What Keeps Us from College: How the College Application Business Keeps Us Out

Today high school students have to go through the College Board one way or another to gain access to a higher education. Superficially, the College Board is labeled a non-profit. The College Board website says that it is “a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity.” But is that truly its mission?

Standardized Testing

The third time I took the ACT I had to pay for it simply because my school was out of fee waivers. A test that was going to cost me $58.50 was something that made me doubtful on whether or not asking my parents for this money was worth it. It is absurd to look back and think that I had an inner conflict about taking the standardized test that made me go up three points on my composite score.  I believe that my score on this exam was an influential factor in being offered admission to top colleges and universities.

My school, which served a predominantly low-income student population, did not have enough fee waivers to give its students. The College Board encourages retaking its standardized test, and it only gives a limited number of fee waivers to schools like the one I attended, leaving students who can’t afford these exams to figure out how to pay for them. For students attending schools where fee waivers are not openly advertised, students may struggle figuring out how to pay for their standardized tests.

*The cost of taking the ACT with the writing portion is $58.50 and the cost of taking the SAT is $57 with the essay. For the SAT, you can get up to two fee waivers to take the test.

Sending Standardized Test Scores

When applying to college, one has to send standardized test scores directly from the College Board. The cost for sending ACT and SAT scores is $12.00 per test. Upon registering, ACT gives you four fee waivers to send your scores, while SAT gives you the same amount but will give you four more waivers if you qualify for them. These limited fee waivers do help subsidize cost, yet only help so much because most students apply to more schools than they receive fee waivers for. Universities have implemented policies such as requiring their applicants to send in every score of every standardized test they have taken or to take additional tests such as the SAT subject test. In doing so, many students that don’t have the means to pay to send test scores are put in tough positions to find the means to send test scores because they may have used all the fee waivers.

Advanced Placement Courses

In four years, I accumulated a debt of $583 because of the 11 AP courses I took (fee reduction reduced price of each exam to $53). AP courses are labeled to challenge students and ultimately save them money once they enter college by counting as college credit. However, in many cases, the courses aren’t taught at a level where students are able to succeed in taking their tests and understanding college content. Also, colleges at times don’t accept the AP courses that students take. Interestingly, students are still mandated to pay for the courses — showing that even when teachers fail students or when colleges deny accepting AP Credit, the students are still on the hook for paying the fees of the courses.

Not only that, high schools themselves receive money when students taking AP Exams. According to the College Board, my school was receiving $9 in rebate for each exam I took. I gave my school a total of $99 dollars throughout my four years of high school on top of the mandatory fees they made me pay every year. The normal cost of taking AP tests is $93.

Some students may have their AP courses paid for. However, the schools in my school district did not pay for them.


In addition to filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), schools make students fill out PROFILE to “verify” financial information for non-federal financial aid. Once again, the College Board expresses that PROFILE could give out fee waivers to subsidize the cost. If you don’t receive the fee waiver, then you have to pay pay $25 for your initial PROFILE application in addition to the $16 for any additional reports. It is important to point out that these fee waivers are only given to first-year, domestic students. Also, these fee waivers only apply to the first eight schools you send your reports to. After that, you are required to pay full price. Therefore, for the rest of my college career I will have to pay $16 to this nonprofit that will literally take my parents’ financial information and give it to my university to be able to apply for nonfederal financial aid.

The Irony

The last straw of this argument is simply this non-profit’s members’ salaries. According to the The Washington Post, the CEO of the College Board’s salary for the year of 2013 was $690,854. Also, the article singles out that the College Board invested $1,768,295 in 2013 for lobbying purposes. While youth are scrambling to find ways to pay for their tests or to send their ACT/SAT scores to colleges and universities, this organization that boasts a mission to bridge youth to opportunity pays its executives extremely high salaries and invests heavily in lobbying. Oh, and of course, it is also an organization that takes advantage of non-profit tax exemptions. The irony of this nonprofit is unfathomable.

This monopoly is one that shows that those who are privileged to have the financial means to afford these costs are able to pay without concern over sending scores to too many institutions. It is a monopoly in which poor high school students’ applications to universities are contingent on the fee waivers that the College Board gives them. But most of all, this is a monopoly that screams: an education is a privilege, not a right. A privilege seen in the reality that those who have the financial means are the ones who can apply to all the higher education institutions that they want. For those who aren’t as privileged to have the means to pay for all these costs — well, that is their problem, isn’t it?

What do you think?

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Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo is a Chicago native currently studying at Stanford University -- class of 2020. His intended major is in engineering, but he is still not sure what specific type of engineering he wants to study. He was born and raised in Chicago’s West-side neighborhood, La Villita. Guillermo identifies as a first-gen, Latino, and low-income student. His true passions are in STEM, advocacy for oppressed groups, equity in education, mentorship, and helping others. Being the son of two undocumented immigrants, Guillermo is seeking to find ways to not only be their voice, but the voice of other individuals that are voiceless. He gained global recognition because of his “Dear Dentist” letter that addressed the common theme of individuals trying to discredit the accomplishments of minority, low-income, first-gen students. He hopes to continue to tell the other side of the narrative.

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