How to find a college adviser who won't get you arrested

Hanna Horvath Headshot


Hanna Horvath, CFP®

Hanna Horvath, CFP®

Managing Editor & Certified Financial Planner™

Hanna Horvath, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and former managing editor at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in NBC News, Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, CNBC, Best Company, and HerMoney.

Published March 22, 2019 | 4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

News article image

More parents are turning to professional help to get their kids into college. While getting one may help you decide your child’s future, you need to make sure you aren’t getting scammed.

On March 12 dozens of wealthy parents were charged in a college admissions bribery scandal, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. At the center of the scandal was college consultant William Singer, who allegedly bribed college officials to grant admission to his clients. Singer’s lawyer did not immediately respond to comment. Singer pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges earlier this month.

This news may make you wary of college advisers. Here’s everything you need to know about finding one.

What is a college adviser?

College consultants, or advisers, are professionals whose job it is to understand the college process inside and out. They counsel high school and even middle school kids throughout the college process.

“We provide the advantage of being someone who understands the process and all the options you have,” said Gail Grand, director of The College Advisor.

There are thousands of colleges in the U.S. Though there is information on all of them, parents and students may not have time to look through each one, Grand said. This is where a college adviser could be beneficial.

College consultants advise on everything from choosing your high school classes and extracurriculars to explaining the college process and helping out with the application, said Grand.

“Pretty much anybody could use a college adviser,” she said.

Are they worth it?

An adviser costs anywhere between $100 to $500 per hour, said Grand. Alternatively, you can often purchase a lump sum package that includes counseling from your child’s freshman year onwards. Those typically cost between $3,000 and $7,000 total. There are typically payment plans available, said Grand.

While that sounds like a hefty price to pay, it’s small compared to the total cost of college, said Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. (Here’s a state-by-state guide on saving for college.)

Also one-third of students transfer colleges at least once before graduating, according to The Princeton Review. Transferring can lead to lost credits, extra semesters and more money, said Sklarow.

“We help your child find a place where they can succeed and thrive,” he said. “It’s about figuring out where they are going to do well.”

It can be hard for students to get the help they need from high school resources alone. The national counselor-to-student ratio is 482:1, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“As a former high school guidance counselor, it is extremely hard to reach every single student,” Grand said. “That’s why it’s so important for them to get outside help.”

Just because college advisers are popular doesn’t meet they are a fit for everyone. Sklarow said there are students who may not need a consultant. If your child is enrolled at a smaller, private high school with more college resources or already has siblings who have been through the college process, he said you may not need a college adviser.

But each child is different. Sklarow recommends looking around and seeing what’s out there.

How to find the right college adviser

First, do your research. Sklarow recommends finding an adviser with lots of diverse experience, especially someone who has been a counselor or educational consultant for some time.

When meeting with potential counselors, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask them how they stay up to date with the latest college trends, and how many colleges they visit per year. Sklarow said a good counselor visits 20 or more schools.

“The industry changes every day. If they aren’t regularly visiting schools, how will they know what college is good for you?” he said.

You should also conduct a background check. An easy way to do this is to see if they are a member of an educational consultants organization, which typically perform extensive background checks on anyone they admit. If a potential candidate raises your anxiety instead of relieving your worries, “stay away,” said Skalarow.

“They should not make you more wary of the process,” he said.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind: “If anyone calls guaranteeing you free college admission or anything like that, hang up the phone,” said Grand.

College admission is extremely hard to predict. Any college adviser promising admission is likely doing something shady to get your child in, said Sklarow.

“Now, if you’re prepared to bribe someone — I’m only joking,” he said. “Choose someone who helps your kid and makes them the best candidate they can be, legally.”

Want more money news in your inbox? Sign up for the Policygenius newsletter.

Image: Vasily Koloda