How Consultants Are Overcharging You For Your College Application

Picture this. You studied all your life until this point, powered through all-nighters, peer pressure and everything else that comes with it to finally graduate from high school. Now what lies between you and your dream career is your college application. At this point, you are unsure about how to proceed. Everything seems so difficult and overwhelming. While the application forms and requirements are getting longer, the admission rates of top universities are dropping. And to add to all that, the pool of applicants is getting so large and sophisticated that your applications feels like it is a drop in the ocean.

The question now remains, what can you do about it? How can you improve your college application so that it stands out from everything else? For the few, privileged ones, the answer is simple: College Admission Consultants.

College admissions consultants also known as independent education counselors (IECs), work with students and their parents to figure out what university is a perfect fit for each candidate. They also guide them through the application and essay-writing processes. Some consultancies are one-person operations; others have dozens of counselors on staff. All of them help compensate for the lack of time high school guidance counselors have to spend with students.

Admission consultants’ services often go beyond merely selecting and applying to schools. About half offer career advice, about a third offer test prep, almost half provide guidance on financial aid, and the vast majority advise on academic course selection, while a few provide academic tutoring services, according to the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Planning college visits and helping select extracurricular and summer activities that will make a student a well-rounded applicant are other services admissions consultants sometimes offer.

They expose themselves as the saviors, who will take your college application and transform it into a golden nugget and assure that you will get accepted at your target universities. Most of them are experts in the field, and have for many years worked as “AdComs” in some of the most reputable institutions before going fully private.

There have been several cases that got public and exposed many college consultants that were overcharging their clients for the services that they offered. The sums were simply outrageous and appalling. For example:

In 2005, Inside Higher Ed reported that a leading private college consultant was charging $9,999 each to 10 attendees for a weekend “boot camp” on college admissions. As absurd as it sounds, this sum is nothing in comparison to some more recent exposés.

In Vietnam, a lawsuit filed by an Ivy Coach revealed that it charged a woman $1.5 million to help her daughter apply to twenty-two elite colleges, as well as seven top boarding schools she sought to attend in high school, before applying to college. The fee was worth it, the lawsuit says. In December, an (unnamed) Ivy League institution granted the daughter early admission.

Another very appalling case that became public by New York Times was the F.B.I.’s indictment of 50 people who were accused of participating in a scheme to secure college admissions through bribes. On the newspaper’s article testimonials were given of some of the parents’ who hired college consultants for their children. Some of them viewed the service as legitimate and claimed that their kids got admitted through their own merits. Others say that they would only pay for a normal sum that can be justified with the offered service. 

“The type of fraud which these people indulged in is outrageous, but not surprising in a world obsessed with labels. They are depriving another student of an opportunity! It’s a disgrace!” – said one of the parents, who only paid $2000 for the consultant, even though she could afford to pay even $15.000. But, according to her, this would be highly unethical and make her feel guilty of bribery. Another family, who paid exactly the sum of $15.000, said that the counselor they hired was a former MIT admissions counselor, and gave them the insider look on how MIT admissions work. “I’m not sure if we should have had that information,” they said.

While most private consultants don’t charge anywhere near what Ivy Coach does, many worry about a system that provides help to those who can pay, while many public high schools have high ratios of students to counselors. Moreover, the overpricing system that has been increasingly evident in some of the college counselors raises suspicions whether they provide a fairly correlated service to the amount they charge. So, how can you distinguish between a “bad” and “good” college counselor?

Bad College Consultant red flags:

College application

  • Unethical behaviours/services!

A bad consultant will fill out your child’s applications for them, write your child’s essays, or engage in other dishonest tactics in an attempt to gain an edge. Other warning sign that an independent educational consultant is not worth hiring, according to the IECA, include promises to use pull or connections to help your child get admitted to a particular school, acceptance of finder’s fees from colleges, and a lack of specificity about what you are getting for your money when you hire them.  The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) also provides a list of questions to ask before hiring a consultant. Learn more:

  • They “guarantee” you things.

College consultants cannot guarantee that your child will be admitted to a particular school — or to any school at all. They are not the ones making the decisions in the admissions office. For the same reason, they also cannot guarantee that your child will receive a particular scholarship or financial aid package.

  • They don’t belong to any professional associations.

NACAC and IECA are the two associations for independent educational consultants with established and rigorous standards for membership. Consultants that aren’t members of these associations could easily be scammers.

  • They are not up front.

