2020 Rankings Released: What Colleges are Looking for in Applicants

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

For more than 20 years, the Independent Educational Consultants Association has surveyed its member college admission experts to determine what colleges want to see in their applicants, creating a ranking to assist students and their parents in understanding how college applicants are reviewed after submission. Of course, all colleges are different and IECA members can be particularly helpful in understanding those variances.

Among the key 2020 findings:

• While grades are important (#2 in rankings), colleges want to see students challenging themselves, willing to risk perfect GPAs by taking courses that will demonstrate a willingness to take chances, including AP and IB coursework (#1).

• Despite all the talk about “test optional,” scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT remain critical (#3)

• Extra-curriculars rose to their highest level ever in the IECA rankings (#4), but colleges look for a long-term, passionate, authentic involvement in one or two activities whether in or out of school. No one is impressed by a long list of tangential clubs. In fact, jumping two spots (to #6) this year: demonstration of leadership within those chosen few activities.

• Essays remain important and are even more important at smaller colleges. But students misunderstand their role. Yes, clear and cogent writing matters, but a great essay is one that tells a story, giving insight into a student’s unique personality. There’s a great saying—no one else should be able to write the essay you submit for admission.

• Coming together are four items that speak to the question: what can YOU do for US? Colleges wonder how the student will contribute to campus life: through unique characteristics or demographics (#7), through special talents (#9), through interest in research (#10), and through demonstrations of a student’s character and values (#11).

• How does a student demonstrate all those? Through the essay, the activities list, and through recommendations, which turned up as #8 on the 2020 rankings.

• Finally, an area students often don’t understand is demonstration of interest and enthusiasm in attending (#12). Are you following the college on Facebook? Did you visit the campus? Seek an interview? Colleges don’t like to extend an offer of admission to a student who will go elsewhere, so when you decide on your first choice, let them know!

The complete survey results can be found here.

Impact of DOJ Agreement on ED & Admission “Poaching”

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

By now, most independent educational consultants (IECs) who work with college bound students have heard that NACAC has reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that eliminates several provisions of the NACAC SPGP. The DOJ argued that some of these rules—those requiring colleges to restrict recruitment efforts—constituted collusion or restrained trade.

Many IECA members have asked for guidance on what they might expect or “what to tell client families” so they are not blind-sided as the rules that colleges have followed for years become relaxed.I think there are two specific bits of information IECs and families should know:

1. Colleges for years have agreed to a universal response date, the date by which students would commit to a college for the fall. Colleges had agreed to rules that prohibited them from trying to “poach” a student who had made a commitment elsewhere. Meaning, colleges would not pursue a student who committed to attend elsewhere, including a prohibition of incentives to change their mind (like a last-minute bump in financial aid).

This rule will end. So, what will happen? We really don’t know. Most organizations, like the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and IECA believe most colleges will, at least initially, voluntarily keep to this rule. Yet we know that any college that fails to achieve enrollment numbers may feel compelled to recruit past a student’s personal decision or beyond the May 1 deadline. Like the proverbial leak in the dam, what we don’t know is if a few colleges pursuing students will result in an all-out effort to recruit already committed students.

We also don’t know yet if colleges will take actions proactively to protect students that commit. For example, I predict that deposits may well increase from the hundreds to a thousand dollars or more, all to make it less likely that students will casually accept offers late in the year with a new pursuer, post-commitment. Likewise, housing deposits and fees could increase. Thus, while some colleges may pursue students who have committed elsewhere, other colleges may work to make a student think hard before making an expensive decision to change their commitment.

Other questions will be left to IECs to consider. If colleges can seek to recruit students who have already deposited, will our advice that students may not double deposit or admonitions that once you accept you must withdraw applications elsewhere, still be valid? Will this lead to a “second season” of admission where students are free to negotiate for their best deal?

2. The second area that the Justice Department secured a change was in recruitment of students applying under a binding “Early Decision.” The rule had been that colleges could not use special incentives to entice students to apply early—and commit—since this was binding. For example, colleges were precluded from using special Early Decision scholarships, or early decision priority for dorms or classes.

