Companies Dangle Free College Admissions Help to Recruit Employees

Perk Offers Leg Up as Applications Surge, Process Grows More Cutthroat

In a nondescript office park near Boston, Shannon Vasconcelos connects daily with anxious parents nationwide to guide them through the increasingly terrifying gauntlet of college admissions.

For over a decade, Vasconcelos has fielded nervous inquiries from families overwhelmed by soaring application volumes, surging costs and ever more intense competition for limited freshman seats. Her counsel aims to simplify the process so students avoid missing deadlines or important rules changes in a high-stakes numbers game.

Vasconcelos plies her trade as a senior director at College Coach, a division of childcare giant Bright Horizons now expanding into employee benefits. She is among a growing corps of private admissions consultants available free to workers at major banks, law firms and corporations.

JPMorgan Chase, American Express and Bank of America count among over a dozen companies covering the typical $140 hourly fee for personalized application guidance. Many say the white-glove service helps attract talent while easing productivity loss from stressed-out parents on the clock.

“It’s definitely a benefit to just save people time and stress,” said Laura Lemmons of elite law firm Goodwin, which provides the assistance. Analysts tie the trend to tightened labor markets and remote work driving demand for novel perks.

But equity advocates argue another privilege for the privileged may further disadvantage lower-income applicants lacking insider tips. “It calls into question not just fairness but equity,” said scholar Anthony Abraham Jack of Boston University.

Nonetheless demand continues rising to crack college admissions perceived as black-box alchemy beyond most families’ grasp. Employees too harried to master esoteric details around early decision vs. early action or demonstrated interest welcome insight from seasoned consultants.

Some admit playing favorites with senior executives first. But Bank of America and others extend the benefit across organizations to frontline personnel equally. Admissions veterans emphasize tailoring guidance to all backgrounds, including first-generation prospects.

Of course, companies also accrue financial benefits from less distraction. Surveys show parents burn work hours obsessing over applications, essay revisions and financial aid labyrinths. Providing supportive guidance hence boosts focus while empowering workers stressed by uncertainty over outcomes soon determining children’s life trajectories.

In the frantic scrum for freshman seats, such assistance confers advantage to a blessed few. But if it delivers inner peace amid chaos for employees and households alike, oversubscribed universities may need to brace for another edge favoring the fortunate —and disproportionately privileged—striving to stand out from the pack.

Photo by Keira Burton