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Is Hiring a College Admissions Consultant Worth It?

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“So, where are you going to go to college?”

If you know a high schooler—or are one!—you know that this is a dreaded question. But why? Well, for starters, many students don’t feel like the decision is theirs. They feel beholden to inscrutable college admissions officers or the expectations of their peers and parents. Many also feel lost. With thousands of colleges in the United States, how could anyone hope to find the perfect fit?

The college admissions process is one of the biggest sources of stress for high school students and their families. Parents and students feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and the sheer number of things to keep track of. When should students start visiting schools? When should they take the SAT? Or should they take the ACT? Should they apply early decision, or early action? And apply where? Where can they get in? What’s the difference between a reach school and a safety school? How many of each should be on the list?

That’s where college admissions consultants come in. These trained, experienced professionals (also known as college counselors or admissions coaches) advise students on how to prepare themselves during high school for the college admissions process. They also provide insights on what the right college list looks like for a particular student, help with stress management, and help students create the best, most competitive college applications. A good admissions consultant doesn’t just help with your applications, but rather helps throughout the entire process.

In fact, many families find that starting with a consultant early in high school enables students to be most successful in the college admissions process. This is because students often need more than parental coaching to maximize their potential. Substantial guidance throughout high school can be useful starting in ninth grade in order to reduce stress and help students increase their success in the admissions process.

Maybe you’re sold already, and that’s why you’re here. If so, see what makes Spark Admissions different. But if you need convincing, consider the following:

Do I really need help applying to college?

A generation ago, applying to college was simple. You filled out a form, your school sent your class rank and standardized test scores, maybe you wrote a brief essay, and you heard back in the spring. Nowadays, of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are five reasons that you might strongly consider getting some assistance in your college applications:

1. Schools get more and more competitive every year.

If you’re reading this site, you probably have an inkling of this fact. Admission rates at selective colleges and universities have plummeted in the past few decades, with admission rates at the top schools now hovering in the low-single digits, while slightly lower-ranked schools still have admissions rates ranging from 10-30%. The reasons are two-fold: more students applying to college, and more applications per student, thanks to the ease of submitting multiple applications through online interfaces like the Common Application.

With this inundation of applications, it’s harder than ever to stand out from the pack. Having an experienced college admissions consultant on your side can help you understand exactly what colleges are looking for and how to present yourself in the most advantageous way. Knowing what works is the best way to gain admission to a highly selective college.

2. Guidance counselors are overwhelmed.

Many parents of high school students ask us what makes an admissions consultant different than a guidance counselor. The truth is that while high school guidance counselors work extremely hard and are essential to their schools, they cannot prioritize helping good students navigate the college admissions process or become more competitive applicants. No matter how good their public school or private school, counselors just don’t have the time or expertise to guide students on how to become more competitive in the admissions process.

Even college counselors at private schools really only help rising seniors, and they don’t make recommendations about extracurriculars, summer activities, or strategy. If you want someone who’s going to improve your overall applicant profile, you need to look outside of school.

3. It’s an extremely involved process with lots of small details.

What are your child’s summer plans for each year of high school? Are they taking the right classes? Are they spending their extracurricular time wisely? Have they thought about what they want to study in college? The list of questions goes on.

Every year, thousands of families discover that the college application process has dozens of moving pieces, any one of which can derail an application. Forgot to sign up for an interview? That’s a strike against you. Last SAT test date closed? Strike two. Didn’t realize the University of California due date is November 30 for everyone? So much for Berkeley.

Even putting deadlines aside, it can be impossible for students and parents who are busy with a hundred other things to keep track of creating and updating a college list, figuring out the essays for each school, knowing which schools to visit, sending standardized test scores, and so on. Really, it’s a full-time job—so why not get help from someone who does it full-time?

4. College is expensive—so pick the right one!

The cost of four-year residential colleges rises every year. The more selective the school, the more they can charge their students. With potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, no wonder more and more families want to apply more strategically. After all, for that much money, don’t you want to make sure your child goes to the absolute best school for him or her? And wouldn’t it be worthwhile to pay a little more money to get there?

Yes, good college admissions consultants are expensive. But so is college itself—because it’s an investment in your child’s education and future earnings. For families who seek the advice and guidance of an admissions coach, spending a little more to get exactly what they want is a no-brainer. After all, that’s why people hire expert professionals.

5. You’ll fight less.

If you’re a high school student or a parent of one, you know that “college” can very often trigger a fight. It’s an extremely stressful and emotional process for the whole family. Keeping track of everything, not knowing if what you’re doing is right, feeling like you’re nagging or being nagged—it’s a recipe for disaster in even the most loving and communicative families.

A good college admissions consultant can take all of that away. He or she will make a timeline, a college list, suggest extracurricular activities, review your courses, provide feedback on essays, help you prep for interviews, and generally make sure you’re on the right path. Having someone with years of experience ensures that you’ll present your best self in your applications while also minimizing the stress and anxiety that too often accompanies the process.

So, what does an admissions consultant do, exactly?

There are four crucial things a good college consultant will provide you and your child:

An Enriching High School Experience

Admissions consultants also help students get the most out of high school. The open secret about college admissions is that the things college love to see—engaged extracurricular involvement, great grades in hard classes, meaningful volunteering—are also the things that make high school more fun and enriching for students. A good admissions consultant will expose you to all kinds of opportunities, tailored to your interests, that will improve your high school experience.

A Clear, Actionable Road Map

A good admissions consultant will help you become a more competitive candidate. The earlier you start, the better, as students will have more time to ameliorate weaknesses and improve their stories. The admissions landscape is highly competitive for colleges, independent schools, and graduate programs, and often it’s not easy to understand how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Having a knowledgeable admissions consultant will provide that road map.

The Right-Fit College

An admissions consultant can also help students find the exact right program. It can be easy to fixate on a particular course of study or one or two schools, but are they really the places that are going to provide the best education, in the right-fit environment, and prepare you for where you want to go afterward? Good admissions consultants know the landscape better than anyone and can point you toward the perfect schools and programs for you.

Lifelong Skills

Finally, an admissions consultant can also help students prepare for college and beyond. Many of the skills students develop while working with an admissions consultant—deciding on a major, writing a personal statement, creating a resume, practicing for an interview—will come in handy later in life. Working with an admissions consultant can set them on the right track, academically and professionally, and give them the confidence to succeed in college and beyond.

OK, I’m sold. What should I look for in an admissions consultant?

An exceptional admissions consultant will advise you through every step of the way and ensure that you’re always at least two steps ahead of where you need to be. This kind of thoughtful planning improves both the experience of applying and the eventual results. Your consultant will provide personalized attention and create a unique admissions strategy just for you. That way, all the wonderful and exciting things about you will be appropriately showcased in your application.

Read more about what makes a good admissions consultant here.

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