Want to get into Harvard?
This year 27,000 high schoolers did. Fewer than 8% got in. And those numbers are not going to get better for the next wave of applicants. “You’re going to have the most high school graduates in 2009,” says Dr. Katherine Cohen, perhaps America’s highest priced college admissions coach. “But you also have this downturn in the economy – two big things going against kids. Where are they going to get that help?”
Parents who can afford it often turn to coaches such as Cohen, sometimes paying as much as $47,000 over the course of their teenagers’ junior and senior years. Sound beyond your budget? There's good news. In the face of one of the most competitive college application years ever, Cohen, and her New York-based company, Ivywise, are making her services more available, and more affordable.
They recently rolled out Applywise, a virtual version of Cohen's one-on-one sessions, for the relatively reasonable price of $169 for six sessions, or $299 for a dozen sessions. The software includes interactive exercises and tips on subjects such as crafting a killer personal essay, formatting your brag sheet, and winnowing your college list to realistic choices. (Cohen is the first to admit she can’t turn a “B” student into a prime candidate for Princeton, unless he or she also happens to be a legacy or a nationally ranked tennis player.)
Where Cohen has proven her talent is staying on clients' cases to make sure they don’t defeat themselves by doing dumb things like missing application deadlines. Applywise.com is virtual “Kat” as her students come to know Cohen – a sort of video game complete with Podcasts on subjects such as time management tips and a futuristic “dashboard” that helps you keep track of the college application process.
Liz Hamburg, Applywise’s co-founder and COO, says that the program is also popular with financial planners. “We’re working with financial advisors who are working with families to help them save for college,” she says. “They’re using us as a way to provide the admissions part of it to their clients. This is a whole new area for financial planners. They’re becoming one-stop shopping.”
Another target audience is parents, who have access to their own dashboard through Applywise. It helps them keep tabs on their kids without breathing down their necks– one of the least appealing aspects of the application process for all involved. For example, from their computer at work a mom or dad can track the progress of their kid’s personal essay—even though they can’t read the essay itself without their high schooler giving them access. “They’ll know their student has sent it to their high school counselor,” says Cohen. “It takes the nag factor out of the parent/child relationship.”
Perhaps so. But Andrea Leiman, an adolescent psychologist and the co-author with Steven Roy Goodman, a college admissions counselor, of College Admissions Together, is skeptical. “Every family is different,’ she says, adding that applying to college is more than filling out forms. It’s a rite of passage filled with anxiety and bonding opportunities. “It’s getting to know one another better, getting to know your child as a young adult not just as a kid," says Leiman. "When do you give more responsibility and when do you take it away? That’s going to vary dramatically from parent to parent and family to family.”
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for receiving a text message or an email—among Applywise’s features—warning you about important dates. “If the deadline is coming up in April for the May SAT, it’s going to remind you when you need to sign up,” says Cohen. And if you are a typical sleep deprived adolescent, or a neurotic parent, software that can do that stuff can only be described as priceless.