The New York Times has a habit of publishing these loathsome little profile articles that either belie the paper’s liberal reputation, or are a stealthy attempt to bring about the Red Revolution by stoking class hatred. These generally take the form of profile stories about wealthy suburbanites in Westchester County or Connecticut, who have more money than taste, and whose sense of entitlement can be detected from distant stars through its gravitational pull on the sun.

These typically turn up in the Style section or the Magazine, but today’s made the front page of the print edition: Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In , which looks at the slimy business of advising yuppie children on how to get into the Ivy League:

Shannon Duff, the independent college counselor who organized the event, says she ordinarily charges families “in the range of” $15,000 for guidance about the application process, including matters far more weighty than just what to wear.

Ms. Duff is a practitioner in a rapidly growing, largely unregulated field seeking to serve families bewildered by the admissions gantlet at selective colleges.

No test or licensing is required to offer such services, and there is no way to evaluate the counselors’ often extravagant claims of success or experience. And Ms. Duff’s asking price, though higher than many, is eclipsed by those of competitors who may charge upwards of $40,000 — more than a year’s tuition at many colleges.

Astonishing as it might seem, Ms. Duff is not the most hateable person in the article. That, um, honor might belong to the $40,000 Michele Hernandez:

“It’s annoying when people complain about the money,” the Vermont-based counselor, Michele Hernandez, said. “I’m at the top of my field. Do people economize when they have a brain tumor and are looking for a neurosurgeon? If you want to go with someone cheaper, or chance it, don’t hire me.”

Or it might go to Robert Shaw, a partner in another of these businesses, who, when questioned about his credentials responded:

“Don’t remember all the details,” he said, adding, “We really don’t want to be a part of your article as we’re not a service for the masses.”

It’s really hard to decide which of these people I would like to slap more.

This whole business is not much better than an outright scam. Look, folks, the recipe for getting into a good college is simple:

  • Take the most challenging courses your school offers
  • Get good grades in the courses you take.
  • Pursue activities that you find interesting– if you like music, play in the band. If you like sports, play sports. If you enjoy doing community service, do community service.
  • In your spare time, try to cultivate a personality. Do things that you enjoy, not because they’ll make your application look better, but because you enjoy them. Read books, go to movies, listen to music, whatever.

Will this guarantee 100% that you get into the #1 school in the US News rankings? No. But if you do those things, you’ll get into a good school, and they’ll be happy to have you, because you’ll be a genuine student and interesting person with something real to bring to the table.

If you spend $40,000 to get detailed coaching from an educational consultant, you might be able to make yourself look marginally better, and increase your chances of getting into the very top schools slightly. But then you’ll be the sort of inch-deep superficial asshole who pays huge sums for things you can get for free, forgettable at best and tedious and annoying at worst.

There’s my award-winning college admissions advice, free of charge. It’s guaranteed to be almost exactly as much use as the advice you would pay Ms. Duff, Ms. Hernandez, or Mr. Shaw tens of thousands of dollars to get. If you don’t like it, I’ll give you a full refund.

The only positive spin I can put on this article is this: these “counselors” are a relatively new and New York Times worthy development because forty years ago, the dull and indolent children of people with more money than sense could count on admission to an elite school as a matter of course. These days, they have to work at it a bit, presumably because qualified members of the lower classes are taking up the spots that the idiot children of wealthy New Englanders used to claim as their birthright.

I guess that can be considered progress.

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    July 19, 2009

    “Take the most challenging courses your school offers
    Get good grades in the courses you take.
    Pursue activities that you find interesting– if you like music, play in the band. If you like sports, play sports. If you enjoy doing community service, do community service.
    In your spare time, try to cultivate a personality. Do things that you enjoy, not because they’ll make your application look better, but because you enjoy them. Read books, go to movies, listen to music, whatever.”

    But at least half of those things sound like work! The people at whom these scams are aimed don’t want to work. That’s why your advice will never fly.

  2. #2 becca
    July 19, 2009

    You mean you haven’t lined up an appointment with Ms. Hernandez for a consultation to get Steelykid into the best university laboratory preschool available?!!! Good god, man. THINK. Do you want her to end up at BROWN?!!!

  3. #3 onymous
    July 19, 2009

    On the one hand, there are hateable people in the article. On the other hand, if I thought I could get naive rich people to give me $40000 for stupid advice, I might seriously consider switching careers.

  4. #4 The Science Pundit
    July 19, 2009

    The only positive spin I can put on this article is this: these “counselors” are a relatively new and New York Times worthy development because forty years ago, the dull and indolent children of people with more money than sense could count on admission to an elite school as a matter of course. These days, they have to work at it a bit, presumably because qualified members of the lower classes are taking up the spots that the idiot children of wealthy New Englanders used to claim as their birthright.

    This is exactly the point I try to make when arguing with anti-Affirmative Action types. I’m astounded at how many people I’ve met who are parroting the Buchananesque talking points of “Affirmative Action is discrimination against more deserving white males.” Ugh!

