My junior year I was warned about how expensive the next year and a half could be — ACT/SAT tutors, Embassy Suites hotel rooms, college essay editors. The list goes on and can add up to thousands depending on how much you can spend to guarantee college admission.
This is fine if you come from a family that has $150 per hour to spend increase your ACT score from a 26 to a 30, $400 on an editor, $200 per session on a college counselor. What we avoid is that while the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the college admissions process is expensive, it is remarkably unfair to expect someone who has to shower at school to afford these substantial costs.
In 2009, the New York Times examined the correlation between household income and SAT scores. They found that test-takers from homes earning over $200,000 a year scored more than 100 points higher in all testing sections than students in households earning less than $20,000 a year. Tutors make a significant difference, but not everyone can afford one.
Some families opt for “add on” costs like essay editors and tutors, sure, but there are significant baseline costs to applying anywhere. As I submitted my November applications, I personally made a $679 dent in my mom’s credit card bill: $171 to take the ACT three times, $78 to send those three scores to two additional schools, and $430 to apply to six schools.
As much as I love the schools I applied to, they take part in the growing gap between socioeconomic classes. Most schools require the ACT or SAT, then College Board requires payment to send official score reports to schools you’re applying to. And then those schools charge an average of $50 to even submit the application — but top schools, like Stanford, can charge up to $90.
The more money a family has, the more they can spend on the “extra” tutors, editors and counselors in an effort to augment their student’s chances of getting into their dream school.
Families consider the hundreds they pay for an ACT tutor worth it. It is an investment: the higher their child’s score, the better chance they have at getting into schools and the higher merit-based scholarship they can earn from it. But for families that can’t afford to pay $150 an hour twice a week, this is just one more place they fall another step behind.
I’m guilty of falling into the system. I spent spring break last year road-tripping to five of my favorite schools. But what about the kids who couldn’t afford that? I applied to every school I wanted, even if I didn’t think I would ever end up there. What about the kids who can’t pay the fees? I paid for four different ACT prep books over three tests to improve my score. How about the students who have to choose that over eating dinner?
Kids who have money for tutors, to visit every school on their list, and people they can pay to look over their work simply have a better shot at their dream school — even if their natural abilities are less than the kid who has worked tirelessly with the few resource they have.
No matter how you look at it, college admissions is linked to money — the more you have, the more places you can apply, with a better application. The system favors money, and right now it’s almost impossible to get around, but as more and more high school classes graduate, and more and more students are subject to these sizably unfair fees. There will be a day when climbing fees are just too high. In my opinion, that should be tomorrow.