Buying extra college prep
- Subject: Buying extra college prep
- From: George Sheridan <learn@JPS.NET>
- Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2002 22:16:08 -0800
- Comments: cc: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
Buying extra college prep
High school students are increasingly turning to private consultants.
Laurel Rosen -- Bee Staff Writer
Published Thursday, November 14, 2002
Colorful college pennants and a wall of titles like "Peterson's Four-Year
Colleges," "The Best 331 Colleges" and "The College Scholarship Book" line
the shelves at the College and Career Center at Granite Bay High School.
Students can check out SAT prep books and practice tests, look at 300
catalogs and promotional videos from campuses across the country, and pick
up applications to the University of California and the California State
They can use one of a half-dozen computers to look at college sites or
browse through a special college search engine to which the school district
subscribes. When they have questions, students at Granite Bay can consult
with one of two staff members who run the center, or with their guidance
counselors, who hold college advising sessions in the quad twice a week at
But some of the school's most determined college-bound students don't use
any of these free services.
Instead, their parents hire private college counselors to guide the
teenagers through the application process. And the first thing students
receiving this help learn is that getting ready for college starts almost
as soon as high school does.
"My mom was really flipped out about the whole college thing," said Katie
Menard, a senior at Granite Bay High School, whose parents hired Scott
Hamilton of Future Stars College Counseling the summer after Katie's
The family had recently moved to Granite Bay from Arizona, and, "We were
faced with a lot of unknowns, including how to make our way through the
college system in California," said Julie Menard, Katie's mother.
First, Hamilton planned Katie's high school curriculum, encouraging her to
take advanced classes that would "look better" to admissions officers,
Then, Hamilton began introducing Katie to a variety of colleges, bringing
informational packets and videos to the Menard home. Knowing that college
admissions officers like to see a well-rounded applicant, Hamilton
encouraged Katie to become involved in community service and other
By Katie's junior year, Hamilton was preparing her for the SAT, registering
her for the tests and planning her visits to college campuses.
That summer, he gave Katie guidance in writing her personal statement and
scheduled deadlines to keep her on track during the final stretch of
Now that it's fall and most of the applications are due in the coming
months, Hamilton keeps Katie's paperwork in order by having his secretary
type up the answers Katie dictates to the questions on the forms.
Not surprisingly, some of Katie's classmates are irate that their
competition to get in to college includes students receiving as much help
as Katie has.
"It's kind of unfair. I know it is," said Katie, whose family paid almost
$2,000 for Hamilton's services.
"I feel bad, but I want to go to a good college. And whatever will advance
my chances, I'm all for it," she said.
The tension is the result of a growing phenomenon in which, experts say,
about 5 1/2 percent of high school graduates now receive help from an
independent college counselor.
That may not sound like many, but the figure has grown from just 1 percent
in 1993 and is expected to almost double to 10 percent by 2010, said Mark
Sklarow, executive director of the Independent Educational Consultants
Association, one of several professional groups representing such counselors.
Those who work in this capacity say the burgeoning industry is fueled by
several factors, including poor student-counselor ratios at public high
schools and more families with two working parents who lack the time needed
to sort through complicated applications.
In addition, Sklarow said, as a result of the "baby boom echo," high school
graduating classes from now through 2007 will be the largest in history.
That, combined with a greater percentage of students applying to college,
means that more students than ever are competing for limited seats in
college lecture halls, he said.
In California, the need for extra help can be particularly acute. Following
cuts in education funding after Proposition 13 was passed in 1978, guidance
counselors' duties increased while their caseloads did as well. The
national average is 490 students per counselor. In California, which has
the worst ratio in the country, it is 994 students per counselor, according
to March 2002 figures from the National Center for Educational Statistics.
The growing demands on public school counselors in the 1980s led the
extension programs at UC Berkeley and UCLA to begin offering courses in
college advising to high school counselors, said Marty Suess Paulino,
director of the College Admissions and Career Planning certificate program
at UC Berkeley Extension.
