How should we compare consultants? Why should we hire you to help us apply to private schools?
Hiring a consultant is an investment in your child’s future. You should “shop around.” We all have different backgrounds and different fee structures. I base mine upon collected salary data for my region done by my professional membership association, IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association).
My background is somewhat unique, and it allows me to work for you in a way many other consultants cannot. I have worked in the field of education for over 30 years in the following ways:
- Admissions & Financial Aid Director at The Fenn School.
- Head of School at Odyssey Day School.
- Admissions Committee at MIT.
- Educational psychologist in several public school systems (my two graduate degrees are in School Psychology).
- Writing teacher.
- Parenting coach.
- Mother who went through the private school admissions process with my own child. (This is not a real credential, but one that many consultants use. For me, it simply allows me to truly understand the experience of my parent clients.)
- Started my own consulting business nine years ago.
I’ve spent most of my career on the other side of the desk, so to speak, so I understand the admissions world from my work in former peer schools and with other admissions directors as my colleagues. I am able to advocate for your children from a unique position of knowledge and strength. My background as a psychologist gives me the ability to really understand your child academically, socially and emotionally, and this helps me guide you toward schools that will be a good fit. When comparison shopping, be sure to thoroughly vet the credentials of the consultants you are comparing. You do get what you pay for.
How does a consultant help increase our odds of admission?
In addition to all of the benefits already described on my website, it’s important to understand that most schools cultivate relationships with consultants because we send them well-matched kids and they want that pipeline. So, while hiring me is no magic wand, if your child comes with me attached and another otherwise similar child does not, that usually tips things in favor of your child. A few schools do not allow direct advocacy by consultants, and I tell you when this is the case. I work with a lot of schools and because I used to be a local admissions director, I am respected and known by many current admission directors in the Boston area and throughout New England.
How competitive is the admission process these days?
In a word, very…especially at the high school level. In my entire career, it has never been more competitive than it is right now. In general, when the economy is doing well—especially for the already-wealthy—applicant pools are large. When societal factors are simultaneously at play, such as fear of deterioration of public education, private school applicant pools rise. For the past three admissions seasons, numbers have increased at a rate I have not previously witnessed. I do my best to stay aware of trends and relay them honestly to parents.
How do we determine which schools to put on our list?
It’s a collaborative process. You let me know what is important to you and your child, any schools you already know you are interested in, and geographically where you are searching. After reviewing your child’s records and other information, I recommend to you the schools I believe are both a good fit and realistic in terms of admission odds. From there, we collaborate, and whittle things down to the number of schools you want on the list. My success in helping you depends greatly upon your ability to be flexible and open-minded. It is my job to be straight with you about what I consider a reach, a safety school, or something in between. One of the hardest parts of my job is helping “calibrate” parents based upon my knowledge of admission trends. This involves helping parents understand where their child truly stands in terms of fit and admission prospects, and sometimes that is not what parents want to hear. In order to avoid coming up empty in March, parents need to either view their public school as their “safety school” (in which case they are free to shoot for the moon) or to accept my advice on which schools are out of reach. I will always be honest with you. It doesn’t help you if I’m not.
Is there any stigma attached to hiring an educational consultant?
Not in the Boston area. As in NYC, it is extremely (and increasingly) common to hire a consultant, especially as admission becomes more competitive and parents seek an edge. Schools are entirely accustomed to working with consultants, even at the Pre-K level. Fortunately, it has not become as crazy here as it is in Manhattan!
What are the admission preference categories?
This is a question that often causes anxiety. Parents wonder how they can get into a school if they are “unconnected.” At some schools this is a serious concern, as very few spots ever go to unconnected kids. At other schools, the philosophy is that the student body is healthier and stronger in the long run if preferential admission is not allowed to take over. Some common preference categories are:
- Faculty children
- Students who represent a desired form of diversity
- Students applying from private feeder schools
- Major “development takes,” i.e. kids of parents who are exceptionally wealthy and philanthropic
- “VIP” kids. e.g. children of Trustees, or of famous or influential parents
- Sometimes, top athletic recruits
Does it help to have VIP’s go to bat for our child?
Sometimes. Keep in mind that everyone is doing this when they can, so it has less impact than is often assumed. It doesn’t hurt, though, if done with the right touch. Advocacy from Trustees, current parents, coaches, and famous and/or influential people is most effective when they truly know your child. If the connection is superficial, it comes across as namedropping. And, aggressive use of VIP advocacy usually backfires. I can guide you.
Does it hurt my child’s chances for admission if we need financial aid?
Although many admissions committees state that they are “need-blind,” what that really means is that no one but the director knows when a family has applied for financial aid. Children can be admitted by the committee, but then removed from the Accept list and placed on the Waitlist due to lack of funding. Therefore, unless you are positive you would require aid to attend, it is best not to apply for it. Even applying for it—whether you qualify or not—signals the school that you have little philanthropic capacity. If your child is badly wanted by the admissions committee, it will not matter, but if your child is not a “top pick,” it could hurt his or her chances. Apply for aid if you truly need it, but it’s best not to fish for it.
Who gets financial aid?
Schools have many of the same preference categories for financial aid as they do for admission. Aid is prioritized for:
- Current students
- Incoming siblings
- Incoming legacies
- Faculty children
- Students who represent desired forms of diversity
- Top unconnected candidates, usually with considerable talent academically, and often also high-impact athletic potential
If we don’t apply for financial aid when we apply for admission, can we apply for it the following year?
Usually not. Schools expect families to be up front and transparent, and avoid rewarding families for “coming in the side door” in this way. If you present as full-pay, they expect you to remain full-pay for all of the years your child is in attendance. The only exception to this is when a family truly has a downward change of financial circumstances after admission that can be documented with tax returns.
Do schools know a family’s financial situation?
More or less. Development offices work closely with Admission offices and share information. It is common for Development to “check out” all applicant families to get a rough sense of assets, home value, past philanthropic giving, and so forth. We can discuss this further.