Truthfulness of Admissions Consulting Firm statement

I got a mailing today from one of the better known College Admissions Consulting firms. In it it had this statement:

“People often ask us why 26% of college applicants today even use admissions consultants.

(Emphasis by them)

Even if you include school based dedicated college admission counselors, this number seams way high to me. Maybe 26% of people that apply to t10 schools, but everybody?

Probably accurate in my local area, but I agree too high for the entire college going population. Why not contact them and ask they cite their source?!

Source. And make of it what you will. Emphasis mine.

Some years ago, the marketing firm Lipman Hearne conducted a nationwide survey of 1,264 students who scored at the 70th percentile or higher on the SAT or ACT to gauge the use of private college counselors in the admissions process. Their study concluded that 26% of these students admitted to working with a private college counselor.

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Most kids in my neck of the woods (and I’m in the allegedly prestige obsessed Northeast you hear so much about) apply to our state flagship and maybe an adjacent state. The top academic kids from the local Catholic HS’s apply to ND, Holy Cross and Georgetown, the rest apply to the less competitive Catholic colleges (Providence is very popular). The local prep schools have a great reputation for college counseling, and parents know that’s part of what they are paying for.

If that leaves the top 10 kids at the public HS’s in the region needing a private counselor AND being able to pay for it (not necessarily a slam dunk, since many of those kids are the children of recent immigrants- smart, ambitious, not affluent) that is WAY under 26%!!!

SkiEurope’s citation is interesting. I bet we could find competing statistics (as in “26% of kids who need financial aid admit to hiring financial aid consultants”)

I believe this is what Mark Twain had in mind. Although not the first to use it, many mistakenly attribute him as the originator.

Mark-Twain-lies-damned-lies-statistics

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There are a gazillion college counseling firms citing this study, but all links to the actual study are dead. It can’t be found on Lipman Hearne’s website. There’s no information available, it seems, about the methodology, and how confident we should be that the 1264 students surveyed (out of probably close to a million students who scored in the top 30% on one test or the other) constituted a representative sample. We don’t know how the question was phrased and what was included as “using an admissions consultant.” I’d like to see a primary source, and the survey firm doesn’t seem proud enough of their work to provide it.

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A bit of stats. Before the pandemic, around 2.2 million kids of the 3 million high schools students who finished high school each year took the SAT, so around 73.3% of all high school students. The 70th percentile and up are 30% of that, or around 22% of all high schools students, and 26% of those is around 5.7% of all high school students.

However, that assumes that only kids who get in the top 30% are using college consultants. In fact, one would expect that students who score lower will be even more likely to use one.

More statistics. The average hourly fee for a consultant is $200, and the total is, on average, $5,000, in 2018, anyways.

Let us assume that, as usual, when people with means talk about “high school students”, they actually mean “high school students who are looking to attend college”. So about 2,000,000 a year. If 26% of them use college consultants, that is 17.3% of all students in the USA. Since at least 60% of the students come from families who cannot, or are not willing to pay $5,000, we can conclude that the majority of the families who pay consultants are from the top 40%, but more likely, the top 20% by income. Since half of the top 20% by income are not using consultants, there is no way that 17.3% of families are paying for a college consultant.

My rough, unsupported guess (based on what I have heard, and who I have spoken to) would be that about 15%-20% of the families in the top 20% by income are using college consultants, and most of these are in the top 5% by income. I would not be surprised if research demonstrated that 100% of the families in the top 1% by income are using the services of independent college consultants.

As fr the “study”? Looking at what is still available from the much larger Lipman Hearne study “The Super Investigator: Understanding Today’s ‘Always On’ Prospective Student,” I am extremely skeptical of anything that they claim. Their sample for that study was about as biased as can be. They concluded, based on a sample taken from students who were registered on Cappex, that prospective college students are doing a lot of research. It is like taking a sample of people on eHarmony, and concluding that the vast majority of young people are not interested in casual dating.

Since the good people at Lipman Hearne do not understand the first thing about sampling, and seem incapable of understanding GIGO, I do not trust their conclusions about anything else, and I will automatically assume that the reason that 26% of the students in their sample had used a consulting firm was because their sample was biased, meaning that they way that they sampled was biased towards students who were likely to use a consulting firm.

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Recruiting subjects on Cappex and then forming conclusions about the prevalence of college research? That’s not just being bad at their jobs; that’s being willfully deceptive. That’s like recruiting subjects at a health club to ask about exercise behaviors, and then claiming it represents the general population. It begs the question of who is paying for these “studies” in support of their desired conclusions. There’s no peer review process or other accountability for whether the methodology has any validity at all. And yet all of these college counseling firms are bandying this number about, to make people feel like they’re missing the boat if they don’t pay up.

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