How Ivy League Admissions Work

Private College Counselors

Private counselors charge lots of money to help students get into Ivy League schools like Columbia University in New York City.
Private counselors charge lots of money to help students get into Ivy League schools like Columbia University in New York City.
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Private college counselors are independent guidance counselors who charge thousands of dollars (sometimes tens of thousands of dollars) to coach, tutor and counsel a student through the college admission process. Private counselors are often former admissions officers at prestigious colleges (a few, believe it or not, are still on the job) or experienced private high school guidance counselors who have branched out on their own [source: Jaschik].

Why would anyone pay the equivalent of a year's college tuition to an admissions coach? It turns out that a fully engaged guidance counselor can be a powerful advocate for Ivy League admissions. Experienced guidance counselors at competitive high schools build long-term relationships with admissions officers at the top colleges. When it's crunch time for college admission decisions, guidance counselors make "due diligence calls" to check on the status of their students [source: Gross]. If an application is on the fence, the counselor might provide additional information to seal the deal or assure the college that it's the student's top choice.

Some high schools have a huge advantage over others when it comes to guidance counselor resources. The Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. is a public magnet school that's also the top-ranked high school in America, according to U.S. News & World Report. The school has seven full-time guidance counselors [source: Bernstein]. But what if your school only has one counselor? Or your particular counselor does a lousy job? Should you be left out of the running?

Before hiring a private counselor, you should consider the ethical issues surrounding the profession. Some counselors flaunt their inside connections with admissions offices at certain Ivy League colleges, implying that if you're willing to pay their exorbitant fees, they can get you in. Also, many people feel that private counselors only increase the educational opportunity gap between those who can afford such a luxury and those who can't.

If you feel strongly that a private counselor is a good investment, look for someone who is a member of a counseling organization like the National Association for College Admissions Counseling or the Independent Educational Consultants Association [source: Figueroa]. Also look for someone whose goal is to find the best fit for you, not just get you into the best school.

All of the Ivy League schools are private institutions that charge high tuitions. But what about qualified students who can't afford $50,000 a year to attend Harvard or Yale? Keep reading to learn more about Ivy League financial aid.