  5. #5 Adrienne
    July 19, 2009

    Hey, I’m anti-affirmative action too, but even I know that race-based affirmative action discriminates way more against Asians than it does against whites.

    And, unfortunately, the white people we love to hate…the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Kelloggs, the Bunns….the whites with old money and even enough new money can and do still buy their kids’ way in. Celebrities’ kids also get a big boost. Athletic affirmative action again benefits mostly whites.

    So the ones getting squeezed are mostly the upper-middle-class kids who aren’t star athletes and who have rich parents but not super super rich parents and/or dynasties behind them. And the super disadvantaged of all races, because truly dirt poor and ghetto kids still don’t go to Harvard in any substantial numbers.

  6. #6 grad
    July 19, 2009

    Man the stupid rays coming of post #4 are intense. This has fuck all to do with affirmative action.

  7. #7 Adrienne
    July 19, 2009

    One of the really craziest things I’ve heard about is Asian parents actually changing their last names to either regular Anglo sounding names or even Hispanic sounding names as a way to give their kids a boost in college admissions.

  8. #8 Adrienne
    July 19, 2009

    grad @6:
    Man the stupid rays coming of post #4 are intense. This has fuck all to do with affirmative action.

    Yeah, agreed. Chad is actually incorrect when he says this:

    because forty years ago, the dull and indolent children of people with more money than sense could count on admission to an elite school as a matter of course. These days, they have to work at it a bit, presumably because qualified members of the lower classes are taking up the spots that the idiot children of wealthy New Englanders used to claim as their birthright.

    Because, Chad, the ultra rich WASP families still can and do buy their way in. Even if their kids are spectacularly underqualified. Google the infamous Harvard “Z” list for details. Oh, and remember the murdering Menendez brothers? One of them went to Princeton despite being an awful student just because Dad could afford to buy his son’s way in.

    The admissions paranoia and infighting these days is among upper-middle-class Asian and white kids who aren’t star athletes and whose parents don’t have enough money to buy them an admission outright. These are the “unhooked”, as they say in college admissions lingo. These are the kids whose parents are hiring college consultants for in order to get that mythical “edge” or “hook”.

    The really really rich and famous (and their kids) are still going to get in, while the really dirt poor and disadvantaged people aren’t.

  9. #9 Chad Orzel
    July 19, 2009

    Because, Chad, the ultra rich WASP families still can and do buy their way in. Even if their kids are spectacularly underqualified. Google the infamous Harvard “Z” list for details. Oh, and remember the murdering Menendez brothers? One of them went to Princeton despite being an awful student just because Dad could afford to buy his son’s way in.

    I’m trying to find a bright side in what is otherwise a tremendously annoying article. Why do you have to go bringing me down?

  10. #10 Adrienne
    July 19, 2009

    Sorry, Chad, sometimes reality sucks like that!

  11. #11 The Science Pundit
    July 19, 2009

    Man the stupid rays coming of post #4 are intense. This has fuck all to do with affirmative action.

    So you don’t think that this type of thing is relevant to the affirmative action debate? I respectfully disagree. The whole rationale behind affirmative action is is that some people (have traditionally, and still do) get unfair advantages and something should be done to make it (at least) a little bit more fair. I agree with Chad’s assessment that things are changing for the better, but we still have a ways to go.

    I do agree though, that Asians are getting a raw deal under the current system: they have neither the traditional nor afirmative action edge.

  12. #12 Scrabcake
    July 20, 2009

    I went to an Ivy league school. I got in mainly on the luck of having parents who had to travel a lot for work (and took us with them), smarts and a well-written essay. I knew a lot of kids who got in because daddy had money. To tell you the truth, my friends and I kind of looked down our noses at the “legacy” kids.
    I had a job in tech support and had to fix their computers. I always wondered how they got off sitting around all night smoking up and playing madden while I had to study my arse off not to fail. I also had a friend who would get totally outraged at the end of the school year because all the rich frat kids would throw their electronics out the dorm windows, breaking them. I don’t blame her. I think I was too busy looking among the bits for something worth taking to be too outraged :)
    But yeah. The Ivy leagues are full of very smart people and some not very smart people whose daddies and mommies donate. In a perfect world, only the cream of the crop would get to go to these schools, but unfortunately, it’s the cream of the crop and the rich.
    I can’t blame the colleges too much. That’s how they get funded. And it’s going to be a devil to change unless some attitudes in academia get fixed and money for funding turns up from a different source.

  13. #13 chris
    July 20, 2009

    At least the article spelled “gantlet” correctly. Also, as the non-idiot child of moderately well-off New Englanders, I’d like to note that Georgetown and Dartmouth apparently colluded to see who could get my rejection letter to me fastest. I ended up at the University of Maryland.

  14. #14 Matt Springer
    July 20, 2009

    I’m pretty sure a $40,000 bribe for the admissions officer would be easier and have a better success rate.