All the fees involved in the process of services must be stated in writing, up front, indicating exactly what services you will receive for those fees. Otherwise, the consultant might add additional fees for services you assumed to be included in the payment.

Good Consultant Traits:

  • Experienced and knowledgeable.

Most good college consultants have dedicated several years to learning how to assess and evaluate a student’s interests, strengths, and abilities so they can help them choose a major and/or career. They have spent countless nights on the road touring a variety of the 4,000 colleges in the United States. They have taken classes about all the ins and outs of the financial aid and admissions process, and they are constantly reading up on the newest changes in the test-prep industry and admissions process.

  • Insiders.

Many consultants have prior experience as college admissions directors, scholarship directors, or financial aid directors, and that gives them an insider’s knowledge. You can also look for credentials such as membership in the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) or the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), though the occupation is not licensed, so a lack of such credentials is not a cause for concern.

  • Targeting the right universities.

 A good college counselor gives a student an edge by helping him or her avoid applying to too many low-probability “reach” schools and not enough high-probability “safety” schools and medium-probability “target” schools.

  • The comfort factor.

Comfort is another element to take into consideration when hiring a consultant. I believe chemistry is important between the consultant, parent, and child. If you meet a consultant and don’t feel comfortable with them, interview another consultant. According to the IECA, most consultants offer either a free initial consultation or a consultation where the price is rolled into the package if you end up hiring that consultant. This initial meeting allows parents and students to learn about the counseling company and its services and to see if the fit is right.

Now that you have a more clear idea on how college consulting services operate, how to distinguish unethical and overpriced services from good and fair ones, there is one question left for you to ask yourself: Do you need to hire a college consultant? Although college consultants aren’t for everyone or every situation, they can provide significant services to a variety of different students, from students who are trying to get into highly selective schools to those who are unsure of their academic future. Thinking about your own needs, goals and the type of student you are can help you determine if you need the help of a college consultant.

Here are some tips you should keep in mind before deciding:

  • First, don’t give in to fear.

Fear should not be the motivating factor. There’s loads of great, free advice out there to supplement any of the support found within a high school. A savvy student or parent — with some effort and organization — can absolutely move through this process at a high level without paying.

  • If you are undecided or unconventional in your academic interests:

College consultants can really help families with troubled students or families where parents and their child cannot agree on where to apply or attend. They can also be useful if a student has an unconventional academic background or wants to pursue an uncommon major or career.

  • If you have special needs or problems:

And if you have any other special characteristics — maybe you have a learning challenge or a physical challenge — a consultant who has worked with similar children and understands their unique needs can make it easier for you to find the right school. You may have gaps in your high school transcripts that require explanation to a college admissions board, and a consultant can advise you on how to address those gaps without damaging your applications. A consultant can also do the necessary research to find a college that will work best with your difficulties. For example, a student with limited mobility or a debilitating and chronic illness may benefit from attending a college with a long list of online courses.

  • If you have irregular high school transcripts, or have been home-schooled:

High school students who have irregular school transcripts may need the help of a college consultant to navigate the college application process. This type of issue is often caused when a student transfers from one high school to another. Grades and accomplishments in one school do not always immediately translate into the same thing at another school. A college consultant can smooth out the bumps in a transcript that isn’t as clear as most other transcripts. A consultant’s help may be essential if you recently transferred and are unsure of how to get a letter of recommendation for your application.

College consultants can also help students with uncommon educational backgrounds, such as homeschooled students. Without traditional grades, these students may be uncertain how to best demonstrate their aptitude to potential schools. A college consultant has likely faced this challenge before and knows how to work with a university to ensure the student can be evaluated fairly based on their strengths, rather than being dismissed without consideration because of their unusual background.

  • If you are a foreigner applying to an American University:

Students from outside of the country may find the application process for American universities difficult to manage and understand. A college consultant can help eliminate the mysteries surrounding the process. The consultant can help the student arrange to meet the entrance requirements for American colleges; the SAT test, for example, is often available to international students, and a consultant can help the student find a testing site and date to take the test. They can also help students with any paperwork that may be necessary to get their high school classes accepted by American universities.

If you think any of these apply to you, or if you are simply overwhelmed and stressed, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Moreover, if you are seeking for help that is both excellent in results, and affordable, Genie Consulting is the place to go. Visit our website to find out exactly what we offer. We are only one call away from saving you from the stressful process of applying to college without the drawback of overpricing!



Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments