Yesterday, I took a Skype call from a US college consulting firm in Boston. They were looking to link up with me to find SAT training for their Philippine based clients. Now why Philippine based clients were looking so far away for US college consulting advice is probably my fault, I don't market Universitas well enough. But that's another story. The firm itself is rather interesting and makes for a good story by itself.
The Company (which shall I not name other than just capitalizing the word “company” when I refer to it henceforth) is about three or four years old and was founded by recent Ivy League alumni. The Company claims to have guided about 400 students over the three or so years of its existence and claims a 96% success rate in placing students in their top 3 college choices. What's especially interesting is that the Company supposedly has 100 employees, all students at Ivy League or equivalent universities. They don't hire professional, certified college counselors at all. When I asked about this, the co-founder of the Company (who I took the call from) said that they felt that students had better rapport when working with other students. I further asked about why their employees were all Ivy League students. He replied that these were good students, knowledgeable about college admissions and that they were rigorously trained in the college admission process. Besides, he continued, our results (96% success rate) speak for themselves.
With the way the Company markets itself, this is what I would call a magic pixie dust company. Its website makes a big deal about its Ivy League pedigree and implies that hey, we're Ivy League students and we've been through this process before and we KNOW what it takes, from our own experience, how to get into these schools. Let us help you (for a very nice fee, of course) and we'll sprinkle fairy dust on your application and we'll get you into Penn too.
Now I'm sure if the Company founders read this blog post, they would be up in arms saying, “No, we never claim to place students in Ivy League schools. We don't put pixie dust on anything, we're a legitimate college consulting firm.” Okay, let's give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure that the fact that all their student counselors are all students at Ivy League or equivalent schools is a complete coincidence.
My problem with the Company is twofold: one, they are looking to attract students and parents who have tunnel vision when it comes to the Ivy League. It's Ivy or bust for these parents and students. They will pay any sum (and that's the kicker) to ensure that they (or their son or daughter) will get into the Ivy League. Somehow, the parents expect that these companies have some kind of secret knowledge, that they know the secret code or handshake that will open the hallowed halls of Harvard unto themselves. I hate to break it to you but there is no “secret code” to getting in. These people can't give you any advice that is any different from what a reputable college counselor or consultant will give you regarding admission to highly competitive schools. Oh, they'll charge you like they know a secret but they don't. Not really.
But our results speak for themselves, they declare. Okay, assuming that their claim of a 96% success rate and a 400 student clientele is true (I can't really think of a way to verify these claims by the way), is that what college counseling is about? Getting you or your kids into those few highly selective colleges so that you can come home during the summer sporting a T shirt that loudly proclaims STANFORD, YALE, or UCLA? I don't know about you but that is definitely not the reason why I went into this line of business. As I tell all our clients, I don't get you into colleges—that's actually the student's job. What I bring to the table is knowledge of different kinds of colleges in general, and knowledge and experience with specific colleges to offer you a wide array of options so that YOU may choose what school is best for you. I don't bring alternatives to the Ivy League but choices of excellent institutions where you can decide where you will be happy, where you will thrive, and where you will get the first rate education you deserve for your money. I think companies (and high schools!) that trumpet their success rate in getting kids into particular colleges (especially the highly selectives ones) are doing a disservice. Successful college counseling doesn't mean getting the kid into Harvard or even his or her top 3 choice colleges. It means opening up the students to options and possibilities so that no matter what college the student goes to, the kid can't help but thrive and succeed.
My second major problem is that the Company is staffed by students. All the advice and guidance is given by students. Think of CAMP (College Admission Mentors in the Philippines) but on steroids. Unlike CAMP, the Company charges money for its services. Now I do agree that current students and recent alumni bring valuable perspective when learning about specific colleges. They know their college (and presumably, those similar to it) and can expound on how wonderful life is there, how much they've learned, how awesome their city is and the endless array of possible internships. But that's exactly the problem. Students know their college really well. But what about other colleges? What about colleges and universities that are outside the experience of that student? CAMP students, just like the Company's student employees, generally attend well known, very selective (and in the case of the Company students, very very selective) colleges. They've heard of Penn, Yale, Amherst, and Swarthmore but what about Evergreen State, Hendrix, St. John's and Berea? I've had CAMP counsellees come to me complaining that “all they (CAMP) talk about is going to Penn” or “they have no idea how to get financial aid since most of them are paying their own way.” Through no fault of their own, students are limited to their own experience, they don't attend conferences, visit colleges, and do professional development activities to broaden and update their knowledge. Students are (and should be) primarily worried about the exam next week and the paper they have due tomorrow.
While we're on the subject, I spend a lot of my time talking to – and calming down – parents. They get pretty hysterical because they hear from so and so who has a son at Stanford that their kids need to be hitting a 2300 on the SAT to even be considered. Or that they should make sure their child does the “right” extra curricular activities so he'll stand out from his peers when he applies to Berkeley. Or they'll hear how they have to start preparing for the SAT even before the kid starts high school. Stop listening to what your kumadres or the parent of that kid from Stanford is saying. They know less about college admissions than the students, believe me.
Get your advice from people who are trained, experienced and certified in giving US college admission advice. I've mentioned it before but no one seems to listen. If you have questions or concerns about the process or even to clarify whether something you heard from another parent or student is true, ask us. Make an appointment. It's free!