Q: What is an independent college consultant? A: Let’s break down each term to answer this question. “Independent” means that, unlike your regular guidance counselor, independent college consultants are not affiliated or associated with a school or organization. They usually are part of a larger company or own their own small business. The term “college” here indicates that we work on all things related to the college admission process. Some independent college consultants are generalists (meaning that they do a little of everything), while some specialize in a particular aspect of college consulting, such as working with student-athletes on NCAA athletic recruitment or assisting students with learning differences (to name just two examples). Finally, “consultant” is just another word for counselor in this context. However, because independent college consultants are not working for a school where a counselor usually has other obligations (such as monitoring lunch periods, assisting with detention, addressing disciplinary problems, etc.),we have the luxury of focusing on working with students on the college admission process. Also, the national average case load for a school-affiliated guidance counselor is 491 students for each counselor (Massachusetts tends to fare better, with case loads closer to the American School Counselor Association recommended ratio of 250:1, while California averages 822 students for each counselor - see https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/09/the-neglected-link-in-the-high-school-to-college-pipeline/500213/ - for more information on these ratios). As an independent college consultant, I have the power to choose the number of students to work with - I may work with as little as 5 students at one time, or as many as 15 during an academic year.
Q: Ok, but what’s this part about “comprehensive”? What exactly do you mean by that? A: In general, a comprehensive college consultant assists students and families with every aspect of the college admission process, from identifying potential majors and careers of interest to compiling a balanced college application list to completing the actual applications tocomparing financial aid packages. For example, this contrasts with writing tutors, who may offer college essay writing assistance, but do not necessarily advise on the other aspects of the college application process. In my case, the only 2 service that I do not provide are standardized test preparation and college financial advice (while I may educate families about the differences in standardized testing and help them understand financial aid terms, I refer my clients to professionals who specialize in standardized test prep and to certified financial planners).
Q: What if I don’t want or need all that help? For example, maybe I just want help putting together a college list, but don’t need assistance with the application or with the essay. Can I purchase only the services that I want? A: In short, no. My counseling philosophy is built on the foundation of truly getting to know my students. When I was a college professor, I was able to bring the best out of my students after getting to know them from my weekly interactions in the classroom, providing feedback on their work, and from speaking with them one-on-one during office hours. I take a similar approach to college counseling: I am able to provide the best support possible when I get to know the student and when I learn to recognize her unique, authentic voice. Building relationships like this takes time, and offering “a la carte” services isn’t conducive for establishing trust. For me, only providing, for example, 4 hours of assistance to a student does not honor the time and effort a young person invests in the entire application process, preventing me from providing the best support possible for your child. If you wish to pick “a la carte” services, I am happy to refer you to my local colleagues who offer those services.
Q: Are your fees negotiable? A: Again, in short, no. Do you try to negotiate fees with a medical doctor, dentist, or a lawyer? Obviously not. This is the same kind of situation, since I am a professional running my own business full-time. Given my extensive training and terminal degree, as well as the breadth and depth of my experience both in academia and working with students, my fees are more than competitive (they are lower than the regional average when comparing what other IECs charge in the New England area - the average hourly rate in New England is $171 and the average package price is $4, 442). I am happy to give a 10% discount when I work with siblings (if I'm working with twins, one sibling will be charged the regular price, while the other twin will receive a 10% on services rendered; if a family chooses to hire me again after I have worked with one of their children, I will give that family a 10% on the services rendered for each subsequent child).
Q: Do I have to pay for an initial consultation? A: Absolutely not! I offer free 45-minute consultations to get to know one another. Finding the right fit for an independent college consultant is similar to finding the right fit in a college. Not all personalities mesh, and not everyone shares the same approaches or methodologies when it comes to the college application process. For example, if you, your child, or your parent are solely focused on getting admitted to an Ivy League schoolat all costs, then I am not going to be the right college consultant for you. While I have nothing against Ivies or other hyper-competitive schools, I place much more weight on whether a college or university will maximize a student’s chances of being happy (meaning a school that supports a student’s intellectual growth, emotional and mental well-being, the nurturing of social skills, career development, and will not leave the student paying off debt for decades). “Brand name” schools may look impressive on a resume, but that name will only get a person so far, and it’s certainly not worth spending 4 years of one’s life absolutely miserable just to graduate from a well-known university or college.
Q: Great - that’s one thing that sets you apart from other independent educational consultants (IECs). What else? How are you different from other IECs? A: The metro Boston is just as full of independent college consultants as it is full of colleges and universities! Yet, I have encountered very few people who have “lived” in academia the way I have. I worked for over 2 years in an elite college admission office as a staff member, seeing “what goes on behind the curtain.” As a college professor, I taught first years and upperclass college students for almost 10 years, teaching multiple sections of freshman writing for 5 years. I also read countless college application and served as a faculty voting member on the Olin College Admission Committee. Moreover, I remember all too well what it was like to be a student applying to colleges and graduate schools, and I know first hand the experience of attending a suburban elite college, as well as what it’s like to study at large, urban research universities. In other words, I uniquely understand the college admission process from the points of view of student, staff, and faculty. Finally, I have navigated academic bureaucracies for nearly 25 years, allowing me to understand exactly how higher educational institutions work, inside and out. I can educate your family about not only how to get into the best fit colleges, and but also how to STAY in that school and graduate in 4 years, something that is becoming increasingly rare in our contemporary educational environment.
Q: If you know academia so well, why did you leave it? A: I knew I wanted to be a college professor since I was 17 years old. My passion for teaching and research only grew with time and experience, my internal fire always stoked by my great love of learning and sharing my knowledge with others. I became a professor because I believed that I could truly make a difference in the lives of many students. And I have! Nevertheless, my time in academia also revealed to me how educational institutions are increasingly adopting a business model that values generating revenue over the quality of student experience. Having witnessed colleges fail students repeatedly (on all levels - academically, socially, financially, etc.), I was no longer able to morally and ethically be a part of a system that does not prioritize a student’s well-being above all else. Now, as an independent college consultant, I am able to share my knowledge about higher education to empower students and their families when making college decisions. Knowing exactly what you are getting into will help you make the best decisions possible.
Q: Wow, that’s intense. Why college counseling, though? A: College admissions is like a living entity - it shifts and changes with every cycle. Applying to college is so much different now than it was when I applied in the mid-1990s. For example, when I was in high school, no one talked about the importance of “fit.” My parents meant well, but they informed me of what college I was going to attend (if I was accepted), and told me not to apply for financial aid when I was completing my college application. Because of this, I attended a college that wasn’t the best fit for me - I loved my intellectual life, and I am still friends with my professors. Yet, I did not fit in with my classmates, and I finally paid off my undergraduate student loans 20 years and 4 months after graduating with my B.A.. I really could have used a college consultant to guide me when I was an adolescent, and I am finally able to be the person that I wish I had when I was 17! No one should go through this process alone, and I’m grateful that my experiences have given me the ability and insight to help others navigate the increasingly complex college admissions landscape.
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