College coaching services widen the wealth gap on campuses

Updated: Aug. 30, 2018 at 7:47 a.m.

When I applied to colleges, I had a typical experience. I faced immense stress, procrastinated and feared I would be rejected from my top choice colleges. But I had an easier time than my peers because my parents invested in a college coach.

We purchased the service to help me get into my top-choice schools, which included GW and the University of Michigan. I was aware that some students, like myself, were able to put extra money into the process in hopes of better results, but I knew others couldn’t. Even though getting help on the application process is perfectly fine, I felt like it gave me a lofty resource – especially when most of my friends didn’t have the means to get their own support.

Some families opt to hire college coaches and defend their use, but a heated debate has erupted because some think it is wrong for students to flex their financial privilege for a leg up in the application process. As a student that had the help of a college coach when applying, if I were to do the process again – I’d do it without the extra help because the process widens the wealth gap on campuses.

While the coach I worked with was an expert in college admissions, I felt they couldn’t do much more than ease the fears my parents and I had about applications by answering more questions than my high school guidance counselors did. It seemed like more than anything, they were there to manage the stress of applications rather than help me to get into my top schools with unique strategies. But at such a high cost – often several thousand dollars – supporting an industry that profits off of the anxiety of high school students and their parents is not worth it.

The pitch from college coaches is simple: They’ll help you around the clock to get into the university of your dreams. While this seems enticing, applying to colleges should be an independent process where you exercise problem-solving skills. These skills are the base needed to succeed in college, so hiring a coach will only make students’ lives harder down the line.

Hiring a coach means using your wallet to get into school and contributing to income inequality at top schools. Equality in education improves the quality of education for everyone by creating more diverse classrooms, so using services like I did hinders that.

At GW, there are more students in the top 1 percent of family incomes than there are in the bottom 60 percent. That trend is true at 37 other universities, including three of our peer schools – Georgetown, Tufts and Wake Forest universities. Hiring college coaches to get into schools like GW feeds the existing problem of income inequality. Students who already have an economic advantage are using that to get into top universities, which widens the gap even further.

While most college coaching services offer some pro bono work and that is commendable, the moral issues within the coaching industry could be reduced if all companies offered services to minority and low-income students.

The other issue is that coaching is dependent on stressed-out kids. I was certainly worried about the college admissions process, but I don’t think the advice I received was worth the added cost. Advocates of college coaching are correct in arguing that top universities are becoming harder to get accepted into, but the experience I had with my coach wasn’t worth the price tag. Although the coach may not have made the difference between being accepted or being rejected, I can’t help but think that students who can’t afford coaches face more stress than I did, and it may prevent some of them from finishing the application process.

Students applying to colleges shouldn’t need to pay exorbitant amounts of money to hear advice they can get for free online or through their high school. Ironically, the best advice my coach gave me was that colleges want to see the passionate side of students and don’t want them to appear rigid or coached. While I’m incredibly grateful that my family had the means to hire someone that made us all feel less stressed, I now see the dangers of these services and condemn their use because it exacerbates issues on college campuses related to income inequality.

Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a sophomore majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.