Is admission to Harvard worth $2.2 million in education consulting fees?

The parents of two boys, Gerald and Lily Chow, apparently no longer think so.  This month, the Hong Kong-based family filed a lawsuit against education consultant Mark Zimny, to whom they had paid $2.2 million in fees and donations over the course of two years.  All to help get their sons into an Ivy League school.

Quest for admission to Harvard ends in $2 million tangle (Oct 8, 2012) is yet another cautionary tale of the relationship between an international admissions-seeking family and the international admissions-consulting industry. The legal battle over the $2million price tag for Harvard admissions is only one of many alternative endings, albeit a very extreme case, to the cheating and fraud that can occur between a family and an agent. While their son did end up at a top university, it wasn’t Harvard. Now, the Chows want their money back.

According to the Chows, Zimny’s company, IvyAdmit, was to provide tutoring and supervision while their sons attended prep schools in the US, as well as funneling donations from the Chows to elite colleges. “Embedded racism” made development offices wary of Asian donors, Zimny allegedly advised the family; better to use his company as a middleman. Over the course of two years, the Chows made donations to both their boys prep schools as well as to various colleges through Zimny, only to discover that their donations never arrived and that they were overcharged by Zimny for some of their sons’ activities.

So how did the Chows get reeled in by Zimny’s claims? Maybe it was because Zimny had been a lecturer and visiting assistant professor at Harvard? Maybe it was because Zimny promised to pull personal strings with admissions officers at top universities? Maybe it was because Zimny wined and dined the Chows with friends who were full Harvard professors (and who he claimed to be business partners)? With connections like that, no wonder the Chows were charmed.

The Chows’ experiences are a great reminder that education consultants who act as guides and bridges between applicant families and the application process must do so responsibly and ethically. Zimny was certainly not a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), given that he engaged in two of the association’s barred practices – raising family fears that admissions are cutthroat, and acting as a middleman for donations.


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