Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

College Consultants? Who Needs’em?

“It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal.” – Oscar Wilde.

Why should families hire an independent college admissions consultant? 

krisatcomputer21. Focused one-on-one attention. In the middle of this decade, studies by the U.S. Dept. of Education and National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) pointed to average public school counselor-to-student ratios in the range of 300-500 to 1. Guidance counselors can only devote part of their time to college advising, since their duties often include scheduling and discipline issues.These professionals are doing their best in a difficult situation. But for families who would like more individual attention for their high school student, an independent consultant can play a helpful role.

testingym2. Rising college competitiveness. S. P. Springer et al, authors of Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College, identify three factors that have made the college process more competitive and stressful than “back in the day”: the “echo” boom (or baby boomlet), social changes, and the Internet. They describe the demographic explosion which causes students to be “edged out” of top colleges at which their parents were accepted–supply and demand. “More high school graduates than ever are competing for seats in the freshman class…In 1997, there were 2.6 million graduates…by 2009, the number of high school graduates had grown to 3.3 million…they are projected to stay at or above 3.2 million at least until 2022.” (p. 2). Social changes have dramatically increased the competitiveness of the college process. “Application numbers have grown much faster than the age cohort…Not only are there more students graduating from high school each year, proportionally more of them want to go to college…At the same time, colleges themselves have increased their efforts to attract large, diverse pools of applicants.” (p.3). The Internet intensifies competition due to online applications (e.g., Common App) have made it easy to apply to multiple colleges. (p. 3-4).

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In addition to factors mentioned by Springer, U.S. colleges admit a substantial number of international students today. According to Open Doors 2014, published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the number of foreign students in the U.S. has grown by 72 percent in the past fifteen years, over forty percent of which are undergraduates. The top three places of origin are China, India, and South Korea. Foreign students are desirable for U.S. institutions not only because of their strong testing performance encouraged by their home cultures, but also because they typically pay full tuition (two-thirds of higher education funding for international students in the U.S. come from their own families).

This competitive, complex landscape requires more guidance than it used to. It can be misleading, unrealistic (and unfair to the child) to rely on parental historical benchmarks: “I went to Yale and my son is as smart as I am, so why shouldn’t he be accepted?” An experienced consultant can provide an updated perspective for your family.

bullseye3. Mistakes are costly. I am talking about cost in terms of student self-esteem as well as time and money. It is essential to have a realistic college list, with an appropriate number of “target” schools, not too many reaches or safes. Unrealistic expectations may exacerbate the anxiety and stress of the college process, and result in your teen having to “settle” for a school that is not the best fit. Many people say, “You can always transfer.” But having to start over is emotionally challenging. And don’t forget, transfer students are not considered for many scholarships for which freshmen are eligible. If the new college’s academic requirements differ from the original school’s, the student may have to spend extra time and money taking additional courses. Why let a high school student go through this potentially costly “guinea pig” experience? Advice from an experienced counselor can prevent unnecessary expenditure of time, money and angst. You are perhaps about to shell out $250K (for a private college), one of the largest investments you will ever make. An initial advisory service seems like a reasonable course of action before launching into such a venture.

momandgirlfight4. A third party can help navigate the tricky parent-teen relationship. The college process creates the perfect storm in an already tense, emotional parent-teen dynamic. Your adolescent is legitimately struggling for autonomy, trying to find his or her authentic voice, while you are seeking to protect your evolving young adult from disastrous consequences of high risk behaviors. A third party mentor can lower the tension. A teenager is generally more willing to listen to a third party than to parents!

counselaframgirl5. A college consultant can help broaden opportunities for your student. A seasoned consultant has knowledge of many colleges of which you may not be aware. He or she is experienced with resources to assist you in efficiently finding schools with strengths in your teen’s field of interest, or “great fits” with his or her personality. A consultant has visited numerous campuses, and has previous clients who have visited, considered, or attended a school that might be relevant. The college counselor can connect you with families who can share firsthand experiences. An experienced consultant will also be familiar with excellent high school summer, gap year and study abroad programs. Although most college consultants are not financial aid advisors, they are acquainted with the process and can point you in the direction of specialists. They also can put you in touch with tutors for standardized testing and even educational consultants who can help with learning disabilities.

interviewwitholderwomanFor information on choosing an independent college consultant, check with the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) or the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). Any consultant you consider using in your area should be a member of one of these organizations, in addition to a professional background in counseling, school guidance, or admissions. Other credentials include the IECA Training Institute or a College Counseling Certificate from UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, or UCLA.

To offer further insights, I am sharing a segment from a recent interview I did on Hometowne TV, a local access cable network based in Summit, NJ, hosted by Myung Bondy. You can find additional segments of this interview covering a number of key college application topics on my YouTube.

Video Interview: Why Use a College Consultant?