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Do I Need a College Consultant?

Your daughter has just turned 11 and is entering 6th grade. Your son is nine and cruising laissez-faire into fourth grade. Your second born is limping into 10th grade, while your oldest is high stepping into senior year. Each one has unique interests and talents. Each one has started to focus on one preferred area of academic interest. One loves to play the piano, while another is the star pitcher on the high school baseball team. One is still searching for that gravitational tug that will shake her foundation and provide her with a lifelong quest for knowledge, while another has already discovered a passion for chemistry (or writing, art, theatre, history, etc). Clearly, each one of your children is different—so different that you may wonder how it is possible that they have common DNA. But as different as they are, they likely have one thing in common: they will all, someday soon, be applying to college. And the decisions you have made along the way may determine where they will spend those critically important college years.

You might be thinking, “I got this!” Your son or daughter might be telling you, “I don’t need a college consultant.” Both statements might be true. However, in many more cases, trying to master college admission as your kids go through their various stages and changes is just like flying the proverbial airplane while you are building it. Frankly, there are so many subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of college admission that it is literally impossible to learn on the job. To quote an overused cliché, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” And with so much at stake, it simply does not make sense to take chances with decisions, activities, and skills that ultimately will determine where your child will go to college.

Even the most dedicated parent helping their kids navigate through grade school, middle school, high school and through the college admission process is most likely going to miss some things. And by “things,” I mean opportunities. Countless parents have expressed to me their disappointment with various programs or classes they have chosen. Recently, a parent spoke to me disparagingly about a paid research program he had chosen—until I told him how he could salvage it. (Yes, there are ways to fix errors that are made along the way). Another parent told me how proud he was that his daughter was taking a summer class at Stanford, while another parent asked me if it was better to get an A in honors Chemistry or a B in AP Stats. Each of these examples represents an opportunity taken, wasted, or missed.

Listen, I get it! I know lots of people who like to work on their own cars (although I am not one of them). I am sure that some aspects of car maintenance are not too difficult to figure out. I imagine that changing oil, changing a tire, or even replacing brake pads may be a rewarding experience. The same is true of college admission. It would be so rewarding to help your child navigate this surprisingly complex process, and there are some aspects of it that you would probably get right. Some things are obvious, like choosing honors or AP courses, and studying for SAT or ACT. Other things or not as simple or straightforward. You may be thinking that there are four or five factors that differentiate one college candidate from another. You may be thinking that admission decisions are based entirely or primarily on GPA, test scores, essays, activities, and recommendations. Even if this were true, an experienced college counselor would provide invaluable input. But the truth is, there are far more factors involved in a successful admission experience. College admission is not a paint-by-numbers process. It is part science and part art form, and every student is different. There are certain predictable factors that can be managed and improved. That is the science part. The art form is in identifying and promulgating a particular image that is most compelling to a college, and then boosting that image through a series of decisions you make along the way.

So, when should I start with a college consultant? The truth is that consultants can be brought in at any stage of the process. However, the earlier you start the better. That is because there are countless things that a consultant can provide. Advice. Suggestions. Opportunities. Objectivity. There are things that a consultant will suggest that you have never thought of. Many of the advantages of working with a college consultant do occur in junior and senior year. However, many more occur, or can occur, much earlier. There are many ways to steer a student, even as young as a grade school student, toward a successful outcome. So, we suggest that you start with a very basic, non-intrusive, program with a consultant as early as grade school or middle school. You’ll be surprised to learn how much you didn’t know, and how much cleaner and easier it would have been to bring your car in for an oil change rather than doing it in your driveway, all by yourself.