These rules, too, are now gone. Colleges may begin to offer incentives to apply under a binding ED, and there are signs that colleges are exploring this. Again, we hope that such incentives don’t become widespread, but I suspect it will happen. We know that Early Decision is a serious commitment, and as such, a decision should be done upon thoughtful and careful planning with an IEC when there is a clear first choice, not merely because an incentive is put on the table.

Once again, IECs will have to ponder the advice they give to students. Such incentives could become one more variable to consider in the process.

Colleagues, I hope this information helps as you think about what could occur. It will be important to follow how the application year develops as your work with students will almost certainly be impacted. What we don’t know is how much or how fast the traditional rules will be become victims to the DOJ rulings. Those attending IECA’s Spring Conference in Connecticut will see agenda items on this issue, including an address on this topic by Jayne Fonash, NACAC president and IEC.

Change in Status: An Update on the Legislation in California to Register All IECs

By Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, Independent Educational Consultants Association
 
The proposed law to register Independent Educational Consultants, which passed the Senate and Assembly Committees on Business and Commerce, now sits in the Appropriations Committee’s “Suspense File.”
 
The Suspense File is where bills go that are expected to cost taxpayers money that has not been budgeted. By assigning this bill (AB-1312) to the Appropriation’s Committee’s Suspense File, the state is acknowledging that a bill that was meant to be revenue neutral will, if passed, cost the state of California money.
 
The California government has estimated that implementation will cost the state between $12 and $25 million in the first three years! In theory, the next step is for the Appropriations Committee to weigh the benefits vs the cost.
 
In their research, the California government relied heavily on data supplied to them by IECA. Based on this research, our position, and the anticipated cost, they seem likely to conclude that the registry’s cost greatly outweighs any perceived benefit.
 
Moreover, the Suspense File is where California legislature sends bills—hundreds annually—to die. Often these are bills that sound good to voters but have hidden costs and difficulties. This view—that California was getting into more than they realized—is what IECA was advising in part (our argument was that they would either need to rely on us or spend considerable sums vetting IECs on their own).
 
Be aware that the bill could be resurrected. IECA will keep an eye on it and update with any additional information as it becomes available.

How IECs Help Level the Playing Field in College Admissions

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, Independent Educational Consultants Association

I am pleased that in response to the recent college admission scam, many are looking for solutions that address colleges, athletic programs, the role of privilege, and the role of independent college counselors. Unfortunately, some have suggested a solution that would increase the benefits to the already privileged.

Some opinion pieces have appeared suggesting that no one should be allowed to charge for college admission advice. This attitude favors the wealthy, privileged families that are able to send their children to private schools, often costing in the tens of thousands of dollars and whose college counselors serve small numbers of just 20-30 students. Such a system provides a benefit to those privileged enough to provide such support, while leaving public school students behind. These public schoolers often face impossible ratios of 600 to 900 students per counselor—with that counselor handling crisis intervention, course selection, as well as college advising.

Independent Educational Consultants (IECs) help level the playing field by supporting working- and middle-class students who go to public school, by allowing families of more modest means to gain similar expert help and advice at an hourly rate that is affordable for most. In addition, all members of IECA commit to efforts to serve those from underserved communities.

Those that want to stop the use of all paid assistance (would they refuse paid tutors for students struggling in school, as well?) misunderstand the fundamental role of independent educational consultants. IECs help students explore college opportunities and find the right place for them to succeed academically and socially. IECs don’t get students admitted—they help students demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted at appropriately chosen schools. They help students find colleges they might not have heard of—often out of their region—and they help students put their best foot forward.

 

STI Provides Missing Piece: Camaraderie

By Mandy Stangeland, MS, IECA Associate (CA)

Like most of the newer independent educational consultants (IECs) I have met, I jumped into starting my practice without any business experience. I had the knowledge coming from the college side of the admissions desk, but running a business was like speaking a foreign language to me. I took some certificate classes from UC Irvine, which was helpful, but I was still missing something, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Then I signed up for the IECA Summer Training Institute (STI) in 2018. I had read about it and it seemed like the logical next step for someone like me who had a year of experience under my belt but no real traction in my business. I quickly discovered the value in the program and realized what it was I had been missing: camaraderie.

