Why isn’t the IRS Data Retrieval Tool working?

April 4, 2017
Why isn’t the IRS Data Retrieval Tool working?   IRS Data Retrieval Tool Offline Until the Start of the Next FAFSA Season October 2017. To protect sensitive taxpayer data, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) on fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov will be unavailable until the start of the next FAFSA® season, in fall […]
Why isn’t the IRS Data Retrieval Tool working?

 

IRS Data Retrieval Tool Offline Until the Start of the Next FAFSA Season October 2017.

To protect sensitive taxpayer data, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) on fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov will be unavailable until the start of the next FAFSA® season, in fall 2017, while extra security protections are added. The IRS DRT provides tax data that automatically fills in information for part of the FAFSA as well as the income-driven repayment (IDR) plan application for federal student loan borrowers.

The IRS DRT was turned off following concerns that data from the tool could be used by identity thieves to file fraudulent tax returns. Once enhancements are made to encrypt or mask the sensitive data, the IRS DRT will be reactivated.

Update: Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Student Aid (FSA) Statement on IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)

Privacy Concerns Force Tool to Remain Offline; Students, Parents and Borrowers Should Use Other Options to Provide Financial Data on Applications
MARCH 30, 2017

To protect sensitive taxpayer data, the IRS and FSA announced today the Data Retrieval Tool on FAFSA.gov and StudentLoans.gov will be unavailable until extra security protections can be added. While we are working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, students and families should plan for the tool to be offline until the start of the next FAFSA season.

Since the tool was disabled in early March due to security concerns, the IRS has been working closely with FSA to safely return the tool to service. "We know this tool is an easy way for students and families working on applications to access their financial data," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "While this tool provides an important convenience for applicants, we cannot risk the safety of taxpayer data. Protecting taxpayer data has to be the highest priority, and we will continue working with FSA to bring this tool back in a safe and secure manner.

"We have heard from students, parents, and the financial aid community that applying for aid is harder without the DRT," said James W. Runcie, Federal Student Aid chief operating officer. "We will do all we can to help students and families successfully submit applications while the tool is unavailable and remain committed to protecting applicants' personal information."

Options Remain Available for Students, Parents and Borrowers

While the Data Retrieval Tool is unavailable, FSA and the IRS remind applicants that online applications are still available and are operable.

The income information needed to complete the FAFSA and apply for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan can be found on a previously filed tax return.

Students and parents completing a 2016–17 and 2017–18 FAFSA should manually enter 2015 tax information (not 2016). Borrowers applying for an IDR plan should submit alternative documentation of income to their federal loan servicers after they complete and submit the online IDR application. The process for submitting the alternative documentation of income is explained to borrowers as part of the online IDR application. While the Data Retrieval Tool is unavailable, a borrower may submit a paper copy of his or her tax return, copies of pay stubs or other acceptable forms of documentation explained online during the application process

If a copy of the tax return is not readily available, the applicant may be able to access the tax software used to prepare the return or contact their tax preparer to obtain a copy.

If necessary, a summary of a previously filed tax return, called a tax transcript, may be viewed and downloaded from www.irs.gov/transcript at Get Transcript Online, with the proper identity verification. Additionally, Get Transcript by Mail can be accessed online, or the taxpayer can call 1-800-908-9946, and a transcript will be delivered to the address of record within five to 10 days.

IRS Takes Additional Steps to Protect Taxpayers

The IRS is working to identify the number of taxpayers affected by questionable use of the Data Retrieval Tool. Identity thieves may have used personal information obtained outside the tax system to access the FAFSA form in an attempt to secure tax information through the DRT. The IRS continues to review the extent to which this contributed to fraudulently filed tax returns. The IRS has identified instances where our strengthened fraud reviews stopped questionable tax returns by filers who also accessed the DRT.

As the IRS identifies taxpayers with personal information at risk through misuse of the data tool, it is marking and locking down those taxpayer accounts to provide additional protection against an identity thief filing a fraudulent tax return. As an internal review continues, the IRS also is finalizing plans to notify affected taxpayers by mail about possible identity theft concerns. The scope of affected taxpayers is still being determined.

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Popcorn, Penguins and Pop Client Appreciation April 29, 2017

April 4, 2017
Popcorn, Penguins and Pop Client Appreciation April 29   On Saturday April 29, 2017 is AZCollegePlanning.com's client Appreciation Fun Event. I’ve been to several Improv shows presented by The Penguin Players. Every time it was a fun show with tons of hilarity. http://penguinplayers.com So as an appreciation to you, I’m inviting you to come out […]

Popcorn, Penguins and Pop Client Appreciation April 29

 

On Saturday April 29, 2017 is AZCollegePlanning.com's client Appreciation Fun Event.

