Why I Work at Get Smarter Prep

Why I Work at Get Smarter Prep

When I came to Get Smarter Prep (GSP) three years ago, I was a few months out of grad school. I had luckily landed a position as an adjunct professor at a local community college, but “adjunct” is a fancy word for “part-time.” I needed a flexible job that would allow me to continue with my adjunct position and supplement my income. An old friend was working at GSP at the time and encouraged me to apply. I ended up going through training and came out the other end as a GSP employee. I’ve been an employee now for three years, and there are a lot of reasons why I’ve stayed:

1) Flexible hours

At GSP, you can determine your own availability. I was able to say when I wanted and didn’t want to teach. I’m available most weekday afternoons and evenings. Sunday, however, is my day to decompress, ride bikes, knit, pet kittens, etc. Other tutors prefer to do more tutoring on the weekend. You get to choose!

2) Helping stressed out students

I may have just celebrated my ten-year reunion, but I still remember vividly how stressful high school was: class all day long, honors classes, pressure to get the best grades possible, college apps, and extracurricular activities. When did we ever sleep?! Students still go through that today, but you can be a beacon of hope! The ACT and SAT are just other stressors in students’ lives, but you can help ease their worries. When your student gets the score that helps him or her get into the dream college, it’s a rewarding feeling.

3) Amazing co-workers

I’ve had a lot of part-time jobs since high school, and I can honestly say that I’ve had the BEST co-workers at GSP. They’re smart, funny, caring, and always helpful. There’s never an awkward company meeting or party because I’m always elated to spend time with these people. We come from a variety of backgrounds and professions, so there’s always something neat to talk about. The front office staff deserves their own full-page description of how wonderful they are, but I will summarize and say that they make your life as a tutor easy. If you’re having issues or need something, just shoot them an email, and they will respond promptly. They’re responsive, empathetic, and just amazing.

4) A job you can feel proud of

Since graduating, I’ve run into a lot of old classmates at jobs that they’re clearly embarrassed to be seen at (They shouldn’t be because we all know college loans don’t pay themselves!). Being a tutor at GSP has always been a job that I take great pride in. Even though we follow set material, I’m constantly using my problem-solving skills. Every student’s brain processes information differently, and I have to figure out how to make everything click. At GSP, my expertise and my time are well compensated. I know I’m a valued member of the team.

I will unfortunately be saying goodbye to GSP this year as I embark on a new adventure: motherhood. Leaving will be truly bittersweet because I’ve absolutely loved this job and the people. Just reading through the reasons I’ve listed above makes me want to strap on a baby carrier and continue tutoring (but that might be distracting to the students). I hope future tutors will have as memorable time as I have had!

If you are interested in learning more about working at GSP, here’s a link to our Jobs page!

Madison Huber-Smith is a former GSP Tutor.

St. Louis University – Cook School of Business

Name: Stephen Heiner
College: St. Louis University, Cook School of Business

What first drew you to St. Louis University, Cook School of Business?

Their MBA program was top-5 in the Midwest and was in a city that I adored.

What other colleges were you considering?

Rockhurst University’s MBA program, where I did end up taking some classes which counted towards my MBA.

How was the adjustment from undergraduate to graduate school?

Fewer stragglers and people in flannel.  But in all seriousness, we did have some people who were only there because they couldn’t get a job, but I couldn’t really get mad at them.  What I relished instead were the new friends I made, some of whom are truly great ones.

What was your favorite class?  Why?

International Business with Dr. Benmamoun.  I loved having to think through different business concepts from the international perspective – at every single point.  From something as simple as the color of the website to the way one closed a sale.  It was one of many things that probably led to my move to Europe.

What clubs or groups were you involved in?

I was a participant in an Entrepreneurs’ Group.  We shared current and future business ideas and offered constructive criticism.  We also linked up with the 1-year MBA program and got to meet some great guest speakers.

Anything else you want to tell us?

You’ll never regret picking a school because you love the city it’s in.

In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

An amazing city, a historic and beautiful campus, wonderful staff and students, and a curriculum that would not let me give my second best, even if I wanted to.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Fun Facts about Zach Buckner

1. I played football in high school and college. If you ever have the chance to play collegiate sports, I suggest you do. It was the best decision I made going into college. And if you’re worried about the workload, just think that I played football, was in a fraternity, and did biomedical engineering. If I can do it, anyone can. Besides, you’d just spend that free time playing Mario Kart in the dorms anyway.

