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The Difference College Admissions Consulting Can Make

Applying to colleges is stressful for students and families alike. It’s a detailed, often overwhelming process filled with questions: How do students become as prepared as possible for the competitive college admissions process? How do students set themselves apart in a sea of applicants? What can my child do specifically to standout to admissions officers? How can students find the “right fit” college? When should students start school visits? Which standardized tests should they take and do they still matter? What is the best Common Application essay topic? Where should students apply? Is applying early decision a good idea? And more…

An experienced college admissions consultant can help. Also known as college consultants, college counselors and college coaches, the best admissions consultants alleviate admissions-related stress by guiding students and their families through every step of the process of preparing for—and applying to—their best-fit colleges and universities.

Should I hire a college admissions consultant?

Applying to college used to be simple. Students filled out a form, their high schools sent their class ranks, they submitted their standardized test scores, maybe they wrote a short essay, and then they waited until they heard back in the spring.

Today, there’s a lot more to it. Here are five reasons you should hire a college consultant:

1. Schools grow more competitive every year.

College admission rates at highly selective colleges and universities now hover in the low single digits, while many schools have admissions rates ranging from 10 to 30%.

There are two reasons for this: more students are applying to college and there are more applications per student, thanks to the ease of submitting multiple applications through online interfaces like the Common Application.

This means it’s harder than ever for students to stand out. A seasoned college admissions counselor helps you understand what schools want and how your child can present himself or herself in the best way. Knowing what colleges want to see in their applicants allows students to be thoughtful, relieves their stress, and allows them to gain admission to highly selective colleges and universities.

2. The application process is extremely detailed and involved.

Every year, thousands of families discover that college planning and the process of applying to college has dozens of moving pieces, any one of which can derail an application.

Parents and students are often shocked by the extent of planning and thoughtfulness that goes into a successful college preparation and application process. Forgot to sign up for a college interview? Last SAT test date closed? Missed the financial aid application deadline? Didn’t realize the University of California due date is November 30 for everyone?

Being prepared and proactive is often the difference between getting into the colleges your child seeks and not.

It begins with making sure that students have developed strong resumes. How did they spend their time in high school? What did they do during their summers? What have they accomplished to set themselves apart from their peers? And it only goes on from there.

A seasoned college consultant helps students develop their stories throughout high school so their applications shine when it’s time to apply. College consultants also take the guesswork out of the college admissions process so you don’t have to research the details or hypothesize what might look good to colleges.

You and your child are busy enough without also having to guess what students need to do to become most competitive in the college admissions process. Without guidance, it is very hard to create and maintain appropriate college lists, figure out how best to approach the essays for each college, plan campus visits, and submit standardized test scores.

Really, it’s a full-time job—so why not entrust it to someone who does it full-time?

3. College is expensive.

The cost of four-year residential colleges rises every year. With potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, it makes sense to apply strategically.

Hiring an independent educational consultant is an investment—as is your choice of school itself—in your child’s education and future earnings. And, of course, college admissions consultants help guide students to colleges where they will also have the best experience. Together with your admissions counselor, you’ll develop a personalized strategy to help your child flourish in high school, college and beyond.

4. You’ll be less stressed.

The mere mention of “college” in many households is enough to trigger emotional conversations and unnecessary fights.

The process of applying to schools is stressful. Keeping track of everything, not knowing if what you’re doing to prepare for college is right, feeling like you’re nagging or being nagged—it’s a recipe for disaster even in the most harmonious families.

The best college consultants eliminate that stress. College consulting involves managing timelines and school lists, suggesting extracurriculars, reviewing courses, providing feedback on essays, helping prepare for college interviews, and generally making sure students are on the right path. This not only ensures students put their best foot forward in their applications, but also minimizes the stress that too often accompanies the process.

5. Guidance counselors are overwhelmed.

What makes a private admissions counselor different from a high school guidance counselor?

Guidance counselors work extremely hard and are essential to their schools, but they simply can’t prioritize helping every high school student navigate the myriad details of the admissions process. No matter how good the public or private school, guidance counselors don’t have the time or expertise to guide students to become the most competitive applicants possible.

