Student Search

How much is a student's data worth?

47 cents. This is how much it costs colleges to buy student data from the College Board. Colleges will buy student data to allow them to send mail and emails to prospective students. Colleges can select what data they want to buy based off of test scores. On the surface, this does not seem like a problem. In fact, this appears to be something helpful for connecting students and colleges. However, there are three main issues with this program that the College Board refuses to address: student choice, acceptance rate deflation, and false promises.

Student Choice

In the age of test optional college admissions, the College Board's Student Search program undermines optionality. While it is true that students need to opt in to the Student Search Program, most do so without even knowing it. In the myriad of forms, newsletters, and test confirmations that the College Board gives to parents and students alike, it is easy for many of them to opt in without their knowledge. This is an issue, especially now, with more than 1,500 American colleges that have become test optional due to the Coronavirus pandemic. If a student applies test optional to a university and that university has already bought the student's data, the university has access to that student's test scores, regardless.

Acceptance Rate Deflation

The College Board's student search program allows top schools to artificially lower their acceptance rates, making them look more exclusive, and therefore, in a better position for college rankings. Schools buy the data of students whose scores are lower than the school's average. The schools then send pamphlets, emails, and other info to these students who have low test scores. This practice encourages more low range students to apply. Most will be rejected, and the school's acceptance rate is artificially lowered. This makes prestigious schools like Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Stanford look more selective, with each of them having acceptance rates of 10.9%, 5.2%, and 4.7% respectively. This allows them to bolster their highly regarded reputations with very little effort.

False Promises

A 2020 Consumer Report investigation revealed that colleges may not be the only ones who are getting student data from the College Board. The investigation revealed that whenever a student created a College Board account, which is needed to register for the SAT or for an AP exam, details about the student's activity was sent to seven giant tech companies that profit from advertisements, such as Google, Microsoft, Snapchat, and Facebook. College Board's privacy policy claims that they "share a limited amount of personally identifiable information with third parties if it’s needed to administer testing services and provide educational opportunities." So unless Snapchat secretly started helping administer SATs, the College Board is explicitly lying about with whom they share student data.


The Student Search program allows colleges to undermine test optional policies and artificially lower their acceptance rates. The College Board pushes the Student Search narrative that it is tool for student, allowing them to easily connect with colleges. The College Board's false altruism is revealed in the fees it charges for this service. The data could be given for free, allowing students to connect with more schools than the current system. However, the College Board is only running this service for a quick buck. The College Board doesn't care about the problems the service causes, it's just happy to add to the bottom line. And regardless of one's feelings about Student Search, a nonprofit giving minors' data to predatory companies is inexcusable. So even if Student Search worked perfectly, it wouldn't absolve the College Board from sending student data to seven different tech giants. This is clearly not in alignment with its goal of creating "excellence and equity in education."