New York City, in an apparently forward-thinking and benevolent move, offered to foot the SAT bill for every student in town. That works to $54.50 a head. But it’s not just about the cost, or so the reasoning goes. Give the test during school hours, making it, city educators hope, difficult to avoid.
What’s perhaps not as difficult to avoid is the reason students aren’t taking the test in the first place. According to “Urging Students to Apply to College, New York City Will Make the SAT Free for Juniors,” a recent piece in The New York Times, only 56% of students currently take the test. So what about those 44%? Will their college dreams come to fruition now that they can take the test for free and when that Saturday morning comes around not opt to sleep in?
While some students will benefit from the city’s move to make the test best free and unavoidable, many students will see it as perfunctory chore—and their scores will likely reflect this attitude. In other words, many of these 44% might not have the grades or ambitions to go to college. Even a decent SAT score may not be able to sway their intentions.
But this might not even really be about the student. The cynical side of me can’t help but think that less of this has to do with municipal munificence than the College Board muscling its way into a cherished space: the mandatory state test. That’s exactly what the ACT test has done in Midwest states, Wisconsin and Illinois among them. For the College Board, New York City is a huge score and perhaps is a harbinger of things to come: New York City followed by New York State followed by much of the Atlantic seaboard.
Whether or not that is case, New York City would be wiser to understand what else is ailing that 44%. Would perhaps the 1.8 million the city is spending to shoulder the cost of the SAT be better spent on early guidance and college prep counseling? At an even more systemic level, the students who opt out of the SAT and therefore college (at least non-community college) might come from families who simply can’t afford college. Many of these students, then, might be making the wiser choice of heading straight to community college, which doesn’t require the SAT.
There are many unanswered questions and despite my quibbles above, this might mostly be a step in the right direction. For if a 1,000 students who would not have otherwise taken the test realize their college potential, the rest of the 44% will only have to put up with a four-hour imposition on their school time—should they even decide to show up.
Special Note for New York City Students
I think this message is mainly for the 56% of NYC students who already plan to take the SAT, because I’m guessing that those who are reading an SAT blog have plans to take the test. So, guys, this is a great opportunity for you to take the test.
But you shouldn’t think of this as one and only time. You might even want to take the test before knowing that you can retake it again for free. Not only will you know what to focus on during the retake, but you also won’t have to be too stressed out during your initial take; you can think of it as a trial run.