Educational consulting

Behind the Scenes at DC College Counseling

One thing is for sure - there is NEVER a dull moment around here! I thought it would be fun to track a day in my life during busy season! Here’s a day from earlier this week…

Client meetings: 4

Hours worked: About 15

Hours Billed: About 9

Essays Reviewed: About 5

Emails Received: 174 - I counted :)

7:00 a.m.: Start reading email in bed. I decide to pull out my laptop, send two urgent responses, and then get in the shower after that.

9:00 a.m.: Ready for the day, I have responded to a few more emails and my daughter asks if I can drop her off at school (my au pair usually does, but if I’m around I will). I go through the carpool line with her and see an email on my phone (while stopped) that a total debacle happened with one of my clients involving a HS visit. Ughh… I place a Starbucks mobile order and rack my brain for solutions to the problem at hand as I am heading down Beulah.

9:10 a.m.: Starting to get nervous about the fact that my meeting is at 10:00 and I need to handle this situation first, but I haven’t gotten through all of the 40 or so emails I’ve received since last night. Every time I look down at my phone, I have more email. I decide to run in to Starbucks to get my mobile order instead of doing through the drive through because it’s faster that way.

9:20 a.m.: Run into Rebeccah in the office. She is here printing out questionnaires and putting files together to get ready for the week ahead. Rebeccah lives in Vienna but works mostly remote. I have had more than one student ask me if she really exists in person because they only hear from her and never actually see her while she is in the office :) Yes, she definitely exists (now we have proof!) but is usually home with her kids during after-school hours when the office is busiest.

9:27: I am not actually at my computer yet but a flurry of emails are sent that I actually wrote after midnight. I try to remember to set them to go out in the morning if I’m writing them really late.

9:30: Sit back down at my computer and start writing a response to the family with the crisis. See an email from a client with a scheduled meeting tomorrow who is desperately trying to change the meeting time to today. I weigh the options: I have a zillion things on my plate today but they really want the time. I decide to offer it to them because they have an extenuating circumstance with a relative in the hospital and a cross-country trip. I try to be flexible when I can.

9:40: Continue to go through email and see another big crisis that a student had involving an SAT administration this past weekend. This situation makes the first one look mild. AHH! I switch gears to that one before my strategy session.

10:00: Have a two-hour strategy session with parents I’ve worked with before. They are great and we end the session a little late, laughing. We got a lot accomplished.

12:20: Start regretting moving the other meeting around when I see that I got about thirty new emails while I was in the strategy session. Start replying as quickly as possible to make a dent. Also still dealing with the two crises from before, plus a transfer application I’m really trying to get wrapped up today, and a student trying to make a decision on his ED school. Quickly change plans for an essay meeting today based on a student’s weekend progress and update the coach.

1:00: Have the meeting. Spend the entire time writing down a to-do list of tasks that I need to take care of later including some that are very time-sensitive.

2:00: Thankfully, I only got a couple of emails during the meeting. Answer the most urgent of the emails, including one regarding one of the morning crises, and one with a parent regarding a later meeting tonight, and then put everything else aside to start the most time-sensitive project from the 1:00 meeting.

3:00: Realize I have not had lunch. Decide to order Uber Eats quickly before my 4:00 meeting. Say hi to Megan the essay coach after thinking she’s the Uber guy when I hear footsteps coming. Megan goes into a whole string of essay and interview prep meetings, and I eat lunch while still working on aforementioned project and answering emails.

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4:00: Meet with the senior who is still trying to finalize his ED choice (fortunately his applications are done and they have been for a while). Email a detailed recap of our meeting after we finish so that his parents can read everything we discussed, and also so that he can have a to-do list. Tag Rebeccah to follow up on all of the items in the to-do list, to make sure that he actually does everything.

5:30: Back to work on the project.

6:00: Meet with a junior remotely via Zoom. She’s at her New England boarding school, although our last meeting was actually in person when I was in the area visiting Dartmouth a few weeks ago. Start discussing which week in August we will block out for her apps before we plan out her activities list and discuss instructions for beginning the Common App. I can’t believe we are talking about August already!

7:01: Raid the candy bowl. I think I have twizzler competition from someone else in this office!

7:02: Back to work on the project. At this point my inbox is going nuts and it makes me feel anxious.

8:01: Send completed project. YES! Begin to work on meeting recap and to-do instructions from 6:00 meeting.

