Chinese parents’ “craziness” is known internationally: some buy houses in expensive school districts just for the education, while others spend millions of dollars to send their children to prestigious universities abroad, making a name for themselves in higher education circles in Europe and America.
The love of parents for their children is profound and universal. They spare no expense on education, and this is not unique to Chinese parents.
In middle and high-income American families, there is a saying that is quietly spreading from New York to Kentucky and throughout the country: “at all costs.”
Is it worth paying $750,000 (about RMB 5.19 million) to hire a consultant to plan the path to a top-tier university starting in the 7th grade for a child? For Hope Choi, the answer is “yes.” Choi is an American parent who did just that, and her son was accepted to Yale University.
Is it worth it? You might hear completely opposite answers from different American families.
Ivy League schools raise tuition, but parents remain excited?
As the admission rates to Ivy League schools continue to drop, their tuition fees are steadily increasing. The average annual tuition and miscellaneous fees for the eight Ivy League schools have all surpassed $80,000, with some approaching the $90,000 mark.
Yale University’s tuition and room and board fees broke $50,000 in 2011, $60,000 in 2015, and $70,000 in 2019. Last academic year, the number officially broke $80,000.
This rate of tuition increase clearly exceeds that of Americans’ income growth. In 2022, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, and Brown University all surpassed the $80,000 mark.
However, the staggering tuition fees have not diluted people’s enormous enthusiasm for Ivy League schools. The attractiveness of these elite schools is even growing.
Out of more than 59,000 applicants to the University of Pennsylvania, only 2,400 were admitted. Yale University’s admission rate this year was 4.35%, with the number of applicants increasing by nearly 50% since 2020, making it the highest in the school’s history.
This highly selective “exclusivity” has instead made parents and students even more eager to strive for it. With top-tier university admission rates dropping below 5%, being admitted to one of these elite schools feels like winning the lottery.
Ironically, America’s middle class and elites are more eager than ever for a prestigious but expensive degree, and are willing to pay any price to increase their chances of admission.
“The worship of prestigious universities is like pursuing an Hermès bag,” said Eric Sherman, a consultant for the university counseling company IvyWise.
“When the quality of a product reaches a critical point, any price above that point is a brand premium.” Sherman is also the director of college counseling at a high school in California. “For these parents, Ivy League schools are an important element. Imagine them at a fancy party, they might want to talk about ‘I drive a Maserati, and my daughter goes to the University of Pennsylvania.'”
For these families, the lower the admission rate and the higher the tuition, the more it becomes a symbol of their status, attracting more and more elite families to invest in college admission.
Parents get anxious when standardized tests are lost
Spending money on consultants to “buy peace of mind”
In addition to tuition, parents tend to spend large sums of money on college counselors. This is largely due to recent adjustments in the admissions policies of U.S. universities.
Since the outbreak, many colleges have temporarily made standardized tests optional due to the inconvenience of testing. Over the years, numerous schools have fixed this policy and the standardized is permanently optional.
As a result of this policy, more students are “reaching out” to schools that were previously out of reach, and the number of applicants has increased, which is a major reason for the decline in acceptance rates to top schools.
Data from FairTest shows that more than 1,800 U.S. colleges, including Harvard, New York University and Stanford, now support optional standardized tests to look more closely at other aspects of a student’s strengths.
The optional standardized test may seem to save students a lot of trouble, but in fact it makes college admissions more elusive. While grades are at least real, how do you determine soft skills?
On the one hand, for the really good kids, it doesn’t seem to matter much.
Brian Taylor, managing partner of Ivy Coach, a college consulting firm, told Bloomberg, “These colleges are using these policies to attract more students to apply; but to take an extreme example – attracting more students with C grades to Harvard doesn’t make applying to Harvard s competition.”
On the other hand, the elite American families most keen on top schools have been dropping money on college counselors at any cost since their children were at a young age.
According to data from Chinese students during the application season, most study abroad agencies recommend starting planning around 9th grade.
American families start even earlier, with many children beginning to plan for college applications at the age of 12.
The Hope Choi family mentioned at the beginning of the article is a prime example. According to Bloomberg, Choi’s son had offers from Yale, Columbia and the University of Chicago, and was still waiting to hear from his dream school, Stanford, as of Bloomberg’s article.
Like many other families on New York’s Upper East Side, Choi has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private schools for his children since kindergarten.
