333 Maple Avenue East #700
Vienna, VA 22180
by David Petersam, President, AdmissionsConsultants, Inc.
A recent article on a college admissions
consultancy in Businessweek is sure to spark
interest in parents and high school students alike on
whether such businesses are ethical, much less, whether
they are effective.
Before anyone judges the college
admissions consulting industry based on the magazine's
example, let's keep in mind that there are a wide range
of practitioners. As the founder and owner of an admissions consulting firm, my job is very different than the consultant featured in
Businessweek. While my companyís focus is, like the one featured, on helping clients best leverage their accomplishments to get into a school of their choice, our paths diverge from that point on.
Perhaps one of the reasons is that AdmissionsConsultants has a
diverse, seasoned team. We have no single person here
reinventing our clients into candidates appointed with
all the latest "wow" factors. Our consultants specialize
in particular areas of college, law school, graduate
business school, or medical school admissions. They
earned experience as admissions officers at highly
competitive schools; many served at more than one
top-tier school. Several have also held other
administrative and faculty roles. With experience from
both sides – as admissions officers and now as
admissions consultants – they have interacted with a
range of applicants. They understand and support highly
motivated applicants who yearn to reach the top, yet
they are less "Extreme Makeover" and more organic in
Businessweek-featured consultant advised a high
school junior to drop track team to focus more on music,
his intended major, we would not have done that, even
though a reader could have inferred that the tactic was
successful. Yes, it is important for college applicants
to demonstrate passion and commitment, especially for
those with intended majors, but such calculated advising
limits the variety of challenging experiences that helps
high school students discover themselves. Competitive
running sounds like a great companion to myriad
disciplines. Why put a lid on that?
Other obvious differences abound between conscientious
admissions consultants and the cases that make the
headlines. Last year, there was much media attention on
a Harvard sophomore, who, back when she was a high
school senior and Harvard applicant, successfully
packaged herself with the aid of an admissions
consultant who, as it was reported, crossed
the line. The applicant's packaging included producing a
novel, one good enough to be picked up by a publisher.
All was well until the publisher began fielding
complaints about the young authorís plagiarism. After
its own investigation, the publisher pulled the book off
the shelves. While the role of the college admissions
consultant in the publication of the book is murky, the
case is instructive in laying out the difference between
packaging and putting your best foot forward. Yes,
applicants do need to get their "wow" factors in order,
but an ethical consultant sees a clear distinction between
presenting an applicant's accomplishments in their best
light and juicing them up beyond recognition.
So, how will you know you are working with a good
company that has your best interests at heart? If you
are wondering how to assess admissions consulting
companies, here are some tips to help you find the right
Ask questions about the one-on-one
advising you will receive from your consultant. You
want someone who will be honest in assessing your
academic and extracurricular record in terms of your
target schools. An effective consultant's work is
not solely focused on getting clients into their
dream schools; it's also on making sure that clients
are targeting schools that are – in full measure –
the best place for them to commit years of their
time at an enormous financial cost. An effective
consultant will be knowledgeable of a range of
schools that will help you achieve your educational
and professional goals.
Ask how the consultant will help you deal with any grades or scores that don't reflect your abilities or potential. Many bright, accomplished applicants have a pock mark or two that could detract from their status as an applicant. Yet, a skilled consultant knows the nature of academic anomalies, and how and when they can be successfully mitigated.
An effective consultant will be skilled at managing the notoriously stressful application process. A good consultant is also a good organizer with a strong understanding of the human psyche under stress. The application process involves a lot of self-assessment and other exercises typically outside anyone's comfort zone. You will want a consultant who knows how much time to allot for various application tasks and will help you devise a timeframe to get all the work done, on time.
Does the consultant have the background experience you need? A consultant worth your time and money will have had considerable experience as an admissions officer at a school on par with the one you are applying to. Bonus points go to those who have worked at more than one school with similar admissions requirements. Graduate and professional school applicants will want to hire a consultant who specializes in that field and has matching admissions committee experience. Ask how many applications they read on a weekly basis during the admissions cycle. It can be helpful if the consultant attended a school similar to those on your target list, but the professional admissions experience earned on campus is much more important.
Successful consultants, by and large, respect the admissions process of most
schools. They know that competitive, highly ranked schools work hard to create
diverse, bright incoming classes who will be successful in carrying the academic
load ahead and will contribute to the school's environment. Ethical consultants
will not view admissions officers as adversaries, "Nor," as one of my college
advisers says, "will they view admissions as a process to be gamed."
Seasoned consultants are not inexpensive; hourly fees start at $100. Highly specialized consultants, like Ivy League MBA advisers, can charge quite a bit more. But the Hummer-sized fees referenced in news articles on the college admissions business – which tend to focus on the most extreme cases – is not at all typical of the industry as a whole. These are the fees of those who cast themselves more as magician, plastic surgeon and NFL coach combined. If you sign an agreement for bundled services, be sure you understand and are comfortable with terms governing refunds.
While a good adviser will work hard to understand your potential, he or she will also value who you really are at this time in your life, knowing that with enough focus on school selection and applications, you will earn a slot at a school where the acceptance letter will usher in productive and rewarding years of learning, creating, researching and launching the next phase of your life.