Many critics lay the blame on the College Board itself, a huge “non-profit” organization that operates like a big business. The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program – more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined. The College Board’s profits for 2009, the most recent year for which records were available, were 8.6 percent of revenue, which would be respectable even for a for-profit corporation. “When a non-profit company is earning those profits, something is wrong,” says Americans for Educational Testing Reform. (The AETR’s “report card” on the College Board awards a grade of D and cites numerous “areas of misconduct” by the College Board.)

It’s clear the College Board has the mentality of a voracious corporation, charging $89 a shot for an exam to millions of students who have no business taking it. The college admissions process today is a total crapshoot. At least for the most competitive colleges, nobody in the applicant pool has any certainty anymore as to what will secure admission. In the face of that uncertainty, one rational form of behavior is to take the shotgun approach, blasting away at the admissions committee with every weapon in the student’s armory: multiple AP courses, ridiculous amounts of extracurricular activity, and do-gooder volunteer work rivaling Mother Teresa’s.

Lots of guidance counselors will advise families and students that a rational alternative is to opt out of that race. Concentrate on one or two things. Excel at them. I agree. But it shouldn’t be the customer’s responsibility to stop a scam. The customer buys into it because the con artist is so skillful and the world is so uncertain. The only way to stop the College Boards of the world is to expose them. Tell people to be wary.