Matt was a clean cut kid from an affluent suburb of New Haven I met during his junior year of highschool who had been playing lacrosse basically since he was in diapers. His father was very, very committed and even when he was 12, was out with him working on fundamentals in the backyard…in February. Matt played lacrosse almost year round: when not for his school team, he played for a number of all-star teams and also played in some exhibitions as his high school career developed. I took it that he was very skilled, but he wasn’t quite going to make the top 100 recruits, though he would likely be in the tier right below it.
His father contacted me because they weren’t very thrilled with the English teacher that he had at the time. The teacher was of the ‘unmotivated’ sort and basically graded based on trivial logistical errors, like punctuation and spelling, versus the actual content of what the student had to say. The family also contracted me to tutor Matt for the SAT. He was going to need a 1300 to be able to qualify for some of the big name schools he was eyeballing, though he had very little confidence he had the intellect to get in to them. His uncle and some other relations had gone to Brown, and his mother had gone to Dartmouth, so the family was all hoping for Ivy Leagues, though Matt himself initially was attracted to bigger, less academically rigorous schools more serious in his sport with an eye on going pro and minimizing the expectations in place for him.
But he still needed to get a 1300 regardless, which seemed simple enough given that he was highly intelligent from a sheer processing speed perspective. However, while he had a great STEM background, he had never really been a big reader outside of what had been assigned to him in school. While the public school system he grew up in was solid and well-regarded, there were significant gaps in his reading comprehension and his understanding of language and grammar. When he took his diagnostic test with me, he scored a 1040 on his first try, with the Reading and Writing portions of the test dragging down what was a reasonable score on the Math sections.
He was disappointed and dejected after the first attempt and even needed a few days after that first attempt before he could even return to the prep book. It was a real hit to his ego at that vulnerable stage, given all the hype surrounding the SAT, and he regarded himself as more intelligent than the initial score would suggest. And he was. He simply wasn’t familiar with the content or the structure of the test, nor any of the time-tested strategies for approaching it physically and intellectually. We met and covered a list of ten fundamental grammatical principles that appear repeatedly in the Writing section. Soon after, he took a practice test in that section and well over where he had on the diagnostic, the equivalent of a 650 out of 800 in his raw score in just a week of efforts. He became more motivated and began taking whole practice tests outside of the sessions with some proctoring assistance from his parents on the weekends. We covered the tests in our sessions and he began improving his reading comprehension, elevating his score on the Reading section. After about a month, he was regularly scoring around 1400 on the practice tests.
With the elevation in his score, he soon began to see the sense in his family’s hopes for him to go to an Ivy League school. He realized it wasn’t really a pipe dream for him, but a real possibility, especially given he had a few connections and the coaches at several of the top schools were in regular contact with him. He still was drawn to the idea of going pro, but he got that he one injury away from the end of his athletic career, and the fact that an Ivy League degree is like a golden ticket to Willy’s chocolate factory.
When he took the test in the spring of his junior year, he landed a 1420, a far cry from where he started the year previous. He had worked his tail off and achieved what he hadn’t initially thought even possible. He glowed as he told me over zoom with a smile that didn’t want to leave his face. I told him how proud I was of his efforts and reminded him of what was possible when one exerts themselves and doesn’t ever quit. I hope he retained that lesson above all else. I hope all students do.
Though he wasn’t, in fact, listed as a top 100 recruit for lacrosse, the coach from Dartmouth offered him a spot and he committed there soon after. He attends Dartmouth now, though he complains bitterly about the cold. We have continued to work together in English over zoom, and while Dartmouth is not doubt a challenge for him, he has thrived there.