Applicants pay big bucks for admission

As if it wasn’t enough to spend $200,000 for four years of college, some parents are now spending $40,000 just to get their kids into college. For some high school seniors and their parents, paying almost a year’s worth of tuition is more than reasonable if it means they’ll get into their dream schools. With the ever increasing number of students vying for spots at top colleges, it’s no surprise some people are choosing a more expensive alternative to their school-provided guidance counselors.

Private college consultants and consulting companies are a fairly new, but quickly growing phenomenon. Michele Hernandez, a former admission counselor for Dartmouth College, charges up to $40,000 for private counseling, while Ivywise provides consulting services to college-bound students and also to parents and students applying for private high schools, elementary schools and nursery schools. It is often parents who have been able to provide their children with whatever they want who use private consulting services. With the high stakes associated with admission to the elite schools, it is no wonder parents who can afford to give their children a leg up in the admission process are willing to dish out the cash for a little more security.

One of the major issues college admission offices now face is how to deal with such services when they read applications. At Williams and at colleges around the country, admission officers are on the lookout.

“Most of the time it’s impossible to tell if a student has or hasn’t used a consulting service,” said Sean Logan, assistant director of admission. “The consultants don’t want admissions officers to know the student has used the service because if we can tell, they aren’t doing their job well.”

But Logan said there are some hints when a student has used a consulting service, such as extra, unnecessary information included in the application or the essay that does not sound like it was written by a student. Sometimes consultants will even call admission officers to talk about a student’s application; however, at the College, admission officers have a policy of not speaking with private consultants.

The consulting services often use strategies to get students into their top choice school; college admission officers also use strategies when deciding whether or not to accept a student. Williams’ admission officers look at applicants in terms of how they fit in the context of their high school and how they have excelled during their high school years, but private consultants look at students in terms of the applicant pool at a specific college or university. Private consultants also cause issues for the college counselors at high schools because private consultants often do not know a student’s disciplinary problems that a high school college counselor will have to explain to top college and university admission officers.

Another issue with consultants is that they tend to flock to the affluent areas where most students attend private high schools or top public high schools and where they will receive help in their college search from high school counselors. The students who really need help with college admission tend to be those from lower income areas and first generation college-bound students who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars to get into college.

“Consulting services claim to ‘level the playing field’ of college admissions,” said Logan. “But it isn’t an equally accessible arena.”

Williams has a defined policy in regard to consulting services. The admission office will not necessarily reject students who use consulting services, but they will not communicate with private consultants nor will they take recommendations from consultants. There is a fine line between the consultants helping students and harming them.

“I don’t know how the relationship between private consulting services and college admissions offices will be worked out,” said Logan. “Private consulting isn’t an evil thing, but it isn’t giving kids good information about the college admissions process.” If only their parents knew.