The road to “your dream college” requires work and insightful strategy. And the wrong approach will doom your efforts, despite how much work you put forth. Hence, many families use college admissions consultants. Families seek out admissions consultants for two reasons:
- Help their children gain admittance into selective colleges
- Enable their children to earn competitive scholarships
We’ve written about the immense challenges of getting into the Ivy League. Acquiring full-ride scholarships usually demands a similar level of competitiveness. These are no small tasks. The question that plagues many a parent’s mind is this: “Can these consultants help my student craft an application that will sweep admissions teams off my feet?” Depending on the consultant, the answer is a resounding yes. Yet, the worth of such services relies heavily on the consultant’s expertise, specialization, experience, and the abundant resources of their team. Therefore, in a student’s quest for the elusive “college of their dreams,” let’s first ask the right question:
In which parts of my application can a college consultant magnify my student’s strengths and mend their flaws?
Now we’re getting somewhere.
College Admissions Consultants Usually Have a Specialty or Niche
Hiring an admissions consultant is like hiring any other specialist. I’d consult my doctor if I need advice on lowering my blood sugar. If I needed to patent a prototype, I’d seek a patent attorney whose expertise lies in the intricate web of intellectual property. How nonsensical would it be if we summoned a divorce attorney to aid us in matters of corporate law?
In the same way, when it comes to the all-important decision of hiring a professional to assist with admissions, it is paramount to enlist a specialist whose mastery lies within the specific domain of college admissions you need help with.
For example, in my admissions consulting practice, I’ve developed the following specializations:
I can confidently advise students and families in these dimensions of college admissions. However, I have far less experience helping students with these facets of college admissions:
- Law School Admissions
- Medical School Admissions
- GRE Prep
- GMAT Prep
- International Admissions
- Graduate School Admissions
- Athletic Admissions
When I often refer families to trusted colleagues. These colleagues have experience in these subfields. Sometimes, I work in tandem with them with the client. Such practices are standard among college admissions consultants.
The critical thing to remember is that each consultant has their specialty. Thus, when you inquire if a professional’s services align with your student’s needs, ask the consultant what their focuses are.
Will a College Admissions Consultant Get My Student Into An Ivy League or Elite College?
High-functioning students alike crave entrance to the Ivy League. It’s the Valhalla of academia, where knowledge, hard work, and prestige intertwine. Many, if not most, of the calls I receive are from parents seeking to get their kids into the Ivy League or other top colleges. Can hiring a professional help in this regard? Again, the short answer to this question is “yes.” However, a more accurate phrasing of that question would be, “Can a college admissions consultant increase my student’s chances of getting into an Ivy League School?” And, of course, the answer is yes, depending on the consultant.
However, “increasing a student’s chance of entrance into an Ivy League” remains a far cry from “getting into an Ivy League.” As a result, many professionals keep the hard fact to themselves. Unless you have a contact on an admissions team from every Ivy League college (and no one does), no college advisor can guarantee a student’s entrance into an Ivy League or any prestigious college.
Here’s why: colleges look out for themselves. Dr. Aviva Legatt, a former admissions officer from UPenn, said it best. When a university creates or adopts an admissions policy (take test-optional admissions as an example), they enforce the “policy that benefits a university’s brand first and foremost…” This may not seem fair. Still, it’s the reality of the current landscape of college admissions.
Colleges prioritize what they need, not what you want. For example, if a college requires more chemical engineering majors, then chemical engineering students will have an advantage. Likewise, it will be their priority if they need more first-generation college students to secure government funding. I’m not claiming that what you want from a college doesn’t matter. I’m just saying that it matters far more to you than it ever will to the college you’re applying to.
Thus, no one knows what every Ivy League college needs each year. College admissions consultants understand this. However, that doesn’t mean getting into an Ivy League is impossible. Make no mistake; It’s complicated. And if a student harbors the ambition and work ethic serious enough to gain admission to one of the eight Ivy League colleges, they have their work cut out for them. Don’t believe me? Check out the stats of the Ivy League Colleges below.
However, sure denominators exist among students who get into the Ivy League. We’ve outlined these parameters in a previous post. To dive deeper into the complexities of getting into these elite colleges, read our article “How to Get Into The Ivy League.” For now, however, know that a college admissions counselor would likely do the following things to help a student get into the Ivy League:
- Help students oversee the completion of a passion project
- Heavily coordinated letters of recommendation
- Extracurriculars that craft a narrative for your interests inside and outside of class
- Advisement on which AP courses to take
- Build a realistic list of colleges to apply to
- Guidance on writing the college application essays
- Assist in building an academic resume
- Work with your high school counselor to see which college you should apply early decision to
These eight bullet points seem simple enough. However, they take a lot of effort to coordinate. Additionally, think about having to do this for twelve different colleges. Many of these colleges will have unique essay requirements, application deadlines, and recruiting expectations. Thus, the value of a college admissions consultant comes in simplifying these processes. This way, high school students can better focus on what they’re supposed to: high school.
High school students carry a challenging load on their shoulders. For four years, they must maintain their grades, study for the ACT or SAT, and regulate the effective juggling of those responsibilities. Therefore, a key benefit of having an admissions consultant is having them spend their mental real estate coordinating that for you. This doesn’t preclude you from completing the responsibilities of applying to college. Instead, students can spend time executing the tasks needed to apply to college, not planning, strategizing, and coordinating them.
Guidance on College Admissions Essays and Common App
A consultant shines brightest when students write their application essays. College application essays drive the narrative of a student’s application. It’s the one component of a student’s application that the student has complete control over. As a result, essays provide ample opportunity for students to make a memorable impression on the admissions team.
A college admissions counselor will not write the student’s essay for them. Instead, they will help them plan the essay and give valuable revision feedback. After all, a former admissions officer from Dartmouth said this:
“Applying to colleges is often a student’s first exercise in self-marketing.”
