It isn’t easy to know which consultants are worth paying for, and Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) thinks there may be more unqualified than qualified consultants out there. With very little regulation and no licensing required, private admissions consultants can pretty much set up shop with any level of experience.
Here are some questions to ask before hiring a consultant:
HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE?
What kind of training do they have, and how long have they been a consultant? Were they an admissions officer before becoming a consultant? Did they take any training courses? Where did they learn the trade, if they did at all?
Also important – if you found a consultant through an admissions consulting company, you may have looked up the company’s reputation and the CEO’s background, but what do you know about the consultant you’ll actually be working with?
Jon Frank, who runs a company called Admissionado, says you should be sure to ask how the actual consultants are trained, and maybe even ask to see samples of essays they’ve edited before.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS LIKE?
With most consultants, you can work by the hour, or you can purchase some kind of package, which might include specific parts of the application process, like picking schools to apply to and working on the essay.
JoAnne Goldberg, an admissions consultant through InGenius Prep – an admission consulting company – says it’s important to clarify how much time you’ll actually have with them.
“Sometimes they’re very specific in what they provide, and they say they’ll go through your essays three times,” she says. “But maybe that essay needs to be reviewed 10 times. Sometimes it can take a couple of months to get it right.”
Ultimately, she says to be careful concerning time limits. “You don’t want someone who says “Oh no, times up. Please pay us another $10,000,” she says.
IS THIS COMPANY MAKING UNREALISTIC PROMISES?
Another thing to look out for is false promises. Is the company or the consultant promising to get your student into Harvard? Don’t fall for it. Acceptance isn’t guaranteed. Even a company with a broader claim – maybe that 100% of its students get into their top choice school – is hard to believe. Frank from Admissionado says “If the company is making promises like that, it’s certainly a bad sign.”
HOW MANY COLLEGE CAMPUSES HAVE YOU VISITED?
It’s important to find out how many college campuses a consultant has visited, because in order to find the best fit for lots of different students, they have to be familiar with a lot of schools.
So parents should ask how many campuses they visit annually. Regular visits are important to keep up with the schools and maintain relationships with admissions staff.
“Too often when I ask, the consultant will say, ‘Well, I meet with them when they come here,’” Sklarow says. “But that doesn’t tell you anything about the campus. You’ve got to be out there walking around to get a feel for the university.”
HOW DO YOU STAY UP TO DATE?
The application process can change year to year. For example, an entirely new application process came out this year – the Coalition Application. Make sure to ask how your consultant keeps him or herself current.
“They should be able to prove that they are not just isolated in their office, but that they are actually in some way connected to the industry, so they keep themselves up to date.” says Gael Casner, a private admissions consultant in California.
DO YOU BELONG TO AN ORGANIZATION?
While not every qualified consultant will join an organization, looking for a consultant through one is an easy way to narrow down your search.
Member organizations like the IECA, and several others, vet members and require them to follow certain ethical guidelines.
For example, most ethics guidelines state that consultants should not write student’s essays for them, that they should make an effort to lower a client’s stress about college applications, and that they cannot accept money from schools in exchange for sending students to them.
CAN YOU INSPIRE THE STUDENT?
This is a question for both the consultant and the student. Is working together going to be productive? Even if the consultant has all the qualifications, Frank says, they need the student to open up and be honest with them.
“If he sees the mentor or consultant as a teacher, he might be dishonest,” Frank says. “A friend of mine who works at a different company had a situation once where the kid lied to his mentor about his TOFEL score, and didn’t get into the schools he wanted. It was a disaster.”
Casner also says the dynamic between consultant and student is important, and that they should meet, and talk, before getting started officially. “ I think it’s vital for your son or daughter to have a voice in who is selected,” she says. “Come for a full working session, not just for 20 minutes, because anyone can be charming for 20 minutes. Then go home and talk about it. Can you see yourself working with me?”
DO I EVEN NEED A CONSULTANT?
Perhaps most important, consider whether you even need a consultant. Sklarow says if you already know – perhaps because of tuition – that your child is going to stay in state, and that their test scores will easily get them into the state school, then they don’t need a consultant.
“The consultant’s job is to help you find great matches, great places where you can thrive. So don’t hire a consultant because you’re thinking you really want them to go to one particular school,” he says. “What’s more likely to happen is the consultant will find them 12 or 13 schools they could be happy at.”
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