2. I was the Prom King in high school and no, I’m not ashamed to brag about that seven years later. Okay, maybe a little.

3. I recently ran with the bulls in Spain. I do not suggest doing it. But it was amazing.

4. I’ve recently taken up trapeze and will soon be leaving GSP to pursue a career in it. Only half of that is true.

5. Despite being a football-playing jock, I am also a card-carrying nerd. Feel free to ask me about video games and fantasy novels.

6. My first job was working with my father to install and repair HVAC systems (furnaces and air conditioners). I suggest everyone has a manual labor job at least once in their life. It builds work ethic and makes office jobs seem a lot cushier.

7. My dream job would be to write comic books, but make the salary of a banker.

8. I really dig Wes Anderson. He’s the modern Shakespeare, in my opinion. Who else can deal with so many moving parts in terms of plot?

9. Joss Whedon, that’s who. Only, Joss’s mastery lies in containing and forcing interaction between larger than life characters. What Wes is to plot, Joss is to characters. What I’m saying is that I really dig Joss Whedon as well.

10. I love writing, though I don’t do it nearly enough. If we’re working together and you’d like me to look at something you’ve been writing, feel free to send it my way. I won’t just be another person telling you how good your writing is, I’ll actually give you some good feedback and notes.

Zach Buckner is a former Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Kauffman Scholars

When you hear Kauffman Scholars what do you think of? You probably think of smart and intelligent scholars. You are absolutely right. Kauffman Scholars is a multi-year college access and scholarship program designed to help low-income students in Kansas City prepare for and complete a college education. Mr. Ewing Marion Kauffman wanted children to be successful in life and to not have to worry about finances. Mr. Kauffman established the Foundation in the mid-1960’s with the same sense of opportunity he brought to his business endeavors, and, with the same conviction.

Mr. Kauffman wanted his foundation to be innovative and to fundamentally change people’s lives. He wanted to help young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, get a quality education that would enable them to reach their full potential. He saw building enterprise as one of the most effective ways to realize individual promise and spur the economy. Today, the mission of the Kauffman Foundation follows his vision by focusing its grant-making and operations on two areas: advancing entrepreneurship and improving the education of children and youth.

If you want to be successful in the Kauffman Scholars program, you have to be serious about your education and what you want to be in life. I am a Class 4 scholar. I have been in this program since I was in the sixth grade, and now I am a sophomore in college. I have overcome a lot of obstacles since I entered the program. When you are in middle school, you have school and then you have Kauffman programming every day with coaches that you have all year. Your coaches teach you what to expect in high school and in college, including college admissions and the ACT. During high school, you have Saturday classes and you switch to your post-secondary coaches. When you enter college, you switch coaches again and you only have yearly meetings, but you have year-long goals, such as turning in scholarships. My adventure with Kauffman has been a roller coaster, but I love it. I always remember the motto “Who Are We? Kauffman Scholars. Why Are We Here? To Get Ready. Failure Not an Option.”

Jazmine Roberts is the Summer Intern at Get Smarter Prep.

A Short History of Get Smarter Prep

With a strong reputation among our local schools and having helped thousands of families in the greater Kansas City area achieve the scores they needed for the schools they wanted, one might think Get Smarter has been around for ages.  This month we put another academic year behind us and next month we celebrate our ninth year in Kansas City (not quite ages, yet), and we hope to be around many more years.  As we reflect on nine years of score improvements, educating families about college, and answering numerous questions about this process, we thought we would share a short history of how we got here in the first place.

The story starts in 2004.  Stephen Heiner, the founder of Get Smarter Prep, was in Southern California.  He taught test prep part-time but loved it so much he wanted to do it full-time.  He tossed around ideas, recruited from among the best he knew, and then took a weekend retreat with several other colleagues and talked about aspects they liked from the big-box companies and things they didn’t like, and came up with a small-group focused firm.  The goal was to teach fewer students per class, because more personal attention meant higher score increases, period.