  15. #15 Eric Lund
    July 20, 2009

    And what does it say about the parents who shell out $40k for advice they can get for free? For any family that isn’t rich enough to buy their kids an admission slot outright, that’s still a lot of money to spend on what is basically a dice roll anyway. The top notch highly competitive schools have admit percentages in the low teens. Does hiring one of those counselors significantly improve their kids’ chances of getting into Harvard/Yale/Princeton/MIT/Stanford? (After controlling for socioeconomic status, of course.)

    I do field interviews for applicants to my undergraduate alma mater. Their admissions office gives, free of charge, exactly the same advice Chad gave in the post.

  16. #16 Rob Jase
    July 20, 2009

    I expect that the families suing these folks for help are doing so for the mystique it adds not because they need advice.

    Afterall, their kids are going to get admitted by legacy anyways.

  17. #17 David Kane
    July 20, 2009

    [cross-posted from EphBlog]

    I love Orzel because he often, as here, demonstrates the classic physicist’s ability to be arrogantly clueless about topics he knows nothing about. Because he does not know much about how knowledgeable insiders play the admissions game, he assumes that no one does. He writes:

    Pursue activities that you find interesting– if you like music, play in the band. If you like sports, play sports. If you enjoy doing community service, do community service.

    That may be fine advice for life, but it is deeply shallow advice when it comes to elite college admissions. Excellence in sports plays a huge part, for good or for ill, it admissions. You may not like it but to pretend that sports are in the same category as music or community service is the sort of stupid mistake that the clients of Hernandez et al would never make.

    Now, I would be the first to admit that these consultants don’t have access to some magic incantation that will get little Johnny into Williams, but they know much more about the process than Orzel seems to. They might oversell the difference that they make — and who among as does not do that? — but following their advice about things like sports, early decisions, directed donations and the like will provide a small but meaningful increase in your chances of admissions. Is that worth $40,000? Not to me (or Orzel), but that does not mean that the service isn’t worth the money to those who purchase it.

    Let’s rewrite a paragraph of Orzel’s:

    First, Orzel:

    If you spend $40,000 to get detailed coaching from an educational consultant, you might be able to make yourself look marginally better, and increase your chances of getting into the very top schools slightly. But then you’ll be the sort of inch-deep superficial asshole who pays huge sums for things you can get for free, forgettable at best and tedious and annoying at worst.

    Then, a rewrite:

    If you spend $1,000 to get detailed tutoring for your child from a former teacher, you might be able to make your child look marginally better in her 9th grade math class, and increase her chances of getting into the very top schools slightly. But then you’ll be the sort of inch-deep superficial asshole who pays huge sums for things you can get for free, forgettable at best and tedious and annoying at worst.

    How does that sound? One of the reasons that Orzel is so annoyed by this article is that he does not have $40,000 to spend on someone like Hernandez. Fine. Nothing wrong with a little envy. But, being a tenured professor, he does have $1,000 (or whatever) to spend on his own daughter’s education, money that he will devote to math tutoring or summer science camp or whatever. Now, from his point of view, that seems perfectly sensible. $1,000 is not a lot of money and improving his child’s education, either by making her smarter in math or by exposing her to educational opportunities that she would not have otherwise had access to. Nothing wrong with that.

    But, from the point of view of someone poorer than Orzel, perhaps one of the working class parents who lives in his town, the $1,000 that he spends will make him appear just like the “inch-deep superficial asshole who pays huge sums for things you can get for free” that he sees when he looks at the clients of Hernandez.

    Orzel might respond, “Oh no! I am much different from those rich assholes! When I spend money on my daughter, I am doing it to enrich the quality of her education. I am not a status driven whore, only interested in getting my child into the best possible school so that I can brag to my banking buddies in the Hamptons.”

    Give me a break! You can be sure that Orzel will take a much pride in the educational accomplishments of his daughter as richer Ephs would. We all put college stickers on our cars. And, the better a college your child attends, the more options she will have, both during college and afterwards. Going to Williams versus going to State U Nowhere is the same as going to science camp versus playing in your backyard. Orzel draws a big distinction between the two because he can afford science camp but can’t afford Michelle Hernandez.

  18. #18 Kate from Iowa
    July 20, 2009

    Don’t be an ass Kane. You and anyone else minimally capable of reason knows that tutoring in an academic subject is not at all the same as an image consulting workshop, and that the goal is not the same. You’re equating needing extra help to excell in a given subject with being told how to give your college applications a rosy tint that they may or may not deserve in order to beat out someone who is as or maybe a little more qualified than you, but can’t afford the $40k “lipgloss”.

  19. #19 Chad Orzel
    July 20, 2009

    That may be fine advice for life, but it is deeply shallow advice when it comes to elite college admissions.

    Let’s just pause for a moment, and reflect on the notion that “fine advice for life” and “good advice for elite college admissions” are, apparently, disjoint sets.

    A better example of the need to maintain perspective would be hard to find. Look, I loved my time at Williams, and I’m sure that I wouldn’t be where I am without it. But I’m equally certain that had I not got into Williams, and gone to some lesser school, I would’ve had a great experience there as well, and be happily established somewhere else.

