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Looking For a College Admissions Consultant? Don't Miss These 3 Key Traits Not all college consultants are created equal. With hundreds of options available, it's imperative that you feel confident in the service you're entrusting with your money and, more importantly, your child's future. Here's how to spot the extraordinary ones.

By Mary Banks Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A college admissions consultant has long worn various hats, serving as a resume builder, interview preparer, and even job hunter and academic advisor. However, the landscape of admissions processes has evolved, becoming far more intricate and competitive. In 2023 alone, a staggering 1,244,476 qualified students applied to college, marking a 30% increase in volume from previous cycles.

To adapt to these changing dynamics, the role of the college consultant has transcended perfunctory responsibilities, assuming far more personal and life-changing roles — a shift so substantial that college consulting entrepreneurs charge six figures for the promise of shaping your child's future.

Yet, not all college consultants are created equal. With hundreds of options available, it's imperative that you feel confident in the service you're entrusting with your money and, more importantly, your child's future success. While most college counselors can guide students through the admissions process and correct grammatical errors in personal statements, exceptional professionals go beyond mere application assembly.

As a Director of College Admissions Consulting with over 40 years of experience in the higher education industry, I've learned the three traits that distinguish extraordinary college counselors from ordinary ones: their ability to positively influence your child and their perspectives, their willingness to provide a reality check and their extensive knowledge in your child's area of interest.

1. Positively address a student's application strategies

Recently, I tasked one of my students with compiling a list of her top master's programs. Her initial excitement quickly morphed into doubt, leading her to express concerns about her candidacy and fears of total rejection. She began questioning whether she should even attempt to apply to any programs. As we dug further, I realized that the source of her anxiety was two Cs on her transcript.

I noted the significant blow to her self-confidence, a common occurrence among students intimidated by extremely low acceptance rates, demanding score expectations, and needing to stand out in a pool of thousands of applicants. I managed to alleviate her doubts by identifying and addressing her strengths and weaknesses and breaking down her profile into who she really was. While it's true that these grades might not align with the stringent standards of elite master's programs, I could see a clear path to her ultimate goals despite these two academic outliers.

It was my role as her counselor to ensure she recognized this path as well. I encouraged her to reconsider the idea of having a single dream school, emphasizing how limiting that could be. Researching the wealth of resources available at various institutions, she agreed that she could achieve her academic and professional goals across different universities, broadening her options. With an otherwise excellent academic record, exceptional drive and a compelling application narrative, her Cs did not define her overall application.

As I tell all my students, doubt is often part of the process, but surrendering to doubt should never be an option. Rather, we work together to neutralize doubts, uncertainties and insecurities and reclaim our confidence.

Related: How to Become a College Planning Consultant

2. Provide a reality check

An equally important facet of college consulting is being realistic. Students need more than a quick fix; they need someone who listens, understands their aspirations and knows how to make them a reality.

Students stand to gain more from an expert offering practical feedback instead of false optimism. Returning to the previous example, reassuring the student that the two Cs wouldn't impact her application might have been easier, but this approach falls short of the reality. Instead, we had to strategize how to navigate this challenge and turn it into an opportunity. This involved outlining the reason behind the grade and highlighting her resilience and capacity to overcome academic challenges, leading to improved grades in other courses.

The objective is to partner with the applicant to craft an authentic and compelling portrait of the student where weaknesses are not ignored but seamlessly integrated into their overall persona. Paying attention to the unique attributes of each applicant is imperative for a successful application process.

Related: Does That College Diploma Really Matter for Success?

3. Possess extensive knowledge in the student's area of interest

A one-size-fits-all approach to admissions consulting is inherently ineffective. When dealing with thousands of students, each with a different application profile, it is impossible to specialize in every area. Hence, it's best to pick specializations. A student who wants to concentrate in finance should seek a counselor with significant expertise in that field. In my experience as an admissions officer and a career advisor at multiple colleges, including Columbia University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and NYU, general advising proved the most challenging. With students with diverse backgrounds and unique aspirations, providing each with the personalized attention they deserved was impossible, regardless of the number of advisors on campus.

This is a challenge facing the current industry practices, leading to the rising popularity of private college consulting firms that can offer specialized expertise and insights crucial for guiding students in the application process.

Similar: When This 22-Year-Old Graduated From MIT, He Thought He'd Be a Software Engineer. Instead, He Launched a Company That's Shaking Up the College-Admissions Game.

Final thoughts

The role of the college consultant has evolved and demands an individualized, personal and holistic application methodology. These professionals embrace the entirety of their students' narratives — the disheartening Cs, the fears of rejection and the tales of resilience — supporting authentic, unique and compelling applications in concert with each applicant.

Beyond these individual applications, extraordinary counselors go on to inspire, motivate and cultivate confident students who are prepared to change the world. The best counselors transcend their professional roles to become vital parts of a student's life, serving as cheerleaders and formidable mentors. More importantly, these relationships often endure after acceptance, reflecting a meaningful impact. When selecting a college consultant, opt for the one who can expertly guide your child while also building a sense of friendship that goes well beyond the application process.

Mary Banks

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Director of Admissions Consulting, Quad Education Group

Mary Banks is the Director of Admissions Consulting at Quad Education Group and has worked for 40 years in the higher education industry. Mary has served as the Director of Admissions at the Columbia School of Nursing and Associate Director of Admissions at the Columbia School of Business.

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