It was successful for two years, building up a strong practice within Orange County, California.  Stephen wanted to leave the area to move to a part of the country with a little less stress, a lot less traffic, and a more reasonable housing market, among other reasons.  He had family near Kansas City and had always liked KC when he had previously visited.  He did research on the area, looking at demographics and the schools, and decided to leave the sunny climes of California to move to Kansas City. In July 2006, Get Smarter Prep (GSP) opened its doors in Overland Park, just a few doors down from where our current offices are today.  (As an aside, for those of you who have ever spent time in Southern California you can appreciate what a sacrifice it was, even for half a year, to take on Kansas City weather.)

There were a couple things that the founder didn’t know going in: 1) how much the market had to be educated about these tests and how coachable the tests really are (people thought you either did well or you didn’t, but there wasn’t a real consensus city-wide that there were reliable methods to beat the test and improve scores); 2) how long it would take to get the first paying client (it happened in December 2006).

From January 2007 until the present day, GSP has grown our practice. We’ve even been privileged enough to have a teacher who was part of the first training class still be with us: Gina Claypool.  We’ve learned that the best way to get new clients now is the way we got clients in the first place: word of mouth.  Nothing creates belief in a company like someone you know directly benefiting from a company’s services and then telling people they know about it.  This isn’t to say we don’t do other things.  We advertise in selected print pieces.  We manage our social media and search engine presence.  We sponsor school teams and/or calendars.  We also sponsor or have booths at college fairs and other similar events.  We give talks at schools to calm parents down about college or about the PSAT or about any of these standardized tests that only scare because people don’t know the truth.

As we move into our 9th year the spirit of the founder is still strong at GSP. We still focus on small group classes and private tutoring.  We still stay on the phone with parents until we’ve answered every question they have.  We still have the highest standards for the teachers we recruit and we make sure that they have quarterly continuing education to maintain our standards.  And we still remain dedicated to our raison d’etre: “The score you need for the school you want.”  We hope to be able to serve you sometime soon.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Is Grad School now “expected”?

While almost all of our seniors have long since turned in their applications to college, there are some of our former students who are now college seniors who are looking at their final semester.  They are about to enter the workforce…or are they?

We’ve all heard that a bachelor’s degree simply isn’t “what it used to be.”  There are a number of reasons for that:

  • Simple numbers: more people are getting undergraduate educations than ever before.  Unless the job market is growing at the same rate that degrees are, this means there are more college graduates chasing the same number or – in a recession – fewer – jobs.
  • The greater numbers mean that potential employers are seeking greater differentiation from the bucketfuls of students who are coming to them with “Finance” or “Marketing” degrees.  Unfortunately, not enough students focus on getting thoughtful and relevant internships, useful study abroad programs, or even the most basic work experience.
  • The recession in the US economy has caused a slowdown in hiring, which means that new graduates aren’t just competing with their fellow classmates, but against those who may have graduated 1, 2, or even 3 years ahead of them.

Some students choose to tough it out – working in non-related fields in order to have a job to pay the bills or to stay employed.  Others don’t wait for a solution to be handed to them and choose to start a business.  But increasingly since 2008, many students are choosing more schooling.

It’s unexpected, isn’t it?  After four years of school, students are signing up for…more school!  Mind you – it’s also more expensive per credit hour with more challenging requirements.  Since they have not made alternate plans, the idea that “a Masters certainly can’t hurt,” has inspired tens of thousands to get one, but it is not always to their benefit.  Why?  Because we have the same related problems listed above:

  • Marketplaces adjust to supply and demand.  When there are a lot of oranges available for sale, prices go down and demand is sated.  When there are a lot of MBAs available on the job market, the degree no longer carries cachet, which leads employers to look at other factors – Was there an emphasis within the MBA which is distinctive (a particular one these days is “Business Intelligence” which marries nicely with the megatrend of big data)?  Or, was there a useful capstone or study abroad program in a relevant field?  Did the student just get a Masters right after undergrad (this means that there wasn’t the rich work experience which informs any real MBA program)?
  • The flatter worldwide job market increasingly means that you aren’t just competing within your country anymore.  You may be competing against candidates from other countries who share your qualifications.
  • Instead of improving their chances to be hired by increasing their qualifications, students who have not distinguished themselves now find themselves in far deeper debt than when they started, shiny undergraduate diploma in hand.

