Last week USA Today published a long article that examined international student admissions counseling company, Crimson Education.
The company was founded in 2013 to “supercharge students’ ability to get accepted into the world’s most competitive universities.” Crimson Education’s website says it has “helped students around the world to secure 193 Ivy League offers, 57 Oxbridge offers and over USD$67M in scholarships and financial aid. “
USA Today said that as Crimson Education has grown critics have questioned the effectiveness of its business model.
Before going further it is important to note that neither Crimson Education, nor its CEO Jamie Beaton have been accused of anything illegal. USA Today makes that quite clear. Instead the article points to its questions surrounding Crimson as indicative of the “issues that parents and their children face as they navigate the competitive, less-than-transparent universe of college admissions and contemplate hiring consultants…that may help pave the way to elite schools.”
The article goes on to note:
Anyone with a surface understanding of the American university system can market themselves as a ‘college consultant’. There’s no single regulatory group that ensures consultants meet a set of standards.
According to USA Today, thousands of people around the world are making that claim. The article paints a picture of a motley crew of admissions advisers comprising recent college graduates, parents who got their kid admitted into a top college and think they can help others, and ex-college admissions professionals.
In scrutinising Crimson, and the admissions counselling model more broadly, USA Today cites views on Crimson from several other (presumably competing) admissions counselling companies. On the face of it that seems to be inconsistent.
The key points in the USA Today article are:
Crimson Education uses college-age tutors to counsel its student clients and their families. Some of Crimson’s hires have been 17- or 18-year-old college freshmen. The company says it has around 220 full-time staff, with another 2,400 tutors and mentors.
The company charges between US$5,000 – 10,000 for sessions with tutors, which are done mainly via video chat. The tutors assists students to select a university, prepare for admissions tests, and complete applications.
Crimson’s fees are about the same as what US families might pay for a series of face-to-face sessions with a master’s level tutor who have years of student counselling experience.
Beaton told USA Today that college-age tutors have the benefit of recently experiencing the admissions process themselves, which is valuable for the international students they are helping. He also said that the company has rigorous recruitment and training systems for its tutors. Crimson also has “educational strategists” on staff who have more experience, and support tutors to plan what courses a student should take and which institutions to apply to.
USA Today spoke to former Crimson employees who said that they only received very basic training when joining the company as tutors. One former employee – Zifan Yang (who now works for a competitor to Crimson) – said he received less than 20 hours of training and got most of his knowledge from reading a Crimson job manual.
USA TODAY contacted ‘multiple college consultants’ who said that merely going to an elite school did not necessarily qualify them to advise others. As noted above, it does seem a bit odd that USA Today used the views of other international student admissions counsellors to support criticism of Crimson when the broader point of the article is to raise questions about the industry as a whole, of which those other counsellors are also a part.
Measures of success
Crimson says its students have an acceptance rate near 100%. The company regards success as a student getting in to at least one of eight or nine universities they have applied to.
Others college admission counselling services set the bar a bit higher. Collegewise and Top Tier Admissions base their success rate on whether the students get into one of their top three universities.
Crimson’s website listed offices around the globe but when reporters visited the New York, San Francisco, LA and London offices they found nobody in the offices.
USA Today also tested the listed phone numbers and found:
- USA number – multiple calls were not returned.
- Johannesburg – the phone rang endlessly.
- Edinburgh, London, Zurich – repeated calls to these lines produced a busy signal.
USA Today says that following its inquiries Crimson:
- Updated the voicemail for the Johannesburg number.
- Amended its website to remove physical addresses for the Edinburgh, Dublin, Munich and Zurich offices.
Prior to inquiries by USA TODAY, Crimson claimed to be part of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the International Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC). They are groups made up of college consultants and university admissions officers, and membership signals professionalism and integrity.
Crimson subsequently advised that its membership in NACAC expired in 2018 and was not renewed in 2019. Further, only two members of the company were part of the IACAC.
Crimson declined to connect USA Today with any of its tutors. Instead, it sent anonymous examples of tutors’ qualifications. One was “a MIT based tutor,” with degrees in mathematics, computer science and music. Another was a Princeton graduate now pursuing a law degree at Yale.
What does Crimson Education say?
Crimson Education CEO Jamie Beaton used Linkedin to push back against the USA Today article. He welcomed the scrutiny of his company and service but expressed frustration on what he believes is poor fact checking.
AgentBee contacted Crimson Education CEO Jamie Beaton directly seeking comment, and he responded promptly within 24 hours.
Here’s what he said:
I suppose it is not surprising that in the current post-college admissions scandal universe that companies in associated businesses become the focus of media scrutiny. At Crimson, we understand that interest and have always prided ourselves on maintaining full transparency or rather allow our students’ results and their family’s satisfaction as customers speak on our behalf.
What we don’t understand however is reporting that fails to publish what we have shared with them – and rather cherry pick focus points that have been click bait topics for months.
Here are just a few points shared but not reported on:
- Our tutors undergo comprehensive training before having contact with students, much of which was provided to the journalist in question. Lesson plans, child safety training, academic and curriculum tutoring, in-depth SAT and ACT training, manuals, videos, power points, face-to face-discussion with superiors and accountability through checking on completion are all in place. We could share the information given to the publication here but it would be too copius for this format – and once again we defer to our students, their experience with us and their results.
- As for our measure of success, it is true that close to 100% of our students get into at least one of their top 8 schools – but may get into three of four of those choices and some into all of them all eight. Last round we celebrated with a US student in the last admissions round who gained acceptance into all 18 universities he applied to – and is now studying at Yale.
- Our students are 4 times as likely to gain admission to the Ivy League than the general applicant – and we have similar success in acceptance to Oxford or Cambridge, but more importantly their Crimson teams support them in gaining admission to the best fit university for them – for some that is MIT, for others it may be St Andrews in Scotland.
- Our 20 global offices do exist and once again the global success of our students is a credit to them. While some of them work out of shared spaces – as do many growing, versatile companies with ‘clients’ all over the world – most are in permanent spaces manned with dedicated staff of country managers and education co-ordinators and strategists and many other hard working team members supporting the students in their respective regions.
- In regards to the NACAC and IACAC we are members of both. As for ‘Transparency’ on our tutor backgrounds, we provided the publication with scores of examples where they shared but a few. What the publication also failed to share is that over a quarter of our new clients come from other families referral, that we undertake a number of philanthropic initiatives aimed at supporting hard-working students from underprivileged backgrounds, and that we are the only company that provides endless videos, case studies and testimonials of our students speaking about their experiences with Crimson themselves.
- This week I was the receiver of some wonderful news which I suppose sums up what we are trying to achieve at Crimson. One of our indigenous New Zealand Students who we provided with a Maori scholarship two years ago was granted admission to Harvard. This student’s life – and that of his family are about to change forever. And that is something to write about.