Should I Hire a College Consultant?

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How to Find a Good Admissions Coach

In the world of college admissions, there is a lot of noise, but very little signal. A quick Google search will reveal myriad options for an ‘admissions coach’ without offering much clarity on who is providing genuinely useful services. So how do you determine who to hire to help your child?

If you’re reading this article, you’ll know we’re one of the companies offering college admissions coaching services. Our purpose here is to lay all our cards on the table and explain our business as we see it. We’ll cover why you may want to hire an admissions coach, what to avoid and be wary of in your search, and finally, how to find a good admissions coach to help your child.

Why Hire an Admissions Coach?

For the sake of brevity, let’s cover the top three reasons: essay help, expert oversight, and a neutral third party.

Essay Help

College essays are like nothing students have written before, and unlike anything else they’ll write again. This is why students come to us: for guidance navigating the unique contours of this singular challenge.

Normal academic essays for school have students make a point and provide evidence to support it. They’re graded against a rubric, with essays that follow all the rules receiving full credit. In contrast, college admissions essays seek to understand the core of a student: who they are, how they think, and what makes them interesting. They’re “graded” by an admissions committee looking for impressive, unusual candidates who break the mold. These two different essays require very different approaches.

A great college essay doesn’t just require great writing on the page, but introspection and reflection before anything gets written down. A strong essay reflects a strong sense of one’s identity. This is where a coach comes in: a college essay coach is a sounding board, a mirror, for the thinking process. A good coach helps applicants write essays that show them in the best light, highlighting their accomplishments and minimizing potential shortcomings.

Expert Oversight

Applying to colleges is finicky: each college application seems to ask for something  different in different ways. Even universities that appear to ask similar questions will often want to hear different answers. 

The complexity of all the different requirements is one of the most common reasons students come to Ivy Scholars. It is easy to get lost in the weeds of an application and rush to finish some detail left unattended. The best academic coaches guide students through every step of the process, making sure none of the details get overlooked, and the parts of the application students might miss or put off are dealt with efficiently.

Outside Coaches

High school students often have trouble taking advice from their parents, and parents often worry that the advice they give to their child might miss some critical detail. The parent-teenager dynamic can be frustrating when trying to help them with college applications; often, a good coach is also a mediator and neutral party, helping keep the process running smoothly.

Admissions coaches, who are often closer in age to students, can take much of the emotional burden off of the parents, and provide professional guidance towards their students.

What to Avoid

There is a lot of advice out there, and many companies offer admissions consulting services. How do you know which are legitimate and which are only in it for a quick buck? Here, we’ll present a selection of bad advice and misconceptions about how to find the best admissions consulting companies.

Myth: Admissions Experience is Critical

The best sports players are not automatically the best coaches, and the same principle applies to college admissions. While former admissions officers can offer helpful insights, and some are good coaches, not all good admissions coaches have experience working at a university, and former university admissions officers are not automatically good admissions coaches. Be particularly wary of former admissions officers who emphasize using their insights to improve your child’s admissions chances over understanding your child as a person to see their student-college fit. It’s too easy to wind up with objectively sound advice but doesn’t fit your child. 

Myth: Good Statistics are Everything

All admissions companies should offer detailed analytics on how their approach affects students’ college acceptance outcomes. When you review these statistics, I encourage you to look deeply at how data is presented. 

There are many ways to massage the admissions rates a company reports. Perhaps they only work with students they know can be successful. Perhaps they work with so many students they only need to report the number they helped into top tier schools to appear prestigious. While great statistics are necessary, they are not enough on their own to show that a company is successful.

Be wary of coaches who always push for students to get into the most prestigious schools possible without considering whether those schools are the best fit for the student. These coaches may be valuing their company’s performance over the best interests of your child. 

Myth: Bigger is Better

While this is a commonly accepted piece of wisdom, the opposite is true for admissions consulting companies. Larger companies frequently take as many students as they can to maximize revenue to cover their expanded costs, and in so doing, let students slip through the cracks.

While smaller companies are not automatically better than large ones, they can avoid many of the shortcomings that befall larger companies. A company’s executives should ideally be thinking about every student, rather than spending all of their energy on HR, payroll, and marketing concerns. The larger the company, the further removed those running the show are from the students, and the less they have to care about each student’s needs.

There is a greater opportunity to build a relationship between mentors and editors and the student at a smaller company. 

Finding a Good Coach

There are many things not to look for, but what are the signs that a company will be a good fit for you and your student, that they will truly strive to help them succeed? In this section, we’ll cover the ways you can spot a good company: focus on the person, check their writing samples, and know what you’re paying for.

Focus on the Person

The most important way you can evaluate an educational consultant is by focusing on the person who is your first point of contact. Almost every company will offer a free consultation; this is your chance to see how the company works, who the student will be working with, and their ethos.

Within the first thirty seconds of the meeting, you should be able to determine if you’re interacting with someone who truly enjoys their work. While much of the economy revolves well with people who see jobs as naught but a means to a paycheck, you want more than that from an educational coach. This position is a gift, getting paid well to work with interesting students and help them achieve their dreams.

Consider whether the person you met with did the following:

  • Made you feel listened to.
  • Seemed excited and engaged by their job.
  • Presented their ideas clearly.

These are the three traits you want to see in a good coach. The first enables them to connect and work with students well. Their excitement and engagement ensure the quality of their work. Being able to present ideas clearly is very important for this job, as explaining difficult concepts that high school students can understand is a key part of working with high school students.

The admissions coach you meet with should explain their process and potential pitfalls of the college application system without overwhelming you or resorting to fear tactics. You should leave the meeting informed and confident about any decision you make.

Check Writing Samples

Almost every company which offers these services will have examples of student work on their site (you can find ours here). Read through the essays and ask yourself if these are the kinds of essays your child would enjoy generating, in style and tone (not necessarily topic). If the answer is no, you have found a good company which may not fit the style you need.

This is another topic to inquire about in a meeting, to see if the company has other mentors or coaches with different styles who may be better suited to your child’s needs. At a tightly knit company, whoever’s running the meeting will know the styles and strengths of all the other employees and match each student with the mentor who will work best with them.

What are you Paying For?

Companies that bill you by essay or by package can provide comfort by setting all services’ total cost at the very beginning. This comfort can be deceiving. Companies that bill by package often pressure their employees to finish a given service as quickly as possible. This rushing results in slipshod work and, more critically, can end up overlooking your child’s unique qualities in an attempt to reduce hours spent coaching your child. 

You want a mentor who will guide your student through the process and ensure they have the tools to succeed every step of the way. 

Finally, determine what companies are promising for your money. Anyone who guarantees success is not to be trusted. Companies that do make such promises are often ethically compromised or engage in other suspect dealings.

Final Thoughts

College admission coaches are more than tutors, though they share some traits. A great admissions coach seeks to help each student grow personally, as a scholar, writer, and individual. While college admissions are very focused on the ends, how they are reached is equally important and a valuable learning opportunity.

If you want to know more about how Ivy Scholars works to be the best possible admissions coaches and how we can help you, set up a free consultation. We’re always happy to hear from you and eager to help students find the college that will work best for them.

Need help with college admissions?

Download our "Guide to Everything," a 90-page PDF that covers everything you need to know about the college admission process.

More To Explore

Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!