Let’s Get Ready! Free SAT prep engages local Waterville students

Every Monday and Wednesday at 5:00 p.m., Diamond begins to fill with high school students. 50 to 80 students from area high schools come together for a unique program. 

The students are loud and energetic; they greet each other and high-five their instructors (who are all Colby students) before eventually separating into small classes in Diamond and Lovejoy. All of the students can be found in Dana dining hall at 5:45 p.m., eating dinner with their tutors and enjoying Colby’s unlimited access to ice cream.

These students are coming to Colby for an SAT preparation course, but it is nothing like the well-known Kaplan or Princeton Review programs. This program is free to any student who wants to learn, and their small classes of around seven to fourteen students are taught by Colby students.

The program, called Let’s Get Ready (LGR), has had success in a number of cities in the United States. Its price tag (or lack thereof) and its college student “coaches” are the most unique – and most successful – aspects of LGR. 

LGR provides free SAT preparation courses to high school students from historically under-served communities of low-income families and first-generation college students. These students also benefit from admissions mentorship and guidance from college students themselves.

LGR was founded with the goal of ensuring a future in which students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have the support they need to get equal access to higher education. 

Since its founding, LGR has served more than 30,000 high school students from low-income backgrounds, mentored by 8,000 trained volunteer college coaches in partnership with schools and organizations. Their programs stretch from Lewiston, Maine to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The coaches for the Waterville program are all volunteers from the College. Two students are hired every year as supervisory site directors. They work to organize and oversee coaches and high schoolers and to perform the administrative duties needed to run the program. 

Betsy Hamre `21 has volunteered as a coach for two semesters, and is now one of the site directors. She told the Echo that she wishes she had had an accessible program like LGR when she was preparing for standardized tests in high school.

“We are the only free SAT tutoring program available in central Maine,” Hamre said. “So we have students traveling quite a bit to learn with us. It’s our responsibility to support these students.”

The coaches and site directors emphasized the importance of the quality of their work and their role as representatives of Colby as a whole, saying they strive to use their skills to make a difference in the lives of their students.

“We hope our personal experiences and narratives can help students navigate their own transition to college,” Hamre said. “I am amazed at the commitment and talent of our Colby coaches who dedicate four hours of their busy weeks to the program. LGR is an example of Colby students engaging in the outside community to promote educational equity,  teamwork, and student self-confidence.”

As of this spring, LGR has been on Colby’s campus for four years. In this time, over 300 area students from 14 high schools, and from just about every town within a 30-minute radius of Waterville, have been taught and provided with free dinners.

To keep LGR free and accessible, the program relies on grants and generosity, often from local programs. The well-known Alfond Foundation has supported the program through grants. And, of course, the program relies on the hard work of the College, its students, and the high school students themselves.

Though the students do incredible work on their own, the program is overseen by Director of Maine Programs Katie Flood.

“I wanted to first thank the Colby students and the staff in the Community Engagement Office for all their help and hard work supporting Let’s Get Ready,” Flood told the Echo. “This spring we have a student whose commute to the program is an hour each way! The connections that our students have made with their coaches of course are vital to what we do and is definitely what keeps them returning each night of the program.”

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