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College Guidance Q & A

Applicants and their families have many questions about college admissions. Each week Larry shares a question and his response. This week's question is about hiring a college consultant to assist with the admissions process.


Q: Is it worth hiring a consultant to help with your child's college admissions letter to elite schools such as Harvard, Yale, MIT, Wharton, Oxford, etc.?

A: “Worth” is a difficult measure. Any student can get denied at any of those educational institutions, or their peers. Not going to one of those high prestige colleges will not ruin a young person’s life, so it’s impossible to measure the value of a consultant in that environment. Maybe the question of worth means different things to different families, depending upon their own specific finances as well as goals for their children. There are differences among college consultants that one should consider before making a hiring decision.


I am one of those consultants. I have visited over 185 college campuses in person. I have had lunch with admissions representatives from many others. I have been visited in my office by still more. I have been a member of IECA, HECA, NACAC, and NJACAC for many years. I have attended (and presented at) educational conferences sponsored by those organizations. I read the IECA, HECA, and NACAC listserves every day and contribute to those discussions. I also read The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the public writing of education leaders in admissions, enrollment, test preparation, and other fields. I recently reviewed the manuscript (for a book to be published in the fall) at the request of a nationally renowned education writer. There is only one certifying body for independent educational consultants - AICEP - and I have been allowed to take that test, passed it, and have since been recertified after 5 years. For all these reasons, I recognize the pitfalls in hiring a neighbor who has a PhD in English to edit college essays. That person might guide the writer to perfect punctuation and glorious language, but that is not how candidates to highly selective colleges distinguish themselves from their extraordinary peers.


The specific colleges in your inquiry are all very different and a competent consultant must understand that difference. A competent consultant also does not change the voice of the student when coaching the college essays. However, there are charlatans and incompetents who will take your money, and they are definitely not “worth” it, even if the cost is modest.


Consultants who continuously educate themselves as I do are at least worth considering. Consultants who work at their profession as I do have assisted students admitted to all those colleges, and their peers.


Please excuse any typos. I am responding on my iPad with my first cup of coffee in hand. And my neighbor who claims to be an essay consultant wasn’t available.

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