The High Cost Of Testing For College

You think college is expensive? How about the cost of SAT and AP tests? Ben Tonelli, a senior at Garfield High School in Seattle, wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal complaining about the costs. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Tonelli about the sticker shock.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A college education is famously expensive. But what about the tests just to apply? Benjamin Tonelli wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal this week; and he questioned the costs of the SAT and AP tests that students have to take just to be considered for admittance to college, and asked if this doesn't discriminate against poorer families especially. Mr. Tonelli is a senior at Garfield High School in Seattle, and he joins us. Thanks very much for being with us.

BENJAMIN TONELLI: Of course, of course.

SIMON: May I ask how much has your family shelled out for these tests for you, for example, this year?

TONELLI: It has to be close to about a thousand by now. About $500 for AP tests, $100 for SAT, about another $100 for the subject test and then, of course, the $100 and something dollars to report it all.

SIMON: What makes you skeptical that these costs aren't justified? I mean, 'cause even the College Board has operating expenses, surely.

TONELLI: Yeah, of course. What really sealed the deal for me was when I had to pay $11.25 to report each individual score to colleges on my list. And, of course, I believe, you know, there has to be a lot of money that goes into proctors, the readers for the essays, all that stuff. To just send scores? It doesn't cost $11 per score.

SIMON: Of course, the College Board's a not-for-profit corporation.

TONELLI: Yeah. I mean, they pull in about $750 million-plus a year. In the last three years, there's been about a $60 million profit on average, and that's just insane.

SIMON: Well, let me follow up on another part of your argument, Mr. Tonelli. Do you think the costs of the tests deter students from applying to more than one college? And does it perhaps discourage poorer families?

TONELLI: Yeah, definitely. The College Board does do a great thing, which is the fee waivers. But where I think it really gets to is kids who don't qualify for those fee waivers but yet their parents still don't want to shell out money; you know, $50 for each SAT, and then almost $100 for each AP test. That discourages kids from taking more tests, getting higher scores, you know, competing with kids that have private tutors or had parents that set them up since elementary school to basically study for a single test.

SIMON: Any reaction from the College Board people? Because there's a part of me that would wonder, I mean, wouldn't it be tempting just to see your, you know, your name pop up on an exam and say: This guy's getting a zero.

TONELLI: Exactly, yeah. That was the joke that's been passed around. I basically am scared to log into my College Board account now, just in fear of my SATs dropping a couple hundred points or something. And so that's really the big fear now. But yeah, as of yet there's been really no response.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Tonelli, whatever happens, we wish you a lot of luck.

TONELLI: Thank you so much for having me.

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