The Great College Counseling Debate

by Vault Education Editors | July 20, 2009

  • My Vault

On Saturday, The New York Times published an "exposé" of independent college admissions counselors. Within a day of being posted online, the article received over 240 comments, and they continue to pour in. Moreover, not one of the comments are lukewarm--readers are up in arms on both sides of the argument. Many of the responses expressed surprise and outrage that some counselors could charge the equivalent of a year's tuition at a top university for their services, without any requirement to verify credentials or success rates. They agree with Amy Gutmann, president of UPenn, when she called counselors like those profiled in the article "snack oil salesman."

At the other end of the spectrum, many other commenters felt that the article didn't pay enough attention to the high-quality college counseling available. The Choice, NYT's college admissions blog, summarizes the second of these directly opposite views:

"Another thread running through the comments is a sense, from some readers, that the article did not pay sufficient attention to the good work--at an arguably reasonable price--being done by many independent counselors, those who might be more concerned with matching a student to a college that is a good fit, than boasting of getting the student into his or her top choice."

When it comes to independent college counselors, there's certainly a range in terms of quality and cost, one that I feel the Sunday article does not sufficiently address. College admissions counseling is a fast-growing industry, yes. Not all counselors are upfront about their qualifications and success rate, yes. Some independent admissions counselors are super expensive, yes. But for students who can't get the counseling they need from their high schools, independent college counselors serve a legitimate purpose.

Most people will admit to some college admissions help--whether it's a parent, a college or guidance counselor or a football coach. It's hard to make such a huge decision all alone. One student even got help from ESPN Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, when deciding which school to attend. "When my college decisions came in in April, I narrowed down my choices to Dartmouth and Princeton and had no idea what to do. Whether it's teenage indecision or my relative laziness, the only thing I could think of was your pure hatred for Princeton. So I chose Dartmouth. You, Bill Simmons, made the biggest decision I have ever made." Click here to read Simmons' response (it's the fourth Q&A down), and you'll remember why having someone with your interests at heart--or at least someone with some knowledge of the value of different schools--is so important when applying to college.

Filed Under: Education

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