NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Some parents are accusing an Arlington business of scaring people, across the country, into paying a high price to get help planning for college.
“She was an honor student,” Harold Smith said as he stared proudly at a picture of his daughter Jennifer.
Jennifer Miller graduated from Mansfield High School in May. Harold had recently bought a house and knew sending his daughter to college would be a challenge.
He recalled thinking, “Maybe someday if she makes it, she can help me.”
Until then, Harold is helping her. Last fall, when a letter arrived from College Admissions Assistance he thought the company held all the answers.
According to Harold, the letter said Jennifer had been chosen for the program. They just had to attend a seminar, at a nearby hotel, to learn more. “They made it seem like they could do everything for us and I wouldn’t have to do anything.
Harold said the company convinced him the confusing college application process would be impossible to navigate without their help. They also claimed that with help from the company, Jennifer would get accepted into a university and even get financial aid. “They said they would help us achieve loans,” said Harold.
When Harold went to the seminar he says he was told he had to sign the contract right then. “It was a real high pressure business,” he recalled.
Harold agreed to pay more than $2,000 to supposedly “save time” and “money” to “stay on track” with “applications, testing, and financial aid”…all wording CBS 11 News found on the College Admissions Assistance website.
But after several months and $900 in payments Harold said, “It turned out to be a joke.”
More than 1600 miles away, in New York City, Gladys Stambakis is telling a similar story. The Stambakis family said after signing up, they received a few brochures, a phone call and a few emails from College Admissions Assistance. But they say none of it was of any real value. “They claim to give us services…they did not give any services.”
Gladys was expecting help finding scholarships, something she says was promised at the seminar she went to in a New York City. She says she too was pressured at the seminar; there it was to pay $175 a month to join. “They didn’t give you any time to think about it,” she said.
“Based on BBB standards, these would not reflect the standards we would like to see in the market,” Better Business Bureau of Fort Worth spokesperson Julie Ann Lyssy said.
The BBB has received 65 complaints, nationwide, about College Admissions Assistance. Lyssy said the BBB is concerned that the company is using such “high pressure techniques”.
The company’s address is listed with the BBB on Randol Mill Road in Arlington. CBS 11 found the office in a high-rise that was empty and locked.
The company’s website list another address, at another high-rise, near Interstate-30 in Arlington. While CBS 11 was able to locate the office it too appeared to be empty. A sign on the door read, “ring the buzzer to get help”. It also said the company was “moving here soon”.
The Chief Marketing Officer for College Admissions Assistance, Marilu Rios Kernan, inferred that any complaints were being handled. “We are privileged to have worked with over 25,000 client families, “ she said. “We wish we did not have any complaints. Our approach is to go the extra mile to fairly correct any mistakes or misunderstandings.”
Kernan provided CBS 11 the following statement -
Fort Worth BBB spokeswoman Lyssy said the company is responding to the BBB’s complaints and even refunding the money of some customers.
College Admissions Assistance refunded Harold Miller everything he had paid and it let Gladys Stambakis out of her contract after she paid $700.
But Allison Amador of North Richland Hills is still paying the company and seems unable to get a refund.
Amador says after she signed up, she realized her son did not need help preparing for college and she could not afford to pay for the service.
While she said she understands she signed a contact, she is frustrated she can’t get out of it. “We are still making payments, payments we could be making towards his college,” said Amador.
Amador’s son and a wealth of other future college freshman all said their high school guidance counselors and free online websites provided better leads on financial aid and more information preparing for college than College Admissions Assistance.