Parents pay thousands to California education consultant to get kids into top US colleges

Global Business

In America, more high school students are applying to college than ever, making it harder to get into the country’s top schools without some extra help. In San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley, many parents are sending their children to a tutoring center that practically guarantees admission to a top university for a hefty price. CCTV America’s Mark Niu reported the story from Millbrae, California.

Parents pay thousands to California education consultant to get kids into top US colleges

In America, more high school students are applying to college than ever, making it harder to get into the country's top schools without some extra help. In San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley, many parents are sending their children to a tutoring center that practically guarantees admission to a top university for a hefty price. CCTV America's Mark Niu reported the story from Millbrae, California.

Often, college-application anxiety is not only common with students, but parents as well. When Lisa Wun’s daughter, Melissa, started struggling in school, Wun paid thousands to enroll her in a tutoring center called ThinkTank Learning.

The students enrolled at ThinkTank are mostly Asian-American. Many attend almost every day, as well as weekends.

“We’re not just focused on academics, but it’s a big part,” said Melissa Wun. “It’s the first thing colleges look at: academics and SAT-ACT scores. If you don’t have that foundation, you shouldn’t be worried about adding on extracurricular or extra sports if you can’t handle it.”

ThinkTank even assigns private consultants to each student.

“I talk a lot to my consultant but sometimes not my parents,” said ThinkTank student Chloe Huang. “She gives you, like, great advice on your academic and then personal life.”

Founder Steven Ma even created an algorithm to gauge a student’s chances of getting into a top-ranked university. Ma sometimes offers a special money-back guarantee if they don’t get in.

Most people pay around $25,000-$40,000 for several years of ThinkTank tutoring. Some ambitious and very wealthy parents have paid hundreds of thousands.

“I don’t think it’s a lot of money, said Ma. “If you go to private school, you pay upwards of $35,000 a year and the minimum you pay four years…that’s $120,000-$140,000 with no guarantee whatsoever.”

ThinkTank teaches math, science and more.

“For my one-on-one private tutoring, for example, I bring my students to social functions and teach them how to make friends,” explained Ma. “Some of my shy students I even teach them how to hit on girls. Everything’s all inclusive. Whatever it takes to help a student to become what he wants to become.”

ThinkTank Learning is not alone in making a business out of trying to get students into universities including Stanford, Harvard, Princeton. Since 2008, the number of U.S. independent college consultants has quadrupled to more than 8,000.

Stanford lecturer Denise Pope said recent studies have found U.S. children have 12 hours less down time a week than a decade ago, with an increasing number of them sleep-deprived.

“I don’t have an issue with people who want to help kids… But I don’t want people to prey on fears from mostly immigrant families who don’t understand the system in the U.S., who are equating it to the system back in their home,” said Pope. “I think that’s the problem with a lot of parents and kids who don’t understand, that are feeling so pressured to do well on the SAT or ACT and this is just one little part of a holistic application process.”

Tuition costs at top colleges have risen significantly in the last few years. CCTV America interviewed Micheal Dean, managing director of Fitch Ratings, about how rising tuition has affected the economy.

Michael Dean of Fitch Ratings discusses high costs to attend US colleges

Tuition costs at top colleges have risen significantly in the last few years. CCTV America interviewed Micheal Dean, managing director of Fitch Ratings, about how rising tuition has affected the economy.