Open Letter to College Board

Application season is in full swing. While the rat race is bad enough, there are certain rent seeking entities that certainly make things exponentially worse. Here’s an open letter to one of the worst.

Dear College Board,

It’s been 5 years since I last used your services. I still remember the hours spent navigating the Byzantine system you called “Common App”, the months preparing for “Advanced Placement” exams and the precious days of break wasted studying for the collection of “aptitude tests”. Such fond memories.

I feel obligated to thank you for everything you’ve done. You almost singlehandedly prop up a 20.18 billion dollar industry in the US and an over 8billion dollar market in China. Are there more efficient uses of this human capital? Of course, but hey, this still contributes billions to GDP. As someone interested in studying ethical decision making, the high stakes and many cheating scandals have inspired more than a couple of ideas. It’s truly a beautiful combination of psychology and game theory. I do hope you will be willing to share data.

I must also thank you for teaching me to finally realise how utterly useless metrics such as test scores are. I used to define myself by numbers, until I started studying for your aptitude tests and found that memorising question format was more important than learning.

Before signing off, I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions so you may more efficiently screw students over.

  1. The fees are too obvious. Make them less salient. Shady hedge fund owners have been able to significantly increase profits by hiding fees as obscure “expense ratios”. You can do the same. I haven’t quite thought through how, but I’m sure you’ll come up with something.
  2. Take advantage of your oligopoly power. Create a cartel with your peers and collude to increase prices. I’m sure ETS, ACT and Pearson would love the opportunity to increase profits. There could even be gains from trade. It’s a win- win for everyone (except the students of course). As a caveat, this could be illegal, but I’m sure the excess profits would more than cover any legal or lobbying costs.
  3. Diversify the options. Colleges these days are paying less attention to standardised testing. Who would have guessed that the ability to memorise test format and pay for tutors wasn’t a good metric for success? May I suggest offering an Official Extracurricular Certification (OEC) so students can “credibly” demonstrate that they have personalities? There will be some startup costs, but after a certain point, this will be just as standard as taking multiple AP classes.

That’s all I have to say.

Fuck you and may your business collapse,

– A

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