Higher Education - Families dig deep for US college tips

27th September 2013 at 01:00
Consultancies charge up to #163;30,000 for university advice

Parents are spending tens of thousands of pounds on consultants to help their offspring compete for places at prestigious American universities, it has emerged.

Growing numbers of companies are charging students and their families up to #163;30,000 for advice on where to apply, how to prepare for tests and how to make their applications stand out.

Chris Ajemian, chief executive of Cates Tutoring, said his international business charged anything from #163;200 for basic college entrance test preparation to "#163;25,000 to #163;30,000" for a full consultancy service, which included college tours in the US.

Edvice, which has offices in London and Princeton, New Jersey, charges families up to #163;15,000 for a bespoke consultancy package, which can begin as early as four years before a student starts college.

Not-for-profit operators are also springing up. University Prep, which started promoting courses in the UK and Europe this month, offers cheaper options, but a three-week summer school in the US will still cost participants in excess of $5,000 (#163;3,100).

Lisa Montgomery, Edvice's chair, said parents were prepared to invest in guidance because of the lifetime value of a well-branded US education. "The fees are so high at US universities - what is an extra few thousand on top of that?" she said.

Ms Montgomery added that demand for her services was "now very high", with Russians and Asians forming a "sizeable" part of the market, alongside British families.

"It used to be true that most parents coming to us had some family connection to America but that is less and less true," she said. "I think parents are shopping globally for the best education they can get."

The news came as the US-UK exchange body the Fulbright Commission reported that its annual USA College Fair, running today and tomorrow, would have 170 exhibitors: an 84 per cent increase over the past four years. About 4,000 people were expected to attend, approximately double the figure in 2009.

This initial interest is borne out by the numbers of UK students heading to America: about 4,330 of them were taking undergraduate courses in the US in 2011-12.

Mr Ajemian said that UK undergraduates were attracted by the greater flexibility at US universities. "The idea of going on to a programme where you can't change your mind is not compatible with the youth of today," he said.

As well as providing free, in-house advice, UK private schools are also buying in services to help their students succeed in American college entrance tests.

Andrew Halls, head master at King's College School in Wimbledon, London, said that 10 or so students had paid around #163;500 each for nine, two-hour sessions with a tutoring company. Other students were prepared to pay much more to help secure a place at a top university, he said.

Research at UK private schools has indicated that the market for international undergraduate study will continue to grow. A survey by Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that eight out of 10 schools were now actively encouraging teenagers to consider going abroad to university.

But Janette Wallis, from The Good Schools Guide, which also publishes Uni in the USA, said: "I would hate for people to think that the only way to get into an American university was to pay high fees to consultants. You can buy the test preparation books and practise and practise. It isn't a bad idea to do a course, but you don't have to spend thousands."

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