Opinion: I live in Northern California. Why do I have to travel hundreds of miles to take the SAT?

In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a student looks at questions during a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School. The current version of the SAT college entrance exam is having its final run, when thousands of students nationwide will sit, squirm or stress through the nearly four-hour reading, writing and math test. A new revamped version debuts in March. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A student looks at questions during a college test preparation class in 2016. The limited number of SAT testing sites in Northern California is causing some people to travel hundreds of miles to take the exam. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

I live in Northern California, but I’m traveling to Texas to take the SAT on Saturday.

It’s not due to lack of planning on my part. I went on the College Board site to register for the June SAT the first hour of the first day that students could sign up. But within minutes, all the seats in my county and across Northern California were gone. Registering for the SAT in the Bay Area is as difficult as snagging tickets to a Taylor Swift concert.

I’m not the only one in California going to extremes to find a place to take a college entrance exam. One mom in my community posted on her Facebook page, “It took two months of effort and three calls into ACT to get a spot that is over 100 miles away!” Other California families joined the conversation explaining: “Same thing in SoCal. Last year we had to drive 100 miles for an 8AM test so we spent the night… so irritating.”

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I know SAT and ACT tests are controversial. I’m not here to debate whether they should exist. The fact is, they still matter whether we like it or not. As it stands for the 2025 college application cycle, only 4% of four-year colleges are test blind, meaning they don’t accept test scores. Most schools (87%) are test-optional (a.k.a. test-preferred) and the remaining 9% are test-required, according to Fairtest. If a good test score could potentially increase my chances of getting accepted to 96% of four-year colleges, I want access to that test. And as long as most colleges are test-optional, those exams should be readily available to all high school students.

So yes, I am traveling 1,800 miles to take the SAT . (We chose Dallas because they had lots of seats available and cheap flights.) Having parents with the financial means and the flexibility in their work schedules to get me to a testing site far from home is an advantage many others don’t have. The lack of testing sites in California is not just an inconvenience, it’s an equity issue.

Read more: Letters to the Editor: If the inequitable SAT is back, bring test prep to all high schools

California students who can’t take the test because of lack of access will miss out on admission opportunities to some colleges and to scholarships that consider or require SAT/ACT scores in their decisions. For many students, especially those from low-income families, this could mean losing out on aid that would make college affordable.

Lack of adequate testing sites seems to be especially problematic in Northern California. Looking at the Aug. 24 SAT testing date demonstrates this. If you’d searched the College Board website earlier this week for testing centers within 100 miles of San Francisco, Dallas and New York City, you’d have found 103 testing sites in the New York area, 49 of which still had available seats. In the Dallas area there were 69 testing sites and 65 of them still had availability. But in the Bay Area, there were only 12 testing sites and they were 100% booked for the August test. In fact, the nearest test center to San Francisco with availability was 405 miles away. This lack of access puts Northern California students at a disadvantage.

California obviously needs more testing sites. But I would advocate for college entrance exams to be offered to every high school student at their own school during a regular school day, as is done with other standardized tests such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

After my family and others raised the issue of lack of available testing sites to our superintendent, our school district agreed to host an SAT School Day in October. This will allow the students in the district to take the SAT at their school during regular school hours. But change in one school district is not enough. Students and parents across California need to demand more testing sites at more schools so that more California kids can pursue their college dreams.

Sebastian Gillmore is a junior at Tamalpais High School in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.