Recently an upper school parent asked if Moses Brown families utilize private college consultants. Somewhat coincidentally, I attended a lively session examining the role of independent consultants at a recent national conference in Denver. I have been thinking a lot about the topic. It’s a complicated one.
A bit of background
The presence of independent consultants is not a new phenomenon. During the first part of my career at MB, a former Dean of Admission at Brown conducted thoughtful work with some area students. (He was a venerable and respected individual who spoke and wrote with elegance.) As happens in most independent and suburban high schools, a percentage of families at MB have employed a private “coach” or counselor. Our office has not had reason, however, to study the numbers in detail.
The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) estimates that approximately 25% of applicants to college currently utilize a non-school based coach or consultant. (I think this number is a bit high within the current economy, but it is not my intent to dispute an otherwise useful statistic.)
Controversy sometimes surrounds private advisors
During the session I attended at the recent National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conference in Denver, there was a lot of energy, interest and tension circulating in the function room. (Dozens of high school and college people turned out for this panel!)
The educational counselors in attendance (who are official members of our national organization) wanted to clarify their backgrounds, goals, credentials and intentions.
*Members of IECA reminded us that they regularly provide valuable service to huge numbers of public school students who reside in districts with shrinking budgets; these teenagers lack access to guidance counselors and assistance with college planning.
*One member of the panel (an experienced private consultant in Manhattan) stressed the fine credentials possessed by many of her peers—including specialized degrees in educational counseling.
* She also noted that many independent counselors help reduce the crazy workloads associated with those who advise college-bound kids in private and public schools. (She knows that our October days are packed with seniors, parents, college reps and constant deadlines!) “We like to think of ourselves as taking the burden off counselors,” she stressed.
*Related to the workload issue, the NYC private consultant pointed out that some of her colleagues help students launch an earlier start in the college application process–given that seniors and juniors must be the priority for someone like me. (For many of us who have been in schools for a long time, this is a somewhat thorny issue. While getting on task is important, we are concerned about students who find themselves burned out before the search process starts in earnest! As I tend to ask parents: “If you had the choice, would you want to conduct a job search for three years? Similarly, would you want to plan a wedding or bar mitzvah for the same length of time? Anticipate the birth of a baby….? )
For families who need a head start, we welcome sophomores and parents to join our hour-long workshops on Junior Class College Day after the keynote—including the popular Athletics and Admission session. Tenth graders and parents are also invited to participate in our Providence Independent School College Fair in April. Visiting a couple of campuses on an exploratory basis sophomore year (or first semester junior year) is appropriate for students who are eager and ready to explore. (For other students, this can feel premature and stressful.) Getting acquainted with Naviance is also quite valuable. (Please see our planning calendar in the MB College Guide for more extensive advice about tenth and eleventh grade.)
Guidance personnel and college deans express their views
During the animated panel discussion (followed by Q & A), high school guidance personnel and college admission officers shared their queries and concerns.
*Many worry about the limited experience of some independent consultants. The best members of the field have actually worked as admission deans and high school guidance counselors; they understand the changing climate and intricacies of the selective college process from start to finish. But not all private consultants possess this degree of experience. Could they potentially offer mistaken or unrealistic suggestions to students? Might they unintentionally “muddle” the advice that students receive from seasoned guidance counselors and admission deans?
*Guidance counselors and college deans also ponder the involvement of private advisors in the actual application. Do they edit essays far too heavily and liberally? Are they engaged, in part, to actively help seniors craft resumes and co-curricular lists? Do students lose their own voices and integrity when consultants assume too prominent a role? (Please see my September 30 entry for more musings about adults and editing in the college process.)
*Students may be placed in an awkward position when a family chooses to employ an independent college advisor. Here’s where the taboo dimension enters. Most parents and kids hesitate to disclose their interaction with a private consultant. They may fear that someone like me will be insulted or alienated—or feel my credentials are called into question. There is also the matter of what my mother would have called the “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. Simply put, how is a senior to determine which professional adult to follow? (I’ll come back to these queries a little later.)
*Finally, school and college people take note of the constantly evolving “cottage industries” surrounding our students–bombarding them at every turn. Paying for campus visits and applications—let alone tuition, room and board—is already through the roof. We also worry about the level of privilege associated with selective college admissions. Some families can afford everything (including a private consultant)—while many others struggle to pay for application fees and CSS reports to financial aid offices. Does the addition of educational consultants make the ground even less level during the application sequence?
To be continued next week in Part II……