British Ph.D. in English Literature, Chen Li, a mother of Ivy League students, has spent ten years in the United States accompanying her two children. Her eldest child attended Cornell University, while her second child pursued a medical degree.
According to her, she has witnessed countless parents in the United States taking shortcuts to help their children climb the Ivy League ladder. They go to great lengths to obtain professor recommendation letters, engage in sports just to boost their chances, and participate in various prestigious international competitions.
However, along the way, they have discovered that these so-called shortcuts have turned into dilemmas. Despite their initial intentions, these parents find themselves trapped in a complex web of challenges and setbacks.
Donating Money Can Get You into Ivy League Schools: The Legend that Drives Wealthy Individuals Forward
In the realm of Ivy League aspirations, there has long been a belief that donating money can secure admission to these prestigious institutions.
As someone who pursued a Master’s degree at a U.S. state university and later completed a Ph.D. in the UK, based on my observations during my time in the United States, I can responsibly say: it’s true!
If your donation amount and contribution meet certain requirements, Ivy League schools will indeed extend an offer to you.
During my study abroad in the United States, I had a classmate from Africa who gained admission through donations. It was rumored that his family had generously donated a massive dining hall to the university, paving the way for him and his brother to attend.
Curious to learn more, I discreetly inquired about his experience. He confirmed my suspicions, revealing that he would have been able to gain admission even without the donation. His response confirmed the existence of the clear channel through which U.S. universities offer admission in exchange for donations, which is also open to international students.
But how can one go about making the desired donation? Should one approach intermediaries, seek recommendations from alumni, or simply call the president’s office? I am genuinely intrigued by the avenues available for making charitable contributions to universities.
In my second year in the United States, a wealthy individual from my hometown approached me.
He asked for my help in finding out how to donate money to get his precious son into an Ivy League school in the U.S. The specific field of study didn’t matter to him; as long as his son could get in, it would suffice.
He told me that among the people he knew in the U.S., I was the most knowledgeable and cultured person who also happened to have ample financial resources. He believed I would never deceive him when it came to money.
Out of a sense of camaraderie, I decided to assist him, even though deep down I knew it was a task beyond my capabilities.
I reached out to one of my senior peers, who taught Asian literature at Stanford. When I explained the purpose of my visit, he burst into laughter.
He said, “So, now you’re encroaching on my territory, haha! In recent years, an increasing number of Chinese friends have approached me seeking advice on making donations, including a top-tier celebrity. Unfortunately, almost none of them have succeeded.
It’s not that I don’t want to help, but they quickly realize the vast disparity between what they can contribute and the requirements set by Ivy League schools. Ultimately, they are left with no choice but to give up.”
My senior peer analyzed cases of individuals who gained admission to Ivy League schools through donations over the past century. He identified two main types. First, there are those who genuinely wish to make a donation, driven by their love for the Ivy League schools.
Obtaining an offer from an Ivy League school is not about the monetary value. For example, the law school may require 30 million, and the business school 20 million—it’s not as straightforward as a price tag. Instead, it depends on the contributions made to the university’s development and the impact on society.
This criterion is the most challenging to navigate. To achieve success, one would likely need to hire a top-tier public relations company to handle the operations.
The second type consists of individuals who only want to exchange money for an offer without any other commitments. Their success rate is extremely low unless the Ivy League school faces a financial crisis or encounters a war, in which case they might accept this type of donation.
My senior peer also discovered that among those who gained admission through donations, the majority pursued less popular majors such as philosophy and sociology, while computer science and business-related fields had little chance of success.
What does this imply? Ivy League schools are not foolish; there are plenty of wealthy individuals. If they open the donation gates too wide, they would lose their exclusivity as well.
Sports Ivy League Path Not Easy: Spending Millions to Buy Clubs and Still Struggling
In recent years, the shortcut of using sports to climb the Ivy League ladder has gained popularity, and many parents in Beijing have jumped on board.
It’s true that this path can lead to Ivy League admission, but first, you need to consider if you have what it takes. When my son entered a top private school in California, they asked me if he wanted to join a sports club, as it could be beneficial for his future Ivy League aspirations.
I noticed that the school had a variety of clubs, with the exception of golf, mainly focusing on intense sports like basketball, ice hockey, and volleyball.
In the end, my son decided to join the volleyball team. After a few matches, he was exhausted by his tall and muscular American classmates. He later told me, “Let’s join a golf club instead; at least that way, we can stay alive!”
For me, using sports as a means to climb the Ivy League ladder turned out to be a dead end. I believe that even without pursuing Ivy League admission, it’s still a great idea to stay active and exercise.
However, I met a “tiger mom” who accompanied her child from China to the United States, and she completely disagreed with my perspective.
She said, “Using sports to climb the Ivy League ladder should not make our children suffer. Although China is a sports powerhouse, not every child can become a national team athlete. My sports Ivy League strategy involves two steps to ensure success.
The first step is to cultivate a sports specialty for the child, even if it’s just playing frisbee. The second step is to buy a club and participate in various international competitions. As long as they can achieve rankings, they will have the capital to climb the Ivy League ladder.”
True to her words, the “tiger mom” once asked me to accompany her to North Carolina to buy a team. It was a very small frisbee club with an office space of only about ten square meters. The person in charge was a sixty-year-old American man, and all the team members were part-time, gathering only during competitions.
When I looked at the club’s awards, the highest achievement was sixth place in the state frisbee competition. Later, I researched the competition online and found that it was just a grassroots event that took place only when there were sponsors. Without sponsors, it would be discontinued. I believed that buying such a mediocre club would be a waste of money.
I warned the “tiger mom” not to fall for it, but she paid no attention. She said that buying it for $1 million was a great deal.