I’ve been to several Improv shows presented by The Penguin Players. Every time it was a fun show with tons of hilarity. http://penguinplayers.com

So as an appreciation to you, I’m inviting you to come out and see them.

Use the secret pass code to gain free entrance to the show “Penguins are great college roommates!”

Bring a friend who has high school students who are college bound.

This show is for my clients both parents and students and their friends as this will be a family friendly show.

RSVP is required (so I know how much popcorn to pop and how much soda pop to bring!)

Click this link <Penguins!> and let me know if you will be there and how many in your party.

What: Penguin Improv Client Appreciation Fun  Event
When: April 29 Saturday 7:00-8:30 PM (show up a little early to get a good seat)
Where: Dorothy’s Hall at Christ Anglican Church 35500 N Cave Creek Rd, Cave Creek, AZ 85377 Google Map https://goo.gl/s60iBB
Who: Clients, parents and  students and bring a friend of clients
Cost: Free with secret pass code.

Be There or Be Penguin2

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College Fair Phoenix Arizona April 30th

April 2, 2017
College Fair Phoenix Arizona April 30th   Please plan on attending the college fair April 30, 2017 Seventy-seven plus colleges will be in attendance. Go to the fair, meet the recruiter, ask questions and follow up. For more info click http://rmacac.org/college-fairs/springphoenix/ Remember to logon to AZCollegePlanning.com and click on Downloads and Resource Center then print […]

College Fair Phoenix Arizona April 30th

 

Please plan on attending the college fair April 30, 2017

Seventy-seven plus colleges will be in attendance. Go to the fair, meet the recruiter, ask questions and follow up.

For more info click http://rmacac.org/college-fairs/springphoenix/

Remember to logon to AZCollegePlanning.com and click on Downloads and Resource Center then print off the top 62 Questions to ask. Highlight or circle the questions that are important to you and ask those questions.

Remember to ask the BIG QUESTION...

the following colleges will be there

  1. Adams State University
  2. American University
  3. Arizona State University
  4. Bradley University
  5. Butte College
  6. Colorado Christian University
  7. Colorado Mesa University
  8. Colorado Mountain College
  9. Colorado State University
  10. Creighton University
  11. Dickinson College
  12. Drake University
  13. FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
  14. Fort Lewis College
  15. Franklin & Marshall College
  16. Gonzaga University
  17. Hamilton College
  18. Lawrence University
  19. Les Roches – Glion
  20. Life University
  21. Lycoming College
  22. Miami University
  23. Missouri University of Science and Technology
  24. Montana State University
  25. Montana State University Billings
  26. Montana Tech
  27. New College of the Humanities
  28. New Mexico Highlands University
  29. New Mexico Military Institute
  30. New Mexico Tech
  31. Northern Arizona University
  32. Northland College
  33. Nova Southeastern University
  34. Oregon State University
  35. Pacific Lutheran University
  36. Pennsylvania State University
  37. Portland State University
  38. Prescott College
  39. Providence College
  40. Purdue University
  41. Regis University
  42. Rocky Mountain College
  43. Saint Louis University
  44. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
  45. Santa Clara University
  46. Seattle University
  47. Sewanee: The University of the South
  48. Simpson College
  49. Edward’s University
  50. Swarthmore College
  51. Texas Christian University
  52. Texas Tech University
  53. The University of Alabama
  54. The University of Arizona
  55. Tulane University
  56. University of Calgary
  57. University of Colorado Boulder
  58. University of Colorado Colorado Springs
  59. University of Colorado Denver
  60. University of Missouri
  61. University of Nevada Las Vegas
  62. University of New Mexico
  63. University of Northern Colorado
  64. University of Puget Sound
  65. University of Richmond
  66. University of the Pacific
  67. University of Utah
  68. University of Wyoming
  69. Utah State University
  70. Utah Valley University
  71. Vanguard University of Southern California
  72. Wabash College
  73. Washington State University
  74. Weber State University
  75. Western Michigan University
  76. Western Washington University
  77. Willamette University

 

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ACT study guide

March 28, 2017
Better ACT scores can increase your scholarships. One of the best ways to increase your scores is pick up a study guide. the OFFICIAL Study Guides are the best. Studies show students who prep using the official study guides 30 to 60 minutes a day, 4 or 5 times a week for a short duration […]

Better ACT scores can increase your scholarships.

