Most students find college applications emotionally and mentally taxing. For parents, college application brings its own set of challenges. If there’s one thing a parent despises, it’s watching their students needlessly suffer. From figuring out which schools to apply to, to crafting the perfect personal statement, parents must consider the myriad variables of this equation. This is why many parents hire a college admissions consultant. After all, such professionals specialize in helping students navigate the college application process. However, not all consultants are created equal.
Our last post discussed how an admissions consultant helps with the application process. In this post, we’ll delve into how to choose a consultant. As you can imagine, a variety of factors exist when considering who to hire. Among them are these:
- Focused Expertise and Experience of a College Admissions Consultant
- What to ask a Prospective College Admissions Counselor
- Counseling Beyond College Application Essays
- Ask the Hard Questions to a Prospective Consultant
- Positive Reviews and Testimonials for College Admissions Success
- Clear Communication and Transparency with Parents and High School Students
Focused Expertise and Experience of an Admissions Consultant
When hiring a college admissions consultant, prioritize their experience and expertise. A professional with a wealth of experience in the field will deeply understand the college admissions process, including the ins and outs of different schools and the most effective strategies for standing out among applicants. This knowledge can be invaluable in helping you make informed decisions about which schools to apply to and how to present your student in the best possible light.
There’s more to a good admissions consultant than years of experience. But, if a consultant has twenty years of experience, what part of the admissions process do they boast the most fluency? After all, there’s more to applying to college than making a college list and writing application essays. Below is a list of different college admissions specialties.
- Financial Aid
- ACT and SAT Prep
- Ivy League Admissions
- International Admissions
- Private College Scholarships
- College Admissions Passion Projects
Few admissions counselors wield fluency in all of these. For example, I can help students write their essays blindfolded in my college counseling practice. Yet, I’m limited in my ability to support an international student in navigating the procedures to get a student VISA. Likewise, if a student needs to differentiate their application with an impactful passion project, I’m their man. If a student needs help picking their college major through advanced aptitude testing, I can do that in my sleep. However, I know far less about how to qualify for the most financial aid. Do you see what I’m getting at? Each consultant has their niche. When you call a potential consultant or inquire about their website, ask them what part of the college application they’re most skilled in.
What to ask a Prospective College Admissions Counselor
Here’s a warning about that, though. If you ask an admissions consultant what they’re best at, about half of them will likely tell you “The essay.” It’s a pretty predictable response. And that’s okay. Chances are, they’re telling the truth. Moreover, they’re probably adept at making students’ prose pop and their stories soar in their application essays.
A professional telling you they possess skills with college essay coaching doesn’t tell you much, though. All of us are pretty skilled at essay coaching because it’s a standard service in the industry. Moreover, we’ve all done it so often that we’ve mastered much of the process.
Counseling Beyond College Application Essays
If an admissions counselor tells you they’re skilled with the essay, keep digging. A way to do that is simply to ask them this:
“What other parts of the admissions process are you skilled at?”
Here’s where I’d pay close attention to what they say. Many will say they’ll work with students to create a college list. While this is pretty standard, it’s a good sign. They may then ask if you or your student has any specific colleges in mind. If you rattle through your list, and they begin asking you questions or making comments on a few of the schools, this is another good sign. It means they’re trying to figure out what you want, not how best to communicate what they want to give you.
But back to the initial question. If you ask a prospective consultant what they’re essentially good at (besides the essay), here are a few things you can expect to hear that are a good sign:
- Coordinate Letters of Recommendation
- Guiding students through passion projects
- Connect students with internship opportunities
- Guide students to publish actual academic research
- Weaving passion projects into their college application essay
- Keeping students organized so they don’t miss their application deadlines
- Using social media to increase their chances of getting into a challenging school
- Using the application to craft a narrative on how the student can add value to the college
If you don’t hear something along these lines, consider going elsewhere. I must add that the bulleted list above isn’t comprehensive. A wide range of specialties exists among my college admissions colleagues. You need to ask direct questions to discover what precisely this consultant is good at.
Ask the Hard Questions to a Prospective College Admissions Consultant
This may seem like you’re overly prying. It’s not. This is your money you’re paying them. More than that, you’ll trust that consultant with your child’s college education. That’s no small responsibility. You have the right to ask pointed questions. Any college counselor worth their salt should be ready to explain the value they bring to your student. If they can’t, you’d be wise to look elsewhere.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials for College Admissions Success
Finally, when hiring a college counselor online, look at their google reviews. At face value, you’ll see how many stars they have. However, that’s not the only fact you can glimpse about their services. If you read the reviews, pay close attention to what customers write about the services they receive. Don’t just look at the quality of the service, but which service they’re writing about. For example, here are two examples of the typical google reviews we get on the Odyssey College Prep google review profile.
In this review, you can see a couple of keywords that show my specific admissions expertise. For example, Mark, the parent here, wrote that we helped his daughters raise their ACT scores. As a result, one of his daughters now attends an Ivy League thanks to the ACT Prep Tutoring his daughters received. So a parent looking through our google review now knows we do a great job at ACT tutoring. That’s one of our specialties, and our reviews communicate that.
Another specialty we have is aptitude testing. We’re one of the only college admissions consulting firms that offer advanced in-house aptitude testing. As you can see from the review below, clients who read said review will know this to be one of our specialties.
However, you won’t find reviews about how we helped families with international admissions. This isn’t because I don’t like working with international students. I don’t have nearly the expertise I do with domestic US college admissions. If a parent calls and asks us to help with international college admissions, I’ll tell them we can. And right after that, I’ll disclose my limitations as an international admissions consultant. It would be unethical for me not to do so. So, contacting another consultant would be reasonable if a family sought an international admissions consultant.
This gist is to pay close attention to what’s being said in the google reviews of a consultant. So long as you do that, your investigation will reveal if they specialize in the niche your student needs.
Clear Communication and Transparency with Parents and High School Students
Communication is critical when working with a college admissions consultant. Look for someone responsive and easy to reach. They should also be transparent about their process, fees, and how frequently they’ll interact with you. A good consultant will clearly outline their services and what you can expect from working with them. Some professionals maintain stricter communication guidelines than others. For example, while I often accept calls on my phone, I prefer that clients set an appointment using my online calendar. On the other hand, some parents demand round-the-clock access to their consultants. Ensure you let your consultant know how often you want to communicate with them.
The perfect educational consultant for your student is out there. However, you will need to do some digging to find them. You need to ask them direct questions and communicate what you expect from them. Thoughtfully listen to their responses. Determine their specialties and look at their google reviews to see what customers say about them. Most college consultants I work with love using their expertise to help their students. They care about their families and strive to assist them excellently. When you venture to hire a consultant, take caution and research thoroughly. Use this guide to help you make your decision.