    Getting into a good college is important, but it’s not an all-or-nothing, the-world-will-end thing. Adolescence is fraught enough without piling on gratuitous college admissions stress.

  20. #20 Eric Lund
    July 20, 2009

    @David: What Kate #18 said.

    Also, on what basis do you assume that Chad has no knowledge of what he’s talking about? I’m not familiar with the admissions process at Williams or Union, but my undergraduate alma mater encourages faculty to read admissions applications. (Which is one reason Matt #14′s bribery scheme would fail, at least at my alma mater.) I would not be surprised if Chad, who as you point out is a tenured professor, has at least been offered a glimpse inside the sausage factory of undergraduate admissions.

  21. #21 Adrienne
    July 20, 2009

    I think Caitlin Flanagan’s essay pretty much nailed the college admissions craziness: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200109/flanagan

    Getting into a good college is important, but it’s not an all-or-nothing, the-world-will-end thing. Adolescence is fraught enough without piling on gratuitous college admissions stress.

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Let’s just pause for a moment, and reflect on the notion that “fine advice for life” and “good advice for elite college admissions” are, apparently, disjoint sets.

    I think there is some truth to this. But then, “fine advice for life” may result in lowered college admission chances vs. “taking things up to make your college apps look good”, but probably will result in greater life happiness overall.

    You know, it IS possible to go to NoName or State U, do well, and end up at a good grad school or with a good job or whatever. I have some friends with great careers who went to no-name colleges. One was actually given preference to a CBS internship in NYC because she wasn’t a trust fund kid from a name-brand school (this is what the guy who hired her told her).

  22. #22 David Kane
    July 20, 2009

    Kate writes:

    You and anyone else minimally capable of reason knows that tutoring in an academic subject is not at all the same as an image consulting workshop, and that the goal is not the same.

    This is worth unpacking. Just what is the “goal” of academic tutoring outside of class? Assume that Orzel’s daughter is having some trouble in high school math. She is getting Bs. I (and you) have no problem if her parents spend money on private tutoring, tutoring that is unavailable to her less wealth peers.

    The “goal” presumably is that those Bs will become As. But what is the point of turning those Bs into As? Will anyone ever care that Orzel’s daughter got As instead of Bs in high school math? Will the Euclidian geometry that she masters be crucial to her success in life?

    The point of private high school tutoring is to improve the college admissions prospects of your child. So, spending money on that tutoring (assuming that it works) is no different then spending money on Hernandez and her ilk (assuming that it works).

    Now, one might try to take the non-existent high road and pretend that: “No. I am providing private tutoring for my high school student because I want her to love math! I am doing it for intrinsic math-is-beautiful-and-learning-is-a-joy reasons. I would be doing this even if she were already getting As.”

    I don’t think that I have ever met a high school parent who would, with a straight face, claim such nonsense.

    Chad writes:

    Let’s just pause for a moment, and reflect on the notion that “fine advice for life” and “good advice for elite college admissions” are, apparently, disjoint sets.

    Hernandez (and I) don’t make the rules. We just describe them to people. And I do it for free!

    Getting into a good college is important, but it’s not an all-or-nothing, the-world-will-end thing. Adolescence is fraught enough without piling on gratuitous college admissions stress.

    In theory! But let’s gather some data. You have a variety of older colleagues at Union with children. How did they handle the college admissions process? Odds are they cared and worried a lot. Will you (or I!) be any different?

  23. #23 RJ
    July 20, 2009

    Fantasticly nihilistic comment, Dr. Kane. If your attitude is really as widespread as you say, that would be a good argument for closing down universities altogether.

    You’ve never met a parent who wanted their children to love knowledge for its own sake? Ouch; I hope I never touch your social circle.

    Hey David: even for parents and students not that interested in academics, tutoring helps students do more than improve grades. Getting into an elite school has no value for students with phantom A’s, because they will not succeed in the school. Crazy as it might sound, students are supposed to learn something before they get in. Who knew?

    None of this will sway Kane’s kind. It’s a shame any person has this attitude.

  24. #24 Eric Lund
    July 20, 2009

    The point of private high school tutoring is to improve the college admissions prospects of your child.

    No, the point of private high school tutoring is so that the child will learn the material that she is supposed to be learning in class. That it also improves her college admissions prospects (by helping her to earn the best grades she can) is a nice side effect, but the point is for her to learn the material well enough to get A’s instead of B’s. And since knowledge is cumulative, that advantage persists, whereas (as RJ #23 points out) the kid who gets into Selective U. by faking it is likely to be in for a rude shock when he finds himself competing against fellow students who have earned their way in.

    Also, tutors are at least providing a service with demonstrable benefit. The point of Chad’s post is that these consultants who are charging five figures per client for college admissions counseling are charging that kind of money for, as far as we can tell, advice that is available for free. As I asked earlier: after controlling for socioeconomic status, do applicants who use these services outperform those who don’t when it comes to college admissions? Show us the evidence.

