In June I gave a keynote talk at the annual conference of the Higher Education Consultants Association in New Jersey.
I decided to tag along on the group’s college tour that took the consultants to a half-dozen campuses. What I found predictable is that the most elite schools were the least hospitable to the consultants. Princeton and Columbia universities told the organizers that the group of more than 100 consultants could go on the regular tour and no one from the admission office would meet with them.
In contrast, other schools on the trip pulled out all the stops. Stevens Institute of Technology treated the group to a lovely dinner at the campus with a stunning view of the New York City skyline. Rider University and Fordham University also hosted lovely events for the consultants and they all provided presentations of their programs.
Protests From Elite Schools
So why am I bringing this up today?
The behavior of the elite schools reminded me of a chapter that I wrote in the newest edition of my book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price about independent college counselors. I begin the chapter by discussing the animosity that elite admission deans tend to exhibit against college consultants. In the chapter, I take delight in calling out these admission deans for what I perceive to be the prime reason behind the dissing. I have excerpted part of the chapter, which is entitled What You Need to Know About Independent College Counselors, below.
I believe that most of the funds expended on independent counselors are simply wasted. We do not believe they have much, if any, effect on who we accept.
I find it amusing that the people who seem the most agitated about these consultants are the very people guarding the palace doors of the Ivies and the tiny fraction of other schools that reject nearly all their applicants. Certainly Brenzel would agree with what Thomas H. Parker, dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College had to say when he protested the use of college consultants in a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
What is important to understand about families who make use of independent college counselors is that they are both highly competitive and used to controlling their own destinies. In their eyes, the college-admissions process is reduced to little more than a contest. Furthermore, it is a contest that is to be won (perhaps at all costs) and a process that is to be tightly controlled.
Read that passage again and ask yourself if the Amherst dean couldn’t be describing the motivation and behavior of his own elite college peers.
Ivy League Hypocrites
I find it ironic that administrators at the most prestigious schools are protesting so vigorously since they are responsible for most of the nation’s admission hysteria. Children who are anointed each year by the admission staff at the Harvard’s of the world, do need to be nearly perfect — at least using the cramped definition of perfection that elite schools use. And the odds of being anointed by the admission offices keep declining as some of these elite schools insist on encouraging ever more students to apply so they can generate even greater rejection rates.
The only people who can really play this admission game at the highest level are the wealthy. So, of course, they are going to hire people to help them with the college process just as they hire people to help them walk their Shih-Tzus, massage their backs and carry their golf clubs. It’s the use of these exorbitantly compensated hired guns that creates the strong impression that only the wealthy can win this race. And that’s probably what motivates the elite schools to protest. Nobody wants to be considered a playground for the rich even when it’s true.
It’s easy to wag a finger at the highest priced counselors, but frankly they are just charging what the market will bear. I also don’t find it disturbing that rich people are aiming for what they want (it’s the behavior of the elite schools that bother me), but I do think it’s unfortunate that the vast majority of independent college consultants get characterized as hired guns for the rich. This just isn’t true!
Most college consultants don’t charge exorbitant amounts of money and they are motivated to find the best academic fit for their clients regardless of whether their clients are academic superstars or barely maintain a 3.0 GPA.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of the second edition of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.