AP exam costs rise with College Board price hike

School sets new prices at $109, up from $99 in previous school year

Over 450 students. Over 850 tests. Over $90,000.

College Board is a not-for-profit organization whose self-professed mission is to help “hundreds of thousands of high school students achieve their college dreams each year.”

Every year, College Board administers AP exams, charging enough to cover their own costs –– expenses such as writing, packaging and sending the exams and hiring professional graders to grade them.

This year, College Board has raised the exam price by one dollar, from $92 to $93, due to a change in test composition that required more work on the part of the graders.

AP exam prices at Oak Park High School have increased periodically; first from $90 to $98 in the 2010-2011 school year, then from $98 to $99 in the 2014-2015 school year and from $99 to the $109 charged this year.

“We tried for a long time to keep our prices under $100, but we just can’t do it anymore,” Principal Kevin Buchanan said.

The administration tries to keep the prices as low as possible, Buchanan said. It maintains prices slightly above the College Board mandated base exam price of $93, the price the school pays for the right to use each exam.

We’ve always maintained a narrow margin above what College Board has charged.

— Kevin Buchanan

College Board charges schools $84 for each exam that is administered. The $9 between the base price and the actual price is a rebate to the school, so while the school charges $93, only $84 actually goes to College Board. The schools then charge the expected base exam price of $93, plus added additional fees, such as the cost of obtaining proctors and buying the necessary equipment.

“It would be informative for [the students] to know why AP tests cost so much; 90 percent of it goes to the College Board, which is a massive business,” Buchanan said. “It would be interesting for [students] to know where their money is going and why the tests cost so much.”

Additional costs to the school include the fees for unused exams, as well as the cost of administering the exam with school-provided proctors, tables, pencils and water.

“We’ve always maintained a narrow margin above what College Board has charged, and even when College Board increased their prices in recent years, we did not increase our prices to the point where our margin got too narrow to be able to even run the test without incurring additional costs,” Buchanan said.

Other schools, such as Westlake High School, have also increased their prices with the College Board increase. This year, WHS is charging $100 — a three-dollar raise from the $97 price last year. While neither Oak Park nor Westlake High School make a profit off of the exam, Westlake’s larger AP exam-taking population allows them to charge lower prices.

“[Because] we sell more exams, more than 2000, we do not have to charge as much as Oak Park,” Westlake High School Assistant Principal Nicole Judd wrote in an email. “Students are highly encouraged to take the AP exams.”

Schools like OPHS and WHS have maintained a relatively low, but steadily increasing AP test price; however, other schools in neighboring districts such as Agoura High School have retained a price that has never shifted, despite the College Board changes.

[Because] we sell more exams, more than 2000, we do not have to charge as much as Oak Park. Students are highly encouraged to take the AP exams.

— Nicole Judd

At AHS, the regular price of AP exams is $100, except for the AP Chinese and AP Japanese exams, which cost $150 each. However, during a late registration period, prices increase by $50, with most exams costing $150 and AP Chinese and Japanese costing $200.

“Agoura and other schools have figured [exam pricing] out. That’s why they know ‘What’s the ceiling? How much will kids pay for an AP test?’ It seems like they’ll pay 200 bucks, because it’s still cheaper than what [they’ll pay per year in college],” Buchanan said.

One Oak Park student, who wished to remain anonymous, said that AP tests are too much of a financial burden on the student’s family.

“Well, I can’t take the classes because I can’t afford to take the test,” the student said. “[And] it’s completely [pointless] to take the class if you don’t take the test.”

Counselor Randy McLelland disagreed, saying that there are also other reasons students should take AP classes, even if they do not take the test.

Well I can’t take the classes because I can’t afford to take the test.

— anonymous student

“There are multiple reasons why a student should consider taking AP classes. First and foremost, if you are good at a subject and you have a passion for that subject, it’s the highest level of that course,” McLelland said. “Number two: Colleges know that AP classes are more advanced … In the admission review process they know that a student that takes an AP class has taken the more rigorous courses.”

Financial aid is available for students who cannot afford to take the exam, but only if they meet certain requirements.

In order to be eligible for financial aid on AP exams, the student’s family income must be at or below 185 percent of the poverty level issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A student is also eligible if he qualifies for the National School Lunch Program, which requires the family income of $44,955 or lower. Eligible students would be charged a base price of $53 instead of the regular $93.

For Oak Park High School students specifically, Assistant Principal Bryan Martin said that financial aid varies from case to case. At Oak Park, 5.5 percent of the student population could be eligible for the federal fee reductions.

“They would usually talk to their counselor. If they require more, then they would talk to me individually,” Martin said. “Depending on what their financial situation was, that would decide what level of financial aid they would need.”

While I’m not a big fan of the price increases, if that is what is required [for] Oak Park to [administer the test], then I guess I could [live] with the price increases.

— Rasjot Singh

However, the majority of the student population has been accepting of the price increases.

“While I’m not a big fan of the price increases, if that is what is required [for] Oak Park to [administer the test], then I guess I could [live] with the price increases,” sophomore Rasjot Singh said.

Sophomore Anish Natarajan said that the price wasn’t a primary concern.

“You would want [the tests] for a college [application], but also there is the more long-term reason that you want to take as many classes off your plate [before college] as you can, and even with the school’s increase in price, this will still be relatively cheaper than actually taking the course in college,” Natarajan said.

According to Buchanan, the primary focus for AP tests should be on the benefits that the exams can provide for the future.

“AP tests can be a great value. If you take five or six AP exams, and you get college credit for those tests, these are five or six courses that you don’t have to pay for in college. You can enter college as a sophomore sometimes, based on your AP work,” Buchanan said. “[It really is the reason] for taking AP courses and AP tests.”