8:15: Print out Halloween Phantom signs because we were Boo’ed at home this evening. Place a dinner order on Uber Eats after printing the signs (I keep Uber Eats in business).

Boo

8:50: Finally leave the office after sending the detailed meeting recap for the 6:00 meeting and tagging Rebeccah to follow-up on all of the items in the to-do list.

9:00: Thank God for my 8-minute commute and eat dinner.

9:30: Back to work! Review progress from the essay coach meetings this afternoon - make edits when necessary and send follow-up emails to the parents and students. Plan out tasks for the next essay coaching sessions for the kids that came in today and fill in the essay coaches on Asana. Start going through all of the emails that I missed today and last night (this involves helping plan a college visit, weighing in on art portfolio progress, engaging in a few back-and-forth emails about the crises from this morning which now seem to be mostly resolved, passing on feedback about a client’s confidentiality agreement from a tutor, editing a peer recommendation letter… and lots more.

12:01: Send my last email of the evening. WHEW!

Sleep Training and the College Admissions Process: Different Ages, Same Lesson

Did anyone else have kids that were awful sleepers as babies? I was always so envious of parents whose babies slept all night or woke up just once or twice.

That is NOT how things went in my house! When I had my daughter, I thought there must be something wrong with her because she just wouldn’t sleep. It was like she was nocturnal or something. Then I had my son and realized that maybe my daughter wasn’t quite so bad after all.

Election Night 2016. A terrible night in every respect! We found out later that he had acid reflux.

Election Night 2016. A terrible night in every respect! We found out later that he had acid reflux.

He routinely screamed all night long. Every night. For months. It was extremely unpleasant and ultimately got to a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore.

As soon as he was old enough to sleep train, we sought the guidance of a sleep trainer who we also used with my daughter five years earlier. (If anyone knows a parent with an infant, her name is Suzy Giordano and an hour with her is probably the best gift you could ever give someone).

I can honestly say that this woman saved my sanity and my marriage. Probably more than that. My business. Everything. I could not function because I was not getting any sleep and had to work all day.

So now that I have finished singing her praises, I will tell you that Suzy is not cheap. At all. I gave her information to a friend in an equally awful situation, and she was appalled that I would pay so much for sleep training. She clearly thought the sleep deprivation had gotten to my head.

Don’t get me wrong - I know she’s expensive, obscenely expensive. I am not the kind of person who routinely pays people $500/hr to do things for me, let’s put it that way. But the one thing I learned from paying Suzy Giordano was the difference between cost and value.

Let’s think of the value that woman brought to my life. I am not exaggerating when I say that I would have taken out a second mortgage on my home at that point to get some sleep. I was in a seriously desperate situation. Paying Suzy $500/hr actually represented an incredible value when you consider how working with her turned my life around. She was worth sooooo much more than we paid.

Recently I had a mother ask me to tell her point blank why my team is worth the cost of the prices we charge. In almost a decade, no one has ever actually asked me that.

After thinking about it more, I decided we probably weren’t worth it for every family. I’m being honest. There are definitely cheaper options out there - much cheaper - particularly if you’re willing to work with someone that doesn’t have college admissions experience but has helped their own child, or maybe knows absolutely nothing about college admissions but is a good writer who can help with essays.

If your situation meets all of these criteria, you are reading correctly - we are not worth the cost. Find someone cheaper!

  • Your student already knows exactly how and where he wants to apply and the schools aren’t all crazy reaches (I say this because someone who only wants to apply to crazy reaches has a very high likelihood of ending up at NOVA when they don’t get in anywhere at all. Then they call me in May and the whole family is in tears and can’t figure out what went wrong. Every year this happens.) I’m talking about the straight-A kid with a 35 ACT who is involved in every activity under the sun and applying ED to UVA/ED II to William & Mary, as well as a number of other safer options. No out-of-the-box strategy or tough conversations about being realistic needed. Just write strong essays and make sure that the recommendations and applications are also done well.

  • Your student is 100% (or at least 95%) motivated and does not need constant reminders to stay on task. You tell him that he needs 20 essays by August 1, he is able to self-regulate his time while meeting with a tutor once per week for extra help, and has 20 perfect essays ready to go on July 30. This kid does not need Rebeccah reminding him multiple times per week about every individual task he needs to finish in order to meet his ultimate goal and then checking up to make sure he completed each of them.

