Last year Harvard accepted just 2,000 out of the 19,000 students who applied. Competition to get into the nation's better colleges is intense. So a growing number of students are preparing for college entrance exams well before high school.
For students in Laguna Beach, Calif., little time has passed between learning their ABCs and getting ready for the SATs.
In preparation for her SATs, Sasha Speare, a seventh grader, is enrolled in a 5-year program at Cambridge Academic Services.
"I have a lot of fun in the class. We always have a vocabulary test - and then we do a lesson and then we play jeopardy which is always fun," she said.
Lisa Muehle has tutored more than 500 students in the program she describes as "sensibly paced."
"Seventh graders come once a week after schools during the academic year. Each class is 90 minutes. Eighth through 11th grade students come every other week - basically twice a month - for a 90 minute lesson," Muehle said.
At a cost of about $25 per session, Sasha's mother, Vaughn Speare, sees it as a relatively low risk investment in her daughter's future.
"I think it's so competitive to get into college and it is getting so progressively more competitive that I think it's an advantage to have extra help in preparing for this kind of test," Speare said.
Last year, more than 100,000 students in eighth grade or below actually took the SAT. For most, it was to gain admission to programs for gifted students at prestigious universities. But for thousands of other kids it was a dry run.
Brian O'Reilly, a director of the College Board, which administers the SAT, said students in ninth grade or below averaged a score of 885 last year - compared to a 1020 average for college-bound high school seniors.
"There's not much riding on your score on the test other than to see how you compare to kids older than you taking the same test," he said. "So the notion of preparing for the SAT as a seventh and eighth grader other than just becoming familiar with what's on the test seems kind of silly."
A sentiment surprisingly shared by Kaplan Incorporated, a test prep empire.
"If you start too early you will burn kids out…and will likely add to the pressure that they are already feeling," Kaplan Vice President Seppy Basili said, adding his company won't turn away young students but prefers they wait.
"Seventh graders are like sponges. They pick up parents stress and teacher stress and we don't want to add to that stress and in some cases we may be doing that," Basili said.
"Let me tell you what stress is. Stress is it's March of your junior year. You have three AP classes. You are on the track team. You volunteer for boys and girls club and you forgot to prepare for the SAT and you are taking it in 60 days. Now you got a problem," he said.
And the SAT was a problem for Cambridge alum Peter Bui.
"There are certain ways they ask questions and certain ways the test is laid out to confuse even the brightest kids," he said.
So Bui took a year-long super intensive prep course with Cambridge and scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT. This fall he's headed to Notre Dame on a $40,000 scholarship.
"It was very good practice, because it made me focus on my weaknesses - like vocabulary - which is very difficult for me, so I was able to zero in on what need to be done," Bui said.
Now his parents plan to enroll his two younger sisters in the 5-year program.
Muehle says most of the seventh graders who have gone through all five years of her program have scored between 1250 and the perfect 1600. But even a perfect score does not guarantee acceptance at a student's college of choice. In fact Harvard rejected more than half of 347 applicants who scored 1600 on their SATs.
For more information about test preparation materials and classes, visit the following Web sites: