“The Pre-College Racket”

That’s the title of this article by Anne Kim in the Washington Monthly:

“Kirstin’s Invited to Stanford!” the (GoFundMe) page, created by Kirstin’s aunt, declares. “My 16-year-old niece has been offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After working hard her entire school career to achieve a goal, she has done it!”

Kirstin, it turns out, was not admitted as an undergraduate, but was raising funds for an “Intensive Law & Trial” summer program offered on the Stanford University campus.

Tuition for the ten-day program runs to $4,095, not including airfare and pocket money…“Her extended family is trying hard to raise the deposit of $800.00 by week’s end so this opportunity does not slip through her fingers.”

Our 2 kids this summer did several one week camps.

Most were ~$700.

“Filmmaking camp” – shot on iphones – was $1200.

Why?  I think because “at Harvard”, about 12 minutes drive from our home, though I’m not sure of its affiliation.  We did notice a lot more Asian and Indian kids at that camp compared to all the other ones.

More to the point, these prices don’t buy what many parents believe they’re getting with a pre-college program: a backdoor way to get their kid accepted to their dream school.

I interviewed half a dozen professional admissions consultants, most of them former college admissions officers, and all of them said that pre-college programs generally don’t give kids a special edge on their applications or carry the prestige that many families think they do.

“Some of our parents who come to us have paid thousands of dollars to these programs thinking their students get an advantage, which is just not the case,” said Belasco, the CEO of College Transitions. “People attend these programs all the time and then don’t get in,” said Ivey Consulting’s Anna Ivey. “It can be heartbreaking because they’ve fallen in love with the school.”

These are 2 different issues.

1. Parents think the program gives their kids an admission advantage.  It would probably help parents to write “This program does not enhance your chances for admission” on the website.  But it would hurt sales.

2. Kids spend time at a school and don’t get admitted as an undergrad.  That’s not really the “college’s fault” per se.  Happens with college visits as well.

(Kirstin’s fundraiser for Stanford’s pre-college law program, for instance, declares, “Attending Stanford has been a lifelong dream of Kirstin’s.” Her family didn’t respond to multiple interview requests, but a student with her name, from the same small town in Vermont, made the dean’s list at the University of New Hampshire last fall.)