The private college counseling industry goes under the microscope in a piece out today in The Yale Daily News. In the piece, “‘Gray Area’: College Admissions and the Private Counseling Machine,” reporter Xavier Blackwell-Lipkind tackles the question of whether the private college counseling industry essentially perpetuates inequity in the college admissions process. As our readers are likely unsurprised to read, if you ask us — as The Yale Daily News did — our answer is absolutely! But, wait, Ivy Coach, are you suggesting that private college counseling firms like yourself contribute to inequity in elite college admissions? Why, yes of course — and if you’re surprised about our candor, you’re clearly new to our college admissions blog. While we have long offered pro bono services to veterans of America’s military and, more recently, to transgender applicants, there is no denying that we help students optimize their case for admission to elite universities for a fee. Just as piano teachers — for a fee — help young people become better piano players than their peers, just as swim coaches — for a fee — help people become better swimmers than their peers, just as high school counselors — for a fee (a.k.a. salary) — help their students improve their case for admission, we don’t deny being a part of the American economy. And a proud American business we are. Our business was founded by a former high school counselor at Massapequa High School. We know, the fact that we have the chutzpah to charge a fee for our expert work which is the product of decades spent building our family business is, well, absolutely shocking! Said Bernie Sanders. We kid, we kid. Oh Bernie!
In any case, while it’s true that each and every private college counseling firm — irrespective of the words to the contrary uttered by the villain of college admissions, Mark Sklarow, who has a habit of speaking out of both sides of his mouth — contributes to the inequity, private college counseling firms are but one component of the inherent inequities in elite college admissions. As we are quoted in the article in Yale’s newspaper, “According to [Ivy Coach’s Brian] Taylor, college admissions offices play a role in the flawed college application process, too. ‘All of these schools are contributing to inequity,’ he said, referring to Yale and similarly competitive institutions. ‘The entire college admissions process is flawed.’ Taylor thinks that college admissions offices need to ‘look within’ and undertake significant reforms, including abolishing legacy admissions and ensuring that admissions staff are representatively diverse.” After all, elite colleges offer preferential treatment in admissions to the children and grandchildren of alumni and development cases. They offer advantage to recruited athletes in fancy shmancy sports like squash and water polo, sailing and crew, sports that aren’t exactly easy to compete in when you come from a low-income family. They ask applicants if they need financial aid on application forms that admissions officers can see with their own two eyes in spite of claims they are “need-blind.” And then there are the high schools — and not just the Exeters and Andovers of the world. The great public high schools that enjoy deep ties to elite universities. These schools are not contributing to the inequity in elite college admissions? Please.
Yes, there is, unquestionably, inequity in elite college admissions. Do we contribute to the inequity by helping our students earn admission to their dream schools? Absolutely. Do we help groups that deserve champions in elite college admissions, for no charge, optimize their cases for admission too like those who serve our nation in uniform or transgender students who — all too often in our experience — are applying without the support of their parents? Yes. Does that fix the inequity in elite college admissions? Of course not. We’re not naive. But we are also proud of the work we do. We are proud of all the students we’ve helped through the last nearly 30 years. We reflect on those moments in which the children of immigrants to our nation earn admission to an Ivy League school, achieving a dream not only in their name but in the name of their parents and grandparents whose sacrifices made the outcome possible. We reflect on the time we helped a student who was kicked out of West Point under its then unconscionable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy earn admission to Stanford University. We pictured those Stanford admissions officers raising their middle fingers to West Point administrators: “You don’t want this kid? We’ll show you!” That student, that proud American immigrant, who long ago gave us permission to share this story, is now a proud graduate not only of Stanford but of Harvard Law School. While he wasn’t able to serve our country in uniform, he continues to serve it each and every day. And we will continue to help students beat this inequitable college admissions system fairly and ethically as he have for the last nearly 30 years. We will continue to shine a spotlight on issues that are important to us in elite college admissions — from Asian American discrimination in admissions to legacy admission to reserving slots in admissions for students who can put an oar through water with force. We will continue to champion our students, to help turn their dreams into realities. And we will continue to tell it like it is even if it doesn’t always serve us to do so.
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