How We Make Things Cheap For You: Virtual Meetings, Strategy, and The Cloud

by Vielka

This is awkward. I’m going to talk about money. I really hate doing it but it is important on occasion. We’re a business and people come to us because they are anxious about money. That’s a huge reality.

I want to be honest about something else: I’m writing this in response to some complaints we’ve received lately both online and over email. Because the core of their complaints are essentially at the core of what we do, and..the money…I thought it was worth saying here.

When someone first asked if I wanted to start a business like this, it was in the context of the ridiculous amounts of money I could make based on the ridiculous amount of money other people make doing this.

“But you’re actually an expert, unlike them,” she said.

And she was/is right.

But knowing me, she would know that I wouldn’t feel comfortable charging the $60,000/ year other people charge for their services. Yes, that’s what people are charging and in some cases, they’re doing less than we do.

So I sat on the idea for years until I could come up with a way to do it in a cost-effective way. Over the years though, people approach us wanting our cost-effective price but not the cost-effective service. They’re wanting the $60,000 thing at the severely reduced price. In these instances, we part ways amicably; other times, it’s rough. Either way it’s worth having something to reference so that it’s clear.

We’re Virtual

Today, almost all of our services are administered virtually. The technology allows us to meet with clients at more varied times but it also means that we don’t have to pay the overhead of a physical office that can accommodate dozens of students at a time. Including reception and the actual space, something like that would get us near the half million dollar range per year, a cost so high we would have no choice but to roll it over to clients. Similarly, if we drove to meet clients (myself, tutors, and case managers), we would roll those costs over to you as well.

In terms of the strategy, meeting virtually is also critical because we also aren’t homework helpers or application supervisors. Often times we are approached because someone just needs someone to be there to watch student, according to the parent, or we get push back that if we were to come to someone’s house to do the private tutoring, we could also wake up that person and they would therefore be on-time. But the world doesn’t work that way. Getting young people used to excuse-making and coddling just as they are applying to college and getting out of the house doesn’t serve the ultimate goal.

We are based in San Francisco and Portland and have access to other offices as part of our co-working arrangement. When it makes sense, students can come here and meet in-person. But that isn’t the norm, and if we want to keep prices low, you don’t want that to be the norm either.

Strategy

We built the VHC strategy around the optimal way to get admitted to college and get funded. This means that we are very cognizant of dates, holistic applications, uses of the SAT, and matching. I think in everything that I’ve written and presented, I am very clear about that.

We get lots of students into selective schools but that’s because they were matched to those schools and the students followed the strategy with their applications. That’s the same for schools that are not selective but still a fit.

We aren’t a college counseling firm that promises to get students into schools that are an overmatch (students are not qualified) or an undermatch (students are overqualified) because it is unethical. I know from research that students will drop out. But we also don’t do it because it’s expensive. Just look at the college admissions scandal. It costs a lot of money to inflate test scores and grades. And overmatching and undermatching are fine if you have $250,000 laying around because those overmatch schools won’t fund the student and those undermatch schools won’t graduate them. It’s really that simple.

So we get a fair number of people who really want us to focus on an overmatch or undermatch. They reject our strategy in favor of what they think will work. At the end of the day, it’s confusing as to why they hired us, but more so, it’s over-utilizing resources they didn’t pay for. So not showing to workshops and classes because they couldn’t wake up or didn’t think it was important at the time, but then requesting ten hours of our time to make up for that later…again it’s trying to make us into the $60,000 thing and that’s not fair to us and frankly for your student.

The Cloud

This very much lends to us being a virtual service. We’re big on Slack, email, and the Cloud. It’s the best way to efficiently communicate with everyone involved.

But sometimes we get requests to use texting and snapchat instead. I may send ten emails and get no response, but then I get the text messages at all hours of the day and night, asking for something to happen immediately. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received urgent texts on Christmas Day, without so much as a “Merry Christmas.” And always always having to do with something we emailed about at least five times prior. If I were to be that accessible to everyone, imagine the cost on that. But we have other people, other channels, blogs, and a dozens of other ways to communicate that don’t require access to one person 24/7/365. And again, imagine if we did do that, and how expensive it would be.

I hope that helps give a little more context to how we do things.

And to give a little more context to the pricing of what we do, we do total application support including financials and essays, SAT & ACT prep, and academic tutoring. We support scholarship applications, the writing of appeal letters, and anything involved in the application process. To hire a private academic tutor and SAT tutor would alone cost that $60,000 and we’re no where near that. Wondering what we do and how much we charge? Come to our Open House for Grades 7-12 and our Open House for College Students on November 24.

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