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How to Find the Best College Admissions Counselors


You may have heard of admissions consultants from your teachers, high school counselors, friends, or family. Or you may have done a web search on college admissions and noticed several results that included links to consultants, making you wonder…

What are college admissions consultants? These are professionals, usually from the education field, who work with you to help you achieve your college admissions goals. Whether you have Ivy League dreams, are interested in a major university, or want to stick close to home at a small college, college admissions consultants cater their assistance to your unique needs.

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How Do College Admissions Consultants Work?

An admissions consultant will work with you one-on-one, taking every factor of your high school career into account, and guide you through the process of applying to college. They will look at your standardized test scores, your GPA, the number of advanced classes you’ve taken, your leadership, community service, and club participation – virtually everything that plays a part in your application process.

Even if you feel comfortable filling out a college application, writing essays, and securing teacher recommendations, you can still benefit from working with an admissions consultant. The best college admissions consultants will help you make your application shine, and they can be the difference between an average application and a truly outstanding one!

That’s important when you consider the number of applications each school gets every year. There is some stiff competition out there, and making yourself stand out from the crowd is something admissions consultants can help with. At a time when you are making big decisions about your future, they can also give you peace of mind and alleviate some of that stress.


What Are the Different Types of Admissions Consultants?

You’ll notice that there are a lot of companies and websites out there advertising these services. It’s important to know what your options are when it comes to hiring someone to help you with this process.

College admissions consultants generally have experience as former admissions officers, educators, or counselors. They may have a wide range of backgrounds, and their qualifications can vary depending on their experience. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each to help get a better understanding of the resources available to you.


A Former Admissions Officer

It makes sense that if someone has worked in the admissions office of a university, they would know all about the process. Admissions officers are employed by a college or university, and one of their jobs is to read through every application to determine who will be accepted.

That real-life experience working in admissions is a huge bonus for the consultant, and for you. After working through thousands of applications, they can show you how to create one that catches the eye of an admissions officer and moves you to the yes pile. They can suggest ways to frame your application and prioritize your involvement in extracurricular activities. They can tell you what topics to avoid when writing college essays because they know exactly what too many kids write about.

On the other hand, if they’ve only worked at one school, their expertise is there, not at every other school in the nation. They may be biased based on what they have learned from their limited experience, and what works at that school may not work at all at another school. So if you choose someone with an admissions office background, be sure to find out if they’ve had more than one experience.


A Private Consultant With a Track Record

Most admissions consultants come from the field of education, but many do not have experience in an admissions office. Instead, their experience comes from the knowledge they’ve gained from years of teaching, for example, or from the knowledge gained in earning education degrees. 

Let’s say your consultant is a former senior English teacher. She spent 20 years teaching students how to write strong essays. Every year, she worked with her seniors on their college admission essays. She’s written hundreds of letters of recommendation. She’s taught her students how to create resumes to help them with their college applications. And she’s even helped kids narrow down their choice of major by assigning a career-based senior project.

There’s a lot of value in working with someone like her. She’s built her credibility, and once you’ve hired her, she has a vested interest in your success. Since she will work with you individually, she can give you a lot more time and attention than, say, your high school counselor, who is trying to help thousands of students.

Keep in mind that even with all these skills, she does not have direct experience in a college admissions office. She may also believe, based on her experience, that there is one best way to apply, when there are actually many ways to find success. And while she may know a lot, she’s never worked as a counselor, so she may not have all the skills of someone with direct career and admissions counseling experience.

Cost is also a consideration. Both the former admissions officer and the teacher or other educational professional are likely to be pricy. According to US News & World Report, consulting fees generally start at about $200 an hour and your final price can go as high as $10,000 or more, depending on how many services you need.


A High School Counselor

Chances are good that your high school counselors have the best intentions when it comes to your success. Counselors are a font of wisdom when it comes to college admissions, and it is a significant part of their job to stay up-to-date with changes. They are the first to be notified when deadlines or requirements change, and many have direct connections to admissions officers as they get to know them over the years.

Your counselors help thousands of students graduate and get to college every year, and they are dedicated educators who want you – and the school overall – to be successful. They also have the full picture of who you are. Your file is literally right there at their fingertips and contains everything about your high school career. This gives them an incredibly well-rounded picture of you which in many ways may be more accurate than one formed by a teacher or a coach.

However, high school counselors are also notoriously overworked. Edweek reports that the number of students per school counselor in U.S. schools is 408. Given that the recommendation is 250, counselors have way more students than they should. They also have a lot of different job responsibilities that do not allow much time to sit down with students one-on-one. And sometimes, when juggling a lot of students, applications get lost in the shuffle, with deadlines missed and opportunities lost.


A College Student From a Top School

“You’re applying to Princeton? My brother goes there! You should talk to him.”

It happens all the time. Someone knows someone who goes to your dream school. They tell you that if you want to get in, you should talk to that person, who has the inside scoop on how to apply.

It’s always a good idea to talk to anyone familiar with a specific school. They can offer a different perspective and share their own experience, and you can learn from that. A current or recently graduated student from Princeton, for example, just went through the admissions process and has real-life experience with it. Obviously, what they know played a part in getting them in, so why not see what they can add to the conversation?

Keep in mind, though, that they only have their own personal experience, and it might be quite different from your own. What worked for them might not translate to working for you. And since they don’t know the inner workings of the admissions office, and they are not counselors, their knowledge and experience is limited.




When Should I Start Working With an Admissions Consultant?

It’s a popular belief that admissions consultants step in when it’s time to start applying for colleges. For most students, this will start the summer before senior year, with a big press before fall deadlines. Some students will continue to apply throughout their senior year, especially to schools with rolling admissions or no set deadlines.

