Feb. 9 2011 12:00 AM

MSU grad brings a personalized touch to preparing for big exams

This story was corrected Feb. 9.

Wednesday, Feb. 9 — For many, starting a business is a dream. But for John Rood, Michigan State University alumnus and owner of Next Step Test Prep, it has been a reality.

Next Step is a Chicago-based tutoring school that helps students prepare for the major graduate school entrance exams, like the LSAT, GMAT, GRE, MCAT, ACT and SAT.

Rood started the company in 2009. In 2010, the company tutored 200 students. Rood was recently a co-sponsor of the MSU James Madison College alumni career day, dealing out his entrepreneurial advice.


John Rood. Yang Zhang/City Pulse.

But how can this young and small company compete with the test prep giants, like Kaplan and Princeton Review?

Rood’s plan is to personalize the training in a one-on-one setting.

“In our school you’re always working with just one person,” Rood said. “You get that tutor’s full attention. You can ask whatever questions you want.”

Most big test prep schools offer classes, where one tutor may teach 10 to 25 students.

The school also provides free consultations for students to figure out their strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed before tutoring. Rates range from about $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the test and how many training hours you want.

Rood thinks quality tutors are vital to Next Step’s success. To work at Next Step, candidates must have taken the tests and also taught them.

Next Step has 35 tutors in 18 cities, including San Diego, Huston, Chicago and East Lansing. The Internet and web-based technology help break the geographical barriers. Rood launched online tutoring last month that enables a tutor in New York to teach the LSAT to a student in Kalamazoo.

But some worry online tutoring may not be as effective as doing so in-person. Rood said it’s not a problem in his school because they combine videoconferencing with an interactive whiteboard so that students can see, hear and communicate with their tutors.

“Students can also record their sessions online for future review,” he said.

After getting his bachelor’s degree in international relations and political theory from MSU, Rood began graduate school in the University of Chicago. While studying there, he worked as a part-time instructor for a national test prep school.

“I learned about their business model and thought something could be done differently to make it better,” Rood said.

Three years after finishing his master’s in political science, Rood started Next Step.

So far, the outcomes are encouraging.

Andrew Haase, an MSU grad who received GMAT tutoring last year, raised his score from 620 to 730 after using Next Step. He said Rood’s program was “one of his best professional decisions.”

Rood said establishing a business is both exciting and painstaking.

“When you run a business, you’re the one who makes all the decisions and is responsible for everything,” he said. “It’s challenging.”

Check out Next Step Test Prep here.