One of the best ways to increase your scores is pick up a study guide.

the OFFICIAL Study Guides are the best.

Studies show students who prep using the official study guides 30 to 60 minutes a day, 4 or 5 times a week for a short duration of 2 to 3 months tend to dramatically increase their scores.

Official ACT Prep book http://amzn.to/2nJTpxd

In addition to the study guide also take a practice test. Free ACT Practice Test

and review the online prep videos found under the Test Prep tab. 

Good Luck and let us know how you did.

 

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Redesigned SAT prep book

March 28, 2017
Verify that you are studying from official materials. If you are taking the New Redesigned SAT double check that you have a current prep book and current materials. use this prep book. Official SAT Prep http://amzn.to/2mNRhFq      Send article as PDF   

Verify that you are studying from official materials.

If you are taking the New Redesigned SAT double check that you have a current prep book and current materials.

use this prep book.

Official SAT Prep http://amzn.to/2mNRhFq

 

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IRS Data Retrieval Tool Down, What do I do?

March 17, 2017
Was it the Russians who hacked the IRS Data Retrieval Tool Down? What do I do? Almost nowhere is this publicized; IRS shuts down Data Retrieval Tool for financial aid. It is important to file your FAFSA as soon as possible and not wait until the last minute. If you were unable to file with the […]

Was it the Russians who hacked the IRS Data Retrieval Tool Down?

What do I do?

Almost nowhere is this publicized; IRS shuts down Data Retrieval Tool for financial aid.

It is important to file your FAFSA as soon as possible and not wait until the last minute.

If you were unable to file with the Data Retrieval Tool, the best thing to do is to reach out to each of the colleges that you have already submitted applications and ask them what they require you to do. Because of this flibbertigibbet the college(s) will work with you.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) Statement‎ about the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)

Note: See also IRS Offers Help to Students, Families to Get Tax Information for Student Financial Aid Applications

March 9, 2017

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool on fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov is currently unavailable. We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. However, at this time, the IRS anticipates the online data tool will be unavailable for several weeks.

This does not limit families’ ability to apply for aid. Applicants have other options while the data tool is unavailable. Applicants filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan can manually provide the requested financial information from copies of their tax returns. The online FAFSA and IDR application remain operational, and applicants can continue filing the FAFSA or applying for an IDR plan as they normally would.

As part of a wider, ongoing effort at the IRS to protect the security of data, the IRS decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves. The scope of the issue is being explored, and the IRS and FSA are jointly investigating the issue. At this point, we believe the issue is relatively isolated, and no additional action is needed by taxpayers or people using these applications. The IRS and FSA are actively working on a way to further strengthen the security of information provided by the DRT. We will provide additional information when we have a specific timeframe for returning the DRT or other details to share.

Additional information for applicants:

The DRT provides tax data that automatically fills in information for part of the FAFSA as well as the IDR plan application.

The online FAFSA and IDR application remain operational. You can continue filing the FAFSA or applying for an IDR plan as you normally would.

The income information needed to complete the FAFSA and apply for an IDR plan can be found on your tax return. If you did not retain a copy of your tax return, you may be able to access the tax software you used to prepare your return or contact your tax preparer to obtain a copy.

If you are unable to get a copy of your tax return, you may visit www.irs.gov/transcript to view and download a summary of your tax return, called a tax transcript, at Get Transcript Online. You must verify your identity to use this tool. You also may use Get Transcript by Mail or call 1-800-908-9946, and a transcript will be delivered to your address of record within five to 10 days.

For more information on or for help with:
completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa or call 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243
applying for an IDR, visit StudentAid.gov/idr.

 

 

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How to Order a Tax Transcript for College

February 10, 2017
All colleges are required to audit a percentage of all of the financial aid forms. This is called “Selected for Review”.  As a college student you may or you may not be selected. If you are Selected for Review and the college requires official tax data the best option is to use the IRS Data […]

All colleges are required to audit a percentage of all of the financial aid forms. This is called “Selected for Review”.  As a college student you may or you may not be selected.

If you are Selected for Review and the college requires official tax data the best option is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool on the FAFSA.

In some situations a student or parent may not be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). The other solution is to order a federal tax transcript. It may be necessary to order a tax transcript for the parent(s) and the student.

When a college asks for something specific, provide exactly what the college requests.

 

Requesting a Tax Return Transcript

Tax filers can request a transcript, free of charge, of their federal tax return transcript for the current academic year required from the IRS using one of the four methods below.

