July 2011 Newsletter
Some parents wonder about the benefits of hiring a private college counselor. They may wonder why this would be necessary since their child has a perfectly capable high school guidance counselor who is both knowledgeable and experienced in the college admissions process and up to speed on all of the latest trends. These high school counselors may know that Amherst College is making a big push for students in the lower income bracket. They may know that USC will admit students prior to their senior year of high school. No doubt many of those high school counselors are out there.
But there’s a good chance that your child’s high school counselor is not up to speed on recent trends and nuances in the college admissions process. If all high school counselors were knowledgeable about college admissions, then why would students and parents routinely email or call us asking such questions as: “What does restrictive early action mean?” “What’s the benefit of applying early decision?” “With a near perfect grade point average and SAT scores, would I be guaranteed admission to the colleges to which I apply?” Does getting a call for an interview mean that there’s a good chance of gaining admission?” “Do admissions counselors value the ACT exam as much as the SAT?” And why else would some high school counselors ask us if we had samples of great essays that we would be willing to share?
Yet, in defense of high school guidance counselors, we do realize that college counseling is only one of their many duties. With caseloads anywhere between 250 to 1,000 students and with a range of duties that include being the case manager for home instruction students, doing crises intervention, acting as an adviser for a club, meeting with students individually for scheduling the following year’s classes, and then rearranging schedules because some students are not happy with their lunch period, college counseling may get lost in the shuffle. Many counselors infrequently, if ever, visit college campuses, pick up the phone to call a college admissions counselor to advocate for a particular student, or even read timely news articles about the college admissions process.
With admission rates at highly selective colleges getting lower each year, the college admissions process is filled with inherent risks. Could the guidance counselor letter of recommendation be more effective? Is this how my child should be answering a particular question on a college alumni interview? How can my child find his hook in extracurricular activities? What does this particular university look for in a student? What story is my child telling in the personal statement and other supplemental essays, and is my child’s narrative compelling?
A good private college counselor – not just any college counselor – can reduce or eliminate these risks. But there are many private college counselors out there who don’t have the requisite credentials. Maybe some of these “college counselors” only have one claim to fame in that they are parents who helped their own kids get into college and so they now think that they are experts on college admissions. Maybe they’re entrepreneurs with no experience in college admissions whatsoever. Maybe they’re recent college grads from top schools thinking, “I got in. So that means I can get your kid in, too.” Actually, one of our own students who attended Columbia University as an undergrad and then went on to medical school just started his own college counseling company. He now has the initials MD after his name, but how does that make him qualified to counsel college applicants?
Chances are good that these private college counselors aren’t members of respected college counseling organizations such as NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) or IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association). Maybe, like the “admissions agents” in China who ask students to select the essay they want to use from a pre-written stack of essays, they’re highly unethical and are only in the business to take advantage of stressed out parents and even more stressed out students in order to buy a brand new condo overlooking the Shanghai Huangpu River.
The fees that The Ivy Coach commands are a good reason that we’re in this business, too. Just as doctors, lawyers, accountants, realtors, or repairmen have a fee, so do we. But we’re also in this business because we enjoy helping students realize their dreams. We’re in this business because when we get the call from the student who was expelled from one of our nation’s finest military academies because of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and that student wants to complete his education at another prestigious university, we know that we can help him achieve that goal. We’re in this business because when we receive those phone calls from our students informing us that they got into several of the most selective colleges in the country (their top choices), they couldn’t be happier. We’re in this business because those same parents hire us again to help their other children and refer their nieces and nephews.
The ubiquitous headlines that private college counselors prey on parents and students overwhelmed by the college admissions process don’t get to us one bit. Students and parents make tons of mistakes before and during the stressful college admissions process and, as the college admissions statistics suggest, they often pay the price with a denial to that highly selective college. The fact is that there’s a market for college admissions expertise. Does Nike prey on kids who need footwear? Does Crest prey on parents who want their kids to be cavity free? In any market, there are going to be highly ethical and highly unethical businesses. We’re proud to be a highly ethical one and we’re proud to be in the business of private college counseling where we can truly help students realize their dreams.