Marketing vs Product Development in College Admissions

Marketing vs Product Development in College Admissions

Silicon Valley is the world’s capital for technology startups. When a technology company is creating a new product offering, most work activities can be characterized as one of the two categories: marketing or product development. This analogy maps fairly well to an ideal college admissions approach – where the prospective student is the “product” while target colleges are the “customer” that can decide whether or not to admit a given student.
Let’s use the example of a company creating “smart cars.” It has a “product development” department and a “marketing” department, each with its own activities that contribute to the mission of distributing its new car to many customers.
The product development might look like this:

  • Research & Development team designing prototype vehicles
  • Engineering team building the vehicles

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The marketing department might look like this:
Marketing department creates an advertising campaign to convey the appeal of their new car.

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Let’s now consider a college admissions counseling firm, which has the mission of getting its students (product) admitted to top colleges (customer).

College admissions product development might look like this:

  • Students engaging in activities and extracurriculars that will later go on the resume
  • Boosting the student’s GPA, test scores through tutoring, coaching, and mentoring

College admissions marketing might look like this:

  • Improving the college application essays
  • Writing and polishing the student’s resume

Which brings me to my primary thesis:

Too much of today’s college admissions counseling is overly focused on marketing, while under-investing in product development.

If you consider the college admissions industry leading up to 2019, you see an industry that is heavily focused on “marketing” a student to target colleges while doing relatively little to build up the student’s actual merits as a candidate.

Part of this is also due to the structural necessities of the industry. For the typical college admissions consultant, by the time a family approaches them for help, the student is already in 11th or 12th grade. This only gives two years maximum for the consultant to help build up the student to be a strong candidate for his or her target schools. Realistically, there is only so much that can be done in such a short time frame, even with lots of effort on the part of the student and the counselor. The result is that some consultants make unrealistically high promises to families about what can be done in such a short amount of time, and then either

A) significantly underdeliver, or
B) resort to questionable and/or unethical methods to deliver – as in the case of Rick Singer and the “Varsity Blues” scandal of 2019

The college admissions scandal of 2019 is an extreme example of how dysfunctional the college admissions industry had become and how excessively it relied on “marketing” to get students into colleges, rather than building up the student’s actual merits through “product development.” Rick Singer, a dishonest college admissions consultant at the heart of the scandal, would use highly exaggerated or even outright false “marketing” to get his students admitted into top colleges. For example, actress Lori Loughlin’s daughter, Rick Singer went to great lengths to entirely fabricate the student’s credentials and accomplishments as a star rower. The family also worked to manufacture the fake image by posing the student in crew gear, exercising on rowing machines.

Imagine if even a fraction of the time, money and effort invested into such false “marketing,” had been invested into actual product development! With some time and effort practicing, the student may have actually developed into a promising rower of her own accord and merits.

While the example of the 2019 college admissions scandal is extreme, it highlights the larger pattern of what has gone wrong with the college admissions industry. Rather than developing average students into exceptional, high-achieving students, too much of the industry only goes through the motions of such, and creates a paper facsimile of an exceptional, high-achieving student. Apple has great marketing campaigns, sure, but their products still require significant financial investment and many years of intensive product development. The greatest marketing in the world can only go so far if the product itself is mediocre. The best college admissions counselors of the future will be less about shouting how great a student is and more about developing a great student.

The current college admissions counseling landscape is replete with outcomes where a consultant was hired late in the process (18-24 months before the application deadline), primarily to spruce up an average college application. The end result is often unsurprising: the student is not accepted into most of their target schools and ends up going to a “safety school” (usually a middling-tier state university in a different state, while the parents end up paying much more tuition due to out-of-state fees).

One thing I’ve told many of my students is, “boxing fights are won in the gym, not in the ring.” Usually, I tell them in the context of studying before a big exam. How well a student does on a test is usually a function of how well the student spent preparing for the test. How well a boxer does in a boxing match is usually a function of how well the boxer trained in the gym. How well a student does on college admissions is usually a function of how well they prepared and built themselves into a strong student in the five or more years preceding the college application deadlines. College admissions departments are getting more sophisticated. The marketing tricks that only somewhat worked in the college admissions of yesteryear will not work in the world of tomorrow. It’s time to stop worrying about making students look better to colleges but making them be better. It’s time for some serious product development.

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The last 18 months have challenged a vast number of assumptions that used to be held about higher education and college admissions. The UCEazy vision is to rethink college admissions by putting “product development” at the center of the process rather than marketing. College admissions consultants of yesteryear focused on showing colleges what they thought colleges want to see. It has created a legacy of falsehoods, dissatisfied students who question their own identity and struggle to separate themselves from the artificial image their parents and counselors manufactured for them. UCEazy’s college counselors and other experts focus on building up students that colleges want to admit. The end result is not only a high rate of college admissions success but students that are built up holistically into fulfilling, highly functional human beings on the path to self-actualization.

To learn more about how UCEazy has helped families and how our expertise could help yours, please contact UCEazy for a free meeting at info@uceazy.com or 1-833-982-3299.