IvyWise in the News
June 07, 2004
You'll pay through the nose for college for your kids. Should you pay to get them in, too?
The Harvard admissions office states it plainly: "There is no formula for gaining admission to Harvard." Maybe not. But with the admission rates to top schools so daunting10% at Harvard and Yale this springparents jump at anything they can do to improve the odds. Can they? The bottom line, confide former admissions officers who've had an inside view, is yes.
Scads of ambitious parents believe that if there is a magic formula, it involves spending big bucks. So they shell out for $33,000 college placement services, $300-an-hour SAT tutors and $1,000-a-week summer enrichment programs, and ramp up giving to their alma mater. Prudent investments or wastes of money? Here are our tips for spending your pre-admission dollars wisely.
To get your child into the best college (and particularly the best college for him or her), you need a handle on the admissions process. Which colleges are realistic possibilities for your child? What are they looking for? You don't have to spend a cent to find out. Your child's high school guidance counselor should be able to get you started. (Skilled college counselors are one benefit of a posh private secondary school.)
Then there are the books. A is for Admission, by former Dartmouth assistant director of admissions Michele Hernández ($15), and Making It Into a Top College, by freelance college counselors Howard and Matthew Greene ($17), are worth picking up. So are the standard college guides, including the Fiske Guide to Colleges, by former New York Times education editor Edward Fiske ($23), and America's Best Colleges from U.S. News ($8).
If your child's high school counselor is overworked or under-informed, you may want to hire a freelancer. Harvard-bound Kaavya Viswanathan, from Franklin Lakes, N.J., signed on with IvyWise, a counseling firm with offices in New York and Beverly Hills, during her junior year. "They take all the raw material and help you put it together in the way that an admissions officer is going to be most impressed by," she says.
A good counselor operates behind the scenes, offering guidance but generally not coming to the attention of college admissions staff, which can backfire. Be careful, too, not to put the nose of your child's high school guidance counselor out of joint. It is he or she who will pen the school's recommendation to the college, not your hired hand.
IvyWise charges up to $33,000 for its combined junior and senior year program. Howard Greene & Associates, founded by former Princeton admissions officer Greene, charges $750 for a single consultation and $6,000 for ongoing consulting. Road to College, co-founded by former Harvard admissions official Charles Hughes, charges $159 for "Comprehensive Essay Editing" and $1,499 for "Premiere Application Revue." None of these fees includes SAT coaching.
Getting Ready for the SAT
To prepare your child for the all-important SAT, you have three options. The cheapest is to buy a test book or online course from a company like Princeton Review or Kaplan, along with some copies of old SATs, and have your child study on his own. This is a perfectly fine approach if your child is self-motivated.
If that isn't the case, you may want to sign up your child for a prep course with a live instructor. Such courses can cost $1,000 or so. They teach little that you can't get out of a book, but do have the benefit of providing structure and discipline your teenager may lack. Prep-course providers often claim to raise SAT scores by 200 or more points. But similar gains are possible if your child studies diligently on his own.
A costlier option is to hire an individual SAT tutor. At Princeton Review a private tutor can run up to $300 an hour, depending on the experience of the instructor. This may make sense in certain circumstances, but most kids can get all the help they need from a standard group course.
Whether you go for individual tutoring or a group class, pay heed to the quality of the instructor, suggest Richard Montauk and Krista Klein in How To Get Into the Top Colleges. There is high turnover among SAT teachers. You want to make sure your child gets someone top-notch. Get recommendations from past students or call up tutoring companies to ask which teachers are in greatest demand.
There are many lofty reasons to contribute money to a university, but a baser motivation for many parents is the belief that it will help their child to be admitted. Will it?
That depends. The first thing to determine is whether your child will count as a "legacy." Many elite schools consider only the children of former undergraduates as legacies. Others, such as the University of Pennsylvania, use a broader definition, counting both children and grandchildren of former undergrads and graduate students. College consultants Howard and Matthew Greene suggest you call the alumni affairs or admissions office at your alma mater and ask.
If your child isn't going to be counted as a legacy, you can probably forget giving as an admissions strategy unless you're willing to hand over really big bucksmeaning up to seven figures. If your child will be counted as a legacy, you face a tougher call. On the one hand, your child will get an edge simply by being a legacy, no matter what you do. But to get a sharp edge will require some serious giving. The deeply shrouded question is how serious, and the answer varies from university to university.
At Georgetown University, according to senior associate director of admissions Jaime Briseño, various factors come into play: the amount of the alum's giving, the consistency of the giving over the years and how the amount given compares to the alum's income. Briseño emphasizes that alumni can also give in other ways: by acting as a volunteer for the school, hosting events and interviewing applicants for admission. "The bottom line in most cases really comes down to 'How strong is that connection?'" he says.
