Acceptance into one of the top institutions of higher education in the United States epitomizes the American Dream of opportunity, and is something that kids (and parents) start dreaming about as early as preschool. Here in New York City, the competition is fierce to get into selective public and private high schools that will prepare students for admission into the coveted Ivy League, and many parents see preschool choice as the first step to reserving one of those spots.
And these preschool spots don’t come cheap either. Riverdale Counry School admits 16 students per year into its Prekindergarten class and carries an annual price tag that is more than most colleges at $43,600. Another popular selective city school, Horace Mann, falls not far behind at $41,150 per year. And financial aid is hard to come by, so family income plays a large part in a kid’s ability to attend, even if they are selected.
As children get older, there are more and more ways in which the wealthiest families can access resources and services that will give their kids a leg up when it comes to college admissions. Individual experiences like private music and dance lessons, community service projects, and interesting travel opportunities can contribute to a kid’s overall profile and help them to present as well-rounded and worldly. But high school and college admissions processes bring a whole new slue of possible costs.
Here in New York City, students who wish to attend a selective public high school (like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science, two of the best) need to take the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) and do pretty well on it. (Only 3.4% of test-takers were admitted to Stuyvesant in 2013.) Kaplan offers a range of options for SHSAT prep classes that can run a family up to $3000. Costly, but not quite as much as four more years at their elite private school.
Then, once students enter high school, the college admissions process truly starts. Students and families spend countless hours of their high school years writing and editing personal statements, researching and ranking college preferences, visiting schools, requesting letters of recommendation, preparing resumes, and interviewing with admissions representatives. This process costs a fair bit of money for any family in the form of application fees at each school (this ranges from $50-$100 per school) and the cost of college visits (if possible). But some families are investing significantly more by hiring costly private counselors to support the admissions process. A private counselor may offer packages ranging from comprehensive four year programs to a weekend-long boot camp, but with hefty price tags – in some cases the extra support will run a family $10,000 – $40,000 per student.
And this is all for the hopes of being accepted into one of the most expensive schools in the country. Last year’s Top 10 Most Expensive Colleges included two of the Ivies, with Columbia University priced at $63,340 per year and Dartmouth College at $61,927 per year. The others are not far behind.
So let’s do a little basic math. Imagine your student starts out at a $40K/year private school in Prekindergarten and attends through high school graduation. That alone will cost your family $560K in tuition. Add in $30K in private college counseling and $10K in college visits and tours, and you’ve spent over half a million dollars before they have even arrived at school. Throw in the $60K/year tuition for four years, as well as ongoing monetary support for travel, books, and essentials, and you’ve now spent nearly a million dollars for that diploma framed on the wall. Is it worth it?