Ballpark Estimate: $1,000 to $40,000
As if the high cost of college tuition isn’t enough these days, consider the fact that some parents are also investing in the services of a college admissions consultant to increase the odds that their children will be accepted into the school of their choice.
A good college admissions consultant really serves as a middleman, helping high school students to determine which colleges are a good fit for their interests and strengths and advising them on how to come across well throughout the admissions process. While the cost of such guidance doesn’t come cheap, some families feel it is a worthwhile investment to help set their child on the path to success.
The Need for This New Breed
The competition to get into top colleges and universities today is tougher than ever before, as growing numbers of high school students vie for a limited number of spots, especially at Ivy League schools and other private colleges. One expert estimates that only one (or even fewer) of every five college applicants is actually accepted into the school of his or her choice. This leaves a large number of students stuck with rejection slips. Some families are willing and determined to avoid this scenario at any expense. That’s where the role of the college admissions consultant comes in.
Generally, parents seek out the help of a college admissions consultant when their child is in his or her sophomore or junior year. At this time, the consultant can serve as a valuable resource by suggesting a handful of well-chosen schools for the child to consider. The consultant can also groom the student for admissions interviews, as well as help review applications and accompanying essays and suggest strategic approaches to sharpen the presentation. Further, some college admissions consultants also help students to access a wide range of other key services, including classes or private tutoring to help them prepare for the SAT and other admissions tests, and valuable financial aid information.
Of course, lots of this information can be accessed and arranged by parents directly, but for some busy families, letting someone else manage the college application process minimizes the stress of the situation and makes it more manageable.
There are also some parents who simply can’t wait until their child is old enough to apply for college before they seek the help of an expert. They actually solicit a college admissions consultant’s services as early as when their child enters middle school. The hope is that by getting an expert involved at such an early stage, he or she can play an influential role in ensuring that the youngster makes all of the “best” choices—in coursework, extracurricular activities, study-abroad opportunities and involvement in community service over the next few years. The strategy of positioning such well-rounded details can make the student stand out when his or her time to apply finally comes.
Worthwhile Expertise, or Unnecessary Expense?
You may wonder what qualifications a college admissions consultant brings to the position and whether an expert honestly offers anything you and your child can’t accomplish on your own. There is no real answer. A lot depends on what you want from a consultant, how much you are willing to spend on this quest for admission and whom you turn to for such guidance. The range of experience that these private counselors hold varies a great deal. Further, at this time there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of specific requirements or training that is standard for this field. Nonetheless, if you are convinced that a college admissions consultant is a must for your child, the trick is to be savvy when you interview candidates and to use your best judgment to determine whether they have something to offer that will give you a true benefit for the expense.
Keep in mind that the most respected admissions consultants are often those who have hands-on experience themselves, serving as admissions officers or faculty members at private colleges. This usually means that they likely will be effective at working with students and knowing what factors will make someone most successful in the academic setting. They will also be experienced at reviewing applications and deciding just who should get in and why. This insider information, some parents feel, can offer just enough of an edge to help differentiate their son or daughter from among other, similarly qualified students.
When deciding on a college admissions consultant or company, always ask about their background and what their track record has been. Talking with others who have used their services can also help you decide whether this person will be a good fit. You should also try to determine just how much “slick marketing” the consultant intends for your child, since such an approach may be less effective than helping a student to simply show off his or her best efforts.
Also understand that no matter how experienced a college admissions consultant is, and how successful he or she has been, if your child doesn’t have the high grades, impressive test scores and exceptional recommendations that are worthy of entrance to an Ivy League school, chances are that he or she will not be getting in. But even if your child isn’t top school material, a good consultant may, in fact, help him or her find a nice fit in a smaller, or less competitive, setting that makes more sense.
What You Can Expect to Spend
Even knowing that there is no guarantee that comes with the services, many parents decide it is worth it to take a chance and invest in the help of a private consultant.
You can expect to pay anywhere from a conservative $1,000 for some advice from such a professional, up to a whopping $40,000 for very intensive counseling and guidance over the course of several years.
For the top range, students can expect to receive lots of help with personal development and even some coddling; one consultant says that at this level she works closely with young clients to identify key outside interests and also provides detailed guidance on how they can take an effective leadership role in the school and community setting.
In addition to offering full package deals, some college admissions consultants are also willing to work at an hourly rate of anywhere from $100 to about $350 or more to provide specified services. Some consultants also have an a la carte menu, offering set prices for certain services—such as doing a general edit of a college essay, which starts at $100 and can go up to $700 or more from there. Those consultants who specialize in working on Ivy League placements generally fall at the higher end of the pricing scale.
Food for Thought
Whether you decide to hire a college admissions consultant or not for your child is up to you, of course. But keep in mind that the pressure to do so is rising as more and more students go this route. A recent survey found that approximately one million high school students (close to 10 percent of the total number of college students) relied on a private counselor’s help with the process. This means that if you forgo this service, your child will be competing with others who did buy the extra help. This being said, many students obviously do get accepted by their first-choice schools even without an expert’s assistance.
The fact is that there is just no science when it comes to what will appeal to most college admissions officers. Paying for help to second-guess the process just may—or may not—make a difference. And as one college faculty member explains, hiring a consultant can actually backfire in the end. This is because some of the polished applications that admissions consultants help students turn in are just too perfect and not enough of a true reflection of the student’s true, flawed self. Knowing this may offer a bit of relief for parents who decide to take the old-fashioned route, going along for the journey to explore college options with their own child and making the decision together as a family, without paying a penny for any outside help.