"When you're a high school counselor, you're busy with other issues. The
college admissions component - they don't have time for it," Paulino said.
"This program was originally designed to enhance the knowledge of school
counselors in the college admissions process," she said.
Since those courses began in the late 1980s, interest and demand have grown
steadily and participants now include many people who work outside of the
school system, Paulino said. In 1990, the courses were organized into a
certificate program. Now UC Berkeley Extension has one of three programs in
the state that offer a certificate in independent college advising.
While some college consultants may have such a certificate, it is not
required to do business and no government agency regulates independent
"Pretty much anyone can hang out their shingle," said Margaret Amott, an
independent consultant who runs College Advising Services from her
Amott, who has a certificate from the UC Berkeley Extension program, became
interested in college counseling 10 years ago when she helped her teenage
daughter navigate the college application process. Since then, she has
shifted from working as a CPA to a full-time independent college consultant.
Amott charges $1,125 for her service, a price some customers feel is well
"Technically, we don't need Margie, but she does things the counselor at
school can't do," said Lorraine Opper, who hired Amott to advise her
Though Melissa attends Sacramento Country Day School, where, as one of just
37 seniors, she says she receives attentive help from her school's
counselor, nothing compares to the extra edge Amott offers.
"I was doing an interview at Brandeis (University) near Boston, and it was
my first college interview," Melissa said.
"I basically knew what to do, but I didn't know the small stuff, like what
I should wear or if I should come in with a résumé. So I called (Amott)
from Boston and she was able to answer my questions and give me a feel for
what the interview would be like," she said.
One of the great ironies of private college counseling is that because of
the cost, the students most in need of extra help are often the least
likely to be working with a private counselor, said Paulino, of UC Berkeley
"Some students who go through this program focus on working with
underrepresented students, but it isn't the majority," Paulino said.
"Many of our students come from affluent areas and want to help the
affluent kids. They go into this field because there is money to be made;
families are willing to pay for this kind of service."
Some private consultants make a point of doing pro bono work or of taking
on some students on an hourly rate or sliding scale. Amott gives free
workshops at local high schools on writing college essays and speaks about
the college application process at parent nights.
But for parents for whom "time is the most valuable commodity," Sklarow
said, the cost of a consultant is worth easing some pressure on the
"What they lose in time they gain in expendable income, and they're able to
hire some expert advice," he said. "That's true not just in educational
consulting, but with hiring gardeners and accountants, too."
And parents appear happy to not have to nag their children about college
"I don't have to tell Melissa, 'You have to work on your essay.' Margie is
right there for her; she has an open door," said Opper.
Teenagers and parents often face conflicting views of reality and having a
third party to mediate also is helpful, said Julie Menard.
"The added benefit was (Hamilton) provided Katie with an objective adult,"
said Menard. "He not only coached her, he kept her motivated and encouraged
her to take tough classes. He provided support for my husband and I. We
were saying the same things, but when they hear it from another adult it
makes more sense to them."
While critics say all the extra help gives some students an unfair
advantage, Hamilton sees his business akin to that of a financial adviser.
"If you go to a financial planner, they're not going to tell you to cheat
the government out of money. They're going to tell you how to make wise
investments," Hamilton said.
Amott and Hamilton both stress that they don't get teenagers into colleges
they're not qualified for - they just encourage them to be the strongest
applicants they can be and help find a college that suits the student's
individual needs and interests.
For parents spending tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition, a
couple thousand more to make sure they're making a "wise investment" can
But for the teenagers who, like naive investors, may want to throw
themselves into the college market, all the coaching means life beyond high
school has lost a bit of intrigue.
"I'm already sick of college, and I'm not even there yet," said Katie.
"Everything is more focused on how to play the game than on actually learning."
About the Writer: The Bee's Laurel Rosen can be reached at (916) 773-7631
To unsubscribe from the ARN-L list, send command SIGNOFF ARN-L
Post a Message to arn-l: