As students compete to get into the top universities across the United States, a report found that many parents are spending hundreds of thousands on ‘elite consultants’ that will turn their kids’ college apps into ‘Ivy League bait’
The Independent Educational Consultants Association estimates that up to 25,000 full- and part-time IECs will be working in the U.S. this year. The market research firm IBISWorld estimates it to be a $2.9 billion industry.
Most consultants charge in the ballpark of $4,000 to $7,500, but some, like Christopher Rim, charge over $120,000, which is 94,000 GBP.
Christopher Rim has been serving as an “independent education consultant” for the past nine years, assisting those who can afford his services with the increasingly competitive college admissions process, which ends its current round in February.
He started by editing college essays from his Yale dorm room for $50 an hour but now charges the parents of his company’s 190 clients $120,000 a year to help them “create a narrative” he believes will appeal to college admissions officers.
Most of his clients are private school kids, many of them in New York. Rim, the CEO of college consulting firm Command Education, pointed out that “tuition and cost of attendance is not just going up at Ivy League and competitive schools, it’s going up everywhere.”
He asks, “If a Rolls-Royce and a Toyota are the exact same price, which one would you want?”
That company, Command Education, currently has 41 full-time staffers, most of whom are recent graduates of top-tier colleges and universities.
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The pitch is crafted to appeal to the wealthy clients Rim courts. He advertises his services as a “personalized, white glove” process through which Command employees do everything from curating students’ extracurriculars to helping them land summer internships, craft essays, and manage their course loads with the single goal of getting them in.
“We are texting students, I think it’s like 15 minutes before their math class, to make sure they are turning in their homework,” says Rim.
Parents are complaining that it’s getting harder to get into these fancy schools, with more wealthy families unable to rely on legacy admissions or alumni contributions. Donations are getting to be around $10 million as a baseline. Paying for rigorous SAT or ACT classes doesn’t work either since a lot of schools no longer look at these records.
According to a report by Business Insider, some parents are giving consultants up to $750,000 to make their kids’ college applications look amazing, which means high-class services like Rim’s are happening all over the country.
This type of extreme college prep starts from seventh grade. Hope Choi, whose son got into Yale, thinks spending all that money on consultants was worth it.
And Addison Witucki, who is 18 and dreams of going to Harvard or Brown and becoming a doctor, says, “What’s a couple thousand more dollars in debt?” However, it seems despite this logic, Witucki told Financial Advisor in another interview that she didn’t get into either Ivy League, and is planning to go to the University of Kentucky instead.
Her mother, Sarah, said Addison was disappointed but also relieved that she’d have to take on significantly less debt. The school costs $33,150 total for in-state students versus nearly $85,000 for Brown.
“Even that’s still so much money,” Sarah Witucki said. “The fact that a state school costs this much is mind-blowing.”
Despite the uproar over America’s student loan crisis and skyrocketing college costs, the allure of a top-notch education has only grown. With acceptance rates dropping below five percent, getting into these elite schools feels like hitting the jackpot.
Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce states that four-year private schools offer the highest return on investment based on average debt and median salaries 10 and 40 years after enrollment.
This has led to parents and students craving a prestigious (and pricey) degree more than ever, and they’re on the hunt for ways to increase their odds.
The tiny acceptance rates at some of the best colleges show why it’s so important to have an advantage.
Out of over 59,000 students who applied to the University of Pennsylvania, only 2,400 got in. Yale University’s acceptance rate this year was a mere 4.35 percent. The number of applications was the highest in the school’s history, having grown nearly 50 percent since 2020.
Eric Sherman, a counselor at college counseling firm IvyWise, founded by Kat Cohen, likens the admiration for big-name colleges to a Hermes bag.
Sherman, who also serves as the director of college counseling at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, California, shared: “You hit a certain point where quality is legitimately increased, and then everything above that is just brand.”
He added, “I think that there is a really powerful element here where parents, if they’re at a cocktail party, they might want to say, ‘Oh, I drive a Maserati and my daughter goes to Penn.'”
Hope Choi expressed her family’s fortunate position: “We are fortunate that price is no object. Prestige carries a lot of weight and we want him to attend the best college for his future.”