Rafi Mohammed

$40,000 and Your Kid Can Go to the University of Their Choice

Posted on November 11th, 2007 (2 Comments)

A few years ago, I boarded a plane for Cincinnati (where I grew up) and immediately, the guy seated next to me asked “so…what do you do.” Explaining my interest in pricing, as the wheels left the ground he responded: “Have I got a lot of questions for you.” This is going to be a long flight I thought.

Much to my surprise, it turned out to be one of the more interesting flights I’ve taken. My seatmate helped wealthy children get into the universities of their choice (and was interested in improving his pricing). What I learned is that in essence, he is a publicist – he spins applicants’ backgrounds to admissions’ committees. For example, my friend’s daughter is an aspiring opera singer…would that get her into a good school? Singing alone wouldn’t do it he revealed, but if she was spun as having an opera background (sings, knows Italian, traveled to Europe), admission committees would take interest. And what size donation would get an applicant noticed…minimum of $250,000. It’s understandable why his services are in demand, these consultants sell advantage.

BusinessWeek recently published an article on Michele Hernandez (“I Can Get Your Kid into an Ivy”), who is a probably the most expensive college coach in America. Some parents pay her $40,000 to help get their children into the right schools. What makes Michele so interesting, from my perspective, is her shrewd value based pricing strategy. She truly understands value. She’s quoted as saying “I’d be an idiot to charge half of what I can. Parents can always hire a lesser person.” Michele does an excellent job of explaining her value by saying: “You don’t want to pay $180,000 for some piddling school when, by spending a little extra, your kid could get into Yale.” Michele claims that 95% of the applicants she’s counseled get into their top college choice.

Michele’s services are like my airplane friend’s forte: she spins and creates kids’ backgrounds. For one advisee interested in nanotechnology, she suggested that he email famous scientists and compile the exchanges into a book. If he did that, she claimed, “I’d get you into school.” For another advisee interested in photography, she advised taking pictures of the homeless and mounting an exhibition to raise money.

In addition to $40,000 paydays, Michele has versioned her services. She offers four day admissions boot camps for $12,500, $2,999 virtual boot camps, a 60 page book for $189, and SAT assistance for $1,600. Plans are in the works for a chef’s table offering: family college visits to colleges, but it’s going to be expensive…real expensive. Quick to emphasize this service will not be for everyone, Michele claims “This will be like Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label (his most expensive brand).” Despite her high prices, she currently has 80 clients and her workshops instantly sell out.

Many have expressed outrage over these counseling services, claiming they are unfair. But whoever claimed life was fair? A recent survey showed that 22% of first year students at private colleges have worked with some kind of consultant. So it’s your choice: make a $250,000 donation or hire a counselor.

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Readers' Comments on This Blog Entry

From Steve on November 11th, 2007
None of this surprises me in the least. Hell, there have been sports experts for years that have been taking on young athletes and preparing them not so much to be a general all around good athlete, but instead to be able to do the specific things that the recruiters are looking for. They also know how to spin up the athletic abilities of their clients to guide them into the elite schools. Doing this academically isn't that different. The common denominator is money whether it's being used to obtain tutors, spinners, coaches or to provide a good old fashioned honorarium. It all kind of corrupts the system at bit, but how do you outlaw it? Money always seems to be able to do a lot of the talking.
From Deborah on November 13th, 2007
I am not surprised by the information in this article, given the emphasis that many affluent parents seem to place on getting into an "elite" college. The sociological question is: WHAT are they buying? Status in the eyes of friends and acquaintances? Potential future business contacts for the kid? Likelihood of admission to graduate or professional school? Or is it really the "quality" of the education? I wouldn't be surprised to find that many of these parents shell out the cost of a consultant because they are seized by a feeling of desperation that they cannot articulate. Of course, the fact is, all of the examples of the consultants' recommendations are things that most knowledgeable parents should be able to come up with on their own, without paying $40K for hand-holding.