The first thing I noticed was how I felt being on a college campus surrounded by like-minded individuals with similar goals. I thought “Wow, this is how our students must feel on their first day of college.” The IECA staff was there to greet us and was two steps ahead of anything we could possibly need (including the aspirin I required one morning for the unexpected and very unwelcomed migraine).

Our cohort was quick to bond over our experiences and our insecurities, which made everyone feel very comfortable. We were able to easily relax and soak in the abundant amount of information that was not thrown at us but spoon-fed carefully to make sure we relished every bite. There were lectures, break out sessions, special topics, and even special guests flown in from all over the world to help us achieve what so many in this industry have already mastered. I was blown away by the faculty’s willingness to share what had and had not worked for them. They even supplied us with examples of contracts, price sheets, and breakdowns of how they work with clients. What I thought would be impossible to acquire from my competition was delivered to me in a two-inch thick binder that has been worth its weight in gold.

The message was clear: there is plenty of business to go around and we want you to succeed. Our success as business owners is reliant on our success as an industry. When we support each other, we all win, especially the students.

Knowing that IECA and my fellow members have my back gives me the confidence I need to go forward. The people from my STI cohort are more than colleagues, they are friends. We share our best tips with each other, consult with each other based on our niche or expertise, and room together at conferences (often saving a bundle on travel expenses). When there is an IEC event, we often seek each other out via a group text or through our private group Facebook page so we can claim a table and settle in quickly. We have even adopted some honorary members because the goal is to never be exclusive. It’s the inclusive culture of IECA that brings so much value to this industry. And for me, that’s how I know I have chosen the right fit profession.

Mandy Stangeland, Wise Owl College Consulting LLC, can be reached at [email protected] consulting.com.

2019 Summer Training Institutes

July 9–July 13
Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA

July 30–August 3
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

Visit https://link.IECAonline.com/sti for more information.

Making Character Count in Admission

by Mark H. Sklarow, Chief Executive Officer, Independent Educational Consultants Association

Let’s assume you were an admission director for a day. One spot remains for the class of 2019 with two folders in front of you. Candidate A is a brilliant young woman, with a 4.0 GPA which she achieved without breaking a sweat. In fact, she cruised through high school, never once experiencing a downturn personally or academically. Candidate B achieved a GPA a bit lower, let’s say a 3.6. But she did it faced with challenges: personal, familial, and academic. She wasn’t scared off by tough classes and succeeded with grit, determination, and a healthy dose of persistence.

Facing Deferment 

By Mark Cruver, MEd, IECA (GA)

Deferment can be equally as troublesome for independent educational consultants (IECs) as it is for students. After spending countless hours and weeks advising, coaching, encouraging, and motivating students to apply to first-choice colleges and universities, we all wait with anticipation for the news. When the moment arrives for some, the rattled voice on the other end of the phone communicates all we need to know. And then, much like our students, we wonder what went wrong.

Executive Functions for College Students: Don’t Leave Home Without Them

By Patti Schabinger, MEd, IECA (IL)

While attending my youngest son’s freshmen summer welcome session, I sat with other eagerly attentive parents and students as the dean asked what we considered the most important skill necessary for success in college. Some listeners may have thought academic preparation would trump the list; however, when the speaker announced time management, heads subsequently nodded in silent agreement.

Possibilities Abound: The Power of Collaboration

By Diana Cohen, Applerouth Tutoring Services

When the team at Applerouth Tutoring Services first read in Insights that IECA was providing pro bono college counseling to students through The Possibility Project, we were immediately inspired to also help support teens in the New York City after-school program. (See “Possibilities Abound,” Insights, April/May 2015). We approached volunteers Marilyn Emerson, a former IECA president, and Ann Rossbach, the current IECA president, and offered to supplement IECA’s college mentoring with a pro bono SAT class. Today, headed into our third year of collaboration, we’re more excited than ever about the possibilities that abound when organizations work together for student success. We hope the story of our collaboration will provide guidance and inspiration for others in their efforts.