Should You Pay To Help Your Child Get Into an Elite College?

Harvard University
Jorge Salcedo /

Gaining acceptance into top-tier colleges and universities has become increasingly competitive. At Harvard, 3.4% of applicants were admitted in 2021 compared with 4.9% the previous year, and Columbia’s admission rate dropped to 3.7% from 6.1% — a record low for both institutions, CBS News reported. And other Ivy League schools also reported that their admission rates had dropped from 2020 to 2021.

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For parents (and students) who are determined to get into these elite universities, a number of resources are available that promise to boost the odds of acceptance, including test prep courses, private tutors throughout high school and admission process coaches. But are these tools worth the added costs? Or is that money better put toward college expenses? Here’s what the experts have to say.

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Be Prepared: How Much Does It Cost for College Test Preparation and Is It Worth It?

Getting Professional Help Is Worth the Cost

Make Your Money Work for You

“With the constantly growing number of students trying to get into their preferred schools, there is now the need for every applicant to prove that they stand out, that their background and potential is unique among the rest. As such, students will definitely have better chances if they have a support system to guide them in every aspect of the increasingly competitive college admissions process,” said Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, an education consulting firm based in Silicon Valley. “Paying extra for private tutors, test preps and assistance on essay writing will go a long way in ensuring that a child’s chances at being admitted by an elite school will be greater.”

Laurie Kopp Weingarten, certified educational planner and president of One-Stop College Counseling, said that employing a private college admissions counselor can help students put forth the best application possible.

“It’s not so much that I’d say ‘it’s worth it for parents to pay for extra help to get into elite colleges,’ but rather that it’s worth obtaining expert advice so that missteps aren’t made and students are able to capitalize on their hard work, gaining acceptance into the colleges where they’ll soar,” she said. “Parents strive to make sure that their student puts forth their best application, and often, hiring an expert who lives and breathes college admission can make a difference. There are so many ways students can increase their chances of admission to these highly selective schools, but if they aren’t aware of them and don’t receive personalized guidance, they may reduce the likelihood of acceptance.”

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In some cases, getting expert help can help you save on college costs.

“As an independent education consultant and admissions consultant, one of the main parts of my work involves helping my students get the best bang for their buck by helping them with their FAFSA, CSS Profile and IDOC paperwork, as well as helping students apply to merit-based scholarships,” said Rachel Coleman, a college admissions consultant at College Essay Editor. “Many students, before they work with me, don’t know how much less they could be paying for the same school or even that, in some cases, there are places that they can attend tuition-free. By helping applicants get the most out of the financial aid and scholarship application process, I have helped many low-income students attend university and graduate debt-free.”

Make Your Money Work for You

You Don’t Need To Spend Extra Money To Help Your Kid Get Into School

Some resources are available for free, so in some cases, it may be better to save your money to put toward tuition and other college expenses.

“For three to four months of college preparation, parents can expect to pay around $3,500 to $5,000 for in-person tutoring, standardized test prep courses and books,” said Chuky Ofoegbu, college admissions expert and founder of Sojourning Scholar. “This cost could be higher if the college preparation efforts last longer than three to four months. Families who cannot afford this expense should search for discounts on testing services or look for 100% free test prep materials. A good resource for free test prep materials is Khan Academy.”

Other students simply won’t benefit from the extra resources.

“It is not always worth it for parents to pay for help in the college admissions process,” said Antonio Cruz, a mentor with Ivy Scholars, a private college consulting company. “Which college you go to matters, though perhaps not as much as many parents fear. There is no simple way to judge if these services are worth it universally — each parent must come to that conclusion themselves based on their own child’s situation, goals, strengths and weaknesses.”

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Last updated: Aug. 9, 2021

About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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