2007 October 15 Monday
College Admissions Coach Earns Big Money

Private college admissions coach Michele Hernandez charges as much as $40,000 to help students get into top colleges. Hernandez says she makes nearly $1 million per year helping kids get into the Ivy League.

What makes her own story so compelling is that Hernandez is an insider-turned-outcast. A former admissions officer at Dartmouth College, she dared to reveal secrets of the opaque selection process in her book, A Is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting Into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges, and then to build a thriving business that helps people game the system. As she says to parents: "You don't want to pay $180,000 for some piddling school when, by spending a little extra, your kid could get into Yale." She insinuates herself so deeply into her students' lives and is so unabashed about her money-making that she has come to be regarded either as operating at the leading edge of her profession or its cynical extreme.

She claims a very high success rate. But if so she's probably picky about who she takes on as clients. Plus, the parents who have the money to pony up are smarter on average and therefore have smarter kids on average.

I can see that she can show the students how to write a more appealing application and direct them toward extra-curricular activities that look great to Ivy admissions officers. She might also be very motivational and drive kids to study harder in high school. But there's a limit to how much training courses can boost the crucial SAT scores. Still, I would expect kids who follow her advice to get into higher ranked schools than they otherwise would manage to get accepted to.

She structures the lives of her students.

Families pay Hernandez as much as they do because she promises not just substitute parenting but parenting in the extreme. She selects classes for students, reviews their homework, and prods them to make an impression on teachers. She checks on the students' grades, scores, rankings. She tells parents when to hire tutors and then makes sure the kids do the extra work. She vets their vacation schedules. She plans their summers.

She's also written other books that help to promote her to parents: Middle School Years : Achieving the Best Education for Your Child, Grades 5-8 and Acing the College Application: How to Maximize Your Chances for Admission to the College of Your Choice (Acing the College Application). So she's marketing herself through books in order to recruit customers that she markets to colleges. Then the kids use their college degrees to market themselves to prospective employers.

Our lives seem more driven by marketing than was the case in the past. Hernandez shifted her own marketing efforts toward increasingly younger kids going back to 8th and 9th graders in order to provide more time in which to shape each kid into a brand. Yes, you aren't just a kid growing up. You are developing your own unique brand. She calls it "Brand Me". A life lived to create a brand to sell to college admissions officers. Wow.

Are these kids getting trained for jobs in advertising agencies?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 October 15 07:42 PM  Education

Jerry Martinson said at October 16, 2007 10:06 PM:

Another trick that works very well in most big industrial states' pubic university systems is that you can spend the first year or two in community college or a lower-ranked regional school and then easily transfer (if you have very good grades) into the state's champion school. This bypasses most of the picky Freshman admissions process. A lot of people aspire to do this but then they burn out and get bad grades, however, if you can't ace the classes at the lower-tier level, then you really don't belong in the higher-tier school anyway.

In engineering, none of the Ivy league schools are better in reputation or quality than the big public universities in the industrial states that cost a lot less for tuition. Granted, there's 4 top tier private schools in engineering: MIT, CMU, Stanford, and CalTech. However, the 20 or so big public schools like Berkley, Illinois, Michigan, Austin, etc... certainly have nearly as good if not similar reputations in engineering. I'm not sure why anyone with a technical disposition would ever want to go to an Ivy league school for a BS degree.

In art, law, business, and sometimes medicine, the big public universities probably sometimes fall short of the elite Ivy-league like schools. But in that case wouldn't it usually be better to do your undergrad someplace cheaper and then get your masters, MBA, or JD at one of the elite schools? I know some people who just got their kids into the Ivy league and I feel like it's rude to ask this basic question to them directly but I'm really curious. If I'm a parent and looking at sending my smart kid off to college, why not Berkley or the other good UC schools and save a boatload of money? The one thing I have noticed is that I know some that have went to Ivy or Ivy-like private schools for technical degrees and they seemed to get a lot more out of the thing that they "minor"ed in, such as Japanese or acting than the average person did from the big state universities. But I wonder if this was more due to the personality of the person rather than the school.

