Tim Wang’s first introduction to the SAT came in 9th grade when he took the PSAT. “I still remember the class I was sitting in when they gave me my PSAT scores back, and I was like, ‘This can’t be right,’” he said. “A lot of the kids in my class, like me, hadn’t studied or prepared for the test, but pretty much everyone did way better than I did.”
But despite his early experience with the test, Tim went on to attend college at Washington University in St. Louis, where he played NCAA basketball, in addition to keeping up with a full slate of challenging classes. For the past 7 years, he has worked as a Vice President of Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco. At the end of July, he will be starting a new opportunity with another investment bank based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 2017, Tim joined CollegeSpring’s Young Professionals Board, where he serves as an advocate for expanding access to test prep and helping students from low-income backgrounds earn a college degree.
We sat down with Tim to learn more about his experience with the SAT, his college journey, and why CollegeSpring’s work is important to him.
Tell me about your experience with the SAT.
When I took my first PSAT, it didn’t go well at all, to put it bluntly. It raised a lot of questions for me, like, “Am I even suitable for college? Can I even go to a good college?”
Fortunately, I grew up with a lot of privilege, resources, and parents who were very committed to my academic excellence. My parents provided everything I needed over the next 6-8 months to really focus so that by the time I took the SAT I would be prepared. By the time the test rolled around, I was super confident because I’d practiced it so many times. I scored great, and after that, the thought that I wasn’t cut out for college was totally in the past.
At CollegeSpring, we talk a lot about how building confidence is a key part of test prep. What helped you make that transition to feeling confident to take the SAT?
The SAT isn’t a test of sheer intellect: like everything else, you need to see it again and again to recognize the patterns of what to expect in each section. My tutor helped me bucket the questions into different subcategories, so I had a tactical game plan instead of feeling like the test would be a random three-hour experience. As you build this baseline knowledge, you get more confidence, and soon you’re scoring in a range completely different from where you started.
I’ll be the first to admit, though, I’m not someone who could’ve done this by myself. I feel that I was the direct beneficiary of a flawed system—it definitely favors people with the time and financial resources to have someone help them learn to prepare for the test.
Did your time spent preparing for the SAT give you any skills you used beyond high school?
Yes, for sure. The biggest thing it taught me was that with the right amount of prep and mentorship and guidance, any one of us can learn anything. Throughout college, my SAT prep days helped me prepare for group projects or tests. Breaking things down into smaller pieces and mastering them through reps is so important.
This is the same approach I took when I was applying for jobs in investment banking. When my first few interviews didn’t go well, I pulled some of the upperclassmen aside, and they gave me some guides they had used to study for the technical parts of the interviews. I locked myself in a room and studied until I knew these concepts like the back of my hand. Once I knew I could nail the technical questions, I was able to focus more on letting my personality come through and making a connection with the person sitting across the table from me.
Why does CollegeSpring’s mission resonate so much with you?
CollegeSpring’s mission is important to me, because not every student has access to the same resources I had. It’s not just financial resources you need, such as a private tutor or extra classes, but you also need to have the time to be able to dedicate to intensive study.
CollegeSpring works with a lot of students whose situations are very different from mine growing up. It’s not enough to tell someone to spend three hours a night studying for the SAT on their own. Students have other responsibilities: maybe they’re working a second job, or maybe they’re acting as a caretaker for their siblings. CollegeSpring builds test prep directly into the school curriculum, so students can just show up to school and prepare for the test.
I know there’s still a big privilege gap between this and the support that I had, but I think CollegeSpring’s model is a really practical way to try to bridge that gap. A good SAT score helps not only with access to college but also with financial aid. It just knocks down so many barriers and where, for whatever reason, college wasn’t previously an option, now it can be a reality for students.