Are you considering hiring an independent college counselor? With overall admission rates to highly selective colleges for the Class of 2026 plummeting, in many instances, below 5%, it’s natural to wish to seek out help. Just as parents hire piano teachers to train their children to hit all the right chords and swim coaches to help them perfect their dolphin kick, so their 100-yard butterfly falls below 00:48, they hire private college counselors to navigate the churning waters of elite college admissions.
What Does a College Admissions Consultant Do?
Good independent college counselors optimize students’ cases for admission to their dream schools. Beginning whenever the student comes to the private college counselor, they’ll create an action plan for their high school years (or the remainder of their high school years), so they’re taking the most rigorous coursework possible, sitting for the proper tests, getting involved in extracurricular activities that will wow, setting themselves up to secure powerful letters of recommendation from their school counselor and teachers, demonstrating interest in colleges, and so much more. Most importantly, good independent college counselors relieve the stress in families. No more slammed doors — no more fights over dinner about college essay topics.
Of course, there are college counselors who write a lot about “school fit.” Their goal is not to help students earn admission to the best university possible but instead to a school they feel the student will love. And, don’t get us wrong, we understand that a student who loves the bright lights of the city isn’t necessarily going to love attending Dartmouth in rural New Hampshire. Fit does matter. But, in our experience, the majority of students fall in love with the best college they happen to get into, which is precisely what we do: we help students earn admission to the best college or colleges they can get into based on their academic profiles.
It’s not that private college counselors who lead with the word “fit” aren’t good counselors. It’s just that we find it’s a bit of a cop-out. Our mission at Ivy Coach is to help students get into their dream schools and we want families who are interested in our services to understand our objectives.
Independent College Counselors Offer More than High School Counselors
A few years back, a study concluded that individual public high school counselors, on average, were responsible for 470 students. Even at smaller public high schools, the counselor-to-student ratio can be alarming. These high school counselors, while so often well-intentioned, are experts at the elite college admissions process since they have so many other daily responsibilities that have nothing to do with the college admissions process.
But it’s not like it’s any better at our nation’s top private schools. Even when the student-to-counselor ratio is more manageable, school counselors at top prep schools too often play favorites. They go to bat for one student over another because of the student’s family’s relationship with the high school, or they discourage a student from applying to a college because they don’t want so many of their students competing against one another. And they rarely have the time to craft ideas for activities that will wow admissions officers or brainstorm and revise draft after draft of college essays.
The Rise of Private College Counselors
Enter private college counselors. A national study conducted back in 2013 concluded that 26% of those considered high-achieving high school students used private college counselors. In our book, the finding was an underestimation since many high school students don’t wish to acknowledge they had help navigating the elite college admissions process.
As we like to joke at Ivy Coach, we always get the siblings, we usually get the cousins, and we rarely get the friends. Parents, in our experience, like to claim their children got into their dream colleges all on their own, and that’s perfectly fine by us.
But, even if 26% of high-achieving students acknowledged working with private college counselors back in 2013, imagine what percentage of high-achieving students work with them today. While the Varsity Blues scandal shined a spotlight on an independent college counselor who stooped to unethical and unlawful means to manipulate the college admissions process, it also left in its wake an increased awareness of the proliferation of students being guided by independent college counselors.
Is Hiring a College Counselor Worth It?
Not always! Over the years, hundreds of applicants have first come to Ivy Coach after being deferred or denied in the Early round of admissions, wondering what went wrong. In many of these cases, they worked with independent college counselors — even though their applications contain cliché essays, activities that present them as well-rounded, the wrong coursework, and much more. But good private college counselors who are helping students earn admission to the best colleges possible will:
- Map out the most rigorous coursework a student can take at a high school (and then some).
- Plan out a testing strategy for the SAT or ACT and AP exams.
- Help students get involved in the right activities to showcase a singular, wonderfully weird hook.
- Brainstorm and revise outstanding essays tailored to each college.
- Assist with preparing anecdotes for letters of recommendation so recommenders have material to work off.
- Prep students for interviews.
- Guide the student through the admissions process, answering questions as they come up.