NOTE: Please do not request to have the tax return transcript sent directly to the college as a third party request because colleges cannot identify who the tax return transcript belongs to. Remember to write your student's name and student ID# on each page! If an individual college has specific procedures follow those guidelines.

 

Get Transcript

Get Transcript is an IRS online service that provides an electronic copy of an official IRS transcript.

To use the new Get Transcript Online tool, the user must have:

1). Access to a valid email address

2). A text-enabled mobile phone (pay-as-you-go plans cannot be used) and

3). Specific financial account numbers (such as a credit card number or an account number for a home mortgage or auto loan)

Telephone Request

  • Available from the IRS by calling 1-800-908-9946
  • Tax filers must follow prompts to enter their social security number and the numbers in their street address. Generally this will be numbers of the street address that was listed on the latest tax return filed. However, if an address change has been completed through the U.S. Postal Service, the IRS may have the updated address on file.
  • Select Option 2to request an IRS Tax Return Transcript and then enter the year you are requesting.
  • If successfully validated, tax filers can expect to receive a paper IRS Tax Return Transcript at the address that was used in their telephone request, within five to 10 days from the time the IRS receives the request.
  • IRS Tax Return Transcripts requested by telephone cannot be sent directly to a third party by the IRS.

Paper Request Form – IRS Form 4506T-EZ

IRS Form 4506T-EZ should be used instead of IRS Form 4506-T because it is sufficient to request an IRS Tax Return Transcript. (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506tez.pdf)

  • Download atgov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506tez.pdf
  • Complete lines 1 – 4, following the instructions on Page 2 of the form. Note that Line 3 should be the most current address as filed with the IRS. It is the address where the IRS Tax Return Transcript will be sent. If the address has recently changed, include the address listed on the latest tax return filed on Line 4. However, if an address change has been completed through the U.S. Postal Service, the IRS may have the updated address on file.
  • Line 5 provides tax filers with the option to have their IRS Tax Return Transcript mailed directly to a third party by the IRS.

***Please be aware that it will be difficult for The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to match a parent’s incoming IRS Tax Return Transcript to the aid applicant, as the two names may be different.

  • On Line 6, enter the year you are requesting to receive IRS tax information.
  • The tax filers (or spouse if requesting information from a joint tax return) must sign and date the form and enter their telephone number. Only one signature is required to request a transcript for a joint return.
  • Mail or fax the completed IRS Form4506T-EZ to the appropriate address (or FAX number) provided on Page 2 of Form 4506T-EZ. (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506tez.pdf)
  • Tax filers can expect to receive their transcript within 5 to 10 days from the time the IRS receives and processes their signed request. NOTE: Processing form4506T-EZ means verifying/validating the information provided on the form. If any information does not match the IRS records, the IRS will notify the tax filer that it was not able to provide the transcript.

 

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Link Your SAT and PSAT Scores to Khan Academy for Better Scores

December 16, 2016
Link Your SAT and PSAT Scores to Khan Academy for Better Scores Now you and your student can get personalized practice recommendations based on your SAT, PSAT or PSAT™ 8/9 results. When you link your scores to Khan Academy you will get personalized questions based off your score. Then review those questions, practice, prep and […]

Link Your SAT and PSAT Scores to Khan Academy for Better Scores

Now you and your student can get personalized practice recommendations based on your SAT, PSAT or PSAT™ 8/9 results. When you link your scores to Khan Academy you will get personalized questions based off your score. Then review those questions, practice, prep and take the test again to earn the highest score you can.

 

Take these steps to link your College Board and Khan Academy® accounts.

  1. Visit SATPractice.org This takes you to Khan Academy, where you can log in or create an account.
  2. Link Your Accounts When prompted, agree to link your Khan Academy and College Board accounts.
  3. Send Your Test Results At College Board, sign in or create an account and hit “Send” to send your test results to Khan Academy.

Prep, study and earn the highest score you can. Also review the Beat The Test class videos to achieve your scores faster. Better Scores = Better Scholarships!

Good Luck and let us know how you did.

 

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How to Sign Up for the SAT and ACT tests

December 9, 2016
How to Sign Up for the SAT and ACT tests You can take the SAT/ACT as early as you want, as often as you want. Colleges will take your highest score. Many colleges actually ask you to retake it to raise your score to give you more money. Some colleges will take your best component […]

How to Sign Up for the SAT and ACT tests

You can take the SAT/ACT as early as you want, as often as you want. Colleges will take your highest score. Many colleges actually ask you to retake it to raise your score to give you more money. Some colleges will take your best component scores from different tests (Super Score).