Think on this claim for a minute. How is applying to college like self-marketing? Well, consider what roles require us to market ourselves. The most immediate example that springs to mind is applying for a job. When a potential employee seeks a new job, they engage in self-marketing. They want to portray themselves to their potential employer as an attractive candidate. While the impression they want to make may vary depending on the job, most job seekers wish to do the same. They want to project themselves as valuable, likable, and responsible.
Here’s a secret, you want to do the same when you apply to college. Repeat after me: When you write your application essays, you want to appear…
Any college counselor worth their salt will help a student do this. When they help students project these qualities, they help said student market themselves authentically. Unfortunately, college admissions teams can smell pandering from a mile away. We briefly covered this in our last post, “What to Expect When Working with a College Admissions Consultant.” However, it’s worth repeating. A former Ivy League admissions counselor wrote the following:
[There’s] the Pitfall of seeming fake. You’re overly earnest in your application…You’re not just involved in the clubs–you’re president of every one.
It’s not that we think you’re lying to us (we can spot the true liars…). But admissions counselors get a feeling when everything has been pre-ordained, pre-managed, and pre-packaged to impress us–which is not impressive.
These words illustrate the care a student must use when writing their essays. There’s a finesse one must use when writing their personal statement. A writer can’t be too modest, but they must take caution not to be too bold. There’s a place for boldness, but it must be couched in the proper context. If not, a student risks their application falling flat or raising suspicion.
There’s a right and wrong way students can market themselves in their essays. A college admissions consultant knows this. They also know the myriad ways to do it right and can help students avoid the many more ways to do it wrong. When a college essay is written well, students achieve the ultimate goal in the admissions process: to be remembered.
Help High School Students Craft Memorable Applications
How does a student want to be ideally remembered by an admissions team? The answer may be more simple than you think. So let’s revisit another parallel between writing college essays and applying for a job. We’ve already said that three qualities must show in your application: you must seem valuable, likable, and responsible. When you pull this off well enough, you become memorable. Here’s how.
I interviewed a prospective tutor a couple of years ago. She made up for what she lacked in the test prep experience with an energetic kindness and a honed enthusiasm. Additionally, based on the thoroughness of the questions she asked me, she appeared very organized (she was). Generally, she seemed like a great candidate. However, toward the end of the interview, she mentioned something that increased her chances of getting hired.
When I asked her if she had other noteworthy skills, she perked up and said, “I helped make an app.”
“You did what?” I said.
“I helped my old boss make an app to organize his inventory.”
“What kind of skills did you learn doing that?”
“A bit of coding, but mostly reading, typing, and taking pictures. Ultimately, a lot of repetition.”
I hired her. Did she help me make an app? No. She didn’t. What she did was even more remarkable. By telling me she made an inventory management app, she showed me that she was disciplined, detail-oriented, and willing to learn new skills. She told me all this with a pleasant, unassuming smile.
Days later, I couldn’t recall everything she had told me. Instead, I remembered her as “the applicant who built an app.” Memory’s funny like that. All the preparation she did for that interview and all she told me about her work experience culminated in a five-word summary: “the application who built an app.” But that five-word summary communicates everything I need to know. She’s dedicated, disciplined, and resourceful. And that was the genius behind her self-marketing. She showed me she possessed these qualities without having to tell me.
If a student succeeds in writing their college essay, they’ll do the same as this applicant. But then, after weeks of drafting, months of coordinating, and years of preparing, an admissions team will read that essay and only remember the student as “the student who built an app.” And that’s what you want. You want them to remember you simply as a student who did something impactful. And if a student does this in a way that attaches other qualities to their application narrative, they elevate their chances of getting into a top school.
A college admissions consultant typically has systems to help students prepare their application brand. And this is the heart of self-marketing in college admissions, assisting students in crafting an authentic brand.
An application brand makes students memorable. When an admissions team walks away from reading a student’s application, you want them to say something like the brand examples below:
- “Oh yeah, that’s the Arkansas History student.”
- “I remember her. That’s the girl who made a documentary on hornets.”
- “Wasn’t that the guy who coded a predictive algorithm for online chess?”
This may seem too simplistic or lackluster. You might object that after months of preparing your application, an admissions officer sums up your identity in minutes. However, most applicants don’t get a summary because they look like everyone else. If your application is worth remembering, it’ll be remembered in a summary like the ones above.
When this happens, a student submits an application that stands out. It’s the job of a college admissions counselor to help students differentiate their applications. When they do this, your application becomes memorable in all the right ways.
When Hiring a College Counselor
When you hire a college admissions counselor, keep these things in mind. First, a college counselor should have experience in the industry, preferably five years or more. Additionally, the college admissions consultant you hire should have a comprehensive process they take students through. Before you pay a cent, ask the consultant what their process is. Another way to do this is to ask the prospective consultant what steps they walk a student through to get them into college. Finally, find out what a college counselor’s specialty is. That way, you know which aspect of the college admissions process the consultant is most experienced in.
A college counselor with the right experience empowers students’ applications. By showing students how to build an application narrative, branding it, and marketing their strengths, college admissions consultants enable students to drastically improve their chances of getting into their dream college. Follow the advice in this article, and you’ll find the counselor that can best help your student.
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 Colleges’ grand promise of ‘test-optional’ admissions is self-serving | Opinion., Legatt, Aviva – The Philadelphia Inquirer, accessed at https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/college-admissions-tests-optional-blind-sat-act-20210726.html on 17 February 2023.
 Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College, Sabky, Becky Munsterer – Macmillan Audio, 2021.
 Get Real and Get In: How to Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self, Legatt, Aviva, accessed at 1 ed., New York, St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2021. Page xii