More parents pay for college guidance
Educational consultants assist families in the
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
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
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
Parents are too busy.
Parents lack knowledge about college
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
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
Judy Tatum, director of admissions at Eastern
Michigan University, said she sees pros and cons of hiring a
"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
Contact ERIK LORDS at 313-222-6513 or