Are college admission consultants worth the price?

When I meet with a prospective client (a young person and his or her family), I am far too eager to tell them what colleges look for in applicants, what steps they need to immediately take in order to be able to demonstrate those attributes to college admissions departments, and then I tell them it typically costs $20,000-60,000 to retain me. They often believe that once they know that colleges want to see intellectual vitality, excellence, academic achievement, and diversity; and that if they execute on my initial “must act,” prescriptive steps; that they will have their children on track for admission into Harvard or Stanford. At that point, they often believe that they no longer need an admission consultant. They are often wrong. In this post I will talk about the reasons why a given family may benefit from a college admission consultant, and whether or not it makes sense to pay me tens of thousands of dollars for consulting.

A good college admission consultant is multifaceted – serving multiple functions. Most provide reassurances to parents that they aren’t squandering opportunities, or worse, ruining their children’s lives, and they help simplify a sometimes confusing and almost always stressful admissions process. Most help provide guidance on course selection and what extracurriculars to engage in, as well as which summer programs to attend. Many help construct a list of reasonable colleges to apply to, with safety and reach schools thrown in, and some (not many) even focus on making sure that the schools on that list are aligned with the interests of the child. And almost all will help with essay writing and editing.

Like those who are generally considered the best consultants, I conduct an audit of past experiences, and provide guidance on how to build an academic portfolio that colleges will respect. I also provide guidance on standardized testing and extracurricular activities. During the college admissions process, I help clients identify colleges where they would thrive, and then I help walk them through the application process. I help them find their voice, as well as a common thread that will tie together every component of the application. However, unlike most college admission consultants, I help manage the recommendation process, and I edit up to dozens of turns of the essays for the applicant in order to make the essays perfect.

In the case of Abrome, I also uniquely serve as a coach who helps young people lead remarkable lives. I help them identify their needs, goals, and interests, and then I help them structure for themselves deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences that allow them to demonstrate remarkable lives led. It is not sufficient for a young person to articulate what their goals and objectives are; they must be able to implement a plan of action to satisfy those goals and objectives. I help young people use project management and leadership tools to make their goals and objectives a reality, so that they can lead a remarkable life well before the age of 18. When young people are able to construct remarkable lives for themselves, admission committees are typically able to see excellence and intellectual vitality through the experiences that those young people invested their time into. I am the only college admission consultant, that I know of, who focuses on helping clients lead remarkable lives, which is why about half of my clients have gotten into Harvard and/or Stanford, and why 75% of my clients have gotten into a US News top 10. I don’t try to help my clients play the game better than everyone else, I focus on helping my clients create lives that convince college admission offices that they cannot afford to not accept my clients.

Whether or not I am worth the price I charge, however, is dependent upon a given applicant and their family’s circumstances. If the student is solely focused on getting into a state school, where they expect to get straight A’s in order to get into medical school or law school, then they do not necessarily need to pay me, or any other consultant, tens of thousands of dollars to help them. Getting into most state schools is simply a matter of execution – good grades and good standardized test scores. For a small group of highly competitive state schools such as UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and UVA, the Abrome approach allows clients to rather easily gain admission where a sizable majority are denied.                 

Whether or not I am worth the price I charge is also dependent upon the timing and goals of an applicant and her family. I have consistently placed clients in schools that are a tier or two higher than where they could get in without my assistance. For that reason, I am able to benefit clients who come to me in the Junior or Senior years of high school who need a boost to be able to get into a school that is slightly out of their reach. If they would have been able to get into Texas State without my help, I can reliably get them into the University of Texas at Austin. If they would have been able to get into UC-Irvine without my help, I can reliably get them into UC-Berkeley or UCLA. If they would have been able to get into Rice or Vanderbilt without my help, I can reliably get them into Dartmouth or Duke. If they would have been able to get into Brown or Columbia without my help, I can reliably get them into Harvard or Stanford. If getting into a school that is one or two tiers higher than that which they could get into on their own is worth $20,000, then families are wise to retain me.             

Alternatively, short of a cognitive disability, if someone comes to me in 7th or 8th grade, I can virtually guarantee admission into a top ten school if the young person wants to go that route. By retaining me while they are still in middle school, I am able to help them use the time they have to create deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences that will ensure they are able to demonstrate excellence and intellectual vitality, while avoiding the pitfalls and red flags that most applicants are forced into. Specifically, I am able to help the client focus on activities that allow him to strengthen his reading, writing, and numeracy skills so that he will have a strong base to build off of for other academic pursuits, while setting him up for extraordinary SAT scores. I am able to help the client transition into a homeschooling or alternative schooling environment where she is not burdened by a destructive and neurotic time consuming focus on perfect grades at the expense of learning. I am also able to help him avoid engaging in extracurriculars and activities which many believe are necessary, but that are actually just a time sink with no benefit. I am, on the other hand, able to help them create over the span of four to six years a life that the overwhelming majority of adults would covet, because most adults were pushed into a system where they were dissuaded from focusing on capitalizing on their unique interests and talents so that they could play a game where most people are classified as under-performers. If leading a remarkable life and getting into a top college is worth $40,000 – 60,000, then families are wise to retain me. Especially considering that the average tuition at a top college prep school is usually double the average annual cost of Abrome, or more.

There are situations in which I am most certainly not worth the price I charge. The primary one is that in which a family is unwilling to give their child the time and space to invest in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences. It is easiest for me to work with homeschoolers, or with alternative progressive schoolers who have little homework and no tests to worry about. Those families who insist their children attend a traditional school, get perfect grades, and heavily engage with multiple extracurriculars, however, are often not too keen on the idea of helping their children carve out dozens of hours per week to invest in new hobbies. Unfortunately, these parents are buying into a system that usually guarantees failure, while leaving their child only a few hours a week to focus on creating a remarkable life. When young people are given only a few hours a week to create a remarkable life, they usually fail to do so. A remarkable life led is not some sort of extracurricular. A remarkable life led is not something that can be sprinkled on top of dozens of hours in class, plus dozens of hours studying, plus dozens of hours invested in clichéd extracurricular activities per week. A remarkable life led typically involves a person investing the majority of their time into something that they love, something they care to develop for intrinsic reasons, and something that they enjoy more as the challenges become more complicated.

For those parents who are ready and willing to give their children the space necessary to flourish, I am eager to help their children do so. I am ready to help them get into Harvard or Stanford. And far more importantly, I am eager to help them lead remarkable lives.

Update: Abrome is opening a full-time learning center as an alternative to school. We will operate in West Austin and work directly with young people over a period of years so that they can lead remarkable lives, and get into top colleges if they choose. We will still work with the families who previously retained us and those who are applying to college for matriculation in 2017. However, we will begin to move away from college admissions consulting as a business over the next couple of years. We encourage families who are near Austin, TX to consider enrolling their children at Abrome.