The college admissions process is stressful, for good reason. Acceptance to the right college or university can determine the trajectory of careers — and even lives. And competition is increasingly stiff, particularly in the more prestigious institutions.
A recent Pew Research study revealed that the more exclusive schools with admission rates between 10–20% of applicants saw application volume rise 110% between 2002–2017, with only 17% more admissions offers during the same period. Overall, colleges and universities — even those with 90% acceptance rates — are making more admissions offers than ever, but not nearly enough to keep pace with the increasing numbers of applicants. Of the 1,364 four-year colleges and universities in this study, 17 schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern, admitted fewer than 10% of applicants. In contrast, schools like Georgetown, USC, and UCLA admitted less than 20% of applicants.
Reduce Stress, Increase Success: Use an Independent College Admissions Counselor
Unless you want to go by the way of a college admissions scandal, you might consider a college admissions consultant to help ensure your child can secure a seat at a prestigious institution. You’re working hard, after all. You established a tax-advantaged 529 plan with your financial advisor, got into your area’s best pre-K and preparatory private schools, and may drive across town every weekday evening and weekend to extracurriculars and events. It’s a lot, but your child is totally worth it, and the peace of mind of a qualified coach in this game, an informed and connected college admissions consultant, might be just the advantage you need to succeed.
College isn’t just a sizable investment in dollars. The right university can determine the future trajectory of our children’s lives, so professional support is welcome. One path is taking advantage of the counseling, advisement, and resources already available through the school counselors at your child’s school. Another way to go is to employ the myriad online resources and guides available for students and families through the Princeton Review and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.
Considering your child’s needs, interests, and proclivities and the staggering number of options for majors, scholarships, application forms, and entrance requirements, it might make sense to consult the expertise of a college admission counselor.
What Does a College Admission Counselor Do?
What can a college admissions consultant do for your family, and how can they help get your child into the college of their dreams? We’ve gathered a few considerations for evaluating admissions counselors to better prepare you and your child for selecting and working with a college admissions consultant.
It’s important to remember that the selection process is subjective and that you’ll want to work with a qualified counselor who can provide the support you need. You’ll want to find a college admissions consultant that your child will enjoy working with, one that will find the schools and programs that will fit your child’s wants, needs, and dreams — instead of just pushing for specific or recognized school programs.
With that said, let’s explore what to consider when evaluating college admissions consultants.
How to Find a Good Fit for College Admissions Advice
Most college counselors have experience with the admissions process and enjoy working with families and young people. Finding a counselor you can appreciate and enjoy working with should be pretty easy; this is part of their job description. Just be sure they’re not overloaded with clients and can give you the attention you’re paying for and expect. The last thing you want to happen is to find your admissions counselor absent during the critical application deadline phase.
You’ll also want to consider communication style and availability. Some counselors will happily work on Zoom or via phone; others might be better suited for in-person meetings. A counselor’s style, approach, and methods should match those of you and your child. Personal rapport is crucial, as is the capacity to connect with your child and uncover goals and aspirations from a teen who might be fond of the “I don’t know” reply to important personal interests, life goals, and college choice questions.
Consider Your College Counselor’s Qualifications and Experience
Look for counselors with relevant qualifications, such as certification from recognized organizations like the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) or the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Consultants from the IECA “spend 20% of their time on the road, meeting with admissions offices, touring campuses, and exploring the campus environment,” according to their website. In addition to certifying college admissions counselors, the NACAC hosts college fair events across the country and provides a wide range of resources for students to prepare, search for, and ultimately decide on the college program and major of their dreams.
When searching, take the time to get to know at least a few independent college admission counselors. Meet with them in person or speak with them over the phone and arrange meetings between a few of the ones you like and your child. If there’s no rapport between the college consultant and your child, keep up the search.
Get and check recent references. Websites and sales brochures are a source for promotional material and testimonial insights, the “social proof” that backs up the claims and qualifications of the admissions consultants under consideration. Google, Yelp, or other platform reviews might also provide insights into their success rate and reception. Verifiable references from families and college students who have used their consulting services should be integral to your review process. Gather references, call them, ask questions, and have conversations about their experiences. If a counselor is skilled and qualified, these references should be glowing, and the contacts should be happy to share the goodness.
Seek out Specializations and Areas of Interest
Many counselors specialize in specific areas, such as Ivy League admissions, international admissions, or students with specific learning requirements. Some admissions consultants won’t work with fine arts students, for example, and focus more on specific types of college experiences and programs.
Just like you wouldn’t take your Mercedes to a Toyota dealership for maintenance or repairs, you should choose a college consultant whose specializations align with your child’s interests and needs. Theater, dance, and visual arts students should look for a fine arts-aligned admissions counselor like ArtsBridge or Artriculate, specializing in portfolio development and admissions requirements for desirable arts schools like the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and USC School of Cinematic Arts. Engineering and mathematics students might consider STEM specialty advisors like Polaris College Counseling for a better understanding of the requirements of their programs of choice and what it might take, in regards to advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities to shine on applications for schools like Stanford University or the University of California Berkeley.
