Big Data Goes To College

How important is a big-name college?

That’s what I wondered when I read about Jack Ma, a college consultant who sometimes earns six-figure fees for helping kids get into top-tier schools. He looks at what kids are good (and bad) at and tries to sculpt their college applications to highlight their strengths. He also tries to steer applicants towards schools that fit their personalities. In doing this he is very much like a good high-school guidance counselor. Only he charges big fees and offers guarantees.

How can he do this?

In an era of super-selective schools—Harvard and Stanford accepted just 6 percent of applicants last year—Ma has developed an algorithmic application model, tracking the successes and failures of the thousands of students he and his staff have coached over the years. Using GPA, standardized-test scores, leadership credentials, and extra-curricular activities, he calculates a student’s odds of admission into various schools.

Source: Theivycoach.com

The schools deny that this is possible—that what they do is a holistic evaluation, that the process can’t be gamed. But Ma claims that he often knows more about how college admissions works than the admission officers themselves—and has the data to prove it.

In our achievement-oriented culture, college is increasingly a union-card—essential to landing a good job. But by “getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” as a poet once wrote. Life is more than getting more. We need to remember that it’s character—not credentials—that shapes our destiny.


Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
Phone: 603-224-1350
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