The New Snake-Oil Industry: Private College Admissions Consultants Must Join with College Admissions Counselors and Others to Help Families

Article excerpt

Sustained by anxiety and fortified by the internet, it is diligently weaving itself into the fabric of out everyday lives. Increasingly propelled by greed, it preys on the fear of families, especially parents. It's the private, for-profit, college admissions consulting industry. Benefiting from the massive media attention and the sky-high anxiety that swirls around admissions today, the industry is exploding in size. What had long been a collection of local, relatively low-cost, home-based businesses is morphing into a sleek industry dominated by companies and individuals whose primary motivation is revenue.

Unfortunately, it's a familiar tale in the for-profit education world. Take the billion-dollar test prep industry as an example.

The college consulting business has become a supernova, growing by 300 percent over the last five years. Even a quick search uncovers many websites promising stunning results. Their brazenness is frightening. Hire them and your child will soon enter the Ivy League college of his or her choice. They deftly convert hope into cash.

This field is increasingly dominated by corporate backers eager for a return on their financial outlay. They pooh-pooh traditional consultants who work with handfuls of families. They seek far bigger profits, and an offshoot of the business has appeared: Investors and their minions are populating websites with hip graphics and nominal online tools. They are reaching the masses, relentlessly blazing new paths to profit.

Another alarming aspect of this consulting business: It's an unregulated industry. A growing number of consultants appear to have little or no working experience in the college admissions field. Anyone can, and consequently does, hang out a shingle. It could be a young college grad establishing a "niche" business by providing essay advice, an individual seeking a career change, or an entrepreneur fashioning a glitzy website with the financial backing of hopeful investors. Some consultants allege incredible success rates at "the most selective colleges." Of course, there's no way to verify these claims.

High costs are another concern. …