Please give yourself about 30 minutes to register for the test. The registration form will ask a bunch of questions that can potentially help you get some scholarships. At the end of the form, it will ask for your zip code. Once you put in your zip code College Board will notify you which locations are open to take the test.

Good Luck and let us know how you did!

 

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Should My Student Attend a Pay To Play Conference at a College

December 2, 2016
Hey mom, I got this letter it looks awsome but it costs $3,000 +. What do you think? Is this going to make my resume look better?! - uhh, no. Congratulations! You Are Nominated. It’s an Honor. (It’s a Sales Pitch.) original article here ON THE PROGRAM Leadership conferees visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial […]

ON THE PROGRAM Leadership conferees visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial last November. CreditTyrone Turner for The New York Times

The offer that arrived in Emily Wharton’s mailbox looked and sounded more like an Academy Award than a sales pitch. In fancy script, on weighty card stock adorned by a giant gold seal, the letter congratulated Ms. Wharton for the honor of being nominated to attend the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C. It counted 366 members of the United States Congress on its honorary Congressional board of advisers. It told her that she would represent the state of New York and promised a “lifetime advantage” and “valuable addition” to her résumé. It used words like “elite,” “distinguished,” “select.”

Ms. Wharton, a junior at Mamaroneck High School in Westchester County, N.Y., tingled with pride on reading it. “It makes you feel very unique and gifted,” she says.

The Whartons did not respond to the invitation. Still, Emily’s mother, Philippa, received an electronic elbow in the ribs every few days: more than a dozen e-mail messages from the group’s managing director of education, reminding her of enrollment deadlines and offering testimonials from participants and fund-raising tips.

The company that organized the conference, a direct-mail powerhouse called the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, runs an alphabet soup of such conferences that it says are attended by 50,000 students a year. It solicits recommendations from teachers and alumni of previous conferences, and it culls names from mailing lists, for which the council paid $263,000 in 2006 alone, according to its last filing with the Internal Revenue Service, before it gave up its nonprofit status.

“I like to build my kids up, but on real accomplishments,” she says. “It’s just too much. Instead of coming right out and saying, ‘We organize these wonderful trips to Washington, and you can meet all these other kids who are interested in government and motivated,’ they play up the honor angle. It’s like a marketing scam.”

In fact, the conferences, like many on offer, manage to attract engaged students from around the country. For the Washington gatherings, “scholars” (as conference-goers are called) bunk at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center, a brick Georgian flanked by a dining hall and meeting rooms, just outside the city. During their parent-free trip, students role-play political situations, attend workshops, hear speakers and sightsee, and it culminates in a dinner and dance at a local hotel. The young participants generally give the trips positive reviews: surveys by the council show close to 97 percent satisfaction, and many conferees later recommend friends.

But the big promises in its mailings and the sheer volume of its business have gotten the company into trouble in the last few months. At least one lawsuit has been filed over its conference during the inauguration, and in February, after nearly 25 years in operation, it lost its Better Business Bureau accreditation.

At least 15,000 students, many of them alumni, signed up for the event before knowing the election’s outcome. The invitation promised they would “share firsthand the excitement and ceremony of the inauguration of the president and vice president of the United States.” Students did hear marquee speakers — Al Gore and Colin L. Powell — but many have complained they were left largely on their own during the inauguration and parade, to which they thought they had special viewing, and were shut out of crowded panels and other events.

“You’re told it’s very selective, it wasn’t at all,” says Rasheed Hamdan, a graduate of American Military University. He flew in from Baja California Sur, Mexico, for the conference, the first he had ever attended. He had special business cards printed up and bought a tuxedo for an advertised black-tie gala, which turned out not to be formal or an official ball but, he says, a “glorified prom night.”

Parents paid $2,300 to $3,000 for students to attend the four-day program, a total of more than $40 million.

Malcolm Evans, a sophomore at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, left the conference early in frustration. “For that much money, and the way the stuff was worded, it seemed like you would have a much more personal and exclusive experience,” he says. To view the inauguration, he had to trek out at 2 a.m. to stake a spot at a lamppost along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The lawsuit was filed in New York by a father who says his 12-year-old daughter attended the conference but ended up watching the swearing-in on television.

Richard Rossi, a co-founder of the council and the company that owns it, Envision EMI, says there was a great demand to attend the conference, and with a staff of nearly 1,000 on hand, he believed that the company was well prepared. The logistical challenges proved overwhelming, though. “We were operating in almost a war zone, literally a presidential state of emergency,” he says. “There were a lot of things going on that were inconveniencing even V.I.P.’s.”

