More College Applicants Hire Consultants


Gael Casner, courtesy photo

Gael Casner, courtesy photo

Those shingle-hanging consultants don’t have to join an official member organization like IECA, either. But to make the hiring process easier for parents who are unfamiliar with the profession, Casner says looking for a consultant through an association of them helps to minimize the risk of hiring a bad one.

Casner herself is a member of three associations – the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC), and Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), where she was previously president.

“It’s a place for professional development, and we are vetted so you can’t just get in,” she says. “It’s a place for networking and to discuss ethics, and everyone who joins has to sign an ethics statement.”


And having a third party to set the rules is important, because there’s some disagreement over the fairness of hiring an admission consultant.

While some feel consulting levels the playing field for public school students, whose schools do not provide college counseling at the same level as private schools, others believe it provides an unfair advantage to students whose parents can afford the extra help. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

But Casner says that while she does help, she would never claim that she got anyone into a school that they couldn’t have gotten into on their own. “I’ve had students who’ve gotten into Harvard, Yale, Stanford…and would they have gotten in without me? I always tell them they’re getting in because of the work they’ve done in the last four years,” Casner says.


And while some high school students just hire consultants at the very end, to edit their application essays, others bring in consultants as early as 9thor 10th grade, which significantly expands their role from application editor to something more like a career coach.

Casner edits essays and helps students with their applications, but a big part of her job is helping students figure out where they want to go. She says she encourages rising juniors to pick a pencil from the stash of college pencils on her table. The pencil they pick always leads to an interesting discussion, she says.

In his opinion, Sklarow says it’s best to hire a consultant in the 10th grade, who will hopefully work with the school counselor to shape the student’s candidacy to a highly selective university, figuring out the best classes to take in high school. On top of that, they’ll suggest resume-building summer programs, explore different learning styles, and do some career exploration with the student.

“By virtue of the time they have, they can really get to know the student, and combine that knowledge with what they know about colleges,” he says. “And that’s ideal, because a college will match with a student not just because it’s affordable, or it’s big or small, but also what kind of personality it has, or learning style.”

Of course not everyone wants, or can afford, such comprehensive assistance, and Sklarow says many consultants are willing to work by the hour, as much or as little as the client needs. Perhaps the parent is in his or her 50s, and it’s been a long time since they’ve been through the college application process, he says, and maybe they just want an hour or two for the consultant to provide an overview.