When I was 16, I took the SAT test for the first time. My idea of test preparation was going to the library and flipping through a $20 test prep book.
The result? A mediocre 1,040 out of 1,600.
My parents were disappointed so they encouraged me to actually buy a test prep book and this time take all the practice exams since I couldn’t write in the library book. After a couple of months studying I took the test again.
The end result? A better-than-average 1,160. However, my goal at the time had been to get a 1,200 or higher because that was the cut off level to be eligible for the best schools according to the data and the recommendation by my college counselor.
When I asked my parents whether I should take the exam again they said it was up to me. The test was three hours long and cost about $50 in today’s dollars to take the exam each time.
When I asked my parents whether I could take one of those private Princeton Review Courses that cost $500, they were not enthusiastic about the idea.
At the time, I couldn’t understand why they weren’t willing to pay to help me score better. I remember a rich Lebanese classmate telling me his parents paid $1,500 for SAT tutoring, so I thought $500 was a bargain. He ended up getting a 1,360 after he first got a 1,040 like me.
What I now realize as an adult is that money doesn’t grow on trees. When you don’t have an endless amount of money you’ve got to find a level where you must accept “good enough.”
The more time and money you can throw at the SAT, logically, the higher your SAT test score. I’m absolutely sure if my parents had spent $500 – $1,500 on SAT tutoring I would have gotten at least a 1,200 on my SAT.
I’m also sure that if I spent $1,500 and took the SAT exam 30 times, at least one of the top six scores accepted would have been higher than 1,200 as well. Heck, I might have even gotten a 1,400+ and gotten into Harvard to only get rejected by the investment bank I ended up working at!
But due to our financial circumstances, we decided a 1,160 SAT score was good enough. I was already aware we didn’t have much money given we drove around in a seven-year-old Toyota Camry and lived in a small townhouse.
It’s not like I was going to attend a prestigious private university and pay $25,000 a year in tuition, equivalent to $50,000 a year in today’s dollars. Instead, I applied to in-state schools: Mary Washington, UVA, and William & Mary. For $2,800 a year, tuition at William & Mary was a bargain based on its ranking, so I went.
The College Board Profit Machine
Despite calling itself a “not-for-profit,” the College Board is one big money-making machine thanks to its monopoly position of administering the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams.
As of 2019, the SAT Reasoning Test plus the essay costs $64.50 ($93.50 if registering late) and the AP exams cost US $94 each. The SAT Subject Tests cost a baseline of $26 with a $22 fee for each test. Further, there are numerous other services available that can be added to the basic costs, including late registration, score verification services, and various answering services that are available.
SAT score reports cost $12 per college for 1–2-week electronic delivery, or 2–4-week paper or disk delivery, depending on what method the school requires ($31 extra for two-day processing).
Even College Board’s College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS), a college financial aid application meant to help students pay for college, requires a fee. For the 2019-2020 school year, the price is $25 for the first report sent and an additional $16 for each additional college receiving the information.
Take a look at the College Board’s historical profit and loss statements below according to TotalRegistration.net. With $1.1 billion in cash and investments, the College Board is one rich non-profit!
Thanks to hefty profits, the President of the College Board makes over a million dollars a year while several of its executives make over $300,000 a year in salary and benefits.
Maybe if non-profits stopped paying their executives so much money, they’d be more profitable. Or maybe, that’s the point of registering as a non-profit – to get favorable tax breaks and pay management big bucks. Cash cows are highly valuable in a low-interest rate environment.
Unfortunately for students, there are no other competitors for the SAT Subject, AP, and PSAT Tests. ACT still is far behind when competing against the main SAT test. When you have a monopoly, you can make excess profits.
The SAT Adversity Score
Conceptually, we know the more time and money you have to dedicate to studying for and taking the SAT test, the higher your test will be.
Now we know for sure there is a correlation with test scores and household income thanks to the College Board’s own data of millions of test takers. See the graphic below by the WSJ.
Nobody is going to argue against trying to even the SAT playing field for poorer households. Having parents who attended college or received a graduate degree is a huge competitive advantage because attending college is an expected part of the child’s upbringing. For these college-educated families, all decisions made throughout their child’s grade school years are made with an eye on college admission.
The College Board, in all its social engineering wisdom, has decided to create an Adversity Index to help the less fortunate. Check out the multiple variables used to come up with a secret Adversity Index score that will only be reported to colleges and nobody else.
