Is Anything I Do Worth 1.5MM

There was an uproar on social media this week following a Times Higher Education report detailing a lawsuit by NYC-based Ivy Coach against a former client, a Vietnamese national, who, according to the suit, contracted IC to help her child secure admission to one of 22 elite American universities. There has been a lot of speculation regarding what the fee was to be used for, and whether such arrangements are abusive, illegitimate, or unethical.

Ivy Coach, for its part, responded via its own blog by defending its prices, going after various professional organizations that dared suggest such fees are exorbitant, and generally making a sideshow of it all.

My opinion, for what it is worth: the cost is what the market will bear. The $1.5MM price tag (we can argue about whether or not they ever intended to pay it) is fueled by a toxic combination of fear, anxiety, ambition and access to enormous resources. 

And, a second thought: "There's a sucker born every minute," as P.T. Barnum famously said. I'm equally sure this would apply to the consultant who expected to charge so much out of market and actually get paid. 

Do I think the reported $750,000 the client paid for advice make the difference in her child's (reported early) admission? No, I profoundly do not. I assume the consultant helped - just as they help every client - but in the end, the admission of any student is on the student's merit and a coach or consultant can only help so much. My sense is about $730,000 of that fee was unwarranted.

And what of the concern, voiced in this article that coaching (and essay coaching in particular) has become unethical or unfair - due to some students' inability to pay, and some "consultants" editing essays so thoroughly that the student's contribution is negligible?

First - See my previous blog post on plagiarism - essays that don't leave a student's voice intact are obvious to everyone. Admissions officers can see them a mile off. But over-editing doesn't just happen with consultants. In fact, a legitimate consultant will make sure it's NOT over edited. Parents and well-meaning aunties will not, however. Hiring a consultant that is both experienced and ethical is one way you can be sure your child's essay is the best they can write - and that their own voice will stand. 

Second - Because of some larger educational and social issues, essay consulting is becoming almost a critical necessity. American high schools are increasingly unable to teach the art of writing - due to legislative and funding schemes such as No Child Left Behind - that favor quantifiable skill development and incentivize schools and districts to "teach to the test", lest their funding be cut. Schools are evaluated against mandatory state testing and writing evaluation is not included in most states. International high schools are even one more step removed from the writing process that is standard for American secondary schools and may be unable, for a variety of reasons, to teach the skill of confessional, personal essay writing. 

Third - Students don't read as much as they used to, they don't keep journals, and they write a fraction of the words they used to write by the age of 18. Technological changes have emphasized brevity and multimedia communications. Until the Common App takes a PowerPoint for a personal statement, some remedial writing tutoring is going to be needed for MANY if not all students applying to college. 

The task of teaching someone to write well is high touch - more an art than a science - and many teachers may not have the skill themselves. Some may not have spent a lifetime teaching, or teaching writing. Many are meeting other demands that are placed on them and do not have the time to spend hours poring over student writing and helping them revise. Some may be passing through the profession. School Counselors are similarly burdened.

There are as many reasons to hire a writing coach as there are clients, and seeking assistance in this one area is neither unethical or unfair. There will always be economic disparity between applicants and in the preparation process - but the colleges and universities can and do account for this in their admissions policies that take into account an applicant's family situation, school they have attended, and socioeconomic factors. 

Trust the process. But if you need help, by all means GET IT. But make sure what you are getting is high-quality, ethical, experienced, and open to teaching you how to be a better writer overall - not just proofread your personal statement. 

I believe in what I do. If anyone else is interested in offering a $1.5MM contract, you know where to find me. 

Alexander Paschka