I’m sure everybody likes hearing about a good scandal now and then, and there are times that I suppose I am guilty of that as well.
However, while the recent events got my attention, I took no pleasure in hearing the details.
As a college admissions professional, I received a lot of phone calls, texts, and had to field a lot of questions from both enraged and disheartened parents and students.
Since the dust has now settled down a bit, I’d like to add a little clarity relative to this particular scandal for all to consider.
Is Hiring a Professional Necessary?
My answer is: It depends.
Have you ever gone on a trip?
I’m sure when you were planning this trip you had the option of either doing it yourself or using a travel agent or consultant.
There are pros and cons in both scenarios.
Doing it by yourself can be less expensive, initially.
But if you do choose the DIY method you then have to become knowledgeable about your travel destination as well as how to optimize your time while you’re there.
The goal is to ensure that you and your family have a very good time on this trip, see and participate in all the activities you desire, and do it affordably.
Assuming you have the time and interest in doing this legwork, you can certainly do it yourself and have a great experience.
On the other hand, there are a lot of benefits to working with a professional in the travel field.
If they are properly educated and do the research necessary to excel at their job, they can offer choices to you based upon their expertise as well as suggest the most cost-effective way to travel.
In addition, they can make suggestions based upon their experience that will help ensure your safety, which is more significant when you travel to an unknown destination.
Is Hiring a College Admissions Counselor Necessary?
For many families, the college admissions process is also a trip to an unknown destination. If you choose to navigate it yourself you can utilize free resources that are online, buy a book, or utilize the resources of your high school to achieve college admission success.
However, that doesn’t work for everybody for a host of reasons.
When you or someone you know is considering looking for outside college admissions help, it’s important to understand that it isn’t typically to gain a competitive admission advantage.
You hire outside admissions help so your student will have the best chance to achieve their desired potential, so they can avoid big admissions mistakes, and so you, the parents, are financially efficient as you all go through the process.
Do you have a financial advisor? A physical therapist? Like the travel agent, these professionals can help you manage your money, get back on the road to recovery faster, and in general, live a better life.
Would you ever attempt to do their jobs on your own?
There are reasons why people hire outside help.
The time that is required to become an “expert” may not fit into your schedule.
It may cost you a little more money up front, but if you choose the right person, peace-of-mind and trusted guidance will help you optimize your results while minimizing your stress and anxiety.
The college admissions process can be overwhelming, especially for dual-income families with multiple children.
Hiring an outside professional who is on the same page with the same goals and desires for you and your student can be incredibly valuable.
They can ensure you avoid the big mistakes as you go through the process and that you are cost-effective in the colleges you choose.
If they are the right match, they can help set up your student for future college success.
Bumper Sticker Envy
In my book, College: Making the Complicated Easy, the ongoing theme throughout is to stay separate from the herd and not to give in to what I call “bumper sticker envy.”
In the book and when I speak to groups across the country I get people to focus on maintaining the right perspective as they go through the process.
I stress the importance of not trying to impress your neighbors, but instead making sure that the college you choose for your student is right for them (and your family) academically, socially, and financially.
In my years in this business I have found that many people have a skewed view that can lead them to make decisions for the wrong reasons.
Some students end up fine, I’m sure. But were they actually more successful or happier because they went to the “better” school?
All the dynamics that impact us as we go through life also apply to college and your student’s college experience.
Name, reputation, and rankings cannot shield us from that fact.
But if that is the case, why do so many make decisions based upon idealistic factors rather than practical ones?
How Much Will a Professional College Counselor Cost?
Know that you don’t need to spend huge amounts of money for this help.
I have always taken pride in being incredibly reasonable with my prices.
In addition, I helped create, with the assistance of Road2College, a subscription service for families with high school students.
Our goal in creating these services was to make access to experts affordable for most families and fill in the gap between having no help or spending thousands of dollars to get help.
There will always be people on the athletic field, in the classroom, in the boardroom, and elsewhere. who will do anything to get a “leg up” on the competition, regardless of whether it is right.
That will never change despite this, and other scandals being publicized so broadly.
Conflating these people with all families and students who get help outside of what is provided in their school or online is wrong.
When people receive outside (legal) help, it most likely means that they are not sure how to navigate the process successfully.
They see the value in bringing in an expert because they want to make sure they do the best they can for their student and family.
I understand that many of us like to pass judgment when we find somebody who’s done something as incredibly unethical and wrong as these people involved in the scandal.
Families who have trusted the system and are now very disillusioned have every right to ask questions, and I encourage you to do so.
Let me put your mind at ease…so many people I know in this business have nothing but the well-being of the student and the financial interests of the families in mind.
A College Counselor’s Philosophy
The student’s happiness has always been my main focus regardless of where they go to college.
I use the same philosophy with my daughter who is a sophomore.
Unfortunately, when I share this philosophy there are some clients who decide I’m not aggressive enough for their family.
And when that occurs, we part ways.
In all of my 15 years in this business I have never claimed to be giving a student an academic admission advantage.
That’s a promise I would never make to any of my students or families.
At the end of the day, the academic achievement and standardized test results, as well as their athletic and other attributes are the responsibility of the student.
Working with a college admissions advisor can have several significant advantages but it is the student who is ultimately responsible for their own admissions success.
I will never write an essay for a student.
I will never solely decide where a student should apply to college.
I will never do anything that I feel is unethical, immoral or not in the best interest of the student and family.
Any decent and trustworthy counselor you hire should behave in the same way.
I will not feel badly about the help, guidance, peace-of-mind and cost-effectiveness I help my students and families achieve as a result of working with me.
And, I don’t believe that they should feel guilty for identifying the fact that they could benefit from some professional help, support, and guidance.
They can also know that they allowed the success and happiness quotients for their family and student to ultimately drive their process. In my opinion no one should feel badly about that.
Wouldn’t you agree?
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Russ Vitale is the best selling author of College: Making the Complicated Easy and owner of Destination College Success, a full service college admissions, application and athletic recruiting advisory service helping students and their families successfully navigate their college journey. www.destinationcollegesuccess.