  25. #25 Tim
    July 20, 2009

    Kane:
    You’ve got the wrong mindset. You’re thinking of tutoring as only a means to better grades. What about tutoring to better understand the material for the sake of the material? I would rather spend the money on tutoring and academic assistance than on someone to do minor appearance tweaks. If you spend the money on someone to, as others have described it, put lipgloss on your application, and it fails to get you in, that money is gone, with pretty much no return on investment. If you put that money into education, and you don’t get accepted, then you still carry the added education with you, no matter where you go. On top of that, once you’re in, the tutoring will continue to help you.

    Affirmative action:
    Speaking as a White Male from a disadvantaged income situation, I dislike affirmative action. I understand wanting to help people. That’s a good goal- but saying you need to balance based on race is a pretty bad idea. The only aspect of AA that is palatable to me, in the slightest, is financial aid for those that need it. Race/finances should not factor into the decision to offer admission, and family finances is the only part that should be considered when trying to determine any aid packages.

    Using race in any kind of determination should be called what it is- racism. I’m all for helping people in a disadvantaged situation- just do it based on the tangible disadvantages, not based on the color of their skin.

    Standing of a college:
    This may be a generational thing, or even a field of study thing, but most people I know around my age (early-mid 20′s) don’t consider an Ivy League school to be as big a deal. There are a lot of other schools that are catching up (or, in some fields, passing) the traditional “Big Names” the average person thinks of, in terms of what material is taught and how well it is taught.

    Am I saying to shoot low? No. I’m pointing out that a lot more people are doing fairly well with a mid-range school for a BA, especially if they are intending to go straight through for graduate study. Or even do an AS at a community college, then transfer to a bigger name for your BA. Again, this may also be a field of focus point- I’m in a computing field, and I can only think of three people that I know fairly well that are going on to academia.

  26. #26 Kate W.
    July 20, 2009

    It’s probably a good idea to have someone proofread your admissions essay too.

    I would also argue that athletic ability is over rated if you are looking at selective liberal arts colleges. Playing a sport is fine, great even, but no bigger deal than playing in a band or community service or being on the debate team.

  27. #27 onymous
    July 20, 2009

    I’m all for helping people in a disadvantaged situation- just do it based on the tangible disadvantages, not based on the color of their skin.

    In case you haven’t noticed, in the US, color of skin is sometimes a tangible disadvantage. Because there is still racism in this country.

  28. #28 CCPhysicist
    July 20, 2009

    You left out one thing:
    One assumes those parents who spend $40,000 on a consultant who will write admissions essays etc for junior are also complaining about the chance their taxes might go up. I really wish that had been in the story also.

  29. #29 David Kane
    July 20, 2009

    The reason that these consultants may be worth their fees to rich parents is precisely because so many smart people are uninformed about elite college admissions. Consider #26 above:

    Playing a sport is fine, great even, but no bigger deal than playing in a band or community service or being on the debate team.

    This is the equivalent of claiming that the world is flat. It is not true. (Side note: I do not know how informed Chad is on this topic but his line about “Pursue activities that you find interesting” worries me.)

    Playing sports at the college level is worth hundreds of SAT points. Lots of fun background reading here.

    What about tutoring to better understand the material for the sake of the material?

    Sure. If my daughter has trouble with Euclidean geometry, my main concern is going to be that she understand Euclid’s proof of the Pythagorean theorem for the “sake of the material?” That clearly explains the vast majority of private tutoring expenditures by high IQ parents.

    Eric Lund writes:

    The point of Chad’s post is that these consultants who are charging five figures per client for college admissions counseling are charging that kind of money for, as far as we can tell, advice that is available for free.

    Lots of stuff is available for free, including everything you could want to know about medicine, law and accounting. As for me, I will still be paying professionals when I need these services.

    And, it is true that this is available for free. (Here, for example, is everything you could want to know about legacy admissions at Williams, a places like it.)

    But, the fact that this is available for free in theory does not mean that it isn’t worth $40,000 to very rich parents to be certain that they are getting the straight scoop. Lots of people (like Kate (and Chad?)) think they know about elite admissions when, in fact, they are clueless.

    As I asked earlier: after controlling for socioeconomic status, do applicants who use these services outperform those who don’t when it comes to college admissions? Show us the evidence.

    I am suspicious about how much these consultants matter. Is there hard evidence? No. But there is no hard evidence the other way either. If all Chad were saying was “No hard evidence,” he would be correct.

    RJ writes:

    You’ve never met a parent who wanted their children to love knowledge for its own sake?

    Uhh, that is not what I wrote. Perhaps you would benefit from some tutoring . . .

    Chad writes:

    A better example of the need to maintain perspective would be hard to find. Look, I loved my time at Williams, and I’m sure that I wouldn’t be where I am without it. But I’m equally certain that had I not got into Williams, and gone to some lesser school, I would’ve had a great experience there as well, and be happily established somewhere else.

    Getting into a good college is important, but it’s not an all-or-nothing, the-world-will-end thing. Adolescence is fraught enough without piling on gratuitous college admissions stress.

