College Board Should Make Right

It should come as little surprise to our readers that we take no issue with College Board’s fees. College Board is an American business. The company can charge whatever they’d like in our free market economy. We do, however, take issue with charging students for exams that they don’t need to take. But, Ivy Coach, what exactly do you mean? Well, oh loyal readers, gather round and we’ll spill some tea. You see, we have long argued on the pages of our college admissions blog and in the press that AP exams, which are created by College Board, are a bit of a scam. To put it simply, a student shouldn’t have to sit (and pay for) AP exams during the spring of his or her senior year that the college to which the student will be attending won’t accept. Of course, great AP exam scores prior to senior year are important from an admissions standpoint but come senior spring, students have already gotten in, they’ve decided on the school they’ll be attending, and the whole purpose of AP exams is to receive college credit. If a college won’t award college credit, why should a student have to sit for the exam?

Do the Right Thing, College Board

It gets worse. Cigus Vanni (aka Francis Vanni) has been putting together terrific lists for college counselors for at least 20 years. He’s been sending these lists to the NACAC Listserv, to which we subscribe, for as long as we can remember. He’s an absolute gem. As Cigus wrote in a recent email to this Listserv, “Beginning next fall (2019-2020 school year), AP will move to an Internet-based individual account system for students to register…This process will begin in October of the 2019-2020 school year. Coordinators will not wait until second semester to begin AP counts and registration. Fees will be collected at the time that students register and with the data provided in the student information portal, CB will generate pre-printed answer sheets for each individual…All well and good — but the change in process means that students will be compelled to pay exam fees now in the fall…This is several months ahead of what had previously been the case.”

Cigus goes on, “In addition — and this is what really disturbs me — if a student backs out and chooses not to sit for an exam, s/he will be charged a $40 penalty…Let’s say that I have applied ED to Amherst — it’s my top choice school and while I fervently hope I will be admitted, I can’t just apply to one school <eek>. I am taking four AP courses at East Jesus High and I do my duty to register in the new system and remit my fees. In mid-December I discover that I have been admitted to Amherst <woooooo> — a school which neither accepts credit nor grants placement for AP exam results. I have now been penalized $160 for being admitted to my top choice college. This is unjust in my opinion.” Preach, Cigus. Preach!

A Kind Request for a Refund to College Board

College Board AP Tests, AP Tests, AP Testing

Students shouldn’t have to pay to doodle on AP exams during their senior spring.

Allow us to share a personal story to go along with Cigus’ words. When the managing director of Ivy Coach was a high school senior, his high school insisted that he sit for (and pay for) the AP Calculus exam since he was taking an AP Calculus course. But as he can barely add 6 + 2 without his digits and struggles mightily with long division, multiplication, and subtraction is all but lost on him, he knew that the best score he could possibly get would fall well below the score required to receive college credit by the Ivy League school to which he’d committed (that school no longer offers any college credit for AP exams), he decided to doodle on the exam and write a strongly worded letter to College Board kindly requesting a refund for being forced to sit for the unnecessary test. Needless to say, College Board, a firm with seemingly no sense of humor, scored him a 1 on the exam and rudely ignored his request for a refund.

But that request is being repeated today from atop Ivy Coach’s soapbox in college admissions. College Board should send a refund for this exam to 515 E. 72nd Street, New York NY 10021. Nearly two decades of interest is also anticipated.


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  • Ivy Mom says:

    I admit that it may seem unfair to pay for an exam when the score provides little or no value. However, you need to recheck you comment on getting AP credit at Ivy League schools. At Harvard, it can take as few as four scores of 5 on AP tests to get advanced standing.

    Other schools give students “advanced standing” with no credit toward graduation, but the “credit” counts toward fulfilling prerequisites and distribution requirements. My son attends an Ivy League school where pre-matriculation credit does not count towards graduation. However, thanks to his AP scores, he placed out of 6 classes. He was also able to test out of 3 other classes. Sure, that’s 9 classes that do not count toward graduation, but it is also 9 classes he is free to take that would not have fit into his schedule otherwise.

    AP tests also are a way to weed out schools that have grade inflation. I had a friend tell me her daughter graduated with a 4.26 GPA and didn’t get a single 5 score on any AP exam. When everyone takes the same exam, it separates students who understood the material from the ones who understood how to get a good grade or pick a teacher who is an easy grader.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Hi Ivy Mom,

      You’re not getting it. We are among the most vocal supporters of the importance of students taking AP tests from a college admissions standpoint. Great scores on many AP tests will absolutely improve a student’s case for admission. But at many highly selective colleges, they do not offer college credit based on AP results. Also, many students don’t want to be placed out of introductory college courses as you suggest.

      But none of this is the point. If you read our post again, it’s about senior year AP exams. Students should not be strong-armed into taking these exams by their schools once they’ve earned admission to college if they don’t with to take these exams, if the school to which they’ll be matriculating won’t accept them for credit. And College Board should absolutely refund their money for tests they don’t need to take.

      • Ivy Mom says:

        Hi IC,

        For what it’s worth. My already-admitted son took 3 AP tests his senior year. At the time, I thought I was paying a lot of money for tests that he would not get any credit for at his “highly selective college.” However, upon enrolling, he received pre-matriculation credit for all of them. Two of the tests fulfilled distribution requirements and one allowed him to avoid what would have been a tedious pre-requisite course. The senior year AP exams ended up having real value for him – IMHO.

  • Laney Smith says:

    I would venture a guess that the practice of charging the test fee at the outset of the course will do no favors to a risk-averse generation who is increasingly paralyzed by a fear of failure. Surely this dissuades students from challenging themselves and stretching beyond their comfort zones. Perhaps some of the blame can be laid at the feet of secondary schools who require all students to test, but in those where it has been optional, CollegeBoard has stripped those daring, growth-minded students of the opportunity to attempt and assess their progress before investing in the formal assessment.

    I hope that I am wrong, but this seems to me a move of purely economic motivations. They will now have the ability to charge a far greater number of students at least $40 to do nothing. As pointed out above, plenty will be charged for tests they don’t need to take. I can practically hear the cash rolling in.

    But at what cost?
    The CollegeBoard should not be contributing needlessly to the skyrocketing cost of applying to- let alone attending- college.
    Testing policies and fee schedules should not dictate high school course selection.
    More importantly, whether or not a college accepts AP exams SHOULD NOT be a primary factor in determining fit.

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