Dispatches from the Class War: Educational Consultant Edition

The New York Times has a habit of publishing these loathsome little profile articles that either belie the paper’s liberal reputation, or are a stealthy attempt to bring about the Red Revolution by stoking class hatred. These generally take the form of profile stories about wealthy suburbanites in Westchester County or Connecticut, who have more money than taste, and whose sense of entitlement can be detected from distant stars through its gravitational pull on the sun.

These typically turn up in the Style section or the Magazine, but today’s made the front page of the print edition: Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In , which looks at the slimy business of advising yuppie children on how to get into the Ivy League:

Shannon Duff, the independent college counselor who organized the event, says she ordinarily charges families “in the range of” $15,000 for guidance about the application process, including matters far more weighty than just what to wear.

Ms. Duff is a practitioner in a rapidly growing, largely unregulated field seeking to serve families bewildered by the admissions gantlet at selective colleges.

No test or licensing is required to offer such services, and there is no way to evaluate the counselors’ often extravagant claims of success or experience. And Ms. Duff’s asking price, though higher than many, is eclipsed by those of competitors who may charge upwards of $40,000 — more than a year’s tuition at many colleges.

Astonishing as it might seem, Ms. Duff is not the most hateable person in the article. That, um, honor might belong to the $40,000 Michele Hernandez:

“It’s annoying when people complain about the money,” the Vermont-based counselor, Michele Hernandez, said. “I’m at the top of my field. Do people economize when they have a brain tumor and are looking for a neurosurgeon? If you want to go with someone cheaper, or chance it, don’t hire me.”

Or it might go to Robert Shaw, a partner in another of these businesses, who, when questioned about his credentials responded:

“Don’t remember all the details,” he said, adding, “We really don’t want to be a part of your article as we’re not a service for the masses.”

It’s really hard to decide which of these people I would like to slap more.

This whole business is not much better than an outright scam. Look, folks, the recipe for getting into a good college is simple:

  • Take the most challenging courses your school offers
  • Get good grades in the courses you take.
  • Pursue activities that you find interesting– if you like music, play in the band. If you like sports, play sports. If you enjoy doing community service, do community service.
  • In your spare time, try to cultivate a personality. Do things that you enjoy, not because they’ll make your application look better, but because you enjoy them. Read books, go to movies, listen to music, whatever.

Will this guarantee 100% that you get into the #1 school in the US News rankings? No. But if you do those things, you’ll get into a good school, and they’ll be happy to have you, because you’ll be a genuine student and interesting person with something real to bring to the table.

If you spend $40,000 to get detailed coaching from an educational consultant, you might be able to make yourself look marginally better, and increase your chances of getting into the very top schools slightly. But then you’ll be the sort of inch-deep superficial asshole who pays huge sums for things you can get for free, forgettable at best and tedious and annoying at worst.

There’s my award-winning college admissions advice, free of charge. It’s guaranteed to be almost exactly as much use as the advice you would pay Ms. Duff, Ms. Hernandez, or Mr. Shaw tens of thousands of dollars to get. If you don’t like it, I’ll give you a full refund.

The only positive spin I can put on this article is this: these “counselors” are a relatively new and New York Times worthy development because forty years ago, the dull and indolent children of people with more money than sense could count on admission to an elite school as a matter of course. These days, they have to work at it a bit, presumably because qualified members of the lower classes are taking up the spots that the idiot children of wealthy New Englanders used to claim as their birthright.

I guess that can be considered progress.