What can we do?  Well here at Get Smarter we’re always trying to prepare our students for life, not just for their next standardized test.  So here are three things to keep in mind as you prepare for undergraduate life:

1.    Do not expect a University to land you a job.  Parents increasingly put pressure on universities to deliver “jobs.”  And universities increasingly game their statistics by hiring new graduates internally.  Parents should not expect a university or college to provide a job for their young graduate.  A university can give you a degree – and hopefully teach you to think and learn at a high level so that you will be an asset to any firm (perhaps your own) – but it can’t control what the marketplace wants from possible employees (or can offer).

2.    Don’t let college “happen” to you.  Be the person your advisor actually knows by sight.  Attend those lectures and extra activities offered on campus.  Get involved with a group or two – and no, a fraternity or sorority is not solely the answer to all that, even though the time they demand would make you feel that way (fair disclosure: the author is a member of a business fraternity).

3.    Be as serious about landing internships and summer jobs as you are about your studies.  For those of us who are not college athletes who may possibly turn professional, this undergraduate life can set up the next decade of our pursuits.  ‘Nothing says that taking your future seriously has to exclude fun, but remember that when fun beckons, and serious things are not done, the mark of future success is upon those who accomplish those serious things while others temporize.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.  


K-State University

Name: Madison Huber-Smith
College: Kansas State University
Major: Anthropology and Spanish

1. What first drew you to K-State?

I liked that they emphasized the importance of academics. Dean Bosco was at every presentation letting us know just how many Rhodes scholars they had. It was also close to home but not too close to home. The price for what I got wasn’t too bad either.

2. What other colleges were you considering?

University of Evansville, KU

3. How was the adjustment from high school to college?

College is so much better than high school! In high school, I was in class every day, all day. In college, I got to make my own schedule and take classes at times that worked for me. I had more time to do homework and do the things I liked to do, like workout.

4. What was your favorite class? Why?

My favorite class was an anthropology class called Religion in Culture. It challenged me because we discussed really difficult theoretical concepts. I then got to turn around and apply these theories to the Little Mermaid (I know this seems like this has nothing to do with religion, but it did!).

5. What clubs or groups were you involved in?

Anthropology Club, Ultimate Frisbee, Group Fitness (I taught Pilates and yoga)

6. Anything else you want to tell us?

Manhattan can seem like the boonies to students coming from JoCo, but it has all the comforts of home PLUS awesome hikes in the Konza prairie (really!) and beautiful country roads outside of town that are perfect for cycling.

7. In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

I loved that it had a small-town /small-school feel but with all the amenities and academic opportunities of a larger university.

Author Madison Huber-Smith is a tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Standardized Tests: A Conversation Between Two Tutors

Zach: So, standardized tests.  Scary stuff, right?

Joe: They’re always a scary proposition, walking into some random classroom, sitting for 4 to 5 hours as you stare at a test booklet, and trying to solve problem after problem. On the math section especially, it always seems like there are so many intense problems that you have no idea how to even begin.

Zach: But Joe… that’s what they want you to think.  That’s how they’re designed.  And yes, I know that you’re playing along with my prompt for this blog post, but this is one thing about the ACT and SAT that really bugs me.  Students get so wound up on these problems that they psyche themselves out before they even take a shot on the problem.

Joe: That’s the truth. Students skip over a problem because it looks like a wall of words or a really difficult-looking equation attached to it. Test takers assume that this means it must be way over their head, they won’t be able to solve it, and they miss out on those points. So what’s a student to do?

Zach: Joe, I’m so darn glad you asked that question.  So darn glad.  Have you ever heard the quote, “You miss all of the shots that you don’t take?”

Joe: I’m familiar with that one.

Zach: Fantastic.  I have no idea who said that, nor do I have inclination to find out, but I do think that it’s an especially pertinent adage in this case.  Why just give up so easily?  I tell students that if they’re ever staring at one of those dinosaurs of a question, just try the first thing you see to do.  Oh, you see a square root sign?  Square that bad boy.  You see two x plus something terms in parentheses?  Foil that sucker.

