Leveling the playing field

May 14, 2023, noon | By Sophia Zeng | 1 year, 1 month ago

How Blair addresses socioeconomic disparities in the college application process

"The application process is very costly," senior Nailah Singh says. 

Indeed it is. The college application process is notoriously expensive. It requires a multitude of different costs: application fees, transcript fees, SAT and AP fees, costs for travel to college tours and more. 

Unfortunately, these costs create inequitable opportunities for students that may be more socioeconomically privileged because they may have more access to test preparation materials, college application fees and other paid resources. 

Nevertheless, Blair takes proactive steps in order to bridge the social-economic gap between students by providing resources – such as scholarship opportunities and career fairs – and staff support to students in order to provide equal opportunity for students to succeed in the college application process, regardless of their economic background. 

The College Career Center is a good first stop for help with any financial concerns. Photo courtesy of Maggie Megosh.

The first step for students with financial concerns should be to visit College and Career Information Coordinator Jazmine Delos Reyes. She sends out weekly reminders about scholarship opportunities for seniors. In addition, she helps organize workshops for students in all grades and puts together college fairs where students can interact with representatives from various colleges. 

Although most scholarship opportunities only target seniors, Delos Reyes also encourages students in other grades to start considering financial concerns. "I think preparation for all these [financial concerns], like knowing what their resources are, is important so that in 12th grade, they don't just come in last minute and ask, 'Hey, how do I get money for school?'" Delos Reyes says. 

While she is open to meeting with students, Delos Reyes encourages other staff members to guide students towards scholarship opportunities as well, due to the large size of the student body. "I can always reach out to kids and I can always advocate for these resources, but I think if there are other people telling the kids, 'Hey, this is available' … that would be the best thing that Blair could do [to address the socioeconomic gap]," Delos Reyes says. 

Singh agrees with Delos Reyes' sentiment. She hopes that Blair could be more proactive in sharing opportunities and information about important plans such as the Free and Reduced-price Meal (FARM) plan. To get the right support, she had to spend a lot of time going back and forth with emails to get the help that she needed. "The College and Career Readiness Center was a big step in the right direction, but they only have one staff member there that actually is able to help with the application process…And, it's also an appointment-based process. So there's not someone that's always readily available to help you," she says. 

Another large cost associated with the college application process is Advanced Placement (AP) exam testing. CollegeBoard often broadcasts these as a means of saving money in college by earning college credit through a high score on the exam. However, these exams are not cheap. In the 2022-2023 school year, each AP exam costs $101. Since many students take more than one exam, these costs can pile up quickly. 

For help with financial issues with CollegeBoard testing fees, students should seek help from Blair's AP Coordinator Leslie Blaha. 

At Blair, students that are on the FARM plan automatically also receive financial aid for CollegeBoard testing. The supported cost is $15 in exchange for the original price of $101 per exam as a part of the federal Title I policy. The FARM plan also provides support for other fees, such as application fees. 

Despite this, cancellation and late registration fees are still an issue. All students, no matter their waiver status, owe $40 for every cancellation or late registration that they make for AP exams. Therefore, some students would actually pay more to cancel the exam than they would to take the exam. 

An outstanding problem concerning AP exams is that CollegeBoard advertises them as college credit although many schools do not accept certain AP exam scores for college credit. Hence, students may be paying for a test that does not save them any money in college. Students often don't find out about this until April or May, at which point registration is due and exam fees have already been paid. 

To further reduce the costs of AP exams, the county proposed to cover the costs of taking them. However, the cancellation and late registration fees are separate from the cost of AP exams, so barriers would still exist for students. "I don't think they're going to cover the cost of cancellation fees…And my concern is that a lot of students are gonna sign up for AP exams because they're free and then realize that taking 12 AP exams is a terrible idea. And then they're going to owe $480 in cancellation fees," Blaha says. 

The preparation resources for CollegeBoard exams such as the SAT and ACT tests are also affected by socioeconomic disparities. "Some people might not have the resources in order to get the help that they need to do well on standardized tests like that. And because colleges and institutions make such a big deal out of it, it's hard to…get into a prestigious institution if you don't do good on one of those tests," Singh says. The cost of both taking the test and preparing for the test piles up quickly as one retakes the test multiple times. 

On top of this, another major cost of the college application process is the application fees. Each application fee could cost around $70 to $150. For Singh, Achieving Collegiate Excellence in Success (ACES) helped her with these fees. ACES informs students about scholarship opportunities and follows students every step of the way to ensure that they are getting as much funding as possible. FARM also helped to waive the fees for all of the 17 colleges she applied to.  

Another cost associated with the college application process is the transcript fee. Blair usually charges $3 per official transcript for internships and college applications. These transcripts include the official seal and are not reusable. The money paid for these transcripts goes towards a fund. 

Blair's Registrar Rosa Ponce shares that students can get waivers on this fee, which exempts the student from the payment fee. Sometimes, the counselors will help the student to get the fee waived. 

Within the admissions process, differences in social and economic class do not affect one's chance of being accepted into a college. "Colleges nowadays really look at a student from a holistic perspective," Delos Reyes says. 

For instance, the admissions office and the financial aid office are completely different within each school. The admissions office is the one that sees the college application, including the college essay, grades, transcripts and resume. On the other hand, the financial aid office is the one that sees the information about parents' income and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) information. 

Blair provides resources about scholarships and financial aid. Photo courtesy of Maggie Megosh.

Blair offers many opportunities and resources to bridge the socioeconomic gap. Concerns can be brought to Delos Reyes or other administrators at the school. 

More resources and support can be found in room 121 at the College and Career Center. "If questions come, I'm always here to kind of answer them…It's really what I'm here for," Delos Reyes says. 

Last updated: May 14, 2023, 12:03 p.m.

Sophia Zeng. Hi! I'm Sophia and I am the Internal Managing and Humans of Blair editor. I enjoy playing the piano, biking and listening to music. More »

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