Making use of a consultant in the college admissions process

For families, college and university admissions are a bit like standing at the edge of a field, knowing you want to get to that tree over yonder in the distance but finding too many paths in front of you to get there.  Which to choose?  The one that looks easiest from the start won’t always be the one that’s most congenial in getting you to your goal.  You can obtain a lot of information online, but there’s no assurance what will work best for you.

This is where college admissions consultants can help you.  These are people who often devote their entire lives to helping students like you make the best match.

How to choose one that’s right for you?  Here are some points to look for:

  1. What are the academic qualifications of that person and how many years have they been doing this work?
  2. Does the person have a background in guidance and counselling at a secondary school to understand the educational system you are in and have experience talking to students and parents in making decisions about post-secondary education?  Having a background in English will ensure you’ll get the best help in your essay writing too.
  3. What is their personal background in attending some of the schools they can recommend, in the U.S. and Canada?  If recommending U.S. schools, have they actually lived in the U.S., and where?
  4. What professional organizations do they belong to and what qualifications are needed to belong?  For example, the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (in the U.S. but stretching internationally) requires a guidance counselor from a member school to recommend an independent counselor seeking to belong.
  5. Are they affordable?  College admissions advisers may charge a modest amount, or, in the case of some in the U.S., as much as the cost of a year at college.  Spending many thousands is no assurance of quality.
  6. Will they take time to explain their services clearly, answer your questions and help you feel comfortable before you commit?
  7. Not everyone has the same needs.  Do they allow flexibility in their services, availability and billing to best meet your needs... and wallet?
  8. What cooperation can they effect between their work and your school’s guidance department and teachers who need to provide student recommendations, and may never have done one before?
  9. Have students from your school or anyone you know ever engaged that person?  Can they give a recommendation? There is no licensure required for college admissions counseling, as there is for such areas as social work or psychology, and even then, prospective clients often listen to a friend’s recommendation.
  10.  If no one you know has ever used that person, can they give you references?  Each would surely give you the names of happy families, but you can certainly request the contacts of other school guidance counselors for their comments.
  11. Be very careful about any “guarantee” that you’ll get an offer from your first choice college.  Even the ultra expensive operations in the U.S. admit that they cannot assure an Ivy acceptance, despite starting students very young, and overseeing their course selection, test-taking and extracurricular activity choices. And perceptions often change from application time to final acceptances.  One school at the bottom of an original list suddenly becomes #1 when you revisit them in April and they offer you a full scholarship for four years.
  12.  So, if these consultants can’t guarantee you’ll get into Harvard or Juilliard, how to they assess the success of their clients, their success…and your success?
  13. With 4,000 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. alone, how does this consultant keep current?  Every college makes changes every year.
  14. This scenario is unlikely to happen, but be aware that some colleges actually pay “consultants” for the placements they send their way.  You want to be sure the consultant you choose isn’t promoting one college over another that isn’t based on the student’s best interest.

If you are satisfied with the responses you receive and, equally, if families feel comfortable that the counselor will really do his/her best to do whatever takes to effect the best outcome, and it’s affordable, you are likely on the right path.  

Remember:  it’s fine to tell someone to do the research on their own.  But if you try to look for the spelling of “psychiatrist” in the dictionary and don’t know it begins with a “p,” you’re liable to get nowhere.

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