Education, Consultants, Panic & Privilege

As a parent of an 8th grader in the New York City area, I have been swept up in the whirlwind of the high school tours, tests, and admission madness for months.

Families that wanted to leave the city, and could afford to leave have gone to the suburbs, with their great school districts, open admissions and hefty mortgages.

Meanwhile, well-off city parents “in the know” started touring high schools, hiring tutors and sending their Ivy League-bound kids to classes at places like Mathnasium, Kumon, Kaplan, Testmasters and the Princeton Review by 7th grade or earlier.

For parents outside the cutthroat world of school admissions in Silicon Valley, Chicago or the New York metro area, the competitiveness and costs are hard to fathom. Coming from small-town Canada, this process has been an eye-opener. Most Canadian students attend public schools, which range from good to excellent, and competition for admission is rare. (Canada ranks #9 in the 2015 OECD’s Pisa tests for math and reading behind 6 Asian countries, Finland and Ireland. The U.S. ranks #24 in the world).

Competition for schools in New York can be a blood sport amongst ambitious Manhattan parents, with some starting the process with nursery school consultants when their child is just 2! Anxious parents pay $200-$400 an hour to navigate a vetting process for toddlers that could rival an elite college (Money Magazine). Ivy League consultants, tutors, and foreign language teachers then continue to guide these prosperous parents and their offspring through middle school, high school and into the college of their dreams.

“The summer before a student’s senior year, the parents work to secure the golden ticket — a recommendation letter from a trustee of the first-choice school — while the student interns for an exclusive institution (a neuroscience lab, a political office) or performs community service in a far-flung locale (building schools in Bangladesh). – NY Post

The New York public school system is bewildering (zoned, charter, lottery, gifted and talented…), which explains why upper-middle-class parents are willing to shell out $500+ per consultation to help them navigate the process. Parents agree the investment is well worth it, considering the fees for the average elite private high school in New York are over $45,000 per year (Dalton, Horace Mann, Trinity, Packer, Riverdale, Avenues

When it comes to college, insiders put the cost at $500,000 to $1.5 million dollars in “donations” to help to secure your kid’s place in the best universities.

In her novel, “Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy,” author Lacy Crawford writes about her 15 years’ experience as an exclusive private college counselor “to illuminate the madness of college admissions”. In 2013, she charged an all-in fee of $7,500, while traveling around the globe to help the children of millionaires, billionaires, ‘helicopter parents,’ and the underserved with their college applications and entry essays.

“The process, warped as it is by money, connections, competition, and parental mania, threatens to crush their independence just as adulthood begins.”

Kosat’s Preparatory Academy is charging $20,000 for a full package for Taiwanese students seeking U.S. college admissions.

ThinkTank Learning is a chain of San Francisco-based tutoring centers that specialize in getting Asian students into top schools in the U.S. As a former math whiz and hedge fund analyst, CEO Steven Ma believes he’s cracked the code of college admissions with his own secret algorithm using academic and extracurricular activities. He’s so confident in his abilities that he offers a money-back guarantee. Prices range from a low of $10,000 to an average of $75,000–$150,000; however, one Hong Kong businessman ponied up $700,000 for the guarantee of an elite college acceptance for his heretofore-slacker son. (He was accepted at Syracuse and ThinkTank kept $400,000.)

Guaranteeing admission concerns many, including the Independent Education Consultant Association (IECA) and Denise Pope, a Stanford educator and co-founder of Challenge Success, an organization that works to make the college admissions process less stressful:

“It’s become this business that’s really preying on the fear of parents and kids, and often preying on the fear of immigrants”.

Dr. Katherine Cohen, founder of college consulting firm IvyWise (and Brown graduate) finds that most students who work with a counselor start toward the end of their sophomore year in high school, but Type A Manhattan parents have begun signing their kids up in middle school and high school, and “can spend upwards of $100,000 to $200,000, depending on their chosen program and services”.

According to marketing and communications firm Lipman Hearne, 26% of high scoring SAT students (70th percentile or higher) used an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) in 2013.

“High school students and their parents have become so panicked with the mystique surrounding today’s college admissions process that they are clamoring to find help to better their odds in the college admissions game.” ( Fiscal Times)

“SAT tutor to the 1%,” Anthony-James Green was a private test prep tutor for 10 years with a peak price of $1,000 per hour. He stopped offering one-on-one tutoring when he found that students doing the work online were getting better test results by working through his strategies online — on their own. Despite his findings, New York parents continue to pay whatever it takes to have a competitive edge and get their children on the “right track”.

This fear has resulted in a five-fold increase in education consultants since 2008 to over 8,000 professionals today, plus another 10,000–15,000 who ‘dabble’ for extra money. The educational consulting business has exploded into an estimated one billion dollar industry from $400 million in 2008. But, ‘Caveat Emptor’ — there is no oversight, and no regulations or licensing involved.

Peter van Buskirk, former Dean of Admissions at Franklin and Marshall College and Founder/President of Best College Fit states:

“Most people hire professionals simply because their neighbors do, or because the parents just don’t have the time to commit to the process themselves…Consultants help students gain perspective in the process so they can make better decisions as to how and when to apply… They don’t get the kids in; the kids get the kids in. And parents are spending ungodly amounts of money that frankly aren’t making much of a difference at all in the outcome.”

In the face of all of this privilege is great disparity. New York schools are the most segregated in the country, and colleges have begun offering scholarships to middle to upper-income students instead of poorer students, reducing the opportunities for the disadvantaged even further.

The national average for high school counselors is 500 students to one. In California, it’s 1,000 to one. This dearth of high school counselors has also resulted in a lack of college applications for the poor, while fueling the growth of for-profit educational consultants for advantaged students — adding to the inequality in education and opportunity.

On top of this madness, Mark Sklarow, Executive Director of the IECA points out that less than half of students accepted into college will graduate from that same college!

“Of students who start at a college as a freshman under half will graduate from that college” …For many of those, they chose a school that was a bad match — a laid-back student eaten alive by the competitiveness at Cornell or a straight-laced girl who can’t make friends at Brown.”

Enter myKlōvr to disrupt this process and level the playing field. A pre-professional social hub for students and their families, myKlōvr will provide quantifiable, objective, and actionable insights to help students achieve personal and academic growth. MyKlōvr will offer a significant “Return on Identity©” by personalizing and then enhancing students’ overall learning and earning potential. When it launches in beta this December, students and their families will be able to access resources to successfully navigate the entire process and put an end to the panic.

Not a moment too soon. As my high school search continues, I am comforted by Harry Truman’s famous words: “The ‘C’ students run the world”.