Every year, high school students in the U.S. and across the globe sharpen their No. 2 pencils in preparation for the SAT. Though it’s only one of the factors colleges use when determining whether to admit students and to offer them scholarships, it’s certainly one that causes anxiety for many teenagers and their parents.
For students, SAT stress is likely to bring about the biggest test anxiety of their lives. But for parents, the stress can be wholly financial.
A 2006 study by researchers at Ohio State University revealed that SAT preparation classes benefit children from families with extra money to spend. Students who took private classes — which can reach into the thousands of dollars — saw test scores that were 60 points higher on average than students who didn’t take such courses. These students were also more likely to get into college and be admitted at more prestigious schools.
The study indicated children from low-income families were least likely to take test preparation courses, but these students can reap considerable benefits from low-cost and free alternatives.
The current SAT price is $52.50. If your child plans on testing only once, this may be a manageable cost. But when you consider the additional practice tests, classes, answer sheet, score analyses and possible retests, the amount spent in a single year of testing can reach well into the hundreds, or possibly thousands, of dollars.
Pretest costs associated with the SAT are optional and vary widely. The College Board offers an Official SAT Study Guide for $21.99. They also offer a complete online prep course for $69.95 a year.
At other online services, the prices climb and dip somewhat dramatically. On Udemy, for instance, you can find subject-specific SAT courses or generalist courses ranging from free to over $100. Kaplan, a company specializing in test preparation, offers courses ranging from $299 to $1,099, or private tutoring for $3,000-$4,500, depending on your location.
Post-testing fees are more reasonable, but can still add up quickly. After the test, the College Board will send your test scores to four different colleges. If you want to send additional score reports to other schools, it will cost $11.25 per report. Rushing your score via first-class mail or electronic options will cost $31. If you can’t wait for the mail to come, you can receive your scores via telephone for $15 per call.
The score you receive with the cost of your test is bare bones, with no information about the questions you missed. For those details, you’ll pay. The Question-and-Answer Service costs $18. A cheaper alternative identifies the kinds of questions you missed, including the level of difficulty, without revealing the specifics for $13.50. Having the answers hand-checked or the essay score verified will cost an additional $55 each.
Low-cost and free alternatives
There are assistance programs and lower-cost alternatives available for children whose families may not be able to afford the SAT and the many extras.
In preparation for the test, the College Board offers free sample practice questions and an SAT question of the day. On other education websites, like Udemy and Coursera, you can find free and low-cost test preparation lectures and courses.
Nonprofit organizations, including the C-12 Foundation, CollegeSpring and the Mary Alice Fund, work to not only assist with SAT preparation and testing costs, but also the college admission process for low-income families.
Khan Academy, one of the largest free online education portals, also offers free, and extensive, SAT preparation. Their resources are only expected to improve, since their partnership with the College Board means they’ll be on the cusp of SAT test changes slated for 2016.
Because the College Board is a nonprofit organization that believes “all students should have access to an affordable and successful college experience,” they offer a fee waiver program to help low-income students get access to the SAT and a few of the post-testing options.
Waivers are offered through high school counselors and can include the cost of the test, the question and answer service, up to four additional score reports and can even cover your college application fees for up to four schools. Eligibility for the waiver program depends on household income and size. Here are the waiver requirements for the 2015-16 school year:
|Household size||Annual income|
Source: USDA income guidelines for the National School Lunch Program
If your household qualifies for a fee waiver, talk to your child’s high school counselor. Financial obstacles shouldn’t stand in the way of student access to the SAT and higher education, and with the many low-cost alternatives out there, they don’t have to.
Student studying for her SAT image via Shutterstock.