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The bizarre mix of a small business of academic consulting and deep research

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s decision to resume requiring SAT or ACT tests isn’t going to change the ultra-selective college’s admissions process much. Doing well on these exams may put you in the pile, but have little effect on final decisions at schools like this.

To earn a valuable letter of acceptance from the most demanding colleges, you often need something unique like a personal research project that impresses admissions office staff in a way that application essays and recommendations do not. Until I met John Leddo, a college admissions consultant in Northern Virginia, I had no idea there were people like him not only suggesting their clients do big plans, but providing the necessary training and facilities.

Nihal Boina, a high school student from Loudoun County, Virginia, told me with the help of Leddo’s MyEdMaster company, “I was able to research a technology that could self-learn mathematical information at the ‘help from the Internet’. Boina has since been admitted to an engineering and business program at the University of California, Berkeley, which only accepts 40 students per year. He is also co-author with Leddo of two articles in the International Journal of Social Science and Economic Research.

Leddo started giving computer lessons to John C. Elkas’ son two years ago. This included, Elkas said, “teaching him how to do independent research and construct a manuscript for publication.” Her son is a sophomore at Langley High School in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Sathvik Redrouthu, a 10th grader at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, said that as part of Leddo’s program, he was developing software to find the optimal approach for teaching students. Charles Gabrial said he has a daughter in the MyEdMaster program who has done original research in medical machine learning before, and she’s in eighth grade. Habib Nasibdar said his daughter, a sixth-grader at the district’s National Cathedral School, has been in the program for more than a year and also does college-level work.

I’ve come across a few other cases of teenagers who were blessed with academic challenges well beyond high school. Since 2014, the Concord Review Academic Coaching Service charges an hourly rate for online meetings between participants and experts who teach how to research and write high school senior history essays published in the Review.

These programs are small and unobtrusive, like MyEdMaster. They may not have much of an effect on the college admissions industry, but they at least give ambitious teens a taste of what it’s like to write a doctoral dissertation.

Leddo, 64, said he believes he can help students get into challenging college programs while helping him realize his dream of revolutionizing American education by developing a working computerized tutoring system. He said his goal is an AI-powered program that “will provide any child with unlimited tutoring in any subject for just a few dollars a month.”

Do ultra-selective colleges change lives? I usually say no, but this much richer author says yes.

Leddo has 3,000 square feet of office space in Herndon, Va., with two large classrooms and a few smaller rooms. It charges $60 per hour for academic consultation, $34 per hour for individual tutoring, $20 per hour for a group research course, $66 per hour for three hours of group testing and $400 for a three-month training program on topics. like medical machine learning.

This is much less than what is charged by most college admissions counseling services. The Independent Educational Consultants Association, which verifies the ethical standards of consultants who use its label, said most consultants charge around $4,500 for a multi-year package of services. He says many charge fees of “just under $140 an hour.”

Leddo holds a doctorate in educational psychology from Yale. He has published several articles on medical machine learning and artificial intelligence during his career in educational research and tutoring products. He said he charged so little for college admissions counseling partly because his clients helped him with his research and because he was appalled to see families taking out bank loans for such services. . He said an executive at one of the giant tutoring chains told him, “We charge these prices because we can.”

Leddo said he has also offered pro bono services to some students who cannot afford his fees and has volunteered with foundations that provide free counseling to college applicants.

“I know other companies, because I’ve worked with them, advise kids to have after-school activities or offer something like robotics or training for math competitions,” he said. . “However, it’s usually national programs like MathCounts or The American Rocketry Challenge where there are organized competitions” where it’s hard to stand out unless you win.

Leddo limits its service to only 30-50 students per year. I see potential for abuse if the big college admissions companies try to turn research work training into profit centers. But for now, such initiatives can at least help high schools realize that some of their students are ready for bigger challenges than they are now.

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