Even counselors at private schools primarily advise juniors and rising seniors, and they don’t provide students with a strategy for standing out amongst their peers. They also do not have the resources to examine admissions practices the way a leading edge college admissions consulting firm does, particularly one like Spark Admissions that has its own college admissions research team.

A private counselor for college has the time to prioritize your child, work with your family to create a personalized admissions strategy, and help you create a stand-out, well-rounded college application and applicant profile.

What makes a good admissions counselor?

So you’ve decided to hire a college consultant to help manage the application process and maximize your child’s chances at selective schools. But how do you determine which one is the best fit for you?

It’s important to find a private admissions counselor who is reputable, successful, knowledgeable, and personable. Here are 5 things to consider as you explore potential partners:

1. Research the admissions consulting firm.

Start with their results. Which schools have their students gotten into during the past few years? What’s their track record at the top schools? How do their admissions rates compare to the overall admissions rates at highly selective schools? How recent are their results?

Next, research the firm more broadly. Look into its counselors, their history of advising, and their results. A reputable firm will be transparent about its experience, strategy, and vision with no gimmicks or overpromises. Find a counselor whose approach and results align with your goals.

Finally, read their reviews on Google, Facebook and Yelp. Were past clients happy with their private admissions counselors? Did they make the application process less stressful and more enjoyable? Look for a match who will make your family feel supported and heard throughout the college counseling journey.

2. Ask questions about the private admissions counselors’ experience.

Do they work for the admissions consulting firm full-time (for many it is their side job)? If not, will they be able to provide timely responses to your questions, advice on admissions news and trends, and the general time and attention your family needs? Will they work with you at every step, or will they pass you off to others mid-process? Does the firm continuously research and analyze admissions trends?

Look for someone with a strong background in admissions consulting, and make sure your potential consultant knows how to guide your family through the whole college admissions process successfully. The best admissions consultants know how to coach students, have a strong academic background, communicate effectively and thoughtfully, and have a clear strategic vision.

Also ask about your potential admissions counselor’s experience in higher education. Consultants who have degrees from top schools themselves not only know what it takes to gain admission, but can also help you understand what life is like there and how best to prepare.

3. Shop around to find the right fit.

Your family will be spending a lot of time working with your admissions consultant. It’s important you find a good personality fit.

Most consultants offer a free initial consultation during which you can learn more about their approach, ask questions, and get a chemistry check. Remember, this is a long-term relationship, not a transaction. You’re looking for someone who’s not only an expert in college admissions, but who also can provide emotional support during the process—someone who knows when to push your child and when to nurture.

Finally, be wary of flat-rate packages, as they don’t provide a strong incentive to ensure perfection at every step of the admissions process.

4. Make sure they provide complete, personalized support.

The best admissions consultants don’t just recommend schools based solely on grades; they get to know students so they can figure out how to enhance and present their unique stories.

When hiring an admissions consultant, ask whether the firm provides holistic, personalized attention to every applicant. Don’t be misguided by a firm that offers specialized people who edit essays but know little about what admissions committees seek in them. The best applications have a clear, unified strategy. A single advisor who knows your child well will be best equipped to improve his or her complete profile and ensure he or she presents a strong, coherent story in applications.

5. Understand the process.

This might be the most important step, as an admissions consultant who is organized and responsive is crucial to crafting a successful application.

Ask how you’ll know what to do, and when? Will the consultant be able to address your family’s unique needs? How often will he or she respond to questions? How does the consultant stay current on admissions research, trends and news? Having access to detailed trends in admissions requires a consulting firm that has the staff to track these trends (this is something an individual consultant would not be able to do). Also, the best college consulting firms have a methodology in place to improve best practices in their college consulting process and recommendations in response to every subtle change in the college admissions process.

Being clear on the answers to such questions will ensure you’re in capable hands.

Ready to learn more about how Spark Admissions can help your student achieve his or her admissions goals? Contact us for a free consultation.

Spark Admissions has the highest college admissions success rate in the country.

Contact us to learn more about our admissions consulting services.

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