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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

College Admission on Steroids

At lunch today, a few of us talked about private admission coaches and whether we are able to spot applications that have been polished by professional counselors before being submitted. I'm not sure I can. I imagine I've seen plenty of these applications already, though I only read one application this year with essays that seemed too sophisticated to be the work of a 17 year old.

When I first heard about private college counselors, I figured a bunch of opportunistic folks decided to cash in on the fear and anxiety parents and student experience during the college search. I knew one woman personally who became a private counselor after retiring from her job in guidance at a public high school and couldn't reconcile the move, especially when I found out how much she was charging for her services.

A writer from the New York Times recently compared the hiring of private admission counselors to the use of steroids in baseball (In College Entrance Frenzy, a Lesson Out of Left Field).

CONSIDER this situation. An ambitious and talented person, having worked extremely hard for a decade or more, sees a competitor suddenly performing at an inexplicably higher level. That first person comes to believe the second must be obtaining secret, unacknowledged help. So, rather than risk being left behind, he pays for the same stealthy assistance.
* * * *
Under the pretense of fair competition, tens of thousands of high school students and their families employ the scholastic equivalent of steroids — test-prep courses, private consultants, Internet mills for massaging if not entirely creating their essays, exaggerated or cynical accounts of their community service.

I'm so conflicted about private college counseling. On one hand, those at schools where guidance counselors are overwhelmed by triple-digit case loads might need the extra help. On the other hand, an application that's been massaged and cleaned up by a third party shouldn't just have one person's name on it.

I'd love for someone to convince me to fall on one side of this fence.