Blue Train College Prep
In 2001 Scott Simonsen cofounded Blue Train College Prep to help clients manage all aspects of the college process. Today Scott and his team have guided thousands of students and their families in ACT and SAT test prep, college list-building, filling out applications and writing essays.
How did you first get involved in the college prep business?
“While finishing my master’s degree in English at the University of New Hampshire, I began teaching ACT and SAT test prep on weekends. Because of my nationally recognized success rate at increasing students’ scores, I was selected by the Princeton Review to create classes and curricula and train teachers on both the East and West coasts. Starting Blue Train was an opportunity to design a smoother, more empowering and fulfilling journey to college for students and their families.”
How does your approach reduce stress on families?
“Once families realize they are in capable hands, they begin to relax. Once they are relaxed, we work with them to create a big-picture timeline that everyone feels comfortable with—most especially the student. Yes, there will be ups and downs along the way, but when you are motivated by excitement (rather than pressure), you realize how amazing the college process can be.
On Track newsletters, monthly town halls and hands-on workshops offer backup support to the one-on-one specialists who are kind, talented and committed to making every Blue Trainer’s journey as rewarding as possible. We encourage families to schedule a meet-and-greet with us as a first step in reducing their stress.”
How do you help students find the right college fit?
“We ask them: What would your dream school be like? Would it be in a city, near natural wonders? Career-driven or exploratory? Liberal, conservative, somewhere in the middle? How would you want your school to change you? Does competition or community bring out your best self?
Whether it’s imagining the most dynamic environment to grow in or contemplating your potential major, finding the right college fit entails a lot of self-exploration and discovery. We help guide that process with The Blue List—our college search tool that allows counselors to drop into 3D tours, live cams, drone videos and course catalogs with unparalleled dexterity. Students react and grow in real time as they are guided through a whirlwind of possibilities. As one student described, ‘It was like watching my future flash before my eyes.’”
As colleges go test-optional, how does that change the admissions process?
“Test-optional is a good thing; it allows each student to decide if they want to submit an ACT or SAT score. Students who can hit the historical average or higher for any particular school should submit scores. Conversely, students who come in below the average should opt out. Students who don’t submit scores must figure out other ways to stand out when so many people have the same GPA, course loads and extracurriculars. ACT and SAT testers still have to work to elevate their applications, but if they can hit their score targets, they can help their chances considerably. Unlike test-optional schools, the University of California and California State University are ‘test-blind,’ meaning they will not consider test scores.”
What is the most challenging part of the college process?
“Staying balanced. There is no doubt that the college process can feel overwhelming at times—whether it’s writing never-ending essays, finalizing your college list or beating deadlines. Add to this the fact that students are often bombarded with confusing college chatter from neighbors, relatives, counselors and the web. All of this can make students and parents uneasy, feeling as if they are uninformed and behind. Our job is to help you regain balance through clarity, efficiency and perspective. To put it in cliché terms, the college process is a marathon and we do our best to pace our students and keep them empowered until they cross the finish line.”
How does your team form deeper connections with teens?
“It begins with being equipped and prepared. Teens don’t want their time (or their parents’ money) wasted. After that, I’d have to say we are ‘funny.’ Don’t worry, we won’t be wearing spinning bow ties (which aren’t funny) or doing stand-up routines, but our specialists are hired, in part, because of their ability to bring out a smile. In fact, for more than 20 years our applicants have been required to submit a funny anecdote with their resume. Don’t worry, parents, we promise students can still crush their standardized tests, compose moving and memorable essays, and get into their dream schools even if they are caught smiling the entire way.”
What makes working for Blue Train so rewarding?
“Throughout the year our inbox is filled with happy-tears college acceptances, huge merit scholarship offers and simple heartfelt thanks for having helped families have positive journeys. We might be sappy suckers, but making families genuinely happy makes us genuinely happy.”