    I agree! But the debate here is not about how Chad (or I) will raise our children and/or navigate the college application process. The debate is whether it is reasonable or wise for rich parents to pay professionals for advice, in the same way they pay professionals for help with their legal, medical, accounting, interior design, travel, and finance issues.

  30. #30 Art
    July 20, 2009

    On the one hand you might assume the guy actually has some influence over who, and thus who does not, get accepted into these universities. This would mean the consultant is honestly providing a service while the administrators for the university are corrupt. Or at least not doing their jobs. In other words he is honestly complicit with corruption and is making good money at it.

    On the other hand you might assume the guy is taking $40K for nothing and he is corrupt because he is taking money for a job he doesn’t do.

    But over all this is a bunch of parents who are willing to spend that sort of money on an end product that they have no way of proving is a result of their investment. It isn’t like the parents could or would go to the people making the calls on admissions and ask if this consultant changed their mind.

    So while we might speculate that either this consultant is honestly mucking about with dishonest administrators that shouldn’t be mucked with; or that he is dishonestly taking money for influence not applied to otherwise honest administrators; the one thing that seems clear is that the parents assume that this process is, to some extent, corrupt. That their money will give them traction in getting their spawn into the prestigious institution that they wold not otherwise qualify for. An institution that is assumed to be their due and a steppingstone to higher things.

    My rule of thumb is that dishonest people are the ones who automatically assume everyone and every process is dishonest. They are always looking for the back door, the way around the rules. Consider that this is the sort who are raising these kids and what it says about the kids. And what it says about the leaders in industry, finance and government who will, and have, come out of these institutions.

    Is it any wonder that our industries, financial sector and government are all infested with egotistical, elitist sociopaths who see the American people as useful but expendable drones and mindless peasants. People who assume that he rules do not apply to them. People who take for granted that if they fail they will fall up so the rest of the sociopaths won’t look bad. Or reveal their secrets.

    People who assume that a sinecure and lineage are their due.

  31. #31 Eric Lund
    July 20, 2009

    the one thing that seems clear is that the parents assume that this process is, to some extent, corrupt

    Thank you, Art, for making this point explicit.

    As I said above, the top-tier universities have admit percentages in the teens. At that level, admissions is something of a dice roll; these universities have to reject many applicants who are certainly qualified, and indeed who would have been admitted were they applying twenty years ago. This fact is difficult for many people to accept. So they focus on details which, in an honest system, would be irrelevant: things like what to wear to your interview, what to say there, how to structure your extracurricular activities, etc.

    Here’s my perspective as a field interviewer: My alma mater has more than a thousand volunteers like me who are part of the process specifically to look beyond the applicant-on-paper that the admissions office sees. I tell the applicants I interview that I’m looking for aspects that may not be captured on the application. It follows that if I think you, the applicant, are telling me what I want to hear instead of telling me about the real you, I’m going to pass that impression on to the admissions office, because that’s exactly the sort of thing they’re asking me for. And yes, I have seen a couple of cases where I thought the applicant was trying too hard to tell me what I wanted to hear.

    That said, I was somewhat disturbed to read in the article that Ms. Hernandez used to work in the Dartmouth admissions office, and that several others in this racket claim to have worked in other Ivy League admissions offices (some such claims have been disputed).

  32. #32 Chad Orzel
    July 20, 2009

    Speaking as a White Male from a disadvantaged income situation, I dislike affirmative action. I understand wanting to help people. That’s a good goal- but saying you need to balance based on race is a pretty bad idea. The only aspect of AA that is palatable to me, in the slightest, is financial aid for those that need it.

    I don’t think this is likely to explode– were the thread going to go toxic, it would’ve done so some time ago. Just to be on the safe side, though, I would advise everybody to tread carefully when dealing with issues of class and race. Think carefully before you hit “post,” particularly if you’re going to denigrate the importance of one or the other.

  33. #33 Adrienne
    July 20, 2009

    Well, Tim, if it makes you feel better, I’m against race-based affirmative action too. I support affirmative action based on socioeconomic disadvantage instead.

    BUT, remember, there are other more covert forms of affirmative action that disproportionately benefit wealthy whites. The outright buy-ins, the legacy spots, the elite sports spots (sports like crew that only wealthy high schools can afford). The conservatives like to bash race-base AA, but don’t bash the covert forms. William F. Buckley, Jr. actually defended legacy admits.

    I recommend the book The Price of Admission. It discusses all of these forms of AA, explicit and covert.

    I would advise everybody to tread carefully when dealing with issues of class and race.

    Boy, you ain’t kidding. I’ve been involved in some bitter threads recently about illegal immigration and affirmative action on another blog here, with me taking the unpopular “con” position. I don’t know that they went completely toxic, but they did get ugly.

  34. #34 Adrienne
    July 20, 2009

    Eric Lund @31:

    That said, I was somewhat disturbed to read in the article that Ms. Hernandez used to work in the Dartmouth admissions office, and that several others in this racket claim to have worked in other Ivy League admissions offices (some such claims have been disputed).

