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This past November, Enterprise Press, a Egyptian based news and trends media outlet, published a comprehensive article titled The rise of the college prep industry in Egypt (Nov. 25, 2019), which outlines the growing number of tutors, consultants, guidance counselors making up a cottage industry of “480 firms in Cairo advertising themselves on Facebook” and counting, that is highly unregulated and often misunderstood. The editors conclude by championing the need to regulate the industry least we end up with a lack of quality control that can negatively impact the chances of admissions for college-bound applicants. Yet, this is a concern not just in Egypt but across the world, including here in the U.S.
This issue is personal. I founded Write Track Admissions, a U.S.-based admissions consulting company in 2008. For over the past decade we have strived to maintain the highest levels of integrity and quality standards with our college and graduate applicants. Based on my experience, I will do my best to provide answers and guidance on how to navigate this burgeoning industry so as to help give college-bound applicants the most informed options possible.
Why is the industry difficult to regulate?
In the U.S. for example, there are several organizations seeking to oversee the industry, including the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). However, despite their best efforts, the industry still remains highly unregulated. Why? Because the barriers to entry are low (anyone can claim they are admission gurus), no license is required to practice (entrants can ignore recommended quality/ethical guidelines), the global market of applicants is seemingly endless and inelastic (demand remains high regardless of economic swings), and competition to top universities as well as costs are increasing (so parents are becoming more desperate to give their child a competitive-edge).
What does this all mean? It is impossible to regulate an industry that is easy to join, high in demand, difficult to monitor, and so remote in geography (think gig economy). As a result, there are your fair share of charlatans that are selling pipe dreams at exuberant costs, and even committing fraud to get students admitted into top programs. Just look at Rick Singer and the recent college admissions scandal. However, it has to be said, these people are the exception rather than the norm.
So what is the answer? While tackling the whole industry may be challenging, I can provide guidance, based on my experience, on how to overcome an unregulated market for admissions consultants. Ultimately, I highly recommend that you become as informed as possible when considering whether you need an admissions consultant. Then be prepared to ask these key questions to find the right one for your child.
Do you need an admissions consultant?
In deciding this, ask yourself these questions. Is your child stressed out trying to desperately manage extra-curricular activities, coursework, volunteer experience, standardized test prep, academic tutoring etc.? Does your son or daughter feel lost and overwhelming trying to figure out the ‘right’ story to stand out, which standardized tests to take, when to apply, where to get letters of recommendation? Are you having difficulty figuring out the visa process, what documents are needed for financial support, what is a suitable list of schools that aligns with your child’s goals and interests? If this is the case, then you will stand to benefit immeasurably by having an admissions consultant who will act as your child’s personalized high school counselor, coach and admissions guide.
From our experience here are just some of the pieces of advice we provided our clients in Egypt and around the world that may be relatable to you:
- Start the application process far in advance to give yourself time to respond to various requirements by the different schools related to testing, grade verification, financial information, additional application materials, etc.
- Figure out when to apply (early action vs. early decision vs. regular admissions) and manage, through a strict calendaring system, the numerous deadlines.
- Keep in mind the differences between the application requirements and how to frame your story to match the various essay prompts.
- Research standardized testing exams/strategies and take the exam early in the process in case of cancelations (we saw this happen numerous times in 2019).
How do I find the right consultant?
Now that you have decided your child needs an admissions consultant, how do you find the right one, and why is it important to have the “right one”? The consultant needs to earn the trust of both you and your child in terms of what they know, what they can deliver, and how well they can motivate/guide your child through the entire process. This is especially the case given the sheer number of demands and activities already on your child’s plate.
So after many years of doing this work and through extensive research, we have found that it is imperative to ask the following questions to find the right consultant:
1. How familiar are you with the testing, school system, cultural traditions, and unique narratives of the country and community?
This is critical especially for international students because the most important part of the application is the applicant’s story. Acute knowledge of the unique narratives that exist is critical to this process as well as knowing the various demands on the students by the academic systems of the country or community.
2. How much and what kind of experience do you have?
Does the consultant have formal training? Have they themselves applied and gained admission to top programs? How long have they been working with applicants? It is important to research not just the company but the consultant that your child will be working with. One of the most important parts of this process is engendering inspiration and confidence between the consultant and your child. This comes from experience, compassion, and the consultant being “in-touch”, basically not removed from the life experiences and cultural trends of today.
3. How do you distinguish yourself from others offering a similar service?
What separates them from other competitors? Do they provide one-on-one consulting? Do they specialize in the country or programs your child is applying to? What is their track record for success? How international is their scope? How plugged in are they compared to others in terms of the dynamic field of admissions?
4. How does your process work?
It is key to get a better understanding of how the consultant will work with your child, in terms of time commitment, means of communication (phone, video-conference, in-person or remote), actual brainstorming and editing processes etc. Also you need to get clarity on how long will the process take, payment structure (hourly or per service), and end product.
5. Are you making any unrealistic guarantees?
Is the consultant providing guarantees of admission? If so, this is a false statement and borderline fraud since no one should be able to guarantee admissions given the multitude of factors that go into the decision-making process (standardized scores, academic record, applicant experiences, diversity, time of submission, number of applicants etc.).
6. Do you have any references we can contact based on past work?
While often the work is confidential, sometimes former clients are willing to act as a reference. In that case, it doesn’t hurt to ask so that you have a better idea of the experience of the former client with the company. That being said, each experience can be different so it should help inform but not be the deciding factor for you.
If I had to guess, the admissions consulting industry is not going to go away. Top universities will only get more competitive, higher education will only cost more money, and post-college job opportunities will only become harder. Receiving that competitive edge is therefore key to getting into a top university, attaining a scholarship, and putting your child on the best career path possible. So be vigilant and informed about your options and how best to support your child through one of the most difficult yet critical junctures in their lives.
~ Hamada Zahawi, Esq. | Founder, Write Track Admissions