Clients and former admissions mentors are still seeking refunds, compensation, and answers more than six months after the acquisition of college consulting startup Acceptitas, which cut ties with its mentors in late 2022, leaving many unpaid and unaware of their termination for months.
Emmet A. Halm — a self-described Harvard dropout and cryptocurrency entrepreneur — founded Acceptitas in August 2020, only to leave the company’s mentors and mentees in the dark two years later after its acquisition by another college consulting group, Crimson Education.
Halm announced the acquisition to employees in an Oct. 24 Slack message — two months after the move had already taken place.
“There will be new opportunities for Acceptitas team members to expand the scope of their work,” Halm wrote. “Mentors & outreach associates will have the chance to continue similar work under Crimson.”
Five former Acceptitas mentors who spoke with The Crimson, however, said they never heard anything further about future work. Some continued to meet with their mentees for months, unaware that they would not receive payment.
“We weren’t getting paid anymore,” former Acceptitas mentor Elias E.Q. DeLeon ’23 said. “And it was just very odd to see everyone just be so radio silent, especially after such a seemingly triumphant moment, like getting acquired as a company.”
“He didn’t say anything would change, really — everyone just kind of kept going on as usual,” said former mentor Jara A. Wilensky ’24, who continued to work with her mentee for three months. “They just stopped paying us.”
In a March 7 statement to The Crimson, Halm said Acceptitas connected those who requested it to Crimson Education for “similar roles,” and he denied any wrongdoing.
“Only one of our mentors messaged me indicating interest in continuing with the new company, so I put them in contact. Everyone else continued wrapping up hours with clients,” Halm wrote.
Halm wrote in the statement that “no one was fired; the company was acquired.”
“Mentors finished up the remaining hours with their clients and Acceptitas didn’t take in any new clients,” he wrote.
On Feb. 22, Halm posted in the Acceptitas Slack for the first time since October.
“We’ve sent several mentor payments over the last two months that previously fell through the cracks,” Halm wrote. “If anyone still has outstanding hours, please let me know asap.”
Former Acceptitas mentor and Stanford undergraduate Enrique Flores said the Slack message contained “no acknowledgement” of the hours mentors spent trying to reach Halm following the acquisition, nor of the harm from Halm’s “absence of communication.”
“They did not fall through the cracks,” Flores said. “You ignored them.”
‘(don’t tell mentors or clients yet)’
In August 2022, Acceptitas was acquired by Crimson Education. Co-founded by Jamie J. Beaton ’16, Fangzhou Jiang, and Sharndré Kushor, Crimson Education is a global college consulting company, operating on a similar premise to Halm’s start-up.
On its website, Crimson Education advertises “former Admissions Officers, Ivy League and other top school graduates” among its college consultants.
By late September, Halm had started listing himself as the “former founder of Acceptitas” on his personal LinkedIn profile, though mentors had not yet been informed of the acquisition.
Halm wrote in a March 7 email to The Crimson that he could not discuss the terms of the acquisition by Crimson Education due to a nondisclosure agreement.
Desiree A. Rickett ’24, Acceptitas’ chief operating officer at the time, contacted Halm on Sept. 20 about refunds to mentees that had bounced and asked why the company’s Calendly subscription had lapsed.
“We’re having problems sending out money on the PayPal,” Rickett wrote in a text message obtained by The Crimson. “I’m trying to refund a client, but it keeps coming back as the bank refused the payment (our bank I believe).”
On Sept. 21, Halm responded, revealing the acquisition to Rickett.
“Hey Desiree, you can pause actions on PayPal. Acceptitas is being acquired by Crimson Education. This is not public information yet, so please keep on the DL (don’t tell mentors or clients yet),” he wrote in a text.
“This means we’ll be ceasing operations & transitioning folks to new exciting (& higher paid!) opportunities at Crimson,” Halm wrote.
Rickett reached out to Halm again on Sept. 21 about what to communicate to clients expecting refunds. Halm responded on Sept. 22, writing, “Nothing atm — more announcements to come soon.”
“Just don’t respond yet — I can reach out soon,” he added.
Halm asked Rickett to compile a list of payments owed to mentors and refunds owed to clients. Rickett shared it with Halm on Sept. 28.
In the following month, Rickett asked Halm at least five times about refunds he missed from the list.
She followed up with Halm on Oct. 22 about what to do with a client who paid the company $2,400 “a few weeks ago and has not heard back.”