First of all, she couldn’t afford a well-established club. It would require tens of millions of dollars to acquire a club of moderate size. Secondly, only a small club could be easily controlled, giving her son a chance to stand out and win awards effortlessly. Thirdly, after climbing the Ivy League ladder, she could sell it off without any loss.
Unfortunately, the “tiger mom’s” story ended up without any surprises. She forgot about the costs involved in running a club. The $1 million was just the beginning. Participating in competitions and providing training all required substantial financial investments.
The “tiger mom” later said that she had taken advantage of a small opportunity but suffered a huge loss. After several years of effort, her son only achieved a ranking in a state-level competition. In the end, he didn’t get into an Ivy League school, and she was left holding onto this “mediocre” club that she couldn’t sell at all.
Internal Recommendations in High Demand: Eager to Act as "Adopted Sons" for Ivy League Students
Does having a family member who graduated from an Ivy League school increase your chances of getting admitted by 30%?
I have carefully studied the news and data officially released by Ivy League schools, and it is true that there is a higher proportion of admitted students with Ivy League family backgrounds compared to those without.
However, Ivy League schools do not explicitly state that having a family member who attended their institution or having a recommendation from an Ivy League professor is a prerequisite for admission.
Nevertheless, many parents have come to believe that having a family member who graduated from an Ivy League school practically guarantees admission. Within the circle of California’s accompanying mothers, establishing connections with Ivy League schools has become an obsession.
I recently came across a story about a wealthy mother who, in pursuit of an Ivy League connection for her son, resorted to a fake marriage. However, her endeavor ended in financial and emotional deception. The lengths some parents are willing to go to secure an alumni or professor recommendation seem unjustifiable.
However, my Stanford mentor informed me that even having a family member at an Ivy League institution does not guarantee a recommendation. Such a belief reflects a significant misconception.
As an Ivy League graduate and a working professor, he explained that recommending his own son was no easy task. Despite his resources, he couldn’t utilize any of them when his son was applying to Ivy League schools.
In fact, even writing a recommendation letter for his son would be seen as suspicious: “My son wants to study CS, and I, a literature scholar, would be writing his recommendation letter. It’s simply implausible. Even if I managed to write one, CS departments wouldn’t value a recommendation letter from a literature professor. I considered asking a CS professor for help, just to play it safe.”
“A CS professor reviewed my son’s resume and expressed a willingness to write a recommendation letter. However, given my son’s achievements in robotics competitions, he no longer needed one. Many people approached the professor for recommendation letters, some even offering to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
My college admissions consultant also advised me to seek a professor’s recommendation when appropriate and allocate some funds for it.
I have wrestled with the idea of whether to invest money to give my son a boost.
But then, my father came to visit us in the United States and warned me to put a stop to it. He strongly discouraged taking shortcuts for our children. If they are truly outstanding, even a recommendation letter from a high school teacher alone can secure admission to Ivy League schools.
If we keep paving their way through life with shortcuts, when will they learn to stand on their own? We must not instill these misguided values in our children.
My father’s words served as a wake-up call amidst the fog of Ivy League aspirations. When I came to the United States for my own studies twenty years ago, I relied solely on my merit and genuine accomplishments.
Now, despite having more financial means to support my son, the principle of genuine learning remains unwavering.
International Competitions Offer No Guarantees: Wealthy Individuals Can't Evade the "IQ Tax"
Despite being in the United States and hiring professional college admissions consultants, why do some individuals still participate in unreliable competitions? Why do they fall victim to scammers who claim to have Ivy League connections?
Two years ago, a tutoring agency in California went bankrupt, with the owner fleeing with millions of dollars.
A parent, whom I know, reached out to me and asked me to accompany her to the police station. She explained that she had spent $100,000 to participate in a Harvard business competition organized by the agency.
At the police station, we encountered many deceived parents, including a few whose children were classmates of my son.
I looked into the advertisement for the so-called Harvard New Business Leaders Competition, and it was outrageously misleading. It boldly stated in Chinese: “Participate in the competition and secure direct admission to Ivy League schools.” This was clearly targeted at Chinese parents’ preferences.
Out of curiosity, I searched Harvard’s official website and found no mention of this competition. It was undoubtedly a scam.
Upon hearing the truth, the ambitious parent, known as “Helicopter Mom,” was devastated. She exclaimed, “But the organizers showed me the authorization from Harvard University. How could it be fake?”
They told me that this competition for admission to Harvard was an experimental event. Harvard grew weary of traditional competitions and sought to inject fresh vitality through a new format. However, fearing an overwhelming response if it were openly advertised on the official website, they opted for a more covert approach.”
What a grandiose excuse! These scammers saw through the desperate search for Ivy League shortcuts among parents, as it would otherwise be challenging for them to succeed.
In reality, we parents are also in distress. There are dozens of competitions touted as being recognized by Ivy League schools.
When my son participated in a business competition, his school teacher told me that students who made it to the finals had a 60% chance of getting into an Ivy League school.
However, I discovered that from the prestigious nationwide math competition to the American High School Economics Challenge, which is considered essential for aspiring business students, none of them have explicit standards—no Ivy League school offers a guaranteed spot.
To understand the relationship between competitions and Ivy League admissions, I specifically arranged a meeting with my son’s principal.
He told me, “Top private schools in the United States organize reliable competitions. There’s no need to wander outside the school. By following the school’s guidance, there should be no issues.”
However, he cautioned that many parents, including local American parents, often believe that Ivy League schools possess exclusive information unknown to others. It is this sense of urgency that makes them vulnerable to scams.
The principal advised me cautiously, emphasizing that even lesser-known competitions can impress Ivy League schools.
Three years ago, his youngest daughter successfully gained admission to an Ivy League school, and the only accolade she had was first place in a statewide essay competition.