Jul 19, 2009

Who Are These People?

This is getting tiresome, but today's article in The New York Times screamed for a response (you'll probably find it along about #136 in the comment line-up):

After plowing through almost 135 comments to Jacques Steinberg’s article on college admissions counselors, I darn near threw in the towel on all the work I’ve put into becoming a certified “snake oil salesman” (and this from the President of my alma mater—then again what do you expect from a “carpetbagger” from Harvard?). I’m a huge fan of Mr. Steinberg and respect the work he’s put into demystifying the college admissions process. But why doesn’t he respect me? And why didn’t he interview me or sit in on one of my counseling sessions?

Because there’s no story in me or what I do on a day-to-day basis. As I’ve said elsewhere (college counselor bashing is currently fashionable), there are crooks in every industry and there’s a con around every corner. The high-end counselors publicized in Steinberg’s piece (you couldn’t pay for such advertising) no more represent the college advising industry than Bernard Madoff represents investment services. Over the years, I’ve been taken by ivy-educated physicians, and an assortment of dentists, roofers, and interior designers. Heck, I’ve even been conned by real estate agents, movers, car salesmen, and one horribly incompetent public school guidance counselor. And sure, some parents and students have regrettably wasted money with college advising services.

So why does this generate such anger and earn so many inches of New York Times real estate? I don’t think it’s really about the money or the regulation of the industry. Otherwise, we’d be reading about other pieces of the college admissions pie like test prep services or highly-marketed publications that rank colleges. What I’m reading is more of an indictment of the entire college admissions process. Where is the fairness? Why do some folks have an edge and others don’t? And on a more personal level: Why didn’t I get into my top-pick school? Why didn’t my child have more offers of admission? And, why did my neighbor’s kid get in when everyone knows he’s such a little rat? Because the process has taken over from the goal, which should be to find “fit” and not “prestige” through a professional and humane system of college advising. And, this is what I do at a rate commensurate with that of a good academic tutor.

Why do I have a business? In the rush to cut budgets, an increasing number of high school students are getting lost in huge guidance caseloads. A substantial percent of my clients have never met with a guidance counselor on a one-to-one basis and have no idea how to go about assessing colleges or college opportunities. Does this mean they should pull themselves up by the bootstraps and persevere in the face of adversity? It appears that way from the commenting parents crowing about their personal triumphs or those of their children (it’s amazing how parents internalize the accomplishments of their children in this business). I believe that if you need help whether in calculus, coiffure, interior design, or investment, it’s acceptable to seek it out. Laws of economics sort out how much you pay for the service. And yes, some folks can afford more than others. Does that mean they’ve gained an unfair edge? Not necessarily. I may be a bargain, but I’m really pretty good at working with unmotivated, confused kids who need a little boost when it comes to thinking about colleges. Mr. Steinberg, I challenge you to ask them about the value of my service and stop giving free advertising to those who offer something else.

1 comment:

  1. After reading the NYTimes, I had hoped that you would respond--anyone who has met with you would agree, the article fell way short on those in the "industry" like yourself. What I and my son learned in one session with you eclipsed 3 years of school appointments. You delivered way more than simply understanding the application gates --you allowed him to understand the connection of real life goals with his strengths both academic and personal which made understand that he is really his own stake holder in the choices he had ahead of him--few counselors can achieve that.