Starting in ninth grade, Choi sent her son to Command Education, a U.S. college counseling agency.
This consulting agency charges $750,000 for students who start planning in 7th grade and $500,000 for students who start planning in 9th grade.
Rim, CEO of Command Education, said many of his clients spend “more than $1 million” preparing their children for college.
“No parent spends that much money to just go to any school.” Rim points out that parents are very specific about the purpose of a top school, “The rise in tuition and fees is not only seen at the Ivy League and other top colleges, but also at regular schools. If a Rolls-Royce and a Toyota were the same price, which car would you choose?”
Choi’s choice was “Rolls Royce” and he considers his choice “lucky and worthwhile”: “The prestige of the school is important, price is not an issue, we want our children to get into the best college for their future. University.”
The payback rate is superb!
Elite schools are an “investment” for the elite
Of course, these elites aren’t “dumb” enough to spend millions of dollars just for the prestige of Harvard.
Their more far-reaching concern is to consider a degree from a prestigious school as an investment that will probably pay off.
According to Georgetown University’s Center for Workforce and Education, four-year private colleges have the highest return on investment based on average debt and median wages 10 and 40 years after enrollment.
Looking more visually at the comparison with regular colleges, after 10 years of college, Ivy League graduates earn more than twice as much as graduates of other colleges. In fact, the average median salary of an Ivy League graduate is more than the top 10% of other schools!
Ivy League schools perform so prominently that elite parents place such an emphasis on getting their children into them, even to the extreme.
There is also considerable variation within the Ivy League, with Harvard being the most “lucrative”. But the Big 8 are still better overall than the average college.
For families with capital, this is a harmless game of money; but for most ordinary families, it is already difficult to come up with the capital to qualify.
The Other Side of Prestigious Schools and the Elite
The American who questioned college
Eighteen-year-old Addison Witucki had always had a dream: she wanted to go to medical school at Harvard or Brown. But the question that ensued was, “What about the thousands of extra dollars in debt?”
With acceptance rates all the way down at Ivy League schools, Addison was accepted to her hometown University of Kentucky instead of Harvard and Brown. Disappointed, she was even a little relieved – Brown costs nearly $85,000, while in-state students at the University of Kentucky cost only $33,150.
“Even so, that’s a lot of money. It’s amazing that public universities charge so much, too.” Mom Sarah lamented this.
The account of tuition is hard to figure out from the surface tuition figures.
For those students who do get accepted to top schools, school aid is also an important part of the equation.
Top private schools often have multi-billion dollar endowments and strong financial resources that can help students lower the eventual cost of attendance, making it sometimes more affordable to attend a private school than a public one.
On the books, tuition and fees soar above $80,000 at Ivy League schools and just over $30,000 for in-state tuition at public universities; but in reality, the debt gap between graduates with access to federal student loans is small.
In 2021, the average federal debt level for four-year state college bachelor’s degree recipients is $21,400, compared to $22,600 for private colleges, according to the College Board.
Preeti Singh’s daughter received offers from both Ohio State and Stanford this year, with tuition at Ohio State at $15,000 and Stanford at $65,000.
They didn’t hesitate to choose the $65,000 tuition for Stanford’s CS program and felt the money would be well spent.
Ultimately, these families ultimately trust the value of American universities, whether they choose a prestigious or general school. And a more general trend in American society is that more and more people are beginning to discount the value of a college degree.
As the previous analogy goes, “When a Rolls Royce or a Toyota costs the same, which one do you choose?”
The wealthy American elite do not hesitate to choose the Rolls-Royce, while many choose not to even bother with the Toyota.
According to a recent survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 56 percent of Americans believe that earning a four-year degree is no longer worth the time and investment, compared to 40 percent a decade ago.
People between the ages of 18 and 34, and those with college degrees, are among the most skeptical about the value of higher education. According to the Wall Street Journal, this indicates a profound shift in higher education in the United States in the coming decades.
The recent rise in the U.S. job market of “micro-credentials” issued by companies or universities to assist in employment, with the intention of replacing regular college degrees, has also sparked heated debate in the U.S. higher education community.
At a time when employment is difficult and tuition fees are soaring, American higher education is moving toward two extremes: on one side are elite families who will do anything to get into prestigious schools, and on the other side are ordinary people who question the meaning of college and choose direct employment. Perhaps in the near future, higher education will usher in a brand new change as it rubs shoulders with the job market.