College Admission Consulting Services
Now that we’re talking about class requirements and extracurriculars to stand out, we can get into the details of how a college admissions consultant might help mitigate the pressure of doing it yourself. Organizations like BigFuture provide extensive resources for the do-it-yourself college admissions path, and the CommonApp has made the admissions process a bit easier for participating schools, but a skilled and qualified admissions counselor has the understanding, insights, and potential connections to ensure a greater degree of success in landing a dream acceptance.
As needs vary depending on your child’s interest, age, current grade level, and schools of choice, you’ll want to align these needs with the services of your admissions consultant. Start with your middle or high school counselor and get your child to consider their future. Check out sites like the Princeton Review and BigFuture to spark additional ideas and better understand where you might best find support. Then, based on your understanding, interview consultants to see how and where they can help. It’s a daunting and important process, but it’s worth the effort to approach this knowledgeably to find the best fit for your child and their future. Enlisting a STEM-centric counselor for a prestigious liberal arts program application won’t ensure much success, so use the resources before engaging a college admissions consultant.
Once you’ve decided on the consultant root, a college admissions counselor can help with:
- Refining a list of colleges and selecting a best fit
- Managing application timelines and admissions strategies
- Selecting supporting high school courses
- Clarify costs and financial aid sources and availability
- Recommendations for extracurriculars and summer planning
- Interview preparation
- Gap year considerations
- Resume and activity-list writing
- Evaluating admissions offers
- Test preparation (for graduate studies)
Admissions Consultant Cost Considerations
College admissions counseling services vary widely in cost, depending upon the consultant’s qualifications, experience, locations, specialties, and more. You can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a few hours of consulting to flat rate fees and packages anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.
Considering the national average for college tuition is currently $9,375 per year, a few thousand dollars to ensure you’re getting it right is a small price. Many counselors intimately know the ins and outs of grants, scholarships, and financial support so that the consultation services might be well worth their fees in scholarships alone. That said, consider your budget and be sure you understand the full scope of the counselor’s services and fee structure before you initiate an engagement.
College Consultant Ethics and Standards
College admissions counselors should work in your child’s best interest. It’s a personal process, and you should expect them to take the time to consider your child’s interests, needs, and proclivities in the context of the university experience. If your child is a painter and a surfer, you wouldn’t want your admissions counselor guiding them to a university in the Rocky Mountain range or the Great Lakes. It’s about uncovering and ensuring the best college experience. Counselors shouldn’t push schools that don’t fit your child. Organizations like the National Association for College Admissions Counseling have produced a Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admissions, which might help you better understand what to expect throughout the process. Admissions counselors should be friendly but remain objective and understand the context of your financial situation, your child’s interests, and their potential.
Consultant Networks and University Connections
It’s often said that it’s not what you know, but who you know that makes things happen. The same might be true for college admissions consultants. Some counselors have extensive connections at prestigious universities or a history of working on admissions for a particular school of interest.
Far from engaging in a scandalous approach to college admissions, counselors and consultants with specific admissions experience at a college of choice, like those from IvyWise, might prove advantageous. Athletes and those looking at NCAA Division schools might consider former coaching or recruiting staff consultants. Either way, admissions specialists should know the details of specific programs, maintain a network of relationships, continually cultivate this network for effectiveness, and stay abreast of changes at specific colleges, like emerging affirmative action changes and diversity initiatives. It never hurts to know someone on the inside who can tell you just what a letter of recommendation or student story should say to tip the acceptance scale.
How to Get Your Kids into The College of Their Dreams
Deciding when to enlist the help of a college admissions consultant will vary. Some families start working with consultants as early as middle school to help their child prepare for high school and build a strong academic record and list of extracurricular activities. Others seek consultants later in the college admissions process to create college lists, prepare admission packets, or approach the application process. Resources and consultants are available for every stage and can provide customized support.
The admissions process is competitive and dynamic. Success depends on more than just the guidance of a consultant. Preparing early, discussing interests and dreams with your child, and ensuring that you work with your financial advisor and have a 529 plan or other investments well before your child’s first semester in college will all help ensure an enriching, successful, and life-affirming college experience.
If you think you’ve got a solid list of schools and a great record but want an edge on the student story or details on the application process, you can find a consultant to support this hourly. If the entire process is too onerous and time-consuming for you and your child, you can enlist a full suite of support from a specialist with a college admissions package. Whenever and however you approach the process and enlist college admission support, it’s important to remember that while college admissions consultants provide invaluable guidance and support, they aren’t guaranteed to win admission to a particular school or program.
One last critical step? Speaking with your financial advisor
Whether you’re just beginning to for your child’s education or well on your way, there are many advantages of including this topic in conversations with your financial advisor, who can help you make informed decisions to ensure you are making sound moves with your investments and planning.
In other articles, we explore the private school application process and the tax advantages of IRAs, 401(k)s 529 plans, and other tax-informed investment strategies, so be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more insights or schedule a call with a Northern Lights advisor today.
Northern Lights provides financial planning and investment management services as a fiduciary, fee-only, Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) firm.