Joe: It could even be as simple as flipping the equation, distributing a number, or factoring out a number. Then, all of a sudden, inspiration strikes! You get a flash of brilliance, and you know how to solve the problem!

Zach: A good time to test this strategy is on a free practice test! We offer them every Saturday at 8:45 at our office.

Joe: Good idea! I’ll look at my Saturday schedule. Once you have a baseline score, you can decide which tutoring option is best for you!

Zach Buckner and Joe Roh are Tutors at Get Smarter Prep.

Preparation is the Key to Success

Whether you’re taking your ACT, SAT, AP tests or your History final, when it comes to education and testing, preparation is the key to success.  Here are some ways to be prepared for any class or test:

1)      Get organized.

Have a dedicated binder or folder for each class you are taking.  File each class’ notes followed by the assignments related to that material.  By keeping your school work organized, you will be able to refer back to your class notes and materials to review the concepts.  When you finish your assignment, put it in the appropriate binder to avoid forgetting to take it with you.

It’s also a good idea to keep a calendar at the front of your binder with all your assignment due dates written down.  For long term assignments, set a reminder to go off on your smart phone 2 weeks, 1 week and 3 days before the assignment is due to avoid procrastinating on the project.

2)      Put pencil to paper.

While you’re in class, take notes.  When you do your assignments, take notes and show your work.  There’s no point in taking notes if you can’t understand them later.

3)      Prepare your materials.

When you do your homework, find an uncluttered work surface, and organize your materials before you begin.  Have a pencil (or two) and an eraser handy.  Make sure your calculator batteries are working.  Get some scratch paper.

4)      Give yourself some time and some quiet.

I know you’re busy.  Volunteer hours and extracurricular activities don’t leave as much time for homework as you might like.  Write a homework appointment in your schedule, and don’t stand yourself up!  By setting aside time for homework each day, you won’t overbook yourself.  (Share your calendar with your parents, so they know not to schedule activities over your homework time)

When it’s time to do your assignments, turn off the TV.  Turn off the ipod.  Silence your phone.  Focusing on one thing at a time is a lost art in our multi-tasking, over-stimulated culture, but focusing on one task at a time and eliminating distractions makes you more efficient.  Because we aren’t used to focusing on one thing for an extended period of time, this might be hard for you at first.  Try this: set a timer for 15 minutes, and work diligently during that time.  When the timer goes off, set another timer for 5 minutes, and take a break.  Repeat.  When focusing for 15 minutes gets easier, gradually increase the work time by five minute increments.

Since everyone has a different learning style, your best method of preparation might look a little different than this.  You can learn what your learning style is and learn how to best apply that style to all your classes throughout high school (and on into college) with Get Smarter Prep’s Study Skills class.  Study skills like time management, organization, and homework planning will serve you throughout high school and college, and will even be great skills when you enter the work force.  Study skills also cover speed reading, reading comprehension, and writing skills.

Do you want mad study skills?  Check out our Study Skills class!

Gina Claypool is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Finals in College

Finals in College

Unlike in high school, college finals are spread out across a week’s time, with each class getting assigned a particular day and time. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have two finals on one day, but it does mean that you’ll have significantly more time to study between tests than you did in high school. Sometimes students grow complacent and assume that they’ll have plenty of time to study for each class, but unfortunately, final exams in college tend to be comprehensive (ie. over everything you’ve learned that semester). Unless you’re awesome at last minute studying (many of my students think they are but their scores say otherwise), I suggest preparing your study schedule weeks in advance.

When I was in school, it seemed like all the final paper due dates and final exams happened at the same time. It seems like this is still the case as I watch my students start to glaze over and stop doing their homework right before finals weeks.

I suggest that, with your syllabi in hand, you sit down in mid-April with your calendar and figure out a game plan that keeps you on track to finish everything. Maybe you’re going to write a page a night to get that Econ paper finished by mid-May. Maybe you’re going to review anthropology lectures for 15 minutes after dinner to prepare for the final.

Planning makes sure that your future self, who could potentially be working into the wee hours of the night for a week straight (during what tends to be some of the most beautiful weather of the semester), is not going to curse your lazy, Game of Thrones-watching past self.

Madison Huber-Smith is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep and an Adjunct Professor at Johnson County Community College.