In Harvard's admissions office, former senior admissions officer Charles Hughes recalls, "We talked about cases, but we never talked about dollars. We used words like 'very important to the development office' and 'generous' and 'a significant contributor to the institution.'" Generosity starts in the hundreds of thousands. "If you've given six figures, people will notice," Hughes says, "but it won't be enough" by itself.
Paying for a Private High School
A big question for many parents of younger children is whether sending them to a private high school will help when it comes time to apply to college. The short answer is maybe. While private schools send a higher share of their grads to elite colleges, the days of guaranteed feeders are over. Fifty-five percent of students admitted to Princeton this year went to public schools; the same percentage did at Yale.
One more point about picking a high school: Despite the desire of top colleges for "geographic diversity," don't think you can get a leg up by pulling stakes from New York City and moving to the rural West a couple of years before your kid plans to apply to college. "Merely moving to, let's say, Wyoming, as a juniorit's not likely to have much of an impact," warns Georgetown's Briseño.
Going to Summer School
Many parents figure that shelling out for a summer enrichment program at an elite college will get their child's foot in the door. Harvard and Yale, for example, both charge about $1,000 a week. But earning a couple of A's at Harvard's summer program won't give your child the inside track to a freshman dorm room on Harvard Yard. An easier and cheaper option is to enroll in a summer college class near your home. The key is to show your interest in learning, advises Greene. Where you do it isn't important.
You don't necessarily need to spend the summer with your nose in a book, but you do need to put your summers to work by pursuing activities that display drive and initiative, advises Katherine Cohen of IvyWise to high school students. "Colleges are mainly looking for what we call 'angular' kids," she says. "They're not looking for well-rounded students; they're looking for well-rounded student bodies. So in order to position yourself as an angular kid, you have to highlight those one or two passions, interests, strengths and run with them."
College consultant Greene agrees. "The well-rounded kid at the most selective colleges doesn't tend to do as well," he says. Elite colleges "are more focused on putting together a class made up of a bunch of individuals with very specific talents."
Playing a sport can be a great way (for either a boy or girl these days) to get into to a college that might otherwise be a long shot. The Ivies have a measure known as the Academic Index that governs how far admissions standards can be lowered for athletes. While a typical score for non-athletes is 200 to 220, the cutoff for athletes is about 170, with many scoring in the 170s and 180s, according to admissions experts Montauk and Klein in How To Get Into the Top Colleges.
Admission rates for athletes are unusually high. For Dartmouth's class of 2000, the acceptance rate for recruited athletes was around 60%, according to college consultant and former Dartmouth admissions official Hernández. She adds that while admissions officers scrutinize non-athletes' applications for weaknesses, they look at athletes' applications with an eye for strengths.
If your child is a strong athlete, the first step is to contact the coaches at colleges that are of interest. Start making contacts by early junior year. Send a cover letter, a sports résumé, a coach's recommendation and newspaper clippings, advise Montauk and Klein. "The opportunity for self-promotion is stronger for the ambitious, accomplished student athlete than it is for almost anyone else in the admissions pool," they add.
To get the most out of your travel dollar, have your child schedule on-campus interviews with an admissions officer. That's often viewed as a desirable show of interest in a school and can carry more weight than interviews held at home by alumni. If you think your child will interview poorly, you may want to avoid the on-campus chat with admissions staff. And don't be fooledeven interviews billed as just "informational" are often evaluative, warns former Harvard admissions official Hughes.
One advantage of visiting campuses earlyperhaps during the winter or spring of junior yearis that doing so can help motivate your child for the application process, which is going to take a lot of work. If you can, visit schools when classes are in session, Montauk and Klein suggest. Most campuses feel much differentand more appealingwhen students are around.
Measuring the Payoff
While Ivy grads are over-represented among business leaders, Wall Street millionaires and presidential candidates, that may be because students who are admitted to the Ivies are a talented, driven, well-connected bunch and excel in life because of the talent, drive and connections that got them admitted to fancy colleges, not because of the diploma. Indeed, that's the conclusion of a 2002 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.
But not everyone from the Ivy League is quite ready to agree. In another study, Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby estimates that for men who entered college in 1982 the lifetime payoff from attending a Harvard or Columbia over a slightly less selective Carnegie Mellon or Tufts will be roughly $300,000, with about $100,000 of the difference due to the college attended.
Helping students worldwide for more than 13 years, IvyWise offers comprehensive one-on-one educational counseling from a team of professionals who have read and evaluated applications at Ivy League and other selective schools.
"The college admissions process can be extremely overwhelming, especially for those who are not familiar with it. IvyWise guided me throughout the entire journey."
Anonymous Student, Brazil
Accepted Early Decision to the Stern School of Business, New York University, Class of 2014