    I read a negative review of Ms. Hernandez’s book a while back that bashed her book for claiming that her book’s readers were probably more intelligent and knowledgeable than the college administrative staff reviewing their applications. This observation was supposedly based on her own experience in the admissions office at Dartmouth.

  35. #35 Adrienne
    July 20, 2009

    David Kane @29:

    This is the equivalent of claiming that the world is flat. It is not true. (Side note: I do not know how informed Chad is on this topic but his line about “Pursue activities that you find interesting” worries me.)

    Not every kid is going to be into sports fer goodness’ sake. What’s the point of doing a sport to get into college if you’re miserable while doing it?

    And how much do sports matter if you’re applying somewhere where the “life of the mind” is prized above everything else? I’m thinking places like the U of Chicago, Harvey Mudd, St. John’s in Annapolis, and Swarthmore. The latter ended its own football team, did it not?

  36. #36 Johan Larson
    July 20, 2009

    I have no trouble believing these education consultants can deliver an advantage in getting in.

    A college like Harvard admits several thousand students each year, looking for the very best. Perhaps it can find five hundred or so obviously brilliant people, but it then faces the problem of how to fill out the class, by choosing among literally tens of thousands of very bright, very well-prepared students from similar middle-to-upper-class backgrounds. That means small differences — the admission staff’s idiosyncratic interests — can have large consequences, since just getting a second look counts for a lot. And someone who knows those idiosyncrasies well, by personal experience, can make a real difference in tailoring the application of a plausible student.

  37. #37 Adrienne
    July 20, 2009

    Yes, Johan, but $40K could buy a nice car or be a down payment on a wedding or a condo.

    Is getting into Harvard (which is supposed to be a lousy place to go for undergrad) really worth that much money, especially when combined with the overall cost of college, and especially when a $40K consultant still doesn’t guarantee an acceptance anyway?

    I know there are conflicting studies on this issue, but Krugman’s Princeton study found that kids who are bright and highly motivated do well wherever they go to college.

  38. #38 Kate W.
    July 20, 2009

    Kane, I’ve done almuni recruiting one of the Midwestern liberal arts colleges included in the book you linked and I can tell you that athletics is a serious long shot into that school if you are not otherwise qualified. Why? Because no one cares. Attendance at athletic events is low, especially at inter collegiate events. Club sports tend to have better attendance.

    Yes, I’m sure being a really good athlete can help you get in and might you get in with lower SAT scores than someone who appears to have no actual interests, but so can being a musician of the same caliber, or one of many other achievements. They like students with different gifts who can contribute different things to the student body.

    I saw nothing in the book you cited that indicated that athletes get a break more so than talented musicians, actors, dancers, or students who have gone above and beyond in community service.

    Now, if you wanted to make the statement that Ultimate players, got a break, . . .

  39. #39 onymous
    July 20, 2009

    Recommending that someone play sports for college admissions purposes seems like an odd thing to do, if they haven’t already displayed a rare talent for sports. Similarly, one might argue that the easiest way to get admitted to good schools is to be an academic superstar, but this isn’t useful advice to people who aren’t one already.

  40. #40 David Kane
    July 20, 2009

    Kate writes:

    Kane, I’ve done almuni recruiting one of the Midwestern liberal arts colleges included in the book you linked and I can tell you that athletics is a serious long shot into that school if you are not otherwise qualified. Why? Because no one cares.

    No kidding. One of the things that a competent consultant like Hernandez can explain is that schools vary. Being a star football player won’t help you at a school, like Swarthmore, without a football team. Certain schools, like U Chicago and MIT, do not care at all about athletic excellence.

    But other schools (like Williams, Harvard, Yale) care a great deal.

    Recommending that someone play sports for college admissions purposes seems like an odd thing to do, if they haven’t already displayed a rare talent for sports.

    That’s obvious. My point in citing the example of star hockey player who was thinking of quitting in the 11th grade was to point out that, if she does not know how much hockey matters to certain schools, she may make the wrong choice.

    The real value of these consultants is in providing accurate estimates of how choice X changes your admissions odds at school Y.

    Now, it would be fair to say that my hockey example is contrived, that there are very fewer choice Xs that most students face, that the different options don’t effect your admissions chances that much. All true!

    To the extent that these parents think that Hernandez can improve their childs’ chances from 10% to 90% of getting into Harvard, they are wrong. But is it plausible that, for some students, she could improve their chances from 50% to 60%? Sure. Is that worth it? Depends on your point of view.

    Eric Lund writes:

    Here’s my perspective as a field interviewer: My alma mater has more than a thousand volunteers like me who are part of the process specifically to look beyond the applicant-on-paper that the admissions office sees.

    Odds are, you are being misled. What school is this? The vast majority of elite schools either do not use interviews or only use them for “informational” purposes, i.e., your interview does not affect your odds of admissions. Instead, it serves to keep alumni involved and to help sell the school to applicants. You are highly unlikely to be “art of the process” in the sense that what you say matters to admissions.

    But, I could be wrong about that. Give us more details.

