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“Getting Kids Into” Ivy League Colleges: Absolutely NOT the Job of an Independent Educational Consultant

Mark Sklarow

by Mark Sklarow, Executive Director, Independent Educational Consultants Association

I had a very frustrating week last week looking over applications for membership in IECA. To be clear, the applicants looked well educated, came with significant experience, and seemed to be dedicated to the independent educational consulting profession.

What triggered my frustration was the number of applicants whose marketing materials extolled their connections and power in guaranteeing students admission to an Ivy League college. Those who made such claims were, of course, denied membership. But the increase in such claims reflects a larger, national trend among independent educational consultants (IECs), most of who are not affiliated anywhere (and a reminder that few other organizations check Web sites and brochures as IECA does).

One candidate claimed that the major reason to work with her practice was “access.” Her claim was that the Ivy League colleges knew her company’s reputation and their long-time commitment to charitable donations, so students working with them would gain an upper hand with admission directors at elite colleges. It was an absurd, fictitious, and ridiculous claim. Anyone who thinks students are gaining admission to highly selective schools because an IEC gives to charity is either lying to themselves or the public. If you ever see such a claim, know that it is, simply put, a crock.

Others made claims guaranteeing admission to a student’s top choice of schools. I remind them that such foolish claims violate IECA’s Principles of Good Practice. When companies have “Ivy” in their name or “top colleges” in their description, the claim is doubly misleading as it also appears to be a guarantee of admission to a highly selective school—something that can’t be guaranteed to anyone, at anytime, in this highly competitive environment. Some make it even worse (if that’s possible) by claiming their success derives from knowing “the secrets” to admission or having “direct connection” or frankly even implying that because someone on their staff used to work in a selective admission office they know the right words, phrases, or claims that will increase a student’s odds.

Let’s be clear. Students get into highly selective colleges because of many years of hard work, academic success, and personal accomplishments. IECs do not “get students in” and should stop claiming credit when a client manages to beat the odds and gain admittance to such a school. How dare an IEC diminish a student’s hard work and accomplishment by claiming it was the IEC—rather than the student—who achieved success!

What then is the important role of the IEC? It is to ensure, as best possible, that a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and desires are a good fit with the colleges that make the short list. This means looking at learning style, competitiveness, social and financial needs, academic interests, region, and much more. Success doesn’t mean getting an acceptance letter. Success is about a student landing in a school that is an appropriate match on all these and other criteria. I often say success is about a student thriving during their time on campus, not about getting a fat envelope.

IECA will continue its vigilance. Only those who believe in an ethical student-centered approach will earn the IECA logo and membership. We cannot stop IECs from making outlandish claims, but we can stop them from joining our ranks.

14 Responses to “Getting Kids Into” Ivy League Colleges: Absolutely NOT the Job of an Independent Educational Consultant

  1. Adam Caller says:

    Thank you for this Mark. I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I recently turned down a client who wanted me to “get their daughter into an Ivy” just because I didn’t think the young lady was right for such a school.

  2. Thanks, Mark. We can’t repeat this message too often. People who think I’m some sort of shoehorn mostly make unsatisfactory clients. If they are mesmerized by prestige, they won’t face central questions: What do I really want in a college? And who’s got it? And they judge me not on whether I did a good job but on whether their dream college made a decision in their favor.

  3. Wendie Lubic says:

    This week as my students are sweating out admissions to Ivies and other selective colleges, the idea that anyone can guarantee admissions to ANY school is particularly ludicrous.

    Thanks for a great reminder, Mark!

  4. Thanks for this post, Mark! The public must be aware and we must remain vigiliant. Too many reinvented accountants, screenwriters and the like are hanging shingles and slapping up websites claiming to be IEC’s. False claims of gaining acceptance that some make are detrimental to our young people. Thank goodness for the high ethical values of IECA !

  5. Alan Has says:

    well said, Mark…and I would hope that any existing member who infers this would reconsider. We are all trying hard to become the professionals that all others admire and respect. This is a collective endeavor, and I suggest a worthy objective for 2012 and beyond.

  6. Great piece, Mark – and something that needed saying. So much of Ed Consulting today increasingly involves “education”… of parents and extended family, the student and sometimes even school staff, as to realistic goals and expectations, appropriate and ethical behaviours etc. – even at times WHY this should matter!

    I’ve started shifting my families toward a different paradigm, where success isn’t about the “getting in”, but rather “staying in”. I remind them there is absolutely no advantage to one’s future being accepted to an Ivy, only to crumble once there or worse, be asked to leave! The primary goal of ANY first year university student should be to get invited back in good standing for second year – and still wanting to attend! Anything else is gravy. Even with best school matches, most students don’t truly “thrive” or even begin hitting their stride till 2nd year at least.

  7. Lee Styles says:

    Great piece, Mark. I cringe when I see this type of consultant, because I know that often people associate all IECs with this kind.
    As for the IEC “getting a student in”: I worked with a student last year who got into a top Ivy. Her mother was understandably thrilled and Mom has introduced me to others as the person who got Buffy (borrowing that name from Steve Antanoff!) into [said Ivy]. I was very quick to correct her that Buffy got Buffy in. I’m glad that I could help, but she was the one who did it, not me. I agree with you that to think otherwise diminishes the accomplishments of the student.

  8. Marna Atkin says:

    Mark……..never said better. The notion that anyone “gets you in” anywhere is ludicrous. Thank you for articulating this so well.

  9. Well said, Mark. Please keep up the good work.

  10. Jon Tarrant says:

    Well said, Mark. This is one reason I value my membership in professional organizations like IECA and HECA. They both check membership applications and websites and reject unsuitable applicants. These two organizations work together to uphold high ethical standards

  11. Diana Towle says:

    Great blog Mark. As a new associate member, knowing that IECA really stands by the “Principles of Good Practice” is important to me and reinforces my decision to become a member.

  12. Judy Zodda says:

    Promising admission into the IVYs or any of the elites is never what we’ve been about. So glad that those who are applying for entry into IECA and state this in their marketing info and/or anywhere else in their application are being denied admission to IECA, as they should be! Great article Mark!

  13. The name of my company says it, and you said it, again, Mark, with frank conviction! Bravo! It is about the process of self-discovery and the idea of potential best fit. Thank you for your boldness in the face of much of society’s crazy talk about college admissions.

  14. I agree that too often educational consultants and test prep tutors make unsubstantiated, exaggerated claims in an attempt to drum up business.

    As independent educational consultants, all of us have a responsibility to be honest and to give our clients realistic expectations about what we can and can’t do. This is right ethically, and right for our business. Families deeply appreciate when they find someone to trust, especially when they are enmeshed in the very stressful process of applying to school.

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