The college admissions landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade — top schools are more competitive than ever before and they are seeking to admit students with unique interests, singular foci, and a demonstrated history of making positive change in their communities. Building an application profile that reflects these qualities takes time, and students must start preparing to apply to elite universities earlier in their high school careers than ever before.
In light of the heightened challenges that new applicants face, many families choose to hire private college admissions consultants to guide them through the process. Consultants can offer families valuable insights, help students stay on track throughout high school, and mitigate the stress of the college admissions process. However, not all college consultancies are made equal — if you intend to hire a college consultant, it is crucial to know how to identify an ethical consulting firm that prioritizes clients’ best interests and helps students achieve their dreams through their own merit.
Differentiating between top-notch, ethical consultancies and those that lack high standards can be challenging. As you weigh your options, here are 5 key considerations to help you find a reputable and trustworthy college admissions consultant who will genuinely prioritize your student’s best interests:
Look for transparency and honesty:
An ethical college consultant will be transparent about their qualifications, experience, and pricing structure. They should be willing to provide testimonials, discuss their success rates, and answer any questions you may have. Further, they should be transparent about their services, expertise, and fees. During the initial consultation, inquire about the consultant’s fee structure, ensuring that it aligns with the services they would provide. Be cautious of consultants who charge hourly fees, as those can quickly add up over time. Ask for a detailed breakdown of the services included in their package, such as essay editing, application review, interview coaching, and financial aid guidance. A trustworthy consultant will provide a clear outline of the services offered and discuss any additional costs upfront.
Finally, avoid consultants who claim to have connections “on the inside” at colleges and universities — consultants should be able to guide your student through the process, but they should never contact schools or university personnel on your student’s behalf.
Consider their credentials:
Before diving into the selection process, conduct thorough research on potential college admissions consultants. Start by checking their credentials, such as education, relevant experience, and professional affiliations. Look for consultants who have a proven record of success and possess in-depth knowledge of the college admissions landscape. One of the best indicators of a college admissions consultant’s credentials is their membership in the National Association for College Admissions Consulting (NCAC), which should be advertised on a consultant’s website. If you do not see any mention of their membership, you can also ask the firm whether they are members of the organization.
Some consultants employ former admissions officers, while others hire recent graduates from top schools or professionals in niche fields. Whatever the makeup of their team, the firm should provide justification for their team’s unique expertise and their ability to meet your student’s needs. Keep in mind that many firms employ their consultants on a part-time basis, which often limits their availability and the quality of the services they can provide — firms should be clear about whether their team members are able to be available to your student full-time or whether they will have to schedule around other commitments.
Avoid guarantees and unrealistic promises:
Even the best college consultant cannot guarantee admission to a particular school or offer a foolproof strategy for success. While a college consultant should have a clearly outlined strategy to maximize student success, they should also recognize and convey that it is ultimately up to the admissions team to decide whether or not to admit a student — and unfortunately, that means that many talented and highly qualified students still don’t make the cut. Be wary of consultants who make unrealistic promises or offer guarantees that sound too good to be true. An ethical consultant will provide guidance and support but will also emphasize the importance of hard work and personal responsibility in the admissions process.
Confirm that the company empowers the student to do their own work:
College consultants can offer critical expert feedback on everything from a student’s extracurricular involvements to essay writing, summer planning, and internship applications. However, it’s important to make sure that the consultant is not doing the work for your student. An ethical college consultant will empower the student by fostering independence and providing guidance on self-discovery and goal building, coaching them to find and convey their own voice to admissions committees. They should never write the essays or complete the applications for the student. This is not only unethical but can also be detrimental to the student’s long-term success in college and beyond.
Ensure a personalized approach:
There is no one-size-fits-all in the college admissions process. Every student is unique, possessing their own strengths, weaknesses, and goals. An effective college admissions consultant is committed to a personalized approach that caters to the unique needs and aspirations of each student. Such college consultants are champion motivators for their students, encouraging them to pursue their unique passions — as such, the relationship between the consultant and student is key to a student’s ultimate success and growth in the process.
Inquire about the consultant’s process for matching a student with a consultant on their team and ensuring the best fit for the student. Ethical consultants will also place emphasis on finding colleges that align with the student’s values, passions, and long-term aspirations. Whether provided by the company or found online, client testimonials and reviews can lend great insights into their past clients’ experiences. Look for consultants who have established a reputation for ethical practices, transparency, and exceptional service.
Finding an ethical and effective college admissions consultant for your student requires diligence and careful consideration. By conducting thorough research, pursuing a personalized approach, and seeking transparency, parents can ensure they find a consultant who will genuinely prioritize their child’s best interests. The ultimate goal of working with a college admissions consultant is to empower the student, support their growth, and find the college that aligns with their passions and future aspirations. With the right consultant, the college admissions journey can be a positive and transformative experience for both students and their families.
Originally published on Medium