On Donating to Colleges

Donations to Colleges, College Donors, Development Cases

Just like there’s a magic 8-ball, there’s a magic number for a development case in admissions.

Over the years, many folks have inquired with us about how to go about donating to colleges. And we’re happy to answer their questions. We’re happy to offer them details on how to properly go about making a donation to colleges so their children are viewed as development cases, which in the world of college admissions is slang for the children of donors. Every now and then, someone asks us these types of questions during the free consultation. But of course we reserve our guidance for our clients. We are, after all, a business — for which we make no apologies. But would it surprise our readers to know that very few folks who inquire with us about making donations to colleges end up becoming our clients? Curious why not?

The Underestimation of the Development Case Magic Number

During free consultations, when folks suggest they’d like to make donations to colleges, we typically ask them, “Do you have a relationship with the college? Are you an alum?” In most cases, the answer is that they have no connection whatsoever to the university. They just want to improve their child’s case for admission to the school by donating money. Our suspicions are confirmed. We then follow that question up with, “How much were  you thinking of donating?” The answer is usually somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $1,000,000. Our suspicions are confirmed again. And, yes, another of our suspicions is always that these folks just want to brag about their deep pockets.

The bottom line is that our nation’s most highly selective colleges are not going to flag an applicant as a development case because his or her mom and dad — who have no connection whatsoever to the university — donated that kind of money to the school. They’ll take the money. Don’t get us wrong. They’ll send a ‘thank you’ note. Maybe it’ll even come via snail mail on nice stationary rather than via email. But it won’t improve their child’s case for admission. Rather, it will be perceived by admissions officers precisely how your gut tells you it will be perceived — that you’re trying to buy your child’s way in. And for that amount of money, a college will not compromise on its principles.

The Right Way to Donate to Colleges

Now is there a certain amount of money in which a college will compromise on its principles, even if mom and dad have no connection whatsoever to the university? Yes. But even that kind of donation — one that hits the magic number (a number we have never revealed on the pages of our college admissions blog) has to be made the right way, through the right channels. And, yes, we can help with that (if you’d like our help, fill out our free consultation form and indicate development case in the comments section to learn about our services), though we are often the first to say it’s just not necessary. Why pay a college so much money to improve your child’s case for admission when you can pay us so much (but a whole lot less) to do just that — improve your child’s case for admission? And, yes, we really did just say that. Hey, as a writer for “The Dartmouth” wrote a few years back, “Way to tell it like is is, Ivy Coach!” We’ll always tell it like it is.

Mic drop.


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  • Karen says:

    I am aware of a family that donated a very large amout to a very prestigious college on the condition their child was admitted. Admission can be bought for a price and yes, their child was admitted.

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