New private jet service for ultra-rich prospective students has noses out of joint

David Millward

September 29, 2018

The college tour is something of a tradition for American families. Parents drive their teenagers from campus to campus hoping to find the ideal academic institution.

But for the ultra-rich, there is an alternative to spending hours on the American highways – albeit at an eye-watering price.

Companies are now offering luxury college tours by private jet with clients being flown around the country, in some cases accompanied by a dedicated admissions counsellor.

The proliferation of small airports around the US makes it easy to land near to an array of elite institutions.

Top Tier Admissions has been helping students for the past 16 years to choose their college and prepare for their interviews as well as making the most of their high school years.

The company has teamed up with Magellan Jets to offer a bespoke process.

A basic cost for a trip on Magellan for 10 hours of flight costs $57,000 (£43,700). A Top Tier counsellor costs extra.

“We are not in the business of travel, but this can help with some of the logistics,” said Mimi Doe, co-founder of the company.

“This can be quite a major task if you are looking at, say, the University of Texas and Harvard – it’s going to take some time.

“It helps to streamline the process. We try to leverage their time on the plane to make sure they are well prepared, have done their research and can present their best selves.”

She estimates that the service is used by around half a dozen students a year – some American and others from overseas.

Several come from the four-day “boot camps” which the company runs where, for a fee of $18,000, students are guided through the process.

They work on application strategy, practice for interviews and prepare the essays they submit to bolster their case for admission.

In many cases, the students are given study material to peruse during the flight, but on others, they will be accompanied by a counsellor.

“Some families even have their own jets, others are normal folks,” Ms Doe added.

Part of the service offered by Top Tier is educating families in the etiquette of applying for a place at an Ivy League or other top colleges, especially given that a sizeable proportion of places are now being set aside for athletes, minorities and children of alumni.

“You can’t just go in and boast that you are in the Forbes Top 50, that won’t get you anywhere,” she explained.

“If you are a wealthy family and think you can get in with a $50,000 donation, don’t bother. Just being able to pay your freight doesn’t butter the biscuit.”

Now a rival has come onto the scene with luxury hotel chain Mandarin Oriental joining up with XOJET and college entrance counsellor Abby Siegel, to offer what it describes as an “innovative, time-saving College Tour Package.”

Depending on the itinerary, the trips cost between $11,000 and $22,000. They are not designed for a student who is going to be working part-time to meet tuition fees.

In between visiting campuses, students stay in a Mandarin Oriental hotel and the arduous process of visiting colleges is eased by a customised “care package”.

Goodies include a “de-stress bodywash”, a monogrammed laundry bag and – just to give that authentic campus feel – “gourmet dorm room treats” specially prepared by a hotel chef.

However, Brian Taylor, managing director of Ivy Coach, a New York college consulting firm, believes that using the service may backfire.

“Turning up in a private jet makes you very hard to like, it makes it look as if you are flaunting your wealth. And some of these private jet companies brag about introducing students to admissions officers. Yikes!” he said.

“It’s all part of the rite of passage,” he said. “Our clientele could afford to use a private jet, but we encourage our parents to spend their money more wisely.”