The Ivy Coach Daily

March 2, 2023

The Use of Private College Counselors is Underestimated

Use of College Counselors, Use of Private College Counselors, Data on Private College Counselors
Data underestimates the use of private college counselors (photo credit: Derrick Smith).

Originally Published on June 29, 2018:

Several years ago, the marketing firm Lipman Hearne conducted a nationwide survey of 1,264 students who scored at the 70th percentile or higher on the SAT or ACT to gauge the use of private college counselors in the admissions process. The study concluded that 26% of these high-achieving students acknowledged working with private college counselors.

The survey’s findings sparked a slew of editorials expressing faux-outrage that such a large percentage of high-achieving students enlist the expertise of private college counselors as they navigate the churning waters of elite college admissions.

But could the percentage of students who use private college counselors be even more significant than reported? And could the percentage of students who use private college counselors have grown sharply in recent years, particularly after the well-publicized 2019 Varsity Blues scandal?

More Students Use Private College Counselors Than Many Think

Ivy Coach believes the Lipman Hearne nationwide study grossly underreported the percentage of high-achieving students using private college counselors. Yet it wasn’t the marketing firm’s fault. In our experience, students and parents don’t like acknowledging they had help earning admission to dream colleges.

It’s the same reason we at Ivy Coach joke, “We always get the siblings. We usually get the cousins. We rarely get the friends.” Parents would much prefer outsiders believe their children got in all on their own, without any outside help.

But of course, they’ll come back when their younger children are trying to stand out in the admissions process as well — and maybe they’ll even tell their siblings so their nieces and nephews can enjoy the advantage of their secret weapon, too. But friends? That’s typically a bridge too far. Their friends’ children will have to do without the college counseling recommendation.

The Growth of the Private College Counseling Industry

In the early days of Ivy Coach, in the early 1990s, they called private college counseling “a cottage industry.” We haven’t seen such a term associated with private college counseling in several years. Maybe the expression became outdated with so many industries switching to remote work. Or perhaps it’s because of the sheer growth of the private college counseling industry that enlisting a private college counselor for a high-achieving student has become the rule.

The Increasing Market Size of the College Counseling Industry

In an October 2022 report by IBISWorld, the 2023 college counseling industry’s market size, measured by revenue, is nearly $2.875 billion and, with tens of thousands of private college counselors across the United States and a dearth of public school counselors, is expected to increase by 0.5% in 2023. The industry’s market size has grown, on average, by 0.7% per year between 2018 and 2023. In 2019, the industry’s market size hit an all-time high of approximately $2.928.

Below is the market size of the college counseling industry, chronicled by IBISWorld, from 2013 – 2023:

YearMarket Size of U.S. College Counseling Industry
2023$2.8752 billion
2022$2.8616 billion
2021$2.8806 billion
2020$2.8272 billion
2019$2.9285 billion
2018$2.7821 billion
2017$2.4871 billion
2016$2.4006 billion
2015$2.3195 billion
2014$2.152 billion
2013$1.9688 billion

The Varsity Blues Scandal Raised Awareness of the College Counseling Industry

And what could have caused the 2019 record market size? Look no further than the 2019 Varsity Blues scandal. While the scandal brought to light the unethical — and unlawful — means by which some parents and their children tried to game the college admissions system through bribery and cheating, the scandal also raised the profile of the whole college counseling industry. More parents and students became aware that so many of their peers were using private college counselors than before the scandal hit the front pages.

Are Private College Counselors Worth It?

But, like in any industry, the private college counseling industry has good and bad private college counselors. Some college counselors aren’t necessarily experts in elite college admissions. Others aren’t adept at helping students craft powerful narratives that compel admissions officers to want to root for students. And still others offer recommendations that ultimately hurt their students’ cases for admission, like suggesting they take AP Statistics as a senior in place of Calculus. So the choice of a private college counselor is ultimately critical.

Ivy Coach’s Private College Counseling

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