Still, he adds, the majority of participants “had a positive to transformational experience.”

Acknowledging responsibility, the company has set aside discount vouchers for future conferences and $1 million for refunds. It hired a former United States attorney general, Benjamin R. Civiletti, to study the events and recommend changes, and it is setting up a parents advisory board.

The company will not say how many letters it sends to parents and to students, nor has it responded to repeated questions about its marketing approach.

How is receiving an invitation an honor?

“These are students who are high-achieving leaders within their peer group, and they thrive on our programs, which are demanding and intensive,” says Carmen McClaskey, Envision’s director of communications. “Our focus has always been to have teachers nominate their high-achieving students for our programs.” Alumni, she adds, have also been “extremely active” nominators. “We accede to their recognition of who the top students are and who will excel in our programs. ”

Solicitations begin filling mailboxes, virtual and real, as soon as children reach middle school, and continue coming through college. In a variety of settings, from Congress to Caribbean beaches, programs advertise their ability to cultivate leaders.

Denise Clark Pope, a lecturer in the School of Education at Stanford University, does not discount that the experiences can be worthwhile. But the pitches, she says, “are feeding off myths and helping to perpetuate them,” that a child has been selected for a special destiny.

These ticker-tape parades in an envelope — the Congressional Youth Leadership Council tells potential participants they are “the nation’s most highly acclaimed students” and “most promising young leaders of tomorrow” — bewilder many parents and students. On the chat forum College Confidential, the thread begins in 2007: “I got this thing in the mail which I am not sure about. . . . Is it worth it? How does it look for college?” Others wonder: “Is it overpriced?” Is it “legit”? The thread continues into 2009.

The array of similarly named, competing companies underscores the extent to which the concept of student leadership has become big business.

There’s the National Student Leadership Conference, which offers a “select group of outstanding high school students” a taste of fields like medicine, engineering and business through field trips and simulations, and a chance to earn credit from American University (P.S.: the course comes for an extra fee — $620 for one credit hour or $1,650 for three, on top of a program fee of $1,600 to $3,000). There’s LeadAmerica’s Congressional Student Leadership Conference, which also advertises credit (P.S.: it’s pass/fail, from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and most universities will not accept it). People to People Ambassador Programs, which boasts of ties to Dwight D. Eisenhower, has had to apologize for sending invitations to its leadership programs to deceased children and an Arkansas family’s long-dead one-eyed cat. And Leadership Classroom takes teenagers to the Caribbean each summer for “experiential learning” in sailing and scuba diving.

But the front-runner of them all is the Congres­sional Youth Leadership Council. By its own count, more than half a million students have attended its programs, dwarfing its rivals.

Mr. Rossi, a former staff assistant to a senator, and Barbara Harris, a former teacher, started the council as a nonprofit organization in 1985. They also started the for-profit Envision, which managed the council’s operations before buying it outright in late 2007. Though no longer a nonprofit, mailings still refer to the council as an organization, rather than a company, and the Web address retains the “.org” typically associated with not-for-profits.

Attendance for most students depends on ability to pay — $1,480 for the five-day national conference, for example, and $2,290 for nine days, plus transportation and some meals.

In 2006, the council grossed $56 million tax-free, more than double its revenues in 2002. But only a small portion of that went to scholarships and grants: 1.7 percent, or about $940,000, according to filings with the I.R.S. At the time the council also had a $12 million endowment that provided $1.1 million in scholarships. That fund no longer exists, says Alexander Velaj, a board member involved in the dissolution of the council as a nonprofit.

Needy students are typically sent a brochure with fund-raising ideas and success stories of other students who have tapped friends, family and community to help pay their way. Ms. McClaskey says scholarships are “important and growing” but will not provide details. Mr. Rossi says that generally 90 percent of revenue goes into building up programs, and only 10 percent of the inaugural revenue was profit. Envision runs about 220 programs a year, most of them for 150 to 400 students each.

While the council’s stated goals are educational, Envision has gone after profit openly: a vision statement adopted after 9/11 called for it to increase profits tenfold within eight years. “This big hairy audacious goal has ignited us to think completely out of the box when assessing potential opportunities,” the statement said. “Halfway through this eight-year vision, we are on track to achieve our goal.”

The company adopted that goal, Mr. Rossi says, as tourists fled Washington in 2001 and the company’s survival was in doubt. Newly energized, the company branched out into new markets and bought out the nonprofit council, which aimed to grow “incrementally, or not at all,” Mr. Rossi says.

