Test expenses block the road to college

The ACT and SAT are pricey tests that not everyone can afford, but cost shouldn’t even be a concern.

Martha Pietruszewski

Imagine you spend five hours in a classroom reading test material. There are no cell phones allowed. There’s one bathroom break. Sounds awful, right? Well, you’ve probably done it before.
I’m referring, of course, to the ACT and SAT.
This month, 92 New York City high schools will offer the SAT for free during school hours. This is a far cry from when I took the exam — I had to take it on a Saturday, and I had pay for it, too. 
More communities should adopt the New York model and expand it to also include the ACT. Although it might be costly for a school, district or state to implement, the policy would benefit students in the long run.
For one thing, New York City’s policy lets students take a stressful test in a familiar environment, which could help ease their emotions. Additionally, testing during school hours prevents students from missing work or other extracurricular activities.
Beyond that, there are financial questions to consider. The SAT costs $54.50 if you include the essay portion, and the ACT costs $56.50 if you take the writing test. That’s a lot of money, and it adds up if you decide to take the exams more than once. Add in any test-prep books you buy, plus what you spend sending scores to a college, and the costs escalate very quickly.
If motivated students can’t afford to take a standardized test, the exams are just another barrier to higher education. And, unfortunately, there can be a lot of obstacles already standing in someone’s way when they’re trying to go to college.
Rich students and poor students enroll and complete college at different rates. But everyone should have a fair chance at education. Offering standardized testing for free is a logical step in that direction.
However, I understand that offering free testing is not a solution that will solve all the wage inequality problems surrounding access to college.
One thing we need to change is a lack of awareness among high schoolers. As a student, I was told I had to take the SAT — I didn’t understand people couldn’t necessarily afford it. High school administrators nationwide should talk with their students about whether this test is necessary and what it means.
We can also encourage colleges like the University of Minnesota to place less emphasis on a test that costs money and more emphasis on how prospective students spent their high school years. We should praise work ethic and extracurriculars rather than a two- or four-digit number.
I stressed constantly about the ACT — I took three practice tests and still didn’t do as well as I wanted to. But do you know what? Four years later, I’m ready to graduate, and my score doesn’t even matter.
We as a society place far too much emphasis on numbers, and the ACT and SAT scores are just two more that we should lose among the crowd. 
Martha Pietruszewski welcomes comments at [email protected]