Should parents hire outside help to get their kids in college?

emerson

When we weren’t worried about college admissions.

One thing we never did with our kids is hire someone to help with college admissions. My kids didn’t get much help from their high school counselor who had her hands full with who knows how many students. Probably at least 100. I didn’t know about outside counselors when my son applied to college and my daughter’s process was entirely different since she was being recruited as a swimmer. We assumed that our son could get in wherever he wanted with a packed resume of activities, valedictorian and near perfect SATs. Boy, were we wrong!

I first learned about college counselors when one of his friends from the swim team a couple years younger, hired a college counselor. She got lots of  valuable guidance. If I could turn back time, I’d consider hiring help, since we had no clue what we were doing. 

The question about whether families should hire outside help to get their kids into college comes up now because of the Varsity Blues scandal. Parents are going to jail for hiring an outside college counselor, who faked test scores and coordinated with athletic departments to get non-athletic kids accepted into schools. So far, 52 parents have been indicted and the trials are going on now.

There was an interesting article about how schools feel about families hiring outside help in the Wall Street Journal by Melissa Korn called Whose Advice Are You Taking? The Fight Over College Counseling at Elite High Schools.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the first application season since the cheating scandal, schools weigh how to exert control

At Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, families receive a 43-page handbook on college planning. Students meet with their counselors, known as deans, sophomore year to discuss course selection and extracurriculars. Spring of junior year, they begin college counseling meetings, bringing parents along to some. Summer before senior year, the school hosts college essay-writing workshops.

Private-school administrators hope it is enough to keep parents from looking to outside counselors for extra help.

“The hardest part of my job is convincing families to trust our process,” says Gloria Díaz Ventura, director of college counseling at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada, Calif. “Some parents need an insurance policy to make sure that they did everything possible to support their child.”

Tolerance for families hiring private college consultants has waned in the wake of the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal that led to charges against 52 people, says Emmi Harward, executive director of the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, a group representing counselors at private schools. Independent counselor William “Rick” Singer confessed to helping clients cheat on college entrance exams and faking athletic credentials to secure teens spots at selective schools.

High-school counselors, many of whom have experience working in college admissions offices, carefully curate relationships with university gatekeepers and are concerned about teens submitting applications riddled with falsehoods, or at least embellishments, if they can’t maintain a close watch over the process. They say outside counselors can confuse students with conflicting or uninformed advice, and tend to be too aggressive in packaging students, even if they don’t go to illegal lengths like Mr. Singer.

“They’re urging transparency, if not outright banning the use of outside counsel, to the extent that’s even realistic,” Ms. Harward says.

The role school counselors play at elite private schools can be different from many large public schools, where counselors maintain a caseload that includes general academic advising, career guidance and psychological support. That leaves little time for helping finalize students’ college lists, plan campus visits, brainstorm essay ideas and polish prose, say school officials and families.

I don’t think it’s wrong to hire someone to help guide your family through the college application process. It’s overwhelming, and in a public school, chances are your child won’t get much help. We didn’t know basics like dream schools, reach, fall back, etc. We didn’t know that many great schools across the country even existed besides the major brands like Harvard, Yale and Stanford. Looking back, the whole process was stressful for me — and my son was devastated.

After the Varsity Blues scandal broke, it’s obvious that these parents went too far. We are adults and we need to be role models for our kids. The one parent in the scandal that really drives me nuts is the “parenting expert” who wrote two books on parenting — and then paid $50k to have someone else take the ACT test for her child! Read about her here. What was she thinking? In what world would you think that is okay?

Here’s one last thought from the article:

“These are the people who hired a batting coach and pitching coach when the kid was in Little League, why wouldn’t they do it for college too?” says Jim Jump, director of college counseling at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va., and a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

katWhat are your thoughts about hiring someone to help with college admissions?

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