Demystifying the College Admissions Process
As college admissions have gotten more competitive, a new industry has arisen: Private admissions counseling. Students who want more one on one guidance than they can get from their school counselor have turned to private businesses that offer tips, tricks and 'insider' coaching every step of the way.
These programs have been met with a lot of criticism. Because they're far too expensive for the average family, many people feel that private admissions counselors just serve to widen the gap between wealthy and poor in higher education. Others point to the fact that these programs promote the high-anxiety of college admissions season while providing little benefit. There's not much uncontested evidence that shows that private admissions counseling actually increases a student's chance at getting into college - the programs suffer from the same confound as high-end test prep courses, which are primarily attended by people who are already likely to do well.
Nevertheless, there is a need for better guidance in the college admissions process. As it's become more and more complicated, many students have started falling through the cracks simply due to a lack of information. And school counselors just aren't able to keep up - a recent report from the College Board found that the national student to counselor ratio is 467:1, far higher than the recommended maximum of 250:1. As a result, counselors just aren't able to spend enough time on the college admissions process - on average, public secondary counselors spend only 22.8% of their time on college counseling.
In a bid to expand their business, The Princeton Review is jumping in to take up some of the slack. Starting in September 2010, The Princeton Review will be offering online courses on college admissions and financial aid. Priced between $70 and $200 for individual classes, with package deals available, the courses are geared toward low- to middle-income families who can't afford 'traditional' private counseling.
The new courses will be taught by national education experts in a live online format. They offer students a chance to interact during a Q&A period, and are intended to 'demystify the college admissions and financial aid process from beginning to end.'
The Admissions Series includes three courses: An overview on the process, a guide to finding the right school and an essay writing workshop. The Financial Aid Series also includes three courses: An explanation of college financing, a guide to completing the FAFSA and tips on getting the most out of your financial aid offer.
Is Private Counseling Diverting Resources From Public Education?
Not everyone supports The Princeton Review's expansion. To many, the solution to the college admissions gap isn't creating a 'mid-market' for private counseling - it's providing more funding and better support to public schools. If public high schools had enough counselors, they would be able to devote much more personal guidance to students at all income levels.
Moreover, many admissions officials feel that this service is basically exploitative, charging people for information that's available for free. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Jim Miller, coordinator of enrollment research at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and president-elect of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, acknowledged that many families struggle to get the information they need for the admissions process. But he argued that the problem is a lack of organization, not resources. Everything that these programs offer is available at no cost, if you know where to find it.
Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, agreed - the information is out there, but the public school system has failed students by not providing it. 'Shame on us that we have created this situation,' Nassirian said to Inside Higher Ed. It's the duty of public education to provide this information to students, not private enterprise.