The company sought growth with a purpose, he says: to “teach young people of great potential, not only at one point in their lives, but to develop this into an ongoing opportunity from young grades to middle school to high school and college,” training them to step up in their communities and “do more than just take.”

Citing student privacy, Envision turned down my request to observe activities at last fall’s National Young Leaders Conference for high school students. The company did provide a copy of its program. Students were to meet their Congressional representatives, watch a debate in Congress, visit Georgetown, Chinatown and memorials, and do the role-playing exercises that are the hallmark of the conferences.

Anita Barrett, managing director for academic affairs at Envision, showed me curriculum guides containing scenarios the students would enact. In an imagined presidential crisis, Russia declares its intention to annex a swath of the Arctic laden with natural resources. Student workbooks include background texts on American-Russian relations, historical facts and treaties. Students play the president, cabinet members, lawmakers, military leaders and other key figures trying to work through a solution.

The simulations offer “something you can’t really get in school,” said Grant Burrall, managing director of K-12 programs. “It’s not taught in math or science or history class. It’s about responsible decision-making, listening, public speaking skills.”

IMPRESSIVE? A mailing from the Congressional Youth Leadership Council.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

Ms. Barrett concurred. “Leadership is what runs through our conferences: collaboration, problem-solving, conflict resolution,” she said.

In December, the company let me attend a day of sessions at a leadership forum for middle-school students from the Washington area and West Virginia.

In one room, about 20 students sat along the walls, a faculty adviser in the center, discussing ways to think about decision-making — taking into account what is known, and the many ways relevant facts may be unknown. Like many a self-help seminar, the program has its own gestures and lexicon; rather than applause, for example, students snap their fingers.

“Good job,” the teachers said regularly.

At another workshop, the students practiced presentation skills, speaking into a camera for 30 seconds and critiquing one another. At a third, they broke into groups of four to discuss how they would respond to a hypothetical situation. One scenario presumed they were Jewish, reared in a religious home, and members of the drama club. They are offered the lead in the senior play, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” What do they do, and what values are reflected in their choices?

Only one student, who was Jewish, said he would reject the role. “It’s valuing a lot of things: the trust of your parents, loyalty, tradition of my Jewish faith, family,” he said. Another student said that she would tell her parents it was her life and she wanted to do it.

Afterward, a faculty adviser asked students what they had learned about themselves. A girl named Susan volunteered that she was reconsidering her tendency to lie to her mother, and to cover for friends who were doing drugs.

“Snaps for Susan,” the moderator said, as the sound of crickets filled the room.

What do experts say about the programs?

In 2007, in a letter sent to middle-school students, a leading researcher in youth development endorsed the Envision program as “key to significant personal development and future success” and urged parents to send their children. Contacted recently about the program, the researcher, Richard M. Lerner, said he regretted endorsing the program and using Tufts University letterhead in violation of its policy barring endorsements of outside products or causes. Dr. Lerner is director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts.

“I was in effect telling parents to spend their money, which I didn’t have any business doing,” he said.

He said he was aware of no research showing that programs like Envision’s produce successful young people. Rather, he and other experts in the field say, studies of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H and other groups are trying to isolate what makes for effective youth development programs. A few of the more promising features: positive and sustained relations with a caring adult, mentoring in life skills and opportunities to use newly learned skills.

“Obviously, a four-day program is starting at a deficit,” he said. “There is no evidence these programs have a lasting effect.”

Dr. Lerner said he agreed to lend his support after presenting his findings on 4-H programs to Envision executives, following an introduction from the chief of the national 4-H club, which has financially supported his research. They described their programs, and Dr. Lerner said he liked some elements. He said 4-H’s support did not play a role in his decision to endorse Envision’s program, nor was he paid.

One participant in the middle-school forum, Zoe Velling, of Ashburn, Va., told me the program helped her to realize that at heart she was a peacemaker, and to assume that role more assertively. Since returning home, she had mediated a conflict between two friends, one of whom had hurt the other’s feelings. To the one who took offense, she said: “She didn’t mean it. You misinterpreted what she was saying.” To the other, she said: “Maybe you should keep some things to yourself. You don’t need to tell everything.”

She paused and added, “In the past, I’d just stand back and watch.”

Her mother, Carolyn Velling, said the workshops helped Zoe think more maturely about responsibility. She was glad the family sprang for the trip, at $1,200 for four days.

“Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was a real thing,” Ms. Velling said, “until I saw her teacher’s name on it.”

Leadership companies marketing to teenagers spend handsomely on mailing lists (the College Board is one source), but the biggest pipeline to customers is teachers and program alumni. Mailings usually name the person making the nomination and include a list of past participants from the student’s school.

