College pros

Admissions consulting field grows locally

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The stress of the college application process has resulted in more families seeking the services of college admissions consultants (Stock photo).

Applying to college can be a stressful proposition, filled with seemingly life-or-death questions.

In-state or out-of-state? Big city or small town? University or liberal arts college? Early action or regular decision?

While the college admissions process can test the fortitude of even the most mature teenager, it can be equally tough on high school guidance counselors. Not only do they have to serve as the guiding hand for college-bound students, they must still deal with the dramas and crises of everyday high school life.

That’s where a college admissions consultant comes in.

“The difference between me and a school guidance counselor is I deal with just the college piece, whereas the guidance counselor has to wear multiple hats,” said Nancy Milne of Williston-based Milne Collegiate Consulting. “But the first thing I tell (students) when they come to me is they still have to develop a relationship with their guidance counselor. I don’t replace that person, because the guidance counselor is still the conduit for all of their materials, and the guidance counselor is still going to be writing them a letter of recommendation.”

College admissions consultant Barbara LeWinter of Williston said that demand for her profession has increased in recent years because more high school students are choosing to attend college, and college admissions departments have ramped up their acceptance criteria accordingly.

“College admissions have changed significantly. It used to be that a student filled out three forms at a local college, sent it in and that was it,” LeWinter said. “If you look at colleges right now, they have to fill seats and they have to bring in a certain amount of money. So they have to strategically look at who’s applying.”

LeWinter noted that the typical student profile has changed for many colleges.

“It used to be that we were talking about the well-rounded student,” said LeWinter. “In today’s world, colleges really are looking for the nail that sticks up — the student that’s bringing something that expresses depth, rather than breadth.”

Elaine Boudah, who informally advised prospective college students for the past 17 years before establishing her own business in January, had similar observations about the changing perceptions regarding college applicants.

“There are people who join every club (in high school), and colleges are very savvy to that,” Boudah said. “They would prefer to see more limited associations, but more passion in each one.”

Boudah said she tries to bring out the best in students by encouraging them to be confident and be themselves during the admissions process.

“I strive to find what it is that makes them stand out, and I think kids have a hard time drawing that out of themselves,” Boudah said. “Kids don’t know how to market themselves, and they don’t necessarily see what their opportunities can be.”

Milne said one of the primary ways a student can stand out from the pack is through the essay portion of a college application.

“A lot of people need help with the essay,” Milne said. “This is the chance for the admissions counselor to learn something different about the student that they haven’t learned from the rest of the application, so it’s not the time to just reiterate information that’s already referenced in the rest of the application. It’s a chance to humanize your application.”

When it comes down to actually submitting applications, LeWinter said it’s important to not have one’s heart set on a single college.

“One of the things I like to do is empower the student to realize that they can put together a list of schools where they can be happy at any of them,” said LeWinter. “Part of it is helping them to make sure that they have enough choices at the end and that they’re not wedded to one school.”

Boudah also recommended that students keep an open mind and look at colleges outside their immediate region — although she advised that it’s better to do virtual tours than waste the time and money traveling across the country to visit a school without first getting accepted.

“I highly recommend if you really want to go to a school like UC Berkeley and you live in Vermont, get in first, and then visit UC Berkeley,” Boudah said. “It’s a lot cheaper to spend the $70 for the application than the $2,000 to go see it and then not get in.”