Pre-College Costs Hinder Students

By Observer Opinion

College is an expensive investment into a student’s future. At CHS, most of students’ daily lives and choices revolve around earning amazing grades and outstanding test scores so they receive admittance to their dream school.

But as college tuitions continue to rise, the cost of the college application process does as well. This process extends beyond simply paying a fee to send in an application to a college; families are becoming increasingly subject to spending hundreds of dollars on hours of expensive ACT and SAT prep classes, costly payments for AP exams and multiple extracurricular activities in order to make their child as appealing to colleges as possible.

While it is important for CHS students to exceed educationally and diversify themselves from the 20.5 million other kids who applied to college in 2016, the costs of these improvements will only serve to increase the opportunity gap and deplete the financial resources families need for college before a student even enrolls.

According to the College Board website, each AP exam costs $93. AP classes are meant to serve as classes that can provide possible college credits, which may overall lessen the costs of college. However, if taking the exam isn’t accessible to everyone, students won’t receive the college credit they need; thus the cost of attending college won’t be lowered.
While the cost of an AP exam generally costs less than paying for a college class, it is still too expensive.

According to the 2015-2016 fact sheet for CHS, there were 2,908 AP tests taken by CHS students, which equated to $276,260 spent in total. That is an enormous sum, and once distributed across the 1,253 students eligible to take an AP exam, each student had to pay roughly $220.

While some families may be able to foot the bill for these expenses, others may not.

According to the MCPS website, 33.2 percent of MCPS families are currently at an income level that qualifies them for the Free and Reduced Meals Program. That’s approximately 1 in 3 students that can’t regularly afford the full price of a meal, much less the price of one or more AP exams.

AP classes and exams are invaluable to a student’s high school education and their appeal to colleges. The cost of taking a class imperative to getting into competitive colleges should not fall on MCPS students and their families. There is no reason that the College Board, the company that administers AP exams and the SAT, could not lower these prices to a more moderate price point.

In addition to taking AP classes, most students plan to take the ACT, SAT or both in order to be admitted into college.

According to the College Board, the SAT costs either $45 or $57 (with writing). And according to ACT, the price of their test similarly ranges between either $42.50 or $58.50 (with writing). Many students take these standardized tests at least twice, which brings their total close to $100. In order to be successful on these exams, students work with pricey private tutors and join prep classes to boost their scores. Students also have to pay to submit their scores to the colleges of their choice, increasing their costs even more.

According to a survey of 57 CHS students, 96 percent have used a private tutor, prep class or some other outside assistance to increase their standardized test score. While tutors and classes help improve student’s test scores, these courses can cost hundreds of dollars and put students who are unable to foot the bill at an unfair disadvantage in taking standardized tests.

ACT and SAT tutoring should be offered as a class to sophomores and juniors at CHS and possibly all of MCPS, as it would provide a free way for students to prepare for important college entrance exams.
Additionally, College Board and ACT, Inc. should consider turning to another source of income for their exams and reduce the prices of current exams. They could host benefits in order to raise money for the costs of the exams or the prices of tests could be on a sliding scale based on income.

The rising costs of pre-college expenses alienate those who are qualified and deserving of a college education, but cannot afford to pay hundreds of dollars for an ACT prep class or a multitude of AP exams.

In addition to the cost of AP classes, students must also pay for the fee of applying to a school.

College is already expensive enough without the added fees of simply applying, taking AP exams, and paying for prep classes. The achievement gap that already exists in MCPS is only made worse by these unnecessary costs, and measures can and must be taken to close the gap.