Confessions of a Reluctant Teacher

July 20, 2009

Gaining that “Competitive Edge”: The Rise of Independent Admissions Counselors

Let me say right away, that as an advocate of self-directed learning, I do not have any problem with the concept of people going to universities and colleges to get more education. Although I do not feel it is the best choice in every situation, these institutions are optional: some may argue that they are a necessity because a bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement for many jobs these days, but at least no one will try to arrest you if you decide not to go.

What bothers me, however, is the commodification of education, as mentioned in a previous post. And now, there is a whole industry devoted to getting parents to pay for the chance to pay for an overpriced education. (I think the main advantage to overpriced colleges is a great alumni network, which can be invaluable for a young person’s career.)

Independent admissions counselors have been around for a while (I remember hearing about them when I was going through the admissions process six years ago), but they got quite a bit of attention in the New York Times this weekend for their high prices.

I especially enjoyed this comment from Michele Hernandez. “Do people economize when they have a brain tumor and are looking for a neurosurgeon? If you want to go with someone cheaper, or chance it, don’t hire me.” So now not getting into the hyper-exclusive, Ivy League of your choice is equivalent to dying from a brain tumor/inexperienced neurosurgeon? Talk about selling sand in the Sahara.

But I was mostly saddened by the article’s description of some counselors who charge $40,000 for ‘packages’ that might begin in the eighth grade. These children are supposed to be going through their formative years: exploring their interests, discovering independence, creating an identity. But their family has hired an “expert” to coach the child on “what classes to take in high school or musical instruments to play, the better…to impress the dean.” (quote taken from the writer of the article.) They will be spending four or five years trying to live in a way that will, hopefully, impress some middle-aged person enough that they will be granted the opportunity to go to their institution. And then they expect you to pay them for the privilege!

This reminds me of a conversation I had with some male friends a few years ago. I was the only female present, so they felt relatively free to ogle and comment on a beautiful, tan, blonde girl who walked past our table. I guess I had an expression of surprise or shock on my face (“So this is how they talk when we’re not around!”) and they felt compelled to explain themselves to me. One said, “I think you’d be glad to know what kind of girl guys like.”
For anyone who hasn’t met me personally, my coloring is more of the Snow White variety. It would be pretty expensive and time-consuming to transform myself into a blonde, tan goddess. So I told him, “While I appreciate your concern, I’m not interested in what kind of girl guys like. I am only interested in the guys who like me.”

Sometimes I think about what my life might look like if I had taken his advice. I could bleach and highlight my hair—spending a few hundred dollars’ at the salon every four to six weeks; I could try to juggle the stressful job I’d need to have to afford all the transformations in between appointments at the tanning salon and with my personal trainer. (What’s the point of being a blonde, tan goddess if you can’t show off your six-pack?) Then I might eventually land a gentleman who preferred blondes, and I would need to add ‘maintaining a relationship’ to the mix. I would spend all my time running around town and going broke to look like his feminine ideal, and if I found his dirty socks on the floor (after asking him nicely 500 times to please put them in the hamper) I would have a complete meltdown, shrieking, “Look at how hard I work to please you, and WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU EVER DONE FOR ME??!!!”

Such is the misery of trying to live a life that is designed to win someone else’s approval.

It is the same thing with jobs. People at work will treat you with the exact same self-absorbed obliviousness (as is human nature) as the boyfriend who honestly had no idea that you didn’t love every minute of your time at the tanning salon, whether you like what you do or not. So you might as well like what you do.

This also goes back to the idea that school teaches children to accept unsatisfying and downright depressing lives for the promise of a future reward. “Take the right classes and study hard, Johnny, and you’ll get into a good school. Once you get there, you’ll take more classes and put yourself deeply into debt so you can get a good job.” Once you find a ‘good job’ (read: a good salary) you are used to being miserable in the present. So you stay at your miserable job, doing work that you hate for pretty good money, because you have learned the teacher’s lesson well: if you save all this money, you’ll finally be able to enjoy your life when you retire! Never mind that you will have spent 65 years letting other people’s agendas define your life and you might not actually know what you like to do. Never mind that you might not be healthy enough to enjoy much of anything.

Now, I’m not saying that senior citizens and elder members of the community are unable to enjoy their lives “because they’re old and decrepit”—I’m not ageist! I just think 65 years is a looooong time to wait to enjoy your life. And by ‘enjoy,’ I mean, truly finding joy in your life.

Most people who have realized true success, who have seen their dreams come true, offer variations on the same advice for those who want to achieve similar greatness: “Be yourself. Be the best you you can be.” While it’s a little corny, it’s only hackneyed because it’s true. The moral of the story? Listen to people who have gotten theirs and want to see you get yours. Find out what makes your heart go pitter-pat and pursue it relentlessly (even if it changes from time to time). DON’T listen to people who are mainly interested in taking your money, like these “independent admissions counselors.” As the article reveals (investigative journalism is so exciting!), it is common for counselors to exaggerate their qualifications. Of the estimated 5,000 independent counselors in America, only 20 have sought and obtