Are Your Kids in the Arms Race for Top Schools?

We’ve heard about the “Race to Nowhere” for a select group of kids, and now we find there’s another race: The “arms race,” which apparently follows immediately after.

In fact, the escalation of this “arms race” to get into a premier college is the subject of an article written by a Montclair author and mother of college-bound twins in The Wall Street Journal.

The writer, Jennifer Moses, admits getting caught up in the insanity and forking over “unspeakable” sums to position her son and daughter to claim spots at the most prestigious schools. Or, at least, go broke trying.

Moses and her husband hired two separate tutors – one for each child – after they went through half a dozen others not worth their pricey fee. But it worked. Moses noted her daughter’s test scores went up as did those of nearly every student in her class, almost all of whom had also availed themselves of the tutor’s services. This was after shelling out nearly $30,000 a year to send the daughter to private school.

Then there’s the application process. With the kind of investment parents (herself included) make in their kids’ education, Moses contents the natural progression is mass distribution of applications to every college even remotely under consideration. Although students can only realistically attend one school at a time, students/parents find sending out 10 or more applications to be reasonable.

$1,650 later (after testing and application costs for two kids not to mention tutoring fees) according to Moses, come the transportation costs: Nearly $4,000 to take two kids around the country to multiple campuses multiple times because as the author said, “my daughter wasn’t satisfied” the first time around so they took a second tour. But the family had to because some colleges won’t take you seriously if you don’t visit the campus in person.

But the best part of the race, at least for me, is the college counselors parents can hire when the whole process becomes too overwhelming and their children start to crumble. For a fee, parents can have the college counseling experts tell their children the same exact thing the high school guidance counselor and they themselves told their kids for free. Although the $700 fee seems well worth it with such indispensable advice from these experts as change a cell phone message that says “Hi, butt-face.”

And why all this hand wringing and self-imposed torture? Fear. Fear parents have that some other student will take all these measures, and then that kid after spending thousands of dollars to gain a SAT point or two could edge out their children, stealing their spot at the “best” university.

But for Moses if that happened, I suppose her children could always go to Rutgers where their father is on the faculty.


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  1. I have been thru that period of my life, and I am glad it is behind me. Send Money, send money to college send money send money and, Oh, Ya, send money.

  2. Are the public schools actually better in affluent towns? Or are the higher SAT scores the results of Mom & Dad caring more and being able to afford private tutors for little Taylor & Tyler?

  3. It all depends how you define ‘better?’ Some would say sending your kids to school with the affluent set is better because it’s a ‘better’ type of people. Happens in Bloomfield all the time.

  4. Part of the reason affluent towns and kids do better is that there is a correlation between family income and education with SAT scores. Because of better schools, better educated parents of kids AND their friend’s parents, expectations, etc. So while the ability to pay for tutors helps, a few months with a tutor cannot make up for the YEARS of education in the home that an affluent kid has over others.

    This was detailed in a NY Times Mag a few years back, which I cannot find. However, I did find this (below) that explains it as:

    “After one year, the children of professional parents had heard 11 million words whereas the children from working-class homes heard 6 million and welfare children heard only 3 million words — a varying input that had a profound effect on each child’s abilities to think conceptually by age 4.”

    Wait. Found the Magazine article:

    This story featured this: “Children from more well-off homes tend to experience parental attitudes that are more sensitive, more encouraging, less intrusive and less detached — all of which, they found, serves to increase I.Q. and school-readiness.”

    CRAZY…. Home life matters….

  5. Once again Prof, thank you for the link. I skimmed the first pages and decided to print it for later. And of course, Pollyanna here is hoping for a happy ending to this article! (or at least a suggestion for a solution!)

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