Lesson Learned from "The Key"

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 

The hardest part of responding to yesterday’s college admissions scandal is choosing a place to start. The worth of name brands? The celebrity culture? The illusion of meritocracy in admissions? The outright bribery?

For us college consultants, it smacks in the face of our own code of ethics, and for the students involved, perhaps the high-jacking of their opportunity to find a college that fits them best.

As participating members of professional educational organizations (HECA, IECA, WACAC, AICEP), we uphold the ethics and standards of our profession prohibiting guarantees and commissions. William Singer operated as a fixer, a cheat for parents; not as an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) for students. IEC’s spend countless hours attending presentations, conferences and college visits so we can best help students find a school where they will thrive. In all of the reporting, not once did we hear about Mr. Singer sitting down with, getting to know or evaluating the personality and interests of the students involved. Instead, we heard about parents intent on highly selective schools, and that Singer, not a member of these professional organizations, invented a side door scam guaranteeing admission for their children. 

Those in our profession already know that college admissions is not always a meritocracy. The admissions process is frequently criticized as giving advantages to the well-connected, legacies and collegiate sports programs. However, this scandal hits a nerve and begs for reform in the way the public views these “top” schools. Numerous research studies have been written, evaluated, revisited and all come to the same conclusion: children from affluent households will typically earn higher lifetime salaries regardless of where they attend college. Wouldn’t it then be better for them to find their best fit schools and blossom on their own merits?

Our hope is that this week’s spotlight will bring more transparency in admissions from the college side, more understanding of the process to the public and an appreciation that there are many schools where students find success on their own terms. As Frank Bruni’s New York Times Best Seller states, Where you Go is Not Who You’ll Be, and to that end, a student’s worth is not measured by where they go, but what they do there and in the years after. 


Amanda Hirko, Hirko Consulting

Susan Monken, College Untangled

Ellen Gaddie, Simply College Prep

How to Choose a College Consultant

Because college consultants are not high school counselors, they can offer a different kind of expertise and flexibility.  A consultant’s only agenda is the best interest and success of her students, so when looking for a consultant, just like when looking for a school, parents should look for the best fit for their child.

First, here are a few basics in choosing your child’s college consultant:

  1. Did the consultant complete a Certificate in College Counseling, work as a high school counselor or as an admissions counselor at a non-profit institution of higher learning?

  2. Does the consultant belong to professional organizations that serve their regions as well as independent educational consultants (National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and/or its regional affiliate, Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), Certified Educational Planner (CEP)?

  3. Does the consultant regularly meet with admissions counselors, participate in conferences, continuing education and travel to see colleges on their own?

 If the answer to any of these questions is NO, then stop right there.  You deserve to work with a consultant that continues their education, has a network of resources and understands current admission trends. 

Also, many consultant’s businesses are built on referrals. Check with friends and neighbors for names or ask for references.

Second, review the consultant’s website and contact them with questions to determine if their style, approach and fees sounds like something you think would be a good fit for your family.

Third, review your notes from the conversation with your son or daughter. 

  1. Do you feel like your child would respond well to the consultant? Is your child ready to engage?

  2. What was your gut reaction in talking with the consultant, sometimes that matters more than the words spoken. 

You ought to have a trusted partner in the college admissions experience: a partner with expertise and knowledge, and someone to help simplify the process while showing care and kindness. 

The three members of The College Crew have combined 30-plus years of experience, guiding more than 1,000 families through the college journey supporting both students and parents along the way. We feel privileged to be a trusted professional during such a pivotal part of a teen’s life!

  • Amanda Hirko, Hirko Consulting INC

  • Ellen Gaddie, Simply College Prep

  • Susan Monken, College Untangled

Denied or Deferred from College, Now What?

Early action and early decision responses have started, and it’s important to remember that what you hear may not be fair and may not make sense. It feels personal, but it’s not about you -- it’s business, the business of enrollment management. 

Enrollment management is used by colleges to shape their incoming classes. It is the great unknown and it changes yearly. It is based on so much that you cannot control, including: an institution’s needs and finances, programs chosen, faculty retention and acquisition and so much more.  This is all part of the holistic review that you will never know.  It’s not just test scores, GPA or whether you were president of mock trial or captain of a varsity sport; instead, it’s based on college priorities.

And this is why you applied to more than one school, why you had a balanced list, and why when you made your list, all of them had elements of things you liked or wanted. In time you will find that many students are not at their first-choice school, but they are happy and thriving and can’t picture themselves anywhere else. Just like you will feel on the campus where you land.

Keep in mind, how you handle this disappointment IS about you. Right now, you’re hearing back early, so you have time to let the result settle and then move on. Use this time to revise, regroup, reflect and remind yourself that there are other colleges that will appreciate your time and talents.

This blog was written in conjunction with my colleagues from the College Crew.

Finding College Scholarships

Parents often ask us where their teen can find college scholarships and in our opinion this is the one area we recommend parents take an active role. Searching for and applying for scholarships is time consuming and many students avoid it.

What you need to know is all college scholarship sites are not equal. Many aren’t legitimate or are little more than sources for gathering your data. It’s a given you will get some unsolicited emails and you won’t want to overload your college application or your personal email accounts.

Tip #1:     Set up a new email to be used only for scholarships.

Tip #2:     Never pay for a scholarship search.

Tip #3:     Start local; places to consider are employers, local service organizations (Elks, Rotary, Lions, etc.), school foundations, high school counseling department, and PTA.

Our top 5 scholarship sites are:

1.     Fastweb.com

2.     Scholarshipmonkey.com

3.     Petersons.com

4.     Studentscholarships.org

5.     Chegg.com/scholarships

On each site be sure to:

·      Fill out the student profile 100%, leaving no blank spaces or unchecked boxes.

·      List all possible majors for the most scholarship matches. If you are unsure of your major check the boxes for anything that interests you.

·      Update your information regularly, as different scholarships are offered for different grade levels.  Also, more matches may occur if you join clubs, volunteer, learn new skills, and take part in different activities.

Bonus Info: At the time your student is submitting admissions applications, parents of seniors can research the financial aid page for each college. There you may find additional information on institutional or departmental scholarships and whether a supplemental application is required. Not all schools offer departmental scholarships for incoming freshman, but if they do, you don't want to miss out!