College Admissions Tips Fetch Top Dollar

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Despite the ragged economy, a growing number of families reportedly are paying independent counselors as much as $40,000 for help navigating the admissions process at selective colleges.

The business is unregulated and some independent admissions advisers exaggerate their own credentials or their potential impact on a client's odds of gaining admission to a top school, the New York Times reports.

The ranks of independent advisers have swelled from 2,000 to nearly 5,000 in the past three years, according to the Independent Educational Consultants Association, which is promoting formal standards for the profession.

While many have previously worked as admissions officers at Ivy League or other selective institutions, the Times caught a few who appeared to inflate their level of experience or influence. For instance, Victoria Hsiao, a partner in Ivy Success of Garden City, N.Y., told the paper she'd been an admissions officer at Cornell for several years. After Cornell's director of undergraduate admissions refuted that claim, Hsaio, a Cornell graduate, admitted she'd done little more than interview applicants - a volunteer function that many alumni perform for their respective universities.

As Valuable As Brain Surgery?

The story describes a free admissions-interview "fashion show" staged by Shannon Duff to market her package of counseling services, which is priced at around $15,000. Presented with photos of the yacht club-friendly outfits Duff had recommended applicants wear to their interviews, Kenyon College Dean of Admissions Jennifer Delahunty told the Times, "I burst out laughing."

It's hard to imagine Michele Hernandez, another independent advisor who reportedly charges some families more than $40,000, keeping a straight face when comparing her work with brain surgery: "I'm at the top of my field. Do people economize when they have a brain tumor and are looking for a neurosurgeon?" Yet, her defense of her fee rates apparently wasn't meant as tongue-in-cheek. She says she counsels as many as 25 students in each high school grade each year.

In contrast, conventional admissions counseling costs a few hundred dollars and might include helping compile lists of prospective colleges and brainstorming topics for a required application essay. Admissions officers told the Times that the free advice provided by high school counselors "should suffice" for many students. "Those applicants who might benefit from supplemental counseling - like those at urban high schools with overworked counselors - are often among the least able to afford such services," the story adds.

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