Wolf-Dog said at October 17, 2007 6:03 AM:

We must emphasize that the paranoia and hysteria of parents to get their kids into prestigious schools, is not unjustified. These days, competition is so fierce that many of the top 30 non-Ivy league prestigious schools (below the top 10) often refuse a lot of candidates with 4.0 grad point averages.

This is partly because there is a hidden unemployment epidemic, in the sense that if you subtract the subsistence level low paying jobs, then many college graduates simply do not get jobs, at least not in the specialty they were trained for. And although there is a shortage of qualified engineers that is causing Microsoft and Google to pressure the U.S. government to loosen the immigration quotas for green cards, this is because these top companies are obliged to hire absolutely the best candidates at the level of the top 10 schools (this is their definition of "qualified engineer"). This means that many engineers who graduate from average American universities, may find it impossible to get a good job in a technical field. Many American technicians still stay unemployed even though the leading companies are begging the US gov't to let in more immigrant engineers, and this is merely a manifestation of the exponential stratification phenomenon that the society is experiencing.

m said at October 17, 2007 9:11 AM:

"none of the Ivy league schools are better in reputation or quality than the big public universities"

The true value of an Ivy degree is the chance to network with Ivy degreed recruiters(who dominate Big Biz. and Big Gov.) and with fellow students who have these contacts already thru family members and family friends.

And,of course,to allow future elites to meet,mate and procreate the next generation of elites.

50 yrs ago,people with,say,a Lit degree from an Ivy could find employment easily,as it was assumed from the high admmission standards that anyone smart enough to get admitted,and graduate,from an Ivy school(or equivalent school)was probabaly smart enough to learn,say,the investment business on the job.

Not a safe assumption today,given the ubiquitous "basket weaving" courses so common today and the general decline in academic rigor.

The problem isn't elitism,per se,but rather that the "New Economy" concentrates these elites in a few trendy cities.
Very smart people who once would have been found in shipping and transport(San Fran and St Louis),commodities(Chicago)steel and coal(Pittsburg)or energy(Houston)and manufacturing(Detroit and upper midwest) are now becoming "brokers" and paper movers in NYC rather than business managers in Houston,etc.

Add to this that politics a are major component of elite identity,the politics of "Nobleses Oblige" as defined by trendy/left(the little people can't be trusted to make the correct decisions and so must decisions be made by the elite for the "greater"(your)good",leading to anti-democratic views.

At a meta level,our elites are becoming "One" with a "narrative" that is bitterly hostile to our founding Constitutional principles and legal,political and cultural traditions.
If you want to fit into our elite schools,cities and industries,you pretty much have to accept this "narrative" or be shunned.

"there is a shortage of qualified engineers"

No,the lust for H1B's has more to do with the general desire by Big Biz and the new robber barons to reduce wages across the board.Indian programmers and engineers are not "better" than their counterparts here,they're just cheaper."Everyone" knows that American programmers are too expensive(even when they make it clear they're willing to work for the same pay scales as the h1b's.)It's the same mentality that leads recruiters to overlook black quaterbacks and white running backs.
I suggest you look into the dark side of the tech world of "body shops" and the swift deportation of H1b's that get out of line.You'll despise Gates and the g00gle gits even more(nothing says "I{heart}Gaia"like a pimped out 757,huh,Sergey?)

And now for the good news........it's gonna get worse.

Randall Parker said at October 17, 2007 8:42 PM:


Software developer wages are rising rapidly in India and at the same time the Indian rupee has gained 15% against the dollar in the last 9 months. The pricing pressure on American programmer wages from Indian programmers is lifting.

Wolf-Dog said at October 18, 2007 1:58 AM:

Even as the salary pressure on American engineers diminishes, the top companies still do not have any choice but to hire from the top schools, because of the differences in the performance of high IQ engineers. The engineers who do not have the talent, simply will cause the companies to go bankrupt (due to the superior talent hired by rival companies). Thus a top engineering position will remain vacant even if there is unemployment. This is becoming true in all other fields also, and the pressure on parents to get their kids in top schools will continue to increase.

Bob Badour said at October 20, 2007 4:50 PM:

Wolf-Dog, that's bullshit. Microsoft just wants to keep engineer wages low to line Gates' pocket. It's as simple as that. There is no such thing as a shortage in a free market. There is only a price at which a given service is available.

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