP classes, and and plenty of extracurricular activities. That might have been my son’s fate as well, had it not been for considerable effort (and considerable expense) we devoted to increasing his SAT scores.

    I was completely taken aback by the vitriolic response from Mr. Ahlgren, which reads more like a spiteful diatribe than an informed commentary. Given the realities of the college admission process and in many cases, the reliance on objective criteria like SAT scores to differentiate highly qualified applicants, the posted attack on the author seems downright out of touch, not to mention hostile.

  5. Way to go Carl. You articulated everything – especially the price tag insult – I was thinking. Too many parents and students are well passed losing their minds over college placement. 6% admissions rate, out of reach for all. Nuff said. The rest is a sales spin. I too hope this is not a trend for fishbowl.

    1. omg Smitty, I AM! How on earth did you know that? I have always been the only person who has ever agreed with Carl, weird huh? By that logic, you must be Ian’s mom?

    2. Just FYI, consumer purchasing power in SF is 24% lower than Baltimore because the cost of living is significantly lower here. I don’t find Streamline Tutors prices but rather realistic.


      It’s interesting, having just relocated to B-more from the Bay Area myself, to note the difference in college admissions cultures in the two cities. In SF, parents and kids alike knew the stats they had to get and hoops they had to jump through – including, of course, test prep – to be competitive for college. I haven’t been here long enough to make a well-informed judgement, but it seems like Baltimore (aside from the fact that we have some really great schools) isn’t totally on the same page. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!

      I fully understand the WANT to decrease the import placed on test scores, but there is also a NEED we must acknowledge if we want to be competitive in this awesomely talented and resource-rich geographic region. As a recent grad of a top college, I think it’s fabulous that Baltimore students will now have access to the kind of services and information that has helped California students get into great schools.

  6. Nice advertising!
    SATs make me mad!
    Testing how the students are at test taking more than what kind of student they will be in college. Having to learn tricks and strategy to just “take” the test well misses the point that they are supposedly testing for knowledge. Being a good and hard working student involves much more than being a good standardized, timed test-taker!
    Students are applying for a four year student position right? So judge them as a student.
    SAT’s are such a monopoly too- one company that conducts all the tests and all the colleges subscribe to it?
    Test optional is becoming a more popular offering from colleges but not enough schools offer it yet…

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