How to Select a College Admissions Counselor

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In light of the recent admissions scandal, there’s a pervasive belief that using a college admissions counselor is the purview of the rich and famous. However, the truth is that it’s not just actors and actresses who are soliciting the services of counselors. On the contrary, a large percentage of parents from all social strata are hiring private college consultants to assist their children on the college journey.


It’s hard to say exactly how many students use the services of college counselors each year. According to a survey conducted by marketing firm Lipman Hearne, 26 percent of students who scored in the 70th percentile or higher on the SAT admitted to using a private college counselor. However, it’s possible that this number is significantly higher, and some students simply don’t feel comfortable admitting seeking help.


While dishonest companies like Edge College & Career Network, the business at the center of the admissions scandal, are the exception rather than the rule, it pays to do your homework when selecting a college admissions counselor. Read on to discover what types of admissions counselors are out there, along with questions to ask potential consultants.


The Benefits of College Consultants


It’s not just the wealthy who can benefit from college education counselors. On the contrary, these experts help a wide array of high school students gain admission to their dream colleges. In particular, the services are beneficial to those with specific or niche passions, such as athletics or musical theater. Additionally, college counselors can help students identify lesser-known schools that have strong programs in their chosen majors.


College counselors also provide valuable services to families of students with learning disabilities and other educational challenges. Along with ensuring students have the appropriate amount of time for SAT and ACT testing, consultants can work with you to identify schools that offer the best and most supportive programs for your teen’s needs and goals.


Independent Educational Consultants vs. Consulting Firms


Parents seeking college admissions support for their teens can generally choose between two different options: IECs and consulting firms. Also known as independent educational consultants, IECs help students throughout the application process. Along with supporting students in identifying the best reach, target, and safety schools, they offer information on financial aid and scholarships and provide feedback on admissions essays.


In most cases, parents drop their teens off at a local IEC’s office to discuss college admissions questions one on one. This in-person support can help both students and parents feel more confident in the process. However, it’s worth noting that most independent educational consultants work with a very limited group of students with similar profiles. As a result, they might not have the up-to-date information needed to support teens from different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and religions.

Additionally, independent educational consultants tend to operate with little oversight. Without state or federal agencies looking over their shoulders, some IECs have resorted to less-than-honest practices. This was the case earlier in the month when the U.S. Attorney in the District of Massachusetts brought federal charges against 50 individuals for taking part in a conspiracy to help high schoolers get into elite colleges around the nation.


On the other hand, college consulting firms tend to work with a larger group of students, allowing them to utilize the latest data to support a wide range of students from diverse backgrounds. Along with solving college fit issues, firms support teens in selecting the best high school coursework, choosing extracurriculars, and revising their college essays. While IECs mostly work with students who are ready to send out applications, consulting firms know the college journey begins as early as freshman year of high school.


Questions to Ask Educational Consultants


So where do you start when choosing an IEC or college consulting firm? The best admissions counselors have prior experience working with students of various backgrounds and profiles. 


Because college counseling remains unregulated, students and parents have to do some of their own legwork when choosing a firm. Here are some important questions to ask before selecting a college admissions counselor:


  • What is your background?
  • How many students have you worked with?
  • What is your track record for helping students gain entry to their target schools?

Make sure the answer is no to the following:

  • Does your company accept compensation (monetary or otherwise) from colleges or programs in return for a successful placement?
  • Do you write essays or fill out applications for students?


If the answer to either of the last two questions is yes, this company is best avoided. Additionally, teens and their parents should stay away from any firm that offers an acceptance guarantee. The truth is that no reputable admissions counselor can promise to get a student into a particular school, and those who claim to do so may be using unfair, dishonest, or illegal tactics.


At CollegeVine, we understand that not every student has access to private school admissions counselors who can walk them through the college application process. With that in mind, we created a free college applications platform specifically to answer students’ questions about college admissions and help them build robust applicant portfolios. On our free platform, you can see your chances of acceptance to your dream schools, estimate your cost of attendance, get peer essay review, and more. All you have to do is sign up for a your free CollegeVine account to get access to these tools.

Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.

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