Private counselors, pricey advice

While guidance counselors in California’s public schools might be few and far between (In some high schools, there are as many as 500 kids for each counselor, or no counselor at all, and the average ratio is 1,000: 1, according to EdSource), some families with means are shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars to private college admissions consultants — even now, during the recession.

The fact that some families can — and do — pay for these services is nothing new. But according to a New York Times story about the field, the number of these “independent education consultants” has grown in the last three years, to about 5,000, and they’re located mostly on the East and West Coasts. Of course, some in the college admissions world are suspicious of these so-called “experts,” and a reporter found that some of the credentials they advertised were sketchy.

Have any of you seen ads for these services, or considered using them?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Donna

    A friend’s daughter used one, and she felt the advice was invaluable. The daughter attended a large public high school, and after a session, they felt the college counseling there was sub-par. The consultant helped her hone in on schools that would be a good match, and the student was more receptive to hearing things from the consultant than the same things from her parents. Yes, she was accepted into a top choice school, but they did not offer sufficient financial aid in order to enable her to attend.

    So did she net out? Or would she have ended up going to the same UC regardless? Who can say? But I think this family would consider using this consultant again for Child #2.

    I have heard from a number of families that the financial aid offered by some private schools can make it cheaper to send send a kid there than to a UC or even a Cal State. And with California’s higher education funding being cut so drastically along with higher fees, going elsewhere may make sense. There is a fair amount of information available online, but I would not rule out hiring a consultant for a few hours. I figure the fee would be partially offset by better targeted college applications and not paying for application and SAT costs to inappropriate schools.

  • Nextset

    Steve Sailer is a blogger who writes on statistics and college admission/graduation issues. I follow his postings and enjoy the material posted on what is happening in public colleges. Here’s a recent article on racial issues in current college admissions at UC… Not good.


    The major point I see is that UC Admissions is a game. The rules change yearly based on racial group political power. The admissions policy is complicated and susceptible to “gaming” by those who who are patient and studious. That happens to mainly select a certain asian group. Asians in CA while being a small minority are inexorably dominating UC classes. Any attempt to rig admissions for blacks results in admission of blacks who cannot survive even short periods of time at UC (I have seen that first hand 40 years ago). What to do about getting your black/white/hispanic/asian child in and through UC??

    The gaming has reached such a state that the above average parent cannot be competent in gaming strategy and the public high schools cannot furnish the skilled experts to manage the situation for a particular kid.

    So of course you need to hire a consultant. The $$ you spend will save you that much in wasted time money and effort. Besides, the consultants work on getting the financial aid as well.

    Unless you don’t believe in research and preparation for a life determining decision of which school/program to pursue. Some people believe in fate, karma, destiny, and never being prepared for anything. You see them a lot buying lottery tickets and at Indian Casinos.

    I find it too bad that College is such a complicated game – but with a annually changing racial spoils system driven by the state legislature and racial caucuses – you need an expert to play this game (regardless of your race). That’s all there is to it.

    Brave New World.

  • Debora

    I also know a family that used a private counselor to guide their three students into colleges and assist in financial aid packages that gave the students choices over their education. The sample of the Universities to which they were accepted and received at least 75% of ALL costs of attending paid for up to five years:

    Boston College
    UC LA
    UC San Diego
    UC Riverside
    UC Davis
    UC Santa Cruz
    UC Berkeley

    Each of the students in this family had a GPA in excess of 4.0, a minimum of 500 volunteer hours in their subject of study, and although many of the AP tests they took and passed were not offered at their high school, each student took college classes and studied independently for the AP exams. Each student began her university studies with the ability to study, a work ethic with an EXPECTATION that there would be 40+ hours of studying per week at the University in addition to classes.

    What the counselor did as well was manage the application process for the universities and the financial aid.

    Now, while one could argue that $2,000 is a LOT of money, when it is offset by $50,000 – $100,000 in student aid, the return on investment is huge.

    Two of the three students chose UC schools and the required family contribution total (for 2 students -not each student – third student still in school) for the entire four years was about $15,000 including room, board, books and trips home at Thanksgiving, winter holiday and summer holiday. Which is just about the same amount for raising the kids at home over a four year period.

    Things the parents and students did right: Students explored a wide variety of activities in elementary school including academic subjects, sports, artistic activities, volunteering and family activities (housework, camping, landscaping the yard, planning inexpensive vacations, holiday celebrations, etc.).

    By middle school the students had a clear idea of interests and skills. By high school they were volunteering in the areas of career interest – teaching science at the Lawrence Hall of Science, working with animals at the Oakland Zoo, and working in a hospital alongside physical therapists and nurses.

    This is a combination of very strong parenting, children who were planned for and wanted, a household that valued education, and a family that really enjoyed and respected one another.

    They key to learning was the value the family placed on each other and on education and the educational system. They counselor was viewed as a spoke in the wheel of the educational system.