The Optimal Allocation of the High School Senior Year

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Note: This article is a guest post written by Matthew Larriva, UPenn alumni and founder of Powerful Prep. Established in 2009, Powerful Prep is Orange County’s premium SAT Prep and ACT Prep results-oriented program, offering the convenience of in-home tutoring with the engagement of one-on-one sessions. 


College-bound high school students are faced with an unparalleled and worsening situation: the admissions process is increasingly daunting as population and applicants are increasing more rapidly than seats in universities. (

Too often students plan their time as if it is unlimited. This is a byproduct of excessive homework, extracurricular demands, standardized test prep, and personal demands, all which demand attention simultaneously.

A more economic approach is needed. Time is not unlimited, the admissions process is well-understood, GPAs are calculable, and point-gains from standardized-test prep are predictable.

When this information is quantified, and some simple assumptions are made, an interesting trend emerges: the longer one spends in school, the more fixed one’s GPA becomes. This is not true of standardized test scores which are always flexible and capable of drastically changing over the course of a weekend. The takeaway is simple, unorthodox: the highest return on time, for a senior, is test prep, while one of the lowest returns is GPA-maintenance.

By example, a student with a perfect 4.0, unweighted GPA, has a 0% return on time by gaining another A (his 4.0 does not change), but this same student has a 10% return on time by gaining 3 points on his ACT score and moving from 30 to 33. Weighting GPA and standardized test scores as colleges would, a yield curve can be created showing exactly where a student should focus his efforts for a  given GPA, test score, and year-in-school.

For a more thorough analysis, browse Powerful Prep’s white paper, The Optimal Allocation of the High School Senior Year.