Most won’t realize that they need help until they narrow down their college choices and begin the application process. In actuality, those same students might have benefited from consultants much earlier in their high school careers. What about you? Let’s look at when you should start working with a college admissions consultant.


How Consultants Can Help You Early in High School

Think about it: college applications don’t just cover your last year or two of high school. They encompass everything you’ve done from the moment you became a freshman. Extracurricular activities, club participation, leadership, community service, honors and AP courses, and your cumulative GPA are all considered when you apply to college. You build up those areas during all four years of high school, so it makes sense that a consultant can help you as early as your freshman year.

First, college admissions consultants can help you determine a career path, then help you set yourself up for success. They do this by administering career interest inventories or just getting to know you and asking about your goals. From the minute you share your dreams with them, your consultant will work on a plan to help you reach them.

They will advise you when you are choosing classes for the next semester or year. They might encourage you to challenge yourself with an honors-level course, or they may point out that a public speaking class will help you prepare for a degree in politics. If you enjoy writing but are unsure of a career, they might encourage you to join the school newspaper staff and explore the world of journalism. If you’re in a club, they will remind you that leadership skills go a long way in life and that you should run for office. Or, they may see a gap in your resume – lack of community service, for example – and prompt you to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

And let’s not forget that SAT and ACT scores play a big part in college admissions. For many students, this isn’t a one-shot deal. Rather, they take a PSAT each year, then at least one SAT in their junior and sometimes senior years. Consultants can study your very first PSAT report and begin helping you improve your score, so by the time you take the SAT, you’ve already prepared in every way possible. Not happy with those scores? An admissions consultant will work with your individual strengths and weaknesses to help get you to your goal score.

In short, admissions consultants can help you lay the foundation for a truly well-rounded high school experience. That will translate into a truly well-rounded resume, so when college application time rolls around, you’ll be ready to present your best self.


How Consultants Can Help You Later in High School

Even with all these advantages, most students wait until later in high school to seek out an admissions consultant. At this stage, the consultant will focus on helping you achieve your college admission goals, just over a shorter amount of time.

Are your SAT scores too low for the college of your choice? A consultant can do an in-depth study of your score report, then design an SAT prep course to target your needs. Since the tutoring is one-on-one, it’s intensive and directed solely on you and what you need to succeed. For this reason, consultants can help you raise your score significantly, even if you only have a few months before the next exam is offered.

They will also work with you from start to finish on the application process. This includes helping you recognize and highlight your strengths and putting them into words that really showcase your accomplishments. Instead of describing your job as, “I mowed grass in my neighborhood,” they’ll teach you to say, “I started my own lawn business and worked to grow my client base 50 percent in three years.” Get the picture?

Those skills will benefit you in many other ways. College admissions consultants will advise you on essay topics and structure. They will help you get organized and meet all your application deadlines. They will alleviate stress by guiding you through the process. Basically, they will coach you and partner with you, lending a hand wherever it is needed.




Which Type of Consultant Is Best for You?

There are a lot of people out there who call themselves admissions consultants, so it’s important to do your research, ask questions, and meet with a potential consultant before making a decision. Your parents likely will be paying for this service, and you will be relying on this person to help you with major decisions, so it is worth taking the time to make this decision as well.

First, do your research. Exactly what is this person’s background? There are several ways you can delve into this. Ask if they belong to a reputable association that does background checks and invites only qualified members, like Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) or National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). This is an indication that they are true professional consultants who have up to date, current information to share with you.

If you are considering a former teacher or someone who worked in an admissions office, they will bring invaluable experience to the process. Make sure to ask who they’ve helped, how they’ve worked with students, and what their success rate has been, whether it’s raising SAT scores, getting their clients into Ivy League schools, or helping struggling students get organized. They should be able to answer all these questions, and if they can’t, it’s a sign that you might need to look for someone else.

Second, have they helped students like you? Some of the best relationships come from referrals. If a friend or sibling has worked with this consultant and enjoyed success, you are likely to value their opinion, and you should! Be sure to ask that person about his or her experience with the consultant. Then ask yourself if you would work well with that same type of consultant.

And while you’re asking yourself questions, don’t forget this one: What can this consultant do for me that I can’t do for myself? If you are going to invest time and money into working with a professional, you should know exactly what it is you need and want from them. It’s never a good idea to hire someone just because everyone else is. You should take time to pinpoint areas where you need assistance, as this will help both you and the consultant make the most of your time together. Remember that there is no best college admissions consultant for everyone because everyone has different needs.

This will also help you determine the answer to your next question: Do the benefits of an admissions counselor outweigh the costs? Once you have met with the person you think you want to work with, ask yourself what they can do for you and consider that against the cost. If you feel they will make a substantial difference in helping you reach your goals, it’s definitely worth considering. A short-term investment can pay off in long-term rewards. If you feel you could achieve the same results with a little more personal effort, you might choose that path instead. Truly, only you (with help from your parents) can determine if college admissions consulting is right for you.

One last thought. Don’t forget that parents, family members, and friends can offer advice and likely will, whether you want them to or not. They are personally invested in your success and oftentimes know you better than anyone, so it’s important to at least consider what they share with you. Admissions consultants offer something different: They are objective, they have current information, and they are professionals in the field. Ideally, you can learn something of value from all of these resources.



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Rebecca Deurlein
About the Author

Rebecca has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and taught high school English for over 20 years. Her students consistently earned top scores on the SAT and ACT, AP Language and AP Literature exams. She worked one-on-one with students through her own tutoring and educational coaching business and believes that individualized attention and personal connection are the keys to success. Rebecca is the author of the parenting book Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kids Succeed, which provides tips for parents on how to help their kids reach their full potential. As a content writer for Prep Scholar, she hopes to help guide students and parents through high school and make the transition into adulthood as stress-free – and informed – as possible.

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