Updated: December 3, 2012 6:16AM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw — My husband and I have three children in grades 9 through 12 and know parents who have hired college consultants to work with their children.
Is this a growing trend? I never heard of this when I was seeking college admission. When did this practice begin? — Parent
Dear Parent — There is no “official” history linked to college consultants, but I have a theory based on 20 years of experience.
The main reason parents hire college consultants is, the competition for admission gets tougher each year. The difference between when you were preparing for college and today is, there are more international students and children of immigrants competing for a seat at the table.
Many of these students come from countries where hiring consultants to prepare for college has been practiced for years.
Many of the students are from Asia, where families spend thousands of dollars on consultants to prepare their children for college entrance exams.
In Japan, they are called “cram schools.” China, Korea and India also are major users of tutors. The pressure is on these students to score well on exams to have a chance to attend a top college and, eventually, a successful career.
Many American parents are familiar with the Japanese term “Salaryman.” These employees work long hours and dedicate their lives to their companies. This dedication develops, in part, because as young students, they attended “cram schools” after their regular classes and full time on weekends. Many students study up to 90 hours a week, with the goal being high scores on admissions tests.
A student from Japan who attends a top American prep school had an interesting perspective on the difference between the undergraduate experiences of students in America and those in Japan who attend well-respected colleges.
He said: “In America, one’s college years are seen as a time to expand your knowledge and prepare for the professional world. In Japan, the prestige and history of a college frequently determines a person’s job placement.
“Once a student has been accepted by a top Japanese university, they are relieved from the stress of attending ‘cram schools’ and decide to party during the entirety of their undergraduate years. They know that the reputation of their school will play a decisive role in their future job placement, and they lose the incentive to perform well and reach their full potential.”
Americans, although many may not know it, are experiencing a true revolution in the way students prepare for college. It starts in preschool and moves on to private coaching and college consultants who prepare students for the SAT and tutor them in writing and leadership skills.
I often am asked if college admissions officers can tell when a student has been coached. The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers says no.
At top schools, it is expected that students use consultants in test preparation and to help with their essays. One spokesman for a major university said because of the shortage of economic resources in high schools, there is a need for consultants to help students navigate the increasingly difficult admissions process.