“Moving funds around rn to refund him,” Halm wrote at 3:14 p.m. that afternoon.
“You can stop replying to Acceptitas related emails (company doesn’t technically exist anymore),” he added.
‘A Quiet Firing’
When Halm announced the acquisition of Acceptitas by Crimson Education in October, he requested mentors “keep this information confidential until our press release in the coming weeks.”
Neither Crimson Education nor Acceptitas published a press release on the move, however, leaving Acceptitas clients in the dark.
“If you have specific questions or want to indicate strong interest in taking on new roles & responsibilities, please message me,” Halm added.
Mentors at Acceptitas worked as independent contractors, rather than employees of the company. The Crimson obtained three copies of mentors’ contracts, which included a two-year noncompete clause and a termination clause.
“This agreement may be terminated by either party upon 15 days of written notice to the other party,” the contract states.
Halm’s Oct. 24 announcement did not include any reference to the termination of mentors’ contracts or the discontinuation of their work with clients.
“It seemed like we were being acquired, but nothing else was gonna change,” Flores said. “Like, we were just gonna continue doing the same services, but through Crimson Education. That was kind of it.”
But Crimson Education did not take on mentors’ contracts, according to the company’s U.S. director, Kimberly Scott.
Scott wrote in a Feb. 27 statement that Halm retained full responsibility for Acceptitas mentors and their payment following the acquisition.
“Crimson acquired only specific Acceptitas assets as part of the transaction,” Scott wrote. “The employees and contractors of Acceptitas remained as the sole responsibility of the original founder.”
Halm wrote in the March 7 statement to The Crimson that there had been no terminations, and referred back to the Slack announcement.
“No one was terminated; the company was acquired and mentors finished up the remaining hours with their clients,” Halm wrote. “We just stopped taking in new business.”
On Dec. 26, Amy Xiao, a junior at Brown University, reached out to Rickett on the Slack channel asking how to formally submit their resignation because they no longer had the time to mentor.
“Hi! Emmet didn’t make this super clear, but the company no longer exists because you are technically ‘resigned,’” Rickett wrote in response.
When Xiao asked if mentees had been informed of the company’s acquisition, Rickett wrote, “I don’t think so.”
DeLeon said he considered no longer being employed by Acceptitas a “theoretical possibility” when he read Halm’s Slack message. Still, he discarded the thought.
“I’ve heard, like, quiet quitting,” DeLeon said. “But this is like a quiet firing.”
‘Dropped Off the Face of the Earth’
In the months following Acceptitas’ acquisition, five mentors reported repeatedly failing to get in contact with Halm over missed payments.
Wilensky said she “didn’t think much” of the October acquisition announcement, and continued mentoring for five more sessions, which would total $150 in pay.
In a Jan. 7 meeting with one of her mentees, Wilensky said her mentee asked if the rumors were true — that Acceptitas was no longer paying its mentors.
“What are you talking about?” Wilensky asked her mentee at the time.
After trying to contact Halm through the company email, Wilensky received Halm’s personal email from the client’s parents, who were considering legal action.
It would ultimately take a month of Slack messages and emails to Halm for Wilensky to receive her payment on Feb. 2.
By the end of October, Flores had completed eight sessions with mentees, amounting to $240 in pay, and had not received any compensation for them.
After three weeks without payment, Flores informed his mentees that he would no longer be able to work with them. The payment issues coincided with a critical period in the college early application process, with many application deadlines set for Nov. 1.
“As I was trying to send messages to the Slack about getting paid, I was more patient and trusting because I didn’t want to just cut him off right before he had to apply to his number one school,” Flores said of his mentee.
On Nov. 7, Flores messaged the Slack channel but received no response. On Nov. 18, he messaged again.
“So, should I assume we are just no longer getting paid? Because I’ve yet to have someone reach out,” Flores wrote.
On Nov. 25, after receiving Halm’s personal phone number from another mentor, Flores texted him directly and did not receive a response.
Flores followed up on Nov. 28, but the silence continued.
Rickett texted Halm later that day about Flores’ outstanding wages.
“I have it on the amounts owed spreadsheet, did you happen to already send it out to him?” she asked.
After messaging Rickett on Dec. 2 and Dec. 7 with no response, Flores messaged her on Slack on Dec. 11.
