5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a College Consultant

Applying to college is a time-consuming, stressful process.  For many families, the process dominates senior year (and sometimes, junior year and sophomore year).  Some families stress over whether getting into the right kindergarten will somehow help the child’s chances of getting into college (pro tip: it doesn’t).Given the stress surrounding the process, hiring a consultant can be sensible to help guide you through this once-in-a-lifetime decision.  But before you dive in and hire someone, you should consider the following five questions to help you suss out which consultant may be right for you.

1. Do you need to hire a consultant?
2. Is this consultant the right person for you?
3. Will the consultant meet with me for free to see if we’re a good fit?
4. How much help does the consultant provide?
5. What are the consultant’s prices?

1. Do you need to hire a consultant?

For most families, the answer to this question is “no.”  Let’s start with the wrong reason to hire a consultant.   Don’t hire a consultant because you think it will make the difference in getting into your top choice school.  

No matter what a consultant promises, there are no guarantees in the admissions process.  There are no magic beans that will get you into the school of your dreams.  Some of the websites we’ve read imply that there is.  “Pay us X dollars, and we can get you into an Ivy.”  Or Stanford.  Or some other institution with a less than 5% acceptance rate.

This type of promise is hollow.  Most college admissions offices can tell when a student’s application has been overly polished.  They know the tricks that many consultants peddle.  As a result, it is quite dubious indeed that hiring a consultant actually helps your chances of getting in.

At Passport, we’ve always thought of the value of our services differently.  Yes, we will help you put your best foot forward in your essays, and yes, we will help you apply to some incredibly selective institutions, making sure that the application you submit is the very best it can be.  Do we help your chances of getting in?  Maybe a little.  But that’s not why you should hire us.

You should hire us if you want to decrease your stress levels about college admissions.  You should think of us like an accountant: we’re here to bring our expertise of having worked with more than 500 San Diego students through the application process.  You’re hiring us for that expertise so that you don’t have to commit the hundreds of hours required to suss out what is rumor and what is fact.  You’re hiring us so that you - as the parent - don’t have to micromanage your child, so that you can actually enjoy the last year living at home (let’s hope it’s the last year of living at home and your child actually moves out).  As the student, you’re choosing to work with us because you know you’re not up to this task by yourself.  Sure, you have a counselor at school, but you want a lot more support, someone you can text when you have questions, someone who knows you really well, and someone to help you break this process into bite-sized chunks.  

And in the end, you will be proud of where you get in, because you know that no matter where it is, you’ve given the admissions process your best.


2. Is this consultant the right person for you?  

If you’re a parent, ask “will my teenager connect with this person?”  If the consultant can’t motivate and organize your teenager, then it doesn’t matter what else they bring to the table.  As a parent, you’ve probably experienced this phenomenon already.  You say something that your teenager ignores, but the second it escapes the lips of one of their friends (or teacher or family), it becomes profound.  The same principle applies to a good consulting relationship: the advice doesn’t matter if it’s coming from someone your teenager can’t connect with.

If you’re a student, ask “do I like and trust this person?”  You want someone who will treat you like an adult, who will listen to your opinions, understand where you are coming from and help you through the obstacles you’re facing.

We at Passport like to think of ourselves as the helpful older sibling - we’ve been through the process before, and we’re here to show you the way.  We treat our students with respect and do everything we can to allow the student to take charge of the application process so that the parents can take a step back (and not have to micromanage every detail).


3. Will the consultant meet with me for free to see if we’re a good fit?

If you agree that the relationship is the most important part of finding a good fit, then any good consultant should be willing to give you their time - for free - to test that relationship.  

We at Passport have always followed this adage mainly for our own self-interest: if a student won’t listen to us, then there’s no point in working together.  That’s why we offer a free, one-hour meeting to answer your questions and see whether we’re a good fit. If we are, great.  If not, we will do our best to point you toward resources that will help you in your college admissions journey.  


4.  How much help does the consultant provide?

Many consultants say that they will help you with the application process but then will only help with some parts of that process.  Many times, consultants take on too many students and are limited in how much help they can give, especially as the application deadlines approach.  Or the consultants only work hourly, in which case the consultant has an incentive to drag out the work, and the student has an incentive not to contact the consultant.

At Passport, we take a different approach.  First off, we don’t work hourly; instead, we work in packages so that we can give each student the help they deserve (and students feel like they can contact us whenever they’d like).  Another thing that’s different is that we pair you with two experts - an advisor to be your head coach and an editor to be your essay expert.  One of the benefits to this approach is that it allows us to help you with a lot more than typical consultants can.  We typically help with more essays, more applications, and more meetings (often, our meetings are unlimited).  We strictly limit the number of students each advisor and editor works with (no more than 20) precisely so that we have the time to help you as the deadlines approach.

5.  What are the consultant’s prices?

The final consideration for any consultant should be a lucid explanation of their prices.  How does the consultant charge?  Are the prices listed clearly on their website?  Are there any hidden fees I may not know about?  Will the consultant nickle and dime me for every email and phone call I make?

We at Passport have always found it a little bit shady that so many consultants don’t list their prices online.  What are they hiding?  Are they really that expensive?  There’s no doubt that our services aren’t cheap, but we wouldn’t want to do business with someone who doesn’t publish their prices. As a result, we’ve put them on our website for all to see. 

Because we work in packages, there are no additional fees.  Plus, we offer student-friendly payment plans (you can break up your payment into chunks) to help with affording our services.

The takeaway from this discussion is two-fold:
1) you will probably be okay without hiring a consultant, and
2) if you do hire a consultant, make sure it’s someone you trust and you hire them for the right reasons.  

If you’d like to learn more about how Passport helps students applying to college, we encourage you to schedule a free introductory meeting with us in-person, by phone, or on Skype.  

Passport Admissions is a team of expert admissions advisors dedicated to one thing: helping you stand out.

Your personal admissions advisor will help you discover schools that are right for you, write compelling and unique college essays, and manage the details of deadlines and applications.

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