I applaud the College Board for trying to create more fairness in its test scores. The variables seem reasonable. But what about one of the biggest variables of all? Having some type of mental, visual, or physical disability that may prevent a student from reading as quickly or understanding as clearly?
Having a disability is one of the most important variables that will make life a little to a lot harder. To not include disability as one of the variables in the Adversity Index is a huge oversight, especially since more than 15% of the world’s population has some type of disability.
Further, why keep the Adversity Index score of between 0 – 100 a secret? Secrecy is what creates consternation that the system is rigged.
It would have been much better if the College Board just stuck to household income and the highest level of parental education when highlighting their data to push for the Adversity Index.
Finally, why did the College Board and the WSJ have to include race in its Adversity Score promotion?
By factoring race into SAT results, the College Board and the WSJ implies Black and Hispanic people are less intelligent than White and Asian people. As a result, unfair racial stereotypes will become sanctioned and spread.
The implication is infuriating.
We all know a couple of the biggest factors in scoring well on the SAT are time and money. To include race as a factor is racist.
It is not your race that allows you to score better or worse on the SAT. It is your circumstance and the environment you’ve been brought up in over your first 16-17 years that determines your SAT score.
Please do not let others make you believe race determines your SAT test-taking abilities. Whatever your race, know that you are good enough.
I truly do not believe my SAT score would have been any lower if I were White, Black, or Hispanic. And if you are White, Black, or Hispanic, do not believe your SAT score would be higher if you were Asian.
The College Board Is Dumb Smart
The College Board is all about making money. By creating these statistics and highlighting its secret Adversity Index, not only does it get a lot of publicity, but it creates a lot of anxiety.
One of the reasons why I’m writing this post is because I thought after seeing the first graphic, “Oh wonderful. I guess my son is going to have an even tougher time getting into college if I am correctly reading between the lines.”
I started questioning why I decided to get an MBA part-time while already working 60-70 hours a week. Those three years were a killer. I’ve also started to wonder why the hell am I working, saving, and investing so aggressively to try and generate over $200,000 a year in passive income?
Spending an extra 20 hours a week for three years to get an MBA part-time and another 25 hours a week writing on Financial Samurai to generate active income to reinvest to generate more passive income were two things I could control.
But something I cannot control is being born a certain race and neither can my son. So why should my son be penalized for being Asian on the SAT and in college admissions? That’s not right.
Don’t forget. His old man got a mediocre SAT score.
I have little problem if the College Board and Universities want to penalize children of affluent families who have parents with graduate degrees. I draw the line at kids getting penalized for their race.
Organizations making life harder for my son is a huge motivating force to keep my business going forever. I want him to have the option of bypassing such institutions altogether.
Now consider all the other Asian and White families who may not have their own businesses and are thinking they need to spend even more money on SAT tutoring and materials to run in place.
Now think about all the Black and Hispanic families who can now either believe the College Board’s pontification that race is a factor in their SAT test results or think they should perhaps spend more money on SAT tutoring and testing because they then might have a better chance at attending college.
What makes me particularly annoyed about the College Board’s decision to highlight race in their propaganda is that it may create self-doubt. Succeeding at whatever you want has a lot to do with self-confidence and vanquishing FOPA.
For 10 years, I’ve tried to instill in readers that you deserve to be rich and successful if you put in the effort, no matter your race. The College board is doing the opposite and undermining my efforts.
The College Board is simply race-baiting families into spending more time and money on the test to ameliorate the anxiety they manufactured.
Unfortunately for the College Board, their attempt to boost its revenue from nervous parents of all socioeconomic classes and races will prove temporary.
The Long Term Trend Is Negative
Students and parents aren’t going to be uninformed forever. As the value of a college degree depreciates due to the lower returns, higher costs, higher student debt, free internet, and an increasingly exposed rigged system, more people will begin to opt out of going to a traditional four-year college. As more people opt out of a four-year college, fewer people will be taking the SAT.
If there is a way to short the College Board in 2020 and beyond, please let me know! I think we could make a lot of money once parents know the gig is up.
At the very least, we could pressure the non-profit to share some of its massive profits by lowering the cost of test-taking and test preparation to allow for more underprivileged kids to score higher.
But when your main purpose as a non-profit is to make lots of profits as a monopoly to pay yourself boatloads of money, it’s hard to really make a change for the greater good.