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 Article of Interest - College

More parents pay for college guidance

Educational consultants assist families in the application process

by Erik Lords, the Detroit Free Press, July 29, 2002

Sharon Harper is a longtime schoolteacher who has a close relationship with her kids. Still, when it came time for her son and daughter to apply for college, she sought help.

The Oak Park mom spent more than $700 to hire an educational consultant to walk them through the process.

And, she says, it was worth every penny.

"I didn't feel comfortable enough just going to the Internet to find information," said Harper, who has taught special education and language arts in the Berkley school district since the 1980s.

So Harper hired Sheryl Krasnow, a consultant based in West Bloomfield. After hours of talks and planning sessions with Harper's son, Capers III, Krasnow helped him decide on, and then get into, Michigan State University. MSU had a special program for students with attention deficit disorder, which Capers was diagnosed with in high school. "I wouldn't have known about their program had it not been for Sheryl," Harper said.

Like Harper, a growing number of parents in Michigan and throughout the nation are paying educational consultants to work one-on-one with their teens to maximize their chances for getting into college. For fees ranging from about $500 to $6,000, consultants can help students identify schools that would be a good fit, arrange college visits and assist with writing essays, among other things.

Experts say there are several reasons families are willing to pay significant fees to get their teen guided through the process:

Competition is fierce. Schools like Michigan State and the University of Michigan have experienced record numbers of applications in recent years.

It's seen as a sound investment. Parents say before they spend as much as $120,000 for four years at a top school, they want to make sure their child is at the best one possible.

Parents are too busy.

Parents lack knowledge about college options.

High school guidance counselors are swamped. At some schools in Michigan, guidance counselors are responsible for 250 to 1,000 students, yet the American Counseling Association recommends 200 to 250 students per counselor.

Exactly how many students use educational consultants statewide is hard to determine. But nationally, about 6 percent of high school students use hired consultants, according to Mark Sklarow, executive director of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Observers say the trend grew in the mid-1990s -- but so has criticism against it. Critics note that much of the information provided by consultants is available from school guidance counselors or the Internet.

Barmak Nassirian, spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington, D.C., said consultants give wealthier families an edge over poor ones. Also, he said some consultants go too far in helping students polish and spin their credentials.

There are no steadfast rules that consultants are required to follow, but the IECA publishes a list of values that consultants should follow.

The best consultants should never write an essay for a student, but they will suggest ways to strengthen them, said Frank Bernier, a consultant based in Okemos and head of College Planning Consultants.

Still, Nassirian said, "when you start to bring in hired guns, you are significantly distorting the picture; they camouflage a student's weaknesses and amplify their strengths."

Krasnow, the West Bloomfield consultant, said limiting her clients to 40 a year shows she is interested more in quality interaction with students than generating eye-popping revenue.

"The critics, they have a point of view, but I don't agree with it," Krasnow said. "There are people who do their own income taxes, but you still might want to consult with somebody who knows the rules and laws a little better than you do."

Reputations and styles of consultants vary depending on what region of the nation they operate in, he said.

"If a student is having trouble getting admitted, a lot of the consultants out there will pick up the phone, call a college and try to push for admittance, but I will never do that," Bernier said. "Therefore, they get away with charging $5,000 and $6,000.

Judy Tatum, director of admissions at Eastern Michigan University, said she sees pros and cons of hiring a consultant.

"I'm not a fan of the polishers, but there is real value when a consultant helps parents and students broaden . . . their approach. Sometimes parents are forcing students to only look at certain schools."

Contact ERIK LORDS at 313-222-6513 or

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