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Show Me the Money

We thought it would be interesting to get some more information on how much students in China spend on “educational consulting” services when applying to competitive U.S. undergraduate schools, so we did an informal poll of the industry, asking both “sellers” and “buyers”. Here’s the number we heard almost every individual we asked: at least RMB100,000 (or more than US$15,000).

In other words, when a student is applying to a competitive college in the U.S., the total cost of consultant fees, standardized test preparation classes, English tutoring, travel and other expenses runs at least RMB100,000, not including the actual cost of applying. If you multiply that by (1) the number of students applying from China to undergrad in the U.S. (we’ll use a rough but reasonable number of 30,000, extrapolated from statistics from the Institute of International Education), and then (2) make a guess that 50% of those are applying to competitive programs, you get a number equal to almost US$240 million. While admittedly a “back of the envelope” calculation, that number doesn’t even include grad school.

While everyone in China knows that the market to help Chinese students get into Western universities is huge (and indeed many families do need help navigating what is to them a foreign process), none of this pricing information is public--even established educational consulting companies don’t publish their prices. Much of a payment is “success-fee”-based, creating an incredible incentive for an educational consultant to get students accepted into college--regardless of the means. Just as a student’s acceptance into an elite school in the U.S. is a life-changing event, it’s almost as much a life-changing event for the educational consultant who assisted that student. The stakes are truly that high.

So where does this leave an admission officer? The goal in international admissions, while understanding the cultural complexities and nuances each country presents, remains the same as domestic admissions: to identify top performing students with great potential to thrive at your school. Sometimes unique trends and situations require new and innovative tools to identify these students in order to ensure the integrity of the admissions process.

We think the transparency we provide can be a big help. Our innovative platform that helps admission officers process unscripted interviews quickly and effectively is of course our core offering, but our commitment to transparency goes deeper. For example, we clearly display our prices for the 2012/2013 application season on our website: we charge the students 600 RMB per interview--a little less than 100 USD--and since we send the interview to as many schools as the student is applying, it averages for the student about 5 -10 dollars a school. We don’t work with any local partners, and all of our financial supporters and advisors are individuals long affiliated with prestigious educational institutions in the U.S.

So, how does an admission officer—one desiring to make good decisions but with limited time and resources—respond to a deck that is stacked US$240 million dollars high? Not surprisingly, we think it starts by simply recommending an interview.