UT needs to provide LSAT and MCAT prep courses

Anna Marlatt

While preparing for a recent trip to Boston, I sat my boyfriend down to develop a shared Google Doc that would not only function as our hourly itinerary but also as a budget for every meal. I’m not proud of it, but hear me out: While I may be that irritating friend who is unnaturally — possibly emotionally — attached to a color-coded to-do list, planning ahead is a useful skill. So far, I think it has worked to my advantage. 

But graduate school admissions? Even I, a self-proclaimed agenda-holic, am intentionally ignoring the planning for it all, as I know the preparatory process will be mentally draining come junior year. And I’d argue that most students who are currently preparing for the Medical College Admission Test or the Law School Admission Test can attest to their difficulties. 

Which leaves me wondering: What more could the University offer to help students who are preparing for medical and law school? 

As of now, students receive no credit for the prep work they do. Even worse, students are caught in an impossible bind to find a low-cost, quality preparatory company that is also close to campus. Students need UT to step in and offer pass/fail MCAT and LSAT preparatory courses that qualify for the Quantitative Reasoning Flag.

Students, then, must turn to outside test prep companies for help before taking the MCAT and LSAT.  While these companies offer expertise and students find them helpful, going this route is often a hefty additional expense.

These steep costs are especially common for test prep companies near campus. MCAT preparatory courses at The Princeton Review, a conveniently located test prep company in Dobie Center, can range from $1,500 to more than $3,000. At Kaplan Test Prep on Guadalupe Street, in-person MCAT prep classes start at $2,499 and LSAT classes start at $1,299. 

So while companies such as The Princeton Review and Kaplan Test Prep offer physical accessibility, they do not offer financial accessibility. 

Reflecting on her own experiences with a South Austin commute to Test Prep Guy, Saamia Imtiaz, a Plan II and international relations and global studies junior, agreed that the University should offer prep courses. 

“I think it would be great to have some (prep classes) here that are more affordable and accessible to students,” Imtiaz said via email. “A lot of people I know ended up not doing (Test Prep Guy) — or any test prep — because they had to be able to be near campus for work or class.”

If students were able to take a prep course through UT, it would not add an additional financial burden. Per UT’s tuition FAQ web page, the cost for any hours above 12 is the same fixed rate for all undergraduates. As a result, if UT offered its own preparatory course on campus, it would not cost full-time students a penny more to enroll. 

Brent Iverson, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, presented an interesting counterproposal to my own. 

“Students learn most, if not all, of the content that is covered on these exams in their required courses,” Iverson wrote via text message. “What they don’t get (are) test-taking strategies and practice taking the actual exams. Those seem more appropriately considered academic support than course material.” 

While the Sanger Learning Center’s Student Advisory Board is working on providing MCAT and LSAT preparatory workshops and practice tests, it still isn’t enough. The center wouldn’t be able to offer credit for MCAT and LSAT prep work. If UT itself offered prep classes with a Quantitative Reasoning Flag, students could fulfill a flag and stay on track to graduate.

“The College of Natural Sciences offered an MCAT content review class over the summer in 2012,” Iverson said. “It was a lot of work for the students, and many said it covered what they pretty much already knew.” 

While it is true that the content tested on the MCAT is covered in most science courses, this doesn’t eliminate the need for a UT preparatory class. Students still need practice tests and test-taking strategies, and they still deserve credit for the work they do in the form of a fulfilled flag requirement. 

Moreover, there are institutions that already carry out what I am advocating for. The University of Illinois provides a course with homework and exam problems taken directly from the LSAT and MCAT. The University of Houston-Downtown also provides an LSAT exam prep course that includes 30 hours of classroom instruction from experienced exam preparation professionals.

UT, let’s catch up.

Marlatt is an international relations and global studies freshman from Missouri City, Texas.