US consultants market the key to gates of the Ivy League

Joshua Chaffin:

The young woman was nearly hyperventilating 30 minutes later.

“So, it’s been like half an hour, and I’m like, semi-calmed down — to the point where I’m not shouting expletives any more . . .” she explained, addressing her camera phone. “But, yeah. I got into Yale. Oh, my God! I got into Yale!”

In the community of college admissions consultants, who help students snare closely fought-over places in US universities, this was the money shot. The selfie video appears on the website of one of the premiere practitioners of the art: Manhattan-based IvyWise.

Interlaced with the promise of Yale the company also offers what may be unnerving advice for anxious parents: they should start early — ideally signing their children up by the time they are in the eighth grade — and be prepared to spend upwards of $100,000.

“The reality is there is an ‘arms race’ in the admissions process but it was not created by our profession,” Katherine Cohen, who founded IvyWise 21 years ago and boasts degrees from Brown and Yale — as well as a certificate in college admission counselling from UCLA — wrote in an email from Asia.

The real culprit, Ms Cohen argued, was that US university places had remained stagnant even as applications surged in recent years, including from abroad. Many secondary schools have a single counsellor who is meant to guide hundreds of students through the minefield.

The role of admissions consultants and their place in the university ecosystem is attracting fresh attention with the revelation last week that dozens of parents had paid approximately $25m in bribes through a crooked California consultant, William “Rick” Singer, to secure places for their children at top schools.