“Hi Desiree, I feel I have been rather patient and have yet to hear anything,” Flores wrote. “I have detailed what has been happening with Acceptitas with my parents, and they are considering taking legal action.”
“I genuinely don’t understand why paying your workers has been such a struggle for you all, but it is unacceptable,” he added.
On Dec. 26, three weeks after Flores had first privately messaged Rickett, she responded by saying that she hadn’t “gotten an answer from Emmet in a while.”
Ricket offered to send Halm’s phone number, writing, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I haven’t had access to the bank account for months and he isn’t answering calls/emails/texts,” she added.
Flores reached out to Halm again on Feb. 13 — this time through Halm’s personal email.
“I have been trying to get a hold of you about payment for my time at Acceptitas and was informed that this is a better email to contact you with,” he wrote.
“I would like to be paid as soon as possible, considering it has been over 4 months,” he wrote.
On Feb. 14, more than two months after Flores’ initial outreach, Halm responded via email.
“Sent — hope your semester is going well,” he wrote.
Seven minutes after Halm published his Feb. 22 Slack message encouraging mentors to reach out about outstanding compensation, DeLeon emailed Halm regarding payment. He never received a response.
DeLeon’s last payment from the Acceptitas PayPal account is dated Oct. 11, 2022. He said he is still awaiting payment for 2.5 hours of work.
“I wouldn’t call it late payments. I’m technically still owed $70 in payment,” DeLeon said. “So it’s not necessarily late, it just also dropped off the face of the earth.”
Former Texas Assistant Attorney General Kerry V. O’Brien, who specializes in labor and employment law, said mentors “could expect and demand” to be paid on the same regular payment schedule of the contractual relationship, “regardless of the absence of anything specific in the contract.”
DeLeon said Acceptitas seemed like a “typical Harvard startup.”
“And even when it may not have the legs, it’s a bunch of people our age trying to act, to actually be CEO, COOs, that kind of stuff,” DeLeon said. “It’s a lot of pressure, and a lot of things can fall through the cracks in terms of professionalism and workflows.”
‘Pull a Fast One’
Minhyuk “Danny” Youn — a high school junior living in South Korea — learned about Acceptitas through TikTok in early 2022, during his sophomore year.
He paid $1,449 up front for a 30-hour mentoring package, but he took a break from Acceptitas in April 2022 due to difficulty coordinating meetings across the time difference.
Youn decided to switch to a professional college consultant in South Korea after completing 10.5 hours with his mentor. At that point, he still had 19.5 hours left in his package, valued at $941.85.
After deciding to terminate his mentorship with Acceptitas, Youn reached out to his mentor for a refund on the remaining hours. In a Nov. 27, email the mentor informed Youn that “I effectively no longer work at the company.”
“I was like, ‘What about my remaining money?’ ” Youn said.
Youn reached out to Crimson Education’s headquarters in South Korea and the United States and said he sent around 40 emails to Acceptitas and his mentor.
Eventually, Youn said he asked his parents for help in the matter and told Halm that “legal actions may follow” if the team continued to be “nonresponsive.”
Youn ultimately received his refund in early February. Still, he had to cover the cost of the PayPal fee for the payment, which totaled 4 to 5 percent of the amount owed.
Halm did not respond to a request for comment on the fee.
On Aug. 16, Amit Mathur purchased 20 sessions with a mentor, totaling $1,700, to help his ninth-grade son explore a passion project. After two sessions, Mathur emailed Rickett to request a mentor change in September, citing dissatisfaction with the emphasis on college admissions.
After a month without a new mentor, he emailed Rickett on Oct. 31.
“I am not feeling comfortable with the current state of events in your organization,” Mathur wrote. “Is it possible to get refund?”
“No worries! I will forward you along to Emmet who can get that processed for you,” Rickett responded on Oct. 31.
Mathur followed up with Rickett and Halm on Nov. 8 and again on Jan. 10, 2023, to ask about the refund. Mathur said he has still not received a refund.
Halm wrote in the March 7 statement that “all client requests were either handled by management or forwarded to me as appropriate.”
“I think they are using the Harvard name as a clickbait,” Mathur said.
“See, I believe they are kids,” Mathur added. “But if they’re trying to pull a fast one on people, that’s not good.”
‘Founded 100% by Harvard Students’
When Harvard’s campus shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Halm took a gap year and built Acceptitas, which marketed itself as “founded 100% by Harvard students.”
