by Ariana Habibi
Few things are truly ubiquitous to the high school experience: taking difficult classes, participating in extracurricular activities, applying to college. The third of these strikes deep feelings of fear and stress into the hearts of hopeful students worldwide, and this anxiety is in part caused by the College Board organization.
Upon its founding in 1900, the College Board aspired to expand college accessibility and simplify the admissions process. Though if it was intended to be a beneficial resource for students, why has its current impact morphed into being anything but helpful?
It is no secret that standardized exams in general favor the wealthy, as those who can afford to enroll in test preparation agencies can essentially buy more points on the SAT. Though the problem goes far beyond test preparation itself.
Family wealth allows parents to locate in wealthier neighborhoods, whose schools have more resources. Also, parents who are wealthy tend to be well-educated, and so instill the importance of school and education in their children. While the College Board’s recent collaboration with Khan Academy to create free resources is undeniably admirable, it does little to change the underlying issues associated with the exam.
Now, the increasing popularity of the ACT has pushed the College Board to overcome some of the elitism in the SAT. Still, in regards to power over the college admissions process, the College Board will always hold the upper hand.
Whereas the ACT organization is primarily known for its array of standardized tests (which go beyond the eponymous exam), the College Board holds a vast monopoly over the college admissions and preparation process. It controls the SAT Subject Tests, which are “recommended” for many competitive colleges. It has a stake in the financial aid process, as many private and competitive public universities require the CSS Profile. It manages the classes students are able to take, as the Advanced Placement program falls under the College Board umbrella.
Essentially, we are all under the College Board’s control.
Despite holding the title of being a not-for-profit institution, the College Board profits from every college-bound student in America and innumerably more worldwide. The SAT alone costs $46 and the SAT with essay costs $60; it costs $26 just to register for SAT subject tests and the tests themselves cost $18. Plus, there is a fee of $11.25 to send scores to each college or scholarship that requires official score reports.
Additionally, AP exam fees run at $94 each, and it costs $25 to send the first CSS Profile and $16 for each additional college or scholarship program. Needless to say, there is an immense irony in having to pay to qualify for financial aid.
Though students can qualify for fee waivers to cover many of these expenses, these alone are not a solution to the problem at hand.
Granted, the College Board alone is not solely to blame for the commercialization of the admissions process — the majority of colleges require application fees and the ACT organization also charges for their exams. After all, the organizations and institutions must pay their employees and cover expenses associated with producing and providing their services.
However, the issue at hand is not that students have to pay to take the SAT or AP exams, but rather than a single company controls so many aspects of the process.
As absurd as it may seem, the college application process should be fun; it is an opportunity to reflect on what you have accomplished in the past four years, and what your hopes to achieve in the future. It is a chance to reconnect with teachers who have acted as mentors when requesting recommendation letters, and to meet counselors who will guide you throughout the process. It is a time to find who you are, and what schools will help you become who you want to be.
Though instead of being an exploration of possibilities and engendering feelings of excitement for the future, the college application process is a burden and strikes fear. It is not meant to be enjoyed but rather endured. Students fall into tendencies of devaluing themselves, believing that their entire lives are dependent on where they go these next four years. They compare standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, leadership positions, writing abilities, all whilst secretly hoping they have outperformed all others.
Hoping they get into this one dream school that may not make a difference in their lives anyway.
So no, the College Board organization is not solely to blame for the anxiety of adolescents worldwide, for the very culture of college admissions is in need of reform — from standardized tests to extracurriculars.
But given the immense power of the College Board, they have to change before anything else can.