There are no hard and fast criteria for nominators. The council says it is looking for students who show leadership potential, academic achievement and extracurricular involvement. Last year, materials for some programs said a minimum G.P.A. of 3.5 was a must. That requirement has been relaxed. Now educators are told to use their own discretion. Typically, the company says, participants come from the top 5 percent of their class. The nomination form asks for nothing beyond the student’s name, address, school year and sex.

“We do try to focus on the G.P.A. of 3.5 and above, but it’s absolutely not the only indicator of achievement,” says Shane Hedges, president of Envision. “High achieving can come in many forms — leaders in sports and bands, people who contribute to classroom conversation. We allow the teachers to tell us who are the students who have the potential.”

Some teachers and guidance counselors toss requests for nominations in the trash; others see them as a way to recognize a deserving student. Some respond only to conferences that returning students have praised; others see the programs for themselves. Envision says it will cover accommodations for teachers but not transportation. LeadAmerica offers teachers grants of up to $500 for classroom programs that promote leadership. The company says teachers are not obligated to nominate students to be eligible for a grant; they need only apply with a good proposal.

Anne Heitz, a guidance counselor at Fort Madison High School in Fort Madison, Iowa, believes attending leadership conferences can be “a neat opportunity for children.” But she worries that a scarcity of financial aid shuts out low-income students. “It doesn’t have any equity to it,” she says. “That gets me going right there.”

Linda Litterer, who teaches social studies at Fort Madison, sent her own daughter about seven years ago. “It was a huge boost to her self-confidence,” Ms. Litterer says. Last year, she recommended 10 students for the National Young Leaders Conference, and no other.

Students are relatively isolated in her southeast Iowa town of 11,000, on the Mississippi. “There are some who’ve never even crossed the river,” Ms. Litterer says. “For these kids, it is a big deal.” The invitation’s packaging, she says, “kind of reinforces that.”

Erin Harmon says she chose the National Young Leaders Conference because of Ms. Litterer’s recommendation. “I felt actually really honored,” says Ms. Harmon, who has a 3.8 grade-point average. “There hadn’t been someone from my school in five or six years. It seemed really official and really prestigious.” The local paper ran a small feature before she left, and another when she returned. (The company offers press releases to send to hometown papers.)

She credits the program with helping her decide on a career in politics rather than law. She is headed for Wartburg College in the fall. She believes that recommendations from her counselors at the leadership conference helped win her admission (Wartburg admits 72 percent of applicants).

Patrick O’Connor, the director of college counseling at the Roeper School, a K-12 school for gifted students in Birmingham, Mich., says that when he gets these solicitations, he makes an announcement over the public address system. He advises any students interested in attending to stop by his office. “I’m happy to nominate whoever wants to go,” he says.

In February, the Better Business Bureau downgraded Envision to an F rating.

As of April 8, 28 of the 57 complaints filed over the last 12 months had not been resolved. Issues included advertising practices, contract disputes and quality of the programs. Ms. McClaskey notes that the complaints spin off one event, the inaugural conference — in the prior two years, a dozen complaints had been filed — and fail to “reflect the value we have delivered to hundreds of thousand of students over nearly 25 years.”

The council’s Web site still features the seal of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Jeff Sherrill, an associate director of the association, says the seal is an educational version of the Underwriters Laboratories seal for electrical appliances, attesting that the programs meet minimum standards. The association, he says, reviews documentation that each program or contest submits for a range of features, but it does not endorse.

In Mr. Sherrill’s view, a leadership conference is no more or less likely to enhance college applications than, say, soccer camp. “It doesn’t fall into the same category as being selected by your county where there was truly some type of assessment and selection process,” he says. “That becomes a true honor.” By way of example, he cites appointment as a Senate page. “Honors typically don’t come with a price tag,” he says.

That is a sentiment echoed among college admissions officers, who say they do not place much stock in participation in such summits.

Susan Garrity Ardizzoni, director of undergraduate admissions at Tufts, says students whom she would hardly consider leadership material have received the invitations. In recent years, she has seen more applications from students citing attendance at these workshops as an achievement.

“But this doesn’t really give them any advantage,” she says. “For us, activities or essays are most meaningful for students where there’s an established track record or interest.”

Eric J. Furda, the dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, says that “the real depth to this in a highly selective process is: How has this shaped or influenced you? And your ability to articulate that.”

“For each opportunity, there will be a context or the deeper meaning,” he adds. “Where are you coming from, or where are you going with this experience?”

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