Stevens says that the impulse to get one’s child into a top-ranked college can be just as much about parents’ wishes as their kids’. “These mothers and fathers live in a world in which the mark of good parenting is substantially tied to where one’s children are admitted to college and university,” he says. “There are bragging rights, and fear of shaming if one’s sons or daughters are not in the running for at least moderately elite colleges and universities.”

Indeed, admissions consultants I spoke with said that the parents they work with aren’t only concerned with their children’s long-term career prospects. “The parents want to brag to other parents at the grocery store when they’re standing in line,” Taylor says. “My kid got into Stanford. My kid got into Harvard.” Similarly, another admissions consultant I talked to, Maria Laskaris of the Massachusetts-based firm Top Tier Admissions, cited the possible motivation of “wanting that bumper sticker on the back of their car.”