- Relieve the student’s stress along the way.
College Admissions Counselor Qualifications
There are thousands of private college counselors. Like in any industry, there are good and bad private college counselors. Most independent college counselors, you will note, are not members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the most prestigious — and the only meaningful — organization that governs college admissions professionals from around the world. Most do not have former Ivy League admissions officers on their teams. Instead, they boast that they merely attended Ivy League schools or conducted alumni interviews. Or they’re parents who helped their children navigate the process.
The Qualifications of Ivy Coach
Ivy Coach, a National Association for College Admission Counseling member, has former Ivy League admissions officers on our team from Harvard College, University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth College. These former admissions officers evaluated thousands of applications while working, for years, directly in Ivy League admissions offices. The firm was founded by a Long Island high school counselor who was one of the first private college counselors to enter the field.
For over 30 years, we at Ivy Coach have been helping students from across the nation and worldwide earn admission to their dream schools. In fact, over the last 30 Early Action/Early Decision cycles, for students who completed applications with our assistance, Ivy Coach had perfect sweeps at:
- Harvard College (26 times)
- Yale University (24 times)
- Princeton University (25 times)
- Columbia University (27 times)
- Dartmouth College (28 times)
- Brown University (24 times)
- University of Pennsylvania (27 times)
- Cornell University (24 times)
- Stanford University (27 times)
- Duke University (27 times)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (24 times)
We help students earn admission to all highly selective and selective universities — it’s only easier to get into the less selective schools, but the approach remains the same. Of course, we help students earn admission to:
- University of Chicago
- Georgetown University
- Northwestern University
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Vanderbilt University
- Rice University
- Johns Hopkins University
- California Institute of Technology
- Williams College
- Amherst College
- Swarthmore College
- Tufts University
- New York University
- Boston College
- University of Michigan
- University of Notre Dame
- Carnegie Mellon University
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of California, Los Angeles
- And other highly selective universities
The Approach of Ivy Coach
Ivy Coach, a family business, was founded by a New Yorker. As such, we unapologetically tell it like it is — whether students or their parents wish to hear it. That’s right. We do not believe in sugarcoating. We’re allergic to it.
If a student isn’t going to get into Harvard, we’re going to tell that student they’re not going to get in because we’d rather that student hear the sobering news from us than hear it from Harvard after they waste their Early card on the school.
Some students and parents push back, “But we never want to wonder throughout the rest of our lives if Harvard was possible.” Our answer? “You’re not going to have to wonder. We’re telling you now that it’s not going to happen. But if you apply to Harvard, you’ll be left wondering if Columbia, Dartmouth, or Brown could have been possible if you had heeded our advice and applied Early.” In almost every instance, our families listen. It sometimes takes them a day or two for the news to sink in.
And if we had to sum up in one word why our students get in, that word is weird. We help make our students weird through their activities and storytelling that reflect a singular hook (rather than well-roundedness). Sure, we make sure that our students go beyond their rigorous high school curriculums and sit for the proper tests (it’s perplexed us for many years how often parents think the courses and testing are what they are!).
But in elite college admissions, when universities like Harvard deny five full classes worth of students with perfect or near-perfect grades and scores, these are merely the table stakes. Our students, through their applications, dare admissions officers not to offer them admission by showcasing how they will change the world in one super specific and always unusual way. Or, as we like to say, weird. And it’s always based on their genuine interests. In short, weird wins.
Do I Really Need Help Applying to College?
Many students choose to go it alone and submit applications without any help. Remember, at Ivy Coach, we work with a group of students that is essentially a drop in the bucket of the tens of thousands of college applicants. Some students earn admission to top schools without the most incredible applications possible. We would never want our students to run that risk by not submitting the best applications possible, but students do get in without the help of independent college counselors year in and year out.
The fact is that private college counseling isn’t for every family. It’s expensive. Not every student wants to take rigorous coursework or get involved in activities that showcase a wonderfully weird, singular hook. Heck, not every student wants to get into the best college possible. Also, not every student wants outside help. We know. And that’s ok!