If your mentors can't provide you with the assistance you need, you will need to pay for assistance. Admissions consultants (also known as admissions advisers, admissions counselors, and application counselors, and some even call themselves editors) are one such option.
WHAT IS ADMISSIONS CONSULTING?
The newly created Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) provides the following excellent summary of what admissions consultants do:
- Guide applicants as they explore professional and educational options
- Teach applicants to prepare applications that fully present their qualifications.
- Serve as mentors through the grueling admissions process.
- Provide the critical, objective, and knowledgeable eye that benefits all writers when submitting important material like application essays, personal statements, and resumes.
WHO ARE ADMISSIONS CONSULTANTS?
Admissions consultants are a mixed group. Typical backgrounds for admissions consultants:
1. Former admissions officers.
2. Counseling professionals with degrees or certification in career counseling, social work, and/or a related field.
3. Professional educators
4. Individuals with a strong academic pedigree who found they are good at helping others with the admissions process.
5. At some companies that focus on MBA consulting, they have an MBA.
The advice they offer reflects this background: It is mixed. One can’t go to school to become an admissions consultant. It is a trade one picks up. A review of my resume (See my LINKEDIN profile and/or the humorous version), would reveal that my prior experience in higher education, international education, and test prep gave me a good background for the admissions consulting work I began in 2001. In general, I think you would find that most experienced consultants have a prior work history that similarly prepared them.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GREAT AND BAD ADMISSIONS CONSULTANTS?
Just as their background varies, so does their ability. If you decide to use a consultant, I think the criteria below will help you determine who to work with. Here are some of the characteristics of great and bad consultants:
1. They will listen to you and provide highly individualized advice.
2. They will understand your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate
3. They will have a solid set of methods for explaining all aspects of the process to you.
4. They will be totally honest. (For example, when discussing school selection they will provide you with an honest assessment of how your GMAT, TOEFL, and/or GRE scores will impact your chances for admission to a specific school.)
5. They will become engaged with you and your life.
6. They will refine their advice to you as your sessions proceed.
7. They are great at brainstorming and helping you tell your story.
8. They will push you to revise your essays and, if applicable, push you to practice your interviews.
9. They will let you know when they think an application is done regardless of either your expectations or their financial benefit. That is to say, sometimes they will advise working on something more than you think and sometimes less than you expected.
10. They either have or know how to obtain any admissions information that you will need.
1. Don’t listen to you.
2. Their advice lacks any depth or specificity.
3. They lack integrity.
4. They will not push you to work hard.
5. They are basically indifferent to you as a person because they just consider it to be their job to review your application materials or prepare you for an interview, which they will do only formally.
6. They don’t have high standards.
7. You will notice that they quickly fail to learn more about you after the first couple of sessions.
8. They have rigid preconceived ideas that they will foist upon you.
9. They are more likely to act like editors than counselors.
10. They seem to lack key information about the admissions process.
You will notice that in my list of characteristics for a great consultant, I did not include years of experience. From my perspective, much of what goes into making a great counselor is everything they did and the person they were before they even started consulting. Of course, a highly seasoned professional is more likely to produce a better outcome than a novice.
CONSULTANT OR CONSULTING SERVICE?
You will quickly find that admissions consultants are either working as independent service providers or part of a service. The biggest potential differences between hiring an independent service provider and services are as follows:
1. Service structure. Independent consultants, for both good and bad, are not part of larger organizations and hence the level of service you can expect will be personal and is likely to reflect the personality of the consultant. If you are someone who loves rules and regulations, a service is more likely to provide that level of bureaucracy. An independent consultant should be able to provide you with services in more flexible manner.
2. Changing your consultant. If you eventually discover that you don’t like an independent consultant, there is no organization to complain to, and depending on the way you are paying for the service, you may find yourself stuck with the consultant. On the other hand, if you use a consulting service, you will likely have the option of switching to a new consultant.
3. Choosing your consultant. Obviously if you use an independent consultant, you have chosen that person. On the other hand, if you decide to use a consulting service, depending on your contract, they may have the right to switch consultants on you. If you use service and don’t specify the consultant first, you may also find that the consultant you wanted to meet with is too busy to meet with you because they already have too many clients.
4. Getting multiple perspectives. One advantage some consulting services have over independent consultants is that they offer clients the possibility of getting the viewpoint of more than one counselor. While this can be quite helpful, it also requires managing the perspectives of multiple consultants, will likely be less efficient, and may prove confusing.
While some services will claim that they have an informational advantage over independent consultants or other rivals, I think this is an increasingly difficult argument to make given the accessibility of free or low cost information.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately the question to ask is ”Does the consultant have expertise?” No matter whether you use an independent consultant or service, you should really consider that is the consultant who will be impacting you. Regarding expertise, I think it is mistake to assume that you need to see a consultant who has an academic credential in your intended field of study. Just because someone does not have an MBA, LL.M., PhD in Electrical Engineering, a Masters in Art History,etc. is not not inherently a problem. Instead you need someone who has expertise in the admissions process, in listening to you, in helping you tell the most effective story you can, and in helping you present yourself at your best.
Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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