S.K. of Jericho, NY writes:

My daughter, a high school senior with a 4.0+ GPA (weighted), nearly perfect SAT and ACT scores, and a resume of community service and extracurricular activities second to none, is in the process of applying to college. Hopefully (fingers crossed), she is Ivy bound. With the selection process so extremely complex and competitive, we reached out to a college coach who "specializes" in the Ivies, only to find, to our dismay, that she charges $950 per hour and upwards of $40,000 for a complete "package." I simply cannot fathom paying that much. Is this the norm?

The College Whisperer responds:

The College Whisperer doesn't know a single Norm who charges $950/hour for his services. Not even Norm the Plumber, Norm the Plastic Surgeon or Norm the Patent Attorney. Then again, I'm almost certain they're out there, the gougers, the greed-mongers, the "take-em-for-everything-they've gotters," the PT Barnums of whatever field or endeavor, looking for that sucker born every minute.

It's the perennial question: How much is too much?

How much is too much parental involvement in the college application process? How much is too much focus on standardized test scores? How much is too much to pay for college planning services?

What are you getting for your money? What are those services actually worth? What will this crazy college market bear?

Granted. One person's "excessive" is another person's "reasonable," but $950 per hour/$40,000+ per package? For that, I'd want not only the expertise and guidance that will get me into the Ivy of my choice, but breakfast in bed every day for the next four years, a chauffeured limo to class, a gourmet chef at my beckon call, and someone to take and transcribe notes in every course offering. And that's just for starters!

Yet, parents pay, and pay heftily, for college coaches. What gives?

Do those who prey upon parents'/students' fears of not being accepted to the college of choice (in this case, an Ivy League school) charge "excessive" fees for services because the services offered warrant them, or simply because parents, confused over and overwhelmed by the insanity of the admissions process, and alarmed by the thought of the possibility that their sons and daughters might not find passage through the ivy-covered gates, will seek any recourse, and pay any price, to garner that coveted acceptance letter?

Or is the price to be paid, that upwards of $40,000 for the "package" (almost a year's tuition, even at an Ivy, and enough to cover two years' worth of tuition, room & board, books, and incidentals at a "Public Ivy," such as New York's Binghamton University, simply what the market will tolerate; that cost of being accepted.

Too much too pay? The College Whisperer certainly thinks so, but who is he to say?

True, I've already said as much in a previous blogpost pondering the wisdom -- and the cost -- of the 4-day, $14,000 (not including room and board) College Application Boot Camp. Then again, who am I to argue with a sold-out, wait-listed program that the best and the brightest apparently flock to and gladly hand over many a C-note for?

I called it "chutzpah" (an old Chinese proverb meaning a "heck-of-a-lot-of-nerve") to charge for it, and nothing short of nuts to shell out the big bucks toward it. Others call it money well spent.

Considering, as I do based upon my experience as a college coach, that Ivy-bound students are bright, self-motivated, and, for the most part, "get it," generally speaking, they actually need less in the way of coaching than your average student. Sure, the carefully crafted tweaks of apps and essays are required, as are the nuanced admission and interview strategies and "show me the money for college" insights that a good and qualified college coach can and does offer. Then, too, that modicum of hand-holding (mostly for the nervous parents) must be added to the mix. But $950 per hour? $40,000+ for "unlimited" counseling?

This is college admissions, folks, not a manned mission to the outer reaches of the universe. Then, too, there are the criminally insane, confined for life to maximum security mental institutions, who do not require such "unlimited" counseling in this brief window of time, the likes that $40,000+ would secure.

But, The College Whisperer is not here to judge (only to offer you what he perceives to be more fair and reasonably balanced alternatives to turning your life savings, or a good chunk of your college fund, over to a college coach).

In essence, we report, you decide.

And in that decision-making process (please don't retain the services of a coach for that), consider what others have had to say on the high-priced college coach debate.

Take a look at I Can Get Your Kid into an Ivy, as reported in BusinessWeek in 2007. [Note: Only the prices charged by these coaches have changed. Upward!] Then read Forbes 2008 seemingly spoon-fed piece, Acing Your Application. Is there anything -- come on, folks, ANYTHING -- that any self-proclaimed Ivy Coach, at $46,000 a shot, or thereabouts, is telling her students, that any college counselor worth her salt isn't saying, and for far less?

Juxtapose these scions of raking it in under color of college coaching (real or perceived. Worth every penny or wanton waste of money) against the mores and principles (not to mention extremely low fees) of The Admissions Whisperer. [No relation, mind you, to The College Whisperer]. Out of her single bedroom San Fran apartment, this college coach counsels the college bound, among them, the top of the class, many headed to the Ivies. Mary Clarke's hourly fee was reported in 2008 to be a mere $90, her complete "package" (covering more than a year of homework assignments, SAT prep, the college application process, and so on) averaging about $6500 per student.

How much is too much? You tell me!
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Much comment from the Peanut Gallery on this blogpost, chiefly from fellow college plannings. Does The College Whisperer smell a hint of indignance and more than a waft of entitlement? Who knows? Maybe its just me!

Yes, you can charge what the market will bear, and what folks are willing to pay. The only limits, I suppose, are set, if not by reason (on the part of either counselor or parent), then by conscience.
Posted by The College Whisperer
It dismays me to see yet another negative posting on the cost of independent college counseling services that uses extreme examples of per hour/per package fees. These examples, as with any other profession, reflect the minority of independent planners. I would invite such posters to do their homework by checking out the qualifications and background of 'typical' independent college counselors, the type and scope of services provided as well as the standards and ethics adhered to by professionals who maintain membership in such organizations as HECA, National Association for College Admission Counseling or IECA.
Posted by Devon O'Brien

Why should I not charge what my market bears? I not only coach but counsel in NYC and Boston, two of the highest priced markets in America. I chose those markets for a couple of reasons, the main reason being that I have homes in both of those cities. I adhere to the highest ethical standards, belong to several organizations (but don't all the time because I find them not as useful to me lately as I am to them). Why should there be regulated fee schedules? As an attorney...much higher ethical standards and I could charge what my market bore. Why would this be any different? This is a capitalist society, thank you. Charging what you, I or anyone else charges has nothing to do with ethics. Do I think a year's tuition at an Ivy League School is absurd to charge? Of course. Can my market afford it? You bet. Will my market pay it? Yep. Do I personally know coaches who charge it and get it? Yep. And they do bulk , I mean, group coaching, not even counseling to get it.

I have my degrees in counseling, law, HR, and more. I can and do charge what my product (me) cost to produce.
Posted by Lisa Kay
I am an Independent College and Career Advisor and I do not charge anywhere near that amount. If a family is retaining a counselor for at a rate of $950/hour they are paying WAY too much. I offer the same service for a lot less. And, no, it doesn't make me any less effective.
Posted by Cherise Ogle
I've written about this issue on my own blog, College Counseling Culture (
http://funnyhamlet.wordpress.com ) and have come down squarely on the side of those who ridicule people who feel they need to spend any substantial amount of money on a college coach. Those who charge an arm and a leg for "soup to nuts" counseling are preying on people's insecurities and status-consciousness, in my opinion.

I think a private counselor is needed only when a school counselor is unavailable or clearly uninformed, or when there are special circumstances that might need some expertise outside the usual norms. Otherwise, it's unnecessary. I have a few private clients, although that's not my main business (see www.collegeforall2.org) but they're either friends or referrals in specific circumstances, and my charges are modest by most standards that I've seen.

Posted by Willard Dix

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer, the authors of referenced articles and websites, and such guest bloggers as may appear.
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