For some aspiring Ivy League students, the first year of college ultimately may end up costing more than $60,000.
Former Yale admissions office employee Katherine Cohen GRD ’97 has founded a company, IvyWise, that charges $28,995 for a package of junior and senior year college counseling. While not everyone thinks the services of outside experts like Cohen are necessary for seniors applying to college, business is good, and Cohen said she is doing what she loves to do.
“IvyWise is a complete educational consulting service,” Cohen said of her program, which offers admissions counseling from nursery to graduate school. “We take a holistic approach. We address everything, not just where and how to apply to college. This is not just a college counseling service. I help them plan everything; it’s a different kind of service than any other program out there.”
The personal attention from Cohen, author of an upcoming book called “The Truth about Getting In,” comes with a large price tag. In addition to the $28,995 package, which includes an hour of phone time with Cohen a week, Cohen also offers a la carte application review for $1,000. Her fee usually ends up being about $300 an hour.
But not everyone pays a high price for IvyWise’s services.
“This year almost 50 percent of my students are pro bono,” Cohen said. “I have 10 full paying students — that’s why the price is higher. The paying students are paying for the pro bono students also.”
Cohen said some of her former clients now attend Yale, but she declined to provide their names.
Joyce Slayton Mitchell, director of college advising at Nightingale-Bamford School in New York and author of “Winning the Heart of the College Admissions Dean,” said in an e-mail that she does not think going to an outside counselor is a good idea.
“Even though the parents ‘only want the best for their child,’ going outside the system is often a major mistake. It usually embarrasses students (it’s their parent’s idea), they feel deceitful (they avoid their college advisor),” Mitchell said. “They think someone else is doing it for them, they avoid a major developmental task for leaving home (growing up!).”
Mitchell also said the private counselor does not an official role in the application process.
“The college won’t call the hired gun to ask questions,” Mitchell said. “They will call the school counselor. If it’s a big school and the student hasn’t bothered [to talk to the school’s counselor] — because he already told the parent-paid person, then the counselor knows almost nothing for their advocacy role!”
Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said he does not talk to private counselors.
“Private consultants do their college counseling for a fee by contract with students and their families,” Shaw said. “This happens as a supplemental experience, and we do not invite any direct interaction with the private consultant.”
Shaw said that the benefits of private counselors do not always match their costs.
“I think in some cases independent counseling can be beneficial to help students work through the choice process,” Shaw said. “I think some consultants gouge their clients by charging fees way out of proportion to the service provided; others are fine.”
Cohen said 82 percent of her clients got into one of their top two “reach schools,” meaning they were offered admission even though their profile was lower than the incoming 50 percent of the class.
“The reason why people are going to come to me in the first place is they want that extra edge,” Cohen said. “My students mainly end up in the top 30 to 40 most selective schools in the country.”
Cohen said she is tough on her students, who come from around the world. A quarter of Cohen’s clients are from the New York area, another quarter from Los Angeles, and another quarter are international students.
“One of the things I help students do is break down every hour of the day they are not in school,” Cohen said. “Everything is accounted for in hours per week, weeks per year, summers and positions held. Everything is clear to an admissions reader — they get a picture of you outside of the classroom.”
Cohen also stays current with the interests of her students by following trends in popular culture.
“I am younger than most counselors, and I look young for my age,” Cohen said. “Students can relate to me. I keep up with popular culture; I watch MTV and VH1 late night — It makes a big difference. We have a common place, a common ground. I am constantly updating myself.”