In December, the Yale College class of 2028 welcomed some of its first members from this year’s early action pool. Among the admitted, there is no doubt that many were overjoyed as they beat out the competition in the school’s lowest admissions rate since the current non-binding single-choice early action policy was adopted. 

Seeing these future Yalies rejoice resonated with me; it reminded me of the time when I received a similar notice in 2006. After graduating in 2010, I worked in various industries unrelated to education and made the professional pivot a little more than a year ago to become a college admissions consultant. After my first set of clients, I have had to come to terms with the decisions of admissions officers across the country.

These students are part of a growing trend. Data show that the private college admissions consulting industry in the U.S. alone has grown to an estimated $2.87 billion in 2023, from less than $2 billion a decade ago. I never had any paid tutoring or college admissions support during my high school years. But I had to accept what was once an unfathomable fact: there are tens of thousands of parents who are willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to purchase a suite of services for their children without any guarantee of success.

Alumni from Yale and other top universities play a pivotal role in this rapidly expanding industry. For any college admissions consultancy to stand out, it needs to market its competency in two main ways: its past clients’ success and its consultants’ experience. For the many entrants in the industry who don’t have past track records and access to knowledgeable staff, hiring Ivy League graduates is key. With these graduates, the company can leverage personal experience and help the new generation of hopefuls. This is the shortcut that demonstrates a company’s competency. 

But applicants competing for a spot in Yale College’s class of 2028 face a different playing field compared to the class of 2010. Last year’s 4.35 percent overall acceptance rate, from a record pool of applicants, is a far cry from the 8.6 percent I had to overcome. And as a domestic student applying from California, I have no firsthand experience with the travails of international students. These international students make up only a little more than a tenth of the Yale undergraduate student body and play by very different admissions numbers.

These figures and continual changes to the admissions landscape suggest a ferocious competition that has only added fuel to the college admissions industry’s growth. The June 2023 Supreme Court decision against affirmative action is a case in point. While the decision’s impact on admissions results is too early to tell, the marketing impact is immediate. Pouncing on the possible shifting of admissions advantages, the new messaging is two-pronged. For those who believe the decision may be a benefit, consultancies emphasize how just a bit of professional advice can turn it into real results. For those fearing that they got the short end of the stick, consultancies stress how personalized strategies can erase the detriment. 

Clever as these new messages are to go with the times, they sit on an unchanging bedrock of educational hierarchy. Many in the U.S. and around the world continue to believe that attending a renowned higher education institution like Yale somehow creates a higher being, professionally, intellectually and socio-culturally. This ultimately drives those with the means to invest in attaining a goal with ever-elusive success. As a college admissions business builds its brand, it implicitly bandwagons on the still-exalted brands of top universities, whatever battering they may have taken in the ongoing debates over political expressions on campus.

The ever-more prominent presence of college admissions consultancies can breed further inequality in higher education. Only a minority of high school students have parents financially capable enough to pay for extra help. Most have to contend with independent research online, via friends, and through their regular schools. To mitigate inequality, then, governments need to step in. Public school counselors and teachers should receive systematic college prep training as part of their jobs. Private consultancies ought to be prodded, through regulations, to take a certain number of clients at reduced fees. 

I shatter at the slim chances of admissions I happily avoided just as the latest admits were born 18 years ago. It is an irony that I have come to overlook as I celebrate the newest members of the Yale community. But I proclaim myself as a guide to the ever-slimmer opening into a selective community in which students can achieve their potential. Despite the high likelihood of failure on the road to elite colleges, ambitious high school students should remain cautiously optimistic that their effort can be the difference between acceptance and rejection. 

XIAOCHEN SU graduated in 2010 and was a contributing columnist during his time at Yale. He is currently a U.S. Admissions Application Mentor at a major college admissions consultancy. You can contact him at