US News & World Reports, a company mostly known for its divisive ranking of colleges and graduate schools, has just purchased CollegeAdvisor.com, a company focused on admissions advising to help students navigate the college application process.
This is a surprising move given the way that admissions advising has come under fire at least since the Varsity Blues admissions scandal of 2019, and given the fact that CollegeAdvisor.com is not a well reviewed admissions adviser.
Admissions advising has been around for a long time, and in the past, it mostly served the very wealthy. The idea was for enough money you could buy a 14-year old a coach that would work with them on the SAT / ACT, suggest volunteer activities, connect them to good tutors, and then leverage connections at top ranked universities (usually ranked according to the US News & World Report Ranks) to ensure that kids got in.
The Varsity Blues scandal took things a bit further by bribing coaches and administrators to lie and say that an applicant was a great athlete, as well as coaching students how to cheat on the SAT / ACT. Most admissions advisors don’t go nearly that far and plenty are trying to just make the application process a little less confusing for students.
But it is still a new industry, driven to its current heights by the competitiveness of college these days. And while having a really competent person walk you through the Do’s and Don’ts can be invaluable, it can be hard to prove whether admissions advisors are really worth the amount they charge. And for CollegeAdvisor.com, it might not be.
But admission advising is problematic beyond the way it can be illegally abused. At its core, it is another step that requires contacts to know who is a good admissions advisor and money to pay the advising fees. CollegeAdvisor.com will charge you $1,000 for 10 hours of video coaching and help with essays for only two applications. That does not include any of the networking or even the SAT / ACT help that is the bread and butter of admissions counseling. For more “high touch” counselors, the price goes up, but so does the likelihood that you can get admitted into a college. And with affirmative action still on the chopping block, this will only lead to a much less diverse school.
Possibly the strangest part of all of this, is how it increases US News & World Reports exposure to the exact same kind of criticism as their college rankings. Both college rankings and admissions advisors create tiered systems that benefit connected and wealthy students while degrading the quality of education at the institutions. For rankings this is because they chase metrics like “selectivity” which is why top universities like to encourage everyone to apply, even if their odds are slim. For advising this is because students are more likely to be people who have worked the system than generally curious learners, especially since we are understanding how important peers are in the learning process.
So it looks like they are choosing to dig in on all the areas they are already problematic. They are still promoting the SAT & ACT, despite how well we understand the problems with those tests. They have offered little as a defense while Law Schools and Medical Schools have pulled out. And now they are doubling down on services which make college worse for the average student. Even though college advising is a growing industry, it seems silly to keep putting eggs in adjacent baskets rather than spreading them out.
While it seems likely from these decisions that US News & World Reports is not a well run company, it is unlikely that the company will be defunct anytime soon. But as long as it keeps making choices like this, it will probably continue to shed its market dominance.
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