Undergraduate mentors would meet virtually with high school students around the world, helping them develop “passion projects,” providing feedback on application essays, and guiding them through the college admissions process.
Halm hired Arin J. Mishra — then a sophomore in high school — as an unpaid intern in February 2020. Mishra would later become the company’s paid head of marketing. Halm hired Sarah J. Benedict, at the time a recent high school graduate, as chief operating officer in August 2021.
“When you’re at an institution like [Harvard] and you’re starting a company, you’re going to try to use its name as much as you can,” Mishra said.
“You can look at our earlier advertisements, and it’ll say, ‘Harvard students helping you with your application.’ It’s a dream come true,” he added.
After an initial free consultation, Acceptitas paired high school students with undergraduate mentors. Students could purchase packages of sessions — paying for up to 30 hours upfront.
As Acceptitas expanded, mentors were paid between $20 and $30 an hour based on how many clients they took on — a way to incentivize mentors to accept more clients. Benedict said the number of clients a mentor could work with at one time was capped at six.
Mentors signed independent contractor agreements with Acceptitas, but Rickett and Benedict — who were in operational roles — said Halm did not provide them with a legal contract.
Benedict said she directly asked Halm for a contract but never received one. Halm did send Benedict an IRS 1099 form for tax purposes — typically filed for independent contractors — and a nondisclosure agreement, she added.
“I can’t see a reasonable scenario in which somebody who is the COO in title, form, and function is properly an independent contractor,” O’Brien, the employment attorney, said.
Halm did not respond to a request for comment on the Acceptitas’ COO being an independent contractor.
Halm denied that he did not provide executive-level managers with contracts in a March 7 email to The Crimson.
“This is objectively false,” Halm wrote. “All our exec-level positions have clearly defined & signed formal contracts.”
Halm attached as evidence a screenshot of a Google Doc, last edited April 26, 2022, listing “COO responsibilities,” including “immediate tasks,” “future tasks,” and a to-do list. The screenshot also showed base pay for the position as $600 per month, with a bonus of 5 percent of gross revenue — though no other employment terms are referenced.
The screenshot Halm provided did not show a signature by Halm or any Acceptitas executive on the document.
“I definitely wasn’t paid $600/month,” Rickett wrote when asked about the terms included in the document. She wrote that her compensation rate remained $30 per hour even after transitioning to COO.
Halm did not respond to subsequent requests for comment on the COO contract or compensation, and he did not respond to a request to provide a signed copy of the document.
Halm posted an application for Acceptitas’ “Moonshot Internship” on his personal LinkedIn profile on Jan. 3, 2022.
“If you know any entrepreneurial-minded high school or college students, applications are open,” Halm wrote in the post. “Intern(s) will receive mentoring & a unique chance to lead their own start-up initiative.”
Julie T. Phan first learned of Acceptitas’ internship program through one of the company’s Instagram posts. Phan, who attends a Title I public high school, said she found Acceptitas and its mission “really inspiring.”
Phan completed Acceptitas’ social media internship application through a Google Form. On March 23, 2022, she received an interview request from Mishra, identifying her as an “exemplary applicant.”
But Phan did not hear back after replying to the request for an interview. She followed up on April 5, 2022, but she still did not receive a response.
And then, on May 12, 2022, Phan received unexpected news.
“Welcome to Acceptitas!” Mishra wrote in an email to Phan and 21 other students. Though Phan joined the company Slack, and Mishra’s email promised a Zoom call with the full intern cohort, Phan said she and the other interns received no further communication or direction.
“I poured my whole soul into the application — whatever I do, when it involves students and community — I value that the most,” Phan said. “And so, when I didn’t hear anything back, I felt really confused and disappointed.”
Mishra, who was tasked with interviewing prospective interns, confirmed that no interns were actually brought on.
“That’s on my end completely. I mean, I’ll take accountability,” Mishra said when asked why he did not follow up with Halm on the future of the internship program.
On Feb. 12, 2023, Phan sent a message in the Acceptitas Slack channel inquiring about the state of the internship program, writing, “I took my time to apply, got in, and didn’t receive any future updates.”
The response was not what Phan had hoped.
“Since Acceptitas basically doesn’t exist anymore/no one is employed anymore, I’m going to guess the internship doesn’t exist anymore,” Xiao, the former mentor, said.
“Sorry you got ghosted too — super unprofessional,” they added.
—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.
—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HaidarEmma.