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Should You Hire a College Admissions Consultant?

A profesional counselor can ease the process for some families

spinner image college in the upper corner with a hand coming out of it reaching down to a group of aspiring students climbing up a mountain
Sam Island

The whole college admissions process can be overwhelming, for students and parents both. And the costs of testing and applications can seem never-ending. But more and more families are getting a boost in the admissions competition by hiring a consultant to advise on everything from high school course selection to essay writing to interview prep. A recent study shows that the hiring of private college counselors has almost tripled in recent years. These college admissions consultants often don’t come cheap. In more expensive regions of the country, they can charge up to $10,000 per student, though some offer a sliding fee scale or assist needy families pro bono.

Finding a consultant is easy. Families can search the websites of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) or the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) for referrals. But if you can’t find a great consultant for free — as most families cannot — is hiring one worth the cost? Experts say that depends on your family ... and your kid. If a student is already on track by working with a caring school counselor, they don’t necessarily need additional help.

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HECA President Scott S. Garbini, founder and lead consultant of Garbini Education and Career Consulting in New London, Connecticut, says, “Sometimes I have an initial consultation with a parent or guardian, and I explain that they are already doing everything they need to be doing.”

If the family or the student feels at sea, however, a consultant can simplify the college admissions process. Most families who work with a consultant begin during a student’s freshman or sophomore year in high school. But Lindsey Ringenbach, the director of college consulting at Advantage College Planning in Raleigh, North Carolina, says it’s OK to start later: “We have worked with some students up to the fall of their senior year.”

Families who do hire a consultant should make sure the person is someone who can work well with both the student and their high school guidance office, says Angelica Melendez, an adviser to college-bound students at Luther Burbank High School in San Antonio. Melendez has had successful collaborations with consultants in the past. 

“If the family is up-front with the counselor and it's a collaboration to help the student meet with the goal, it's the best way to move forward," she says. “But if the student tells the consultant something different from what they tell the counselor, it can cause issues.”

And even if your child is basically on track, you may find that hiring an independent consultant offers one attractive perk: It allows you to outsource all the nagging about essays and deadlines to somebody else.

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