JUNE 2022
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The ROI of College Consulting

By Robert LeVine

Retaining an educational consultant is an investment, in money, time, and opportunity. But is it a wise investment?

Certainly, not everybody needs an expert for every purpose. Although you don’t need an accountant to file taxes, for complicated issues, it’s a good idea. You don’t need a financial planner to make your investments, but often they can do better in the market than we can, especially in uncertain times. You don’t need a lawyer to do business deals, but they can help negotiate and memorialize what you need into solid agreements. And you don’t necessarily need a doctor all the time, but even when things seem fine, most of us get checkups.

Sometimes, expertise is a really good idea.

As consultants, we are admissions experts, keeping up with – and even predicting – trends that can affect your educational and life opportunities. Is the service really worth it? Here are four factors to be considered in evaluating the “return on investment” of admissions consulting.

The first two factors are easy to understand. College and graduate education should be undertaken after making a wise cost-benefit analysis. On the “cost” side, whether to select a college with lower tuition can depend not only on your current financial position, but also on whether you intend to expend money later on graduate school. In achieving lower-cost college options, a quality consultant will know which schools are more likely to provide greater tuition discounts in the form of financial aid and merit aid. In truth, achieving the lowest college cost has more to do with developing an intelligent college list than pursuing external scholarships and grants, which are often hard to obtain.

On the “benefit” side, getting admissions offers from schools that are best for the student is the usual reason for hiring an independent educational consultant. High school counselors can be great (or overworked), but outside professionals have different resources in terms of time and usually deeper resources in terms of work quality. High school counselors work hard, but they are seldom available after school, on weekends, or over the summer. An independent consultant is usually available when in-school helpers cannot be accessed. High school counselors also do not have the luxury of multiple sets of eyes to review essays, nor an unknown person to present a realistic mock interview experience, nor the kind of resource depth that UCA has been developing over the past decade.

Yet there are two other factors that parents do not see: the influence on a student’s growth, and the influence on the entire family.

At UCA, although how admissions is our job, a student’s long-term success is our goal. A big part is how we mentor our students. We require that each student address every UCA professional by first name so they no longer feel subordinate to parents, teachers, and other adults. We tell our students frankly when they do substandard work, and we make them try again because there’s no point editing an essay that doesn’t have good content. Of course, we also tell our students when they do world-class work, and with demanding standards they ultimately do author world-class essays. When a student who has not performed well in high school produces a personal statement that makes them proud, it can be a life-changing experience. When a student who has done well realizes how much better they can be, it’s a life lesson. With proper mentoring, students succeed not only in admissions, but also in their absorption and processing of college lessons.

Finally, by outsourcing the stress of working on college applications, your last year with your child is more harmonious. Nobody wants conflict in their home, and conflict obviously does not lead to great work or great results. We have even seen marital tensions disappear. When we get everyone to align with what is best for the student, a sense of joint purpose can re-connect spouses who have lost something special along life’s uneven path. And when a young person succeeds and offers a genuine, heartfelt “thank you” to the parents who helped them succeed, it’s a moment to be cherished forever.

No, there is no quantitative method for measuring return on investment for college counseling, and no, it is not required for every situation. However, we believe in what we do, not because a student’s admissions results prove our greatness, but because contributing to a young person’s lifetime success is an honor and a privilege.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com


Independence at Any Age

By Anu Varma Panchal

I’ve found my new binge watch.
It’s not an intense crime series, epic period piece or clever comedy. But it’s made me panic, gasp, marvel, cheer and laugh more than any of the above. Because what could be cuter or more uplifting than an unscripted reality show about adorable toddlers doing errands on their own?

If you haven’t been watching “Old Enough” on Netflix, you’re missing out.
The Japanese reality show has been a Nippon Television regular since 1991, but only came stateside this year when Netflix picked it up. Each short episode (10-20 minutes) features toddlers or preschoolers running errands by themselves.

In one episode, two 3-year-old friends must buy dumplings from a shop and then climb to an uphill temple to procure an amulet. A toddler’s assignment is to deliver her father’s apron to him at work and pick up her mother’s watch from a repair shop, while another little boy must run home and make juice to bring back to his parents in the fields.

The babies are not really alone, of course. Camera crew follow them, and an encouraging and heartwarming set of neighbors and storekeepers are in the know. But the errands are real.

Watching these little children bravely walk blocks away out of their parents’ sight, remember their instructions, cross busy streets, engage with strangers, hand over money, collect change and bring back their items … for a mother who never even let her kids walk the couple of blocks home alone throughout elementary school, it was nail-biting tension.

Sota, a 4-year-old boy, was sent to a fishmonger and a store to buy apples. When his apples kept falling out of his bag and rolling downhill, I worried he’d either burst into tears or get run over by traffic chasing them. Though clearly upset, not only did he persevere and labor up the steep path home, but when he arrived, also presented his mother with a crushed dandelion that he had plucked for her. My heart exploded.

My favorite was the toddler who absentmindedly walked past the clock shop from where she was supposed to pick up her mother’s watch. When she reached home and realized she had not completed her errand, she burst into tears. Her mother tried cheering her up with ice cream, but she refused. Instead, she went back to finish the task and return triumphantly with the watch – and then enjoyed her ice cream.

The show is delightful, but also eye-opening. Responsibility can be assumed at any age; even these little ones knew enough to be proud of their contribution to their families.

It may be just a reality show, but for me, this ode to independence came at the right time. Because this is the year my daughter began to drive on her own.

Remember that first nerve-wracking drive home from the hospital with a newborn carefully strapped into the car seat? For me, the world took on a sheen of menace that day. Every speed bump, orange light and dark intersection presented a threat to this new little person for whom our heart now beat. But that tension doesn’t compare to the nervousness I feel 17 years later now that that baby is in the driver’s seat, adjusting the rear-view mirror and loading her Spotify playlist.

The day she got her license, she insisted on driving to her piano lesson by herself. Of course, I wanted to follow her in my car, but she wouldn’t let me. Unlike those calm and trusting reality show parents, I am terrified at the notion of my child being out there. It seemed to me that the minute she got her license, the roads began to overflow with careless, sleepy, distractedly-texting drivers.
Letting go might be my least favorite parental act, but it’s a necessary one. After all, nearly 30 years ago, my parents let me get on a plane and come to the United States as an international student. We didn’t know a single person in the city I was heading to, and this was when communication consisted of hand-written letters and Sprint phone cards. Now that I am a parent, I understand what a scary thing that must have been for them to do, and I am grateful for their bravery that allowed me to grow.

So, if they could do that, and if Japanese 3-year-olds can go and shop for dinner on their own —who knows? One of these days I might even let my daughter drive on I-4 without surreptitiously following her. Until then I’m going to need some help easing off from my helicopter instincts, so I’ll turn to the most adorable teachers I’ve seen: the tiny toddlers of “Old Enough.”

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