ACT and The College Board just gave students who take the ACT or SAT with a fee waiver many more free score sends.  Here’s how we got here.

Just in time for the holidays, ACT made a big announcement on the morning of December 13.  Effective September 2018, any student who received a fee waiver to take the ACT will be able to send up to twenty score reports for each test they took at no additional cost at any point during the application process.  A few hours later, the College Board contacted the Princeton Review directly to announce that, starting in May, they would give students who received fee waivers for the SAT unlimited free score sends.  College Board also announced that CSS Profile, a service used by many selective colleges that meet all financial need for their applicants, would be free for low-income, first-time domestic college applicants who received an SAT fee waiver or satisfied other conditions.

Here is what David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, wrote:

“The College Board is delighted that low-income students who take the SAT and ACT will now be able to send score reports to colleges for free. I am proud that both of our nonprofit organizations are standing up for the students who need it most. As we shared with our member leaders this fall, the College Board will provide unlimited SAT score reports for low-income students starting spring 2018. In addition, CSS Profile will become completely free for low-income students. We will also continue our long-standing partnership with higher education to provide college application fee waivers so that the entire application process will be free for low-income students.”

Under the current system, ACT gives all students four free score sends, but they must be used within five days of taking the test.  The College Board does the same thing, but it gives students nine days.  One problem with both policies is that students do not know their scores before the free score sends expire.  Wealthier students can wait to see how they did before they decide to send a score to a school, giving them an advantage.

The other problem is that many students apply to more than four colleges, so score sends can become expensive. (According to a NACAC report, the [portion of first-time freshmen submitting seven or more applications has grown from just 10% in 1995 to 35% in 2016.) The College Board charges students $12.00 for additional score reports.  They currently provide four free score sends to students who received a waiver to take the SAT.  ACT charges students $13 per test, and currently provides no free score sends for students who received a waiver to take the ACT.  So, if a low-income student didn’t use the universally free score sends (which have to be sent blind) and wanted to send two scores off to, say, ten colleges, it would cost her $72.00 to send off SAT scores and $260.00 for the ACT.  Applying to college is expensive, and while these sums might not mean a lot to some families, for many students they can be a barrier to applying to a wide-enough range of colleges to ensure a good academic and financial fit.  You can read a lot more about how score send fees act as micro-barriers to college access in this Atlantic piece by our Director of National Outreach, James Murphy.

We congratulate ACT and The College Board on these policy changes that have made it a little bit easier for students to realize their dreams.  Many, many people helped enact these policy changes at ACT.  Heath Einstein at Texas Christian University and the ACCEPT counselor group have been loud cheerleaders for letting students self-report scores.  Gabi McColgan at the Castilleja School organized a panel at NACAC this year with representatives from the University of Chicago and University of Iowa as well as Einstein from TCU.  A couple of hundred people showed up at that panel to learn that self-reporting was not just safe but also better for students and admissions officers.

In the following weeks, colleges including Columbia, Swarthmore, and Washington University started switching their policies to allow self-reporting.  We started tracking the schools that let counselors or students report scores without paying for official reports.  In less than a month, the list doubled in size.

We’re proud of the role that the Princeton Review has also played in these policy changes.  The piece that Murphy wrote for the Atlantic began with a presentation that he made with our Director of Equity and Access, Akil Bello, at the National Partnership for Education Access conference in April 2017.  Based on conversations with representatives from the access organization Bottom Line, they dug into the problems that score send fees created for low-income students and for community access organizations.  Further discussions with counselors at the Academic Success Program in Dallas and several high schools in Boston helped us see how real this problem was.  We’ve been in contact with representatives at the College Board and ACT over the past several months, advocating for this change, and we’re so pleased to see these efforts come to fruition.

It’s important to be clear that this is just one small step in increasing access to college for under-represented students.  Applying to college remains an expensive and stressful process for students, including many middle-income families who need to make real sacrifices to make it possible for their children to maximize their opportunities in college.

There are questions remaining when it comes to the policy changes made by ACT and the College Board.  As it now stands, the free score sends do not apply to the school-day ACT exams students take, since they do not receive a waiver for those exams.  An ACT representative wrote in an email, “We’re concerned about school-day students. . . [S]ince students don’t apply for a fee waiver for statewide testing, we don’t know which of those students qualify as low-income. We . . . have to figure out a way to classify them as such.”  ACT is working on a solution.  International students will not receive the free score sends from ACT.

International applicants who receive fee waivers for the SAT will be eligible for the unlimited score sends.  School-day SAT takers will also get unlimited score sends as long as their school counselor determines they are eligible.  A College Board representative wrote in an email, “Since 2014, we [have provided] educators with fee waiver cards that they provide directly to income-eligible students so they can benefit from the free score sends, as well as four college application fee waivers and free Student Answer Service and free Question-and-Answer Service. We continue to work with educators to ensure that each of these benefits gets in the hands of all income-eligible students who take the SAT only during a school day.”

This score send policy will be retroactive for both the ACT and SAT.  A current juniors (class of ’19) who takes the ACT or SAT this spring or summer with a fee waiver will get the score sends on those exams.

The Princeton Review continues to advocate for letting students self-report test scores, with the proviso that they will send the official score upon enrollment.  Good as the testing companies’ new score send policies are, self-reporting by students gives them the autonomy they have earned as they enter into the next phase of their lives.


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