Would we benefit from a college consultant?

By Maxine Seya

College consultants were relatively unheard of until the 2019 Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.

Before then, college consultants of course existed, though mainly in wealthier areas where college brand names matters. Today, though, the college consulting industry is a billion-dollar industry.

I had only heard of college consultants after starting college at Northwestern in 2011, when a classmate from the NYC-area said her mom had hired someone to “put her portfolio together.” Turns out, consultants did indeed exist when I was in high school in Orange County — one of those wealthier areas where college brand names matter.

I figured that out when I moved back to my hometown to work in a college consulting firm. It had been in business since my elementary school days.

Who knew.

When reflecting upon my stint in consulting, I feel like there were three types of students that really benefitted from my help and three that didn’t.

3 Types of People That Benefitted from College Consulting

  1. Students and parents eager to explore ALL college options without obsessing over name brands.
    • One of the consultant’s biggest responsibilities is compiling a personalized college list for each student, based on his or her interest, personality, background, finances, and preferences. This list is challenging for parents to create because the average person does not know just how many suitable colleges are out there and instead relies on popular rankings, brand names, or media coverage. Likewise, this is a list that is truly the gift of the consultant, who has spent hours researching and connecting with individuals who attend, work at, or have graduated from those institutions. The students the most eager to discover unknown options and really evaluate each one, giving each suggestion a chance, usually found themselves surprisingly happy. Those who equated determination with narrow-mindedness were disappointed when rejection letters filled their inboxes.
  2. Parents willing to let the consultant work with their child without constantly contradicting them.
    • Consultants like to think of the work as a form of family mediation. The parents pay, so they should be the client, right? But the kid is the one going to college, so shouldn’t they have a say, too? It’s a delicate balance that demands careful attention from the consultant, because every family will ask for something different. The clients who were the most satisfied were those whose parents let them lead the dialogue with me. The parents dropped them off to meet with me, but let them independently come up with questions, ask for help when they needed it, push back when they felt it was needed, and drive their application season. The unhappy clients would let their kids talk to me, but later call me and say “my kid was wrong; listen to me, instead” or “I don’t like what you said, so I’m going to tell my son something else.”
  3. Students respectful of deadlines.
    • Hiring a consultant makes this part easy: deadline calendar. Most kids have trouble pacing themselves on long-term projects like college apps. The consultant makes the calendar based on your school list, test dates, and submission deadlines. All the students have to do is follow along. The students who realized the hard part (creating the deadline list) was done and rejoiced at just having to execute were very successful. The students who didn’t realize that the hard part was already done for them and found the simple task of meeting deadlines too difficult didn’t succeed at much else.

3 Types of People That Should Not Have Hired a Consultant

  1. Those completely set on attending just one specific

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.