  • Your student appreciates constructive criticism from his parents and takes it at face value without giving pushback or needing an intermediary to deliver tough messages. No fighting. “Thanks for your input, Mom! I’ll make that edit right away!”

  • Your student is good at developing original ideas (he doesn’t have to be amazing in terms of style- you can hire a writing tutor on the side to help with that - but somebody familiar with the school, without the voice of a 50-year-old mom, has got to be able to help with content creation for that 600-word “Why College X” essay!).

  • Your student has taken detailed notes from every college visit, is a regular on “College Confidential” and generally understands the specific unwritten requirements that many individual schools have. Yes, that means that the “Why Columbia” supplement needs to reference the core curriculum and the “Why Penn” supplement needs to reference the city of Philadelphia.

Okay, so I was kidding a little bit about having a teenager that appreciates constructive parental criticism, but other than that, there really are families out there whose kids meet the other criteria. They typically do not work with me on an ongoing basis but I see them for strategy sessions.

For the other 90% of families, it’s important to consider the difference between cost and value. College is likely the most important investment you will make as a parent - ever. I’ve written about this before in our FAQ: while we are not the cheapest option in town, there is absolutely zero question that we provide the best value.

P.S. My friend’s kid did not sleep through the night until 18 months. Mine did by 5 months. She will be hiring Suzy the next time around.

Scandal Aftermath: Regulation

In my last post, I discussed my fear that the SSD process would become even more difficult after the events of last week. When it comes to the next topic, I’m actually hoping for a much-needed change in an area that needs more oversight: the unregulated educational consulting industry. I touched on this a little bit when I was on Fox 5 on Tuesday night.

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I am normally not one for big government but I really believe that some sort of regulatory body for my industry is needed - badly. Ironically enough, I don’t think that the Rick Singer con-artist-types are the real problem in terms of preying on the public. Anyone working with him knew what he was doing and they knew what they were doing. Of course, it is completely unfair that those students were admitted over other qualified students, but I don’t think that Rick Singer’s behavior actually represents an enormous threat to the country at large from the college counseling community. Especially now, I would hope that parents and students would know better than to resort to fraud.

The much bigger problem, in my opinion, involves the consultants on the opposite end of the spectrum - the “I just got my child into UVA and now I’m qualified to provide this service to others” type. The numbers vary depending on the source, but when I started my business back in 2010, there were about 2,500 educational consultants nationwide. Now, that number approaches 15,000. That’s pretty incredible to consider.

Even so, only about 1,850 of those 15,000 belong to IECA, the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Why? Because IECA requires its members to be qualified. We have to visit a certain amount of schools, obtain graduate degrees in relevant fields, acquire years of experience, provide references, and agree to a code of ethics. On the other hand, the vast majority of America’s 15,000 educational consultants do not belong to any organization that requires its members to qualify for membership or abide by a set of best practices.

It’s very difficult for a consumer to differentiate between those with experience and those without, because a lot of college consultants embellish or even flat out lie about their background. There are local consultants right here in our area that have nonsense all over their websites. It kills me to see this. How is it that the local barber requires a license and education professionals do not? I really think it’s appalling.

Most don’t visit colleges, don’t pursue professional development and continuing education, and I would put money on it that some of them probably don’t even pay taxes on their income. I know that there are many hard-working families out there that end up falling for this and it really upsets me to see that happening. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And I truly say this out of concern for the general public, not because I am trying to cut down on the competition (I have a full client load each year and ultimately have to stop accepting clients during each application cycle, so I am not impacted by the hucksters from a business standpoint- I’m just embarrassed to be associated with them).

I implore families to ask potential consultants how many colleges they visit each year. Better yet, ask some detailed questions about those visits, or about educational sessions attended at recent conferences. Even if the regulations that I want aren’t possible in terms of exams, qualifications, or professional development, why can’t the educational consulting industry create a system similar to FINRA’s BrokerCheck? An easily accessible, mandatory background report of each consultant in the industry would give consumers the ability to separate the good from the bad.

I know I probably sound frustrated, but I am frustrated. These individuals are preying on innocent families and taking advantage of the overwhelming fear that parents and students feel about the college admissions landscape today. I realized last week that so many of the major players in the college admissions industry are right here in Northern Virginia (College Board in Reston, IECA in Fairfax, NACAC and Common App in Arlington) and I really believe that our local elected officials have a duty to start stepping in as a result. I am not a particularly political person, but I am going to make my voice heard on this!