  41. #41 Adrienne
    July 21, 2009

    David Kane @40:

    No kidding. One of the things that a competent consultant like Hernandez can explain is that schools vary. Being a star football player won’t help you at a school, like Swarthmore, without a football team. Certain schools, like U Chicago and MIT, do not care at all about athletic excellence.

    But reading a $20 college admissions and profile guide from a bookstore will give you exactly the same information. I knew this about Chicago, et al., back when I was applying to many moons ago just from reading these sorts of books.

    And now with the Internet and Web, students can go to the colleges’ Web sites to find out this information from the school directly. For free.

    Also, lots of sites with reviews of colleges/universities by current or former students. Some of those are free, some you have to pay for, but none of the pay sites costs $40K!

    The vast majority of elite schools either do not use interviews or only use them for “informational” purposes, i.e., your interview does not affect your odds of admissions.

    That’s not true. I went to a top-20 liberal arts college and I’ve done alumni interviewing as well. The interview doesn’t count for much, but it does count as part of the student’s admissions profile. I saw my own admissions file when I went to school, and it included notes from my interviewer.

  42. #42 Eric Lund
    July 21, 2009

    Kane: As Johan #36 pointed out, the dividing line between who gets in and who doesn’t comes down to small differences. That’s not only true of Harvard, that’s true of many other selective schools, including my alma mater. That’s why having an interview can make a difference: somebody reading the application may see something in the interview report and say that this application deserves a closer look (which is usually a good thing at a selective school). I know for a fact that somebody reads my interview reports, because they get rated. The interview is not strictly required for domestic applicants (some foreign applicants must do an interview, at least by phone, to allow an evaluation of their English language skills), but applicants who do interviews have a significantly higher admit rate than those who don’t (it’s been speculated but not confirmed that this is because weaker applicants are disproportionately likely to skip the interview).

    Where I disagree with Johan is that any advantage that one of these consultants might confer from having worked in the admissions office at Selective U. (1) is confined to that specific school and (2) decays with time as staff turns over. And if that school has professors reading applications, as my alma mater does, that advantage is further reduced since an outside consultant cannot predict in advance which professors will read which applications.

  43. #43 Tim
    July 21, 2009

    BUT, remember, there are other more covert forms of affirmative action that disproportionately benefit wealthy whites. The outright buy-ins, the legacy spots, the elite sports spots (sports like crew that only wealthy high schools can afford). The conservatives like to bash race-base AA, but don’t bash the covert forms. -Adrienne

    I’ll agree with that. I dislike those too. I should have been more explicit there. I have no problem with doing away with Legacy slots and outright buy-ins. Sports incentives need to be changed, but I’m not sure they need to go away completely.

    Does being wealthy help those sports? Yes. Should people get brought in just because of skill with that sport? No. I don’t have a problem with tuition assistance if you’re good with a sport the school wants you there for. I do have a problem with someone with worse academics, but skill at a sport, getting in ahead of someone that is amazingly gifted academically, but has never touched any sport more organized than backyard kickball in their life.

    As far as legacy stuff goes, I liked the way my university handled it. If you knew an alumni, related to you or not, you could ask them to get you an admissions voucher. All this did was let you apply for free. Absolutely nothing else. No immediate acceptance, no discounts on tuition, just no application fee.It helps, especially when sending out a ton of apps, but it’s also available to anyone who knows someone who graduated from there, not just to children of alumni.

    Also, as a side note, being wealthy helps with things like crew. It is not a complete requirement. The costs are pretty high, yeah, but a small group of students at my University decided they wanted a crew team, and couldn’t get the administration to sink the money in the first boat- they were claiming not enough interest, didn’t want to drop $20k+ on a boat and more on a boat house and not get it used after a year. So they did a bottle and can drive. A year long, continuous fund raiser, campus-wide, and encouraging the community to help. At the end of the year, they got their first boat. A decade later, they’ve got a pretty aggressive team, at least one varsity 8 and a 4 in mens, and at least a varsity 4 in womens (school is disproportionally male) fielded each year, plus novice groups that range in size, and almost a dozen boats. Completely walk on, no financial or academic incentives.

    I don’t think this is likely to explode– were the thread going to go toxic, it would’ve done so some time ago. Just to be on the safe side, though, I would advise everybody to tread carefully when dealing with issues of class and race. Think carefully before you hit “post,” particularly if you’re going to denigrate the importance of one or the other. -Chad

    Sorry. Re-reading that, it sounds a bit like an elitist jerk wrote it. I was just going for a frustrated guy who fell between the cracks of both sides of it- overt and covert.

    In case you haven’t noticed, in the US, color of skin is sometimes a tangible disadvantage. Because there is still racism in this country. -onymous

    Racism is still there, I agree. The extent to which it exists seems to be region dependent, as is the form it takes. Simply taking a road trip and talking to people will let you see that. I don’t have a good solution for it beyond time and treating everyone equally.

    Also, isn’t treating people differently based on factors beyond their control (race, gender, who your parents are) what got us into that mess in the first place?