Parents are hiring college consultants to pinpoint their student's strengths and navigate the process of choosing and applying to a school.
According to Mark Sklarow, executive director of the Fairfax, Va.-based not-for-profit Independent Educational Consultants Association, the typical family hiring a consultant is a suburban, public school family earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year. Most hire a consultant to help find a college where their child will grow, thrive and succeed academically, socially and emotionally.
"Here's a figure that will shock you ... Of students who start at a college as a freshman, under half will graduate from that college," Sklarow says. "For many of those, they chose a school that was a bad match -- a laid-back student eaten alive by the competitiveness at Cornell or a straight-laced girl who can't make friends at Brown."
Sklarow says hiring a consultant can increase the odds of a good match. And parents avoid the year's worth of lost credits that don't transfer and the retaking of courses at the new school, which can add up and become costly.
When he was a high school junior, Hampton Frost, 25, of Huntsville, Ala., and his parents turned to educational consultant Rosalind Marie, of Marie Associates, also of Huntsville, Ala., for help in selecting a college for Frost. After consulting with Marie, he chose the University of Dallas.
"I chose a small private university ... Something I always found interesting is that students, especially in their first year, will question (whether) they chose the right university. However, due to the process we used with Ms. Marie, I had justified confidence in my decision," Frost says. "I went on to have a great four years there."
What parents get from a consultantParent Sharon St. Pierre of Olney, Md., worked with Certified Educational Planner Charlotte Klaar of College Consultant Services of Brunswick and Rockville, Md. St. Pierre says the cost of utilizing a college consultant was worth it for the information, advice and guidance that they as parents and their student received.
St. Pierre's son Josh only applied to four universities, and she wanted him to submit the very best application and essays he could to increase his chances of being admitted and of receiving any merit scholarships available. In addition, she hoped it would possibly help get him into the colleges' honors programs.
"Going through the process for the very first time, we were overwhelmed and a bit misinformed initially," St. Pierre says. "Klaar took Josh's academics, extracurriculars and presented a personal plan for Josh that would provide him the best opportunity to get into the colleges he wanted. Charlotte was also able to work out a schedule for Josh to keep him on track and be a resource in terms of reviewing applications and essays."
Parent Nancy Beren of Houston found choosing a college was a very stressful time during her children's academic career, and she liked having a neutral person to assist in navigating the process. Beren's three children worked with counselor Judy Muir of Houston when each started 10th grade.
"The college planner is the child's advocate. Sometimes the parents want the kid to go one place, and the kid wants to go another place, to another state. A college counselor is hired as the advocate for the child, and what she is able to do is really get the kid on neutral territory and find out what the kid wants because ultimately it is the kid's college experience," Beren says.
What a college consultant costsThere is a wide variation in the average costs of college consulting, according to Sklarow. Hourly fees range from $60 in small communities to over $300 in New York. Sometimes, the consulting is done as part of a package that includes several years of advice. Those range from $700 to more than $6,000, with the average being just above $3,000.
"The $60 will pay for one hour of advice. The packages that most consultants use may cover three years of advice and assistance in choosing high school classes, exploring summer opportunities, researching colleges, doing career exploration and investigating learning styles," Sklarow says.
The variation of $700 to $6,000 is often a geographic difference. A family living in a small town in the Southeast will pay one-seventh of what a family pays in a New York suburb, Sklarow says.