Test Prep Tutor Jen Dillon

Jen Dillon, Founder and Director, AdeptPrep, winner of the Best of Washington award for tutoring and test prep.

Featured Professional Series: The second Monday of every month, we feature one of our favorite educational consultants, psychologists, or professionals in a related field. We ask everybody the same five questions, designed to show you why we like them and to help you decide whether they’re a good fit for your needs.

I don’t really believe in the tutoring and test prep industries in general, but I believe in Jen Dillon of AdeptPrep. Her methods of helping students keep calm and inspiring them to work hard to improve their scores are especially well suited to students whose feelings about test prep range from trepidation to hostility.

How did you get into this field?

Circuitously and inevitably. The younger sister of my close childhood friend was in my mother’s 6th grade class and was struggling; her single dad felt uncomfortable getting help from strangers (professionals), so I started working with her. I was a sophomore in college at the time.

Soon after, I also began working in an after-school program for kids with learning disabilities at the Child Development Center in San Francisco. By the time I left the Bay Area to pursue the academic career I thought I wanted, I had about five years of experience tutoring all kinds of students.

After completing my graduate degree in biostatistics at Harvard, I taught at Colby for one year and then moved to DC for a research job at Georgetown, but I missed teaching. I started tutoring again, thinking I would just do it on the side, and I finally realized that I had found my calling years before.

Many students struggle with math, and few mathematicians are good at connecting and communicating with students. Therefore, I can be uniquely helpful. If my purpose on earth is to enjoy being alive and to be of service to god and my fellows, then this is the work I should be doing.

What do you love about the work?

It’s just so fun. An hour spent tutoring a student is guaranteed to cheer me up on a gloomy day, especially if it’s a meaty topic, like proof by induction, with a student who’s struggling but trusts our process and is then able to grasp a difficult concept by the end of the hour.

It’s a joy to help someone navigate the path from confusion to understanding. There are few things humans hate more than being confused, and inversely, it is immensely satisfying to master something difficult. That’s how self-esteem is built — kids don’t gain self-esteem by receiving praise, they develop it by overcoming challenges. That’s why SAT/ACT prep is worthwhile to me as an educator, despite its anti-intellectual nature; it’s an opportunity for personal growth.

And of course it’s incredibly gratifying to develop close and long-lasting relationships with my students. Last month I caught up with a former student while I was in New York; she’s now a doctoral student in literature at Columbia and thriving personally and academically. It’s a joy to be part of her life and her journey.

ALSO, the kids are plain hilarious. It’s great to have a job where I get to laugh so much.

Why do people hire you?  

The clients who are the best fit for AdeptPrep are the parents who are looking to protect (possibly even improve) their kids’ mental and emotional well-being while maximizing their performance on standardized tests.

How do you feel about study skills?  

The lack thereof is so commonly the underlying cause of much of the suffering I see among students! Yet it’s so rare to find professionals who are actually teaching kids these skills competently (although many claim they are), which is why I was so delighted to meet you some years back!

I often meet people who say they wish they had had my help with math when they were in school; I wish I had had YOUR help when I was a student! I would have had a much easier time getting through high school, college, and grad school, and I would have done so with a higher GPA.

What’s your favorite piece of advice to give students?  

The most important thing for my students to hear is that their SAT scores, or whatever else they’re worrying about, are not going to to determine their future. These students are all going to get into an institution of higher learning — the United States is crammed with great schools no one has ever heard of (like Mills, where I went to undergrad, which was fantastic and sent me to Harvard for graduate school).

I tell students that what they get out of their college experience is mostly determined by what they bring to it, hopefully: intellectual curiosity, hard work, integrity, and an open mind and heart. Going to the “right” college is not going to be the make-or-break moment of their lives. The key moments of our lives are the times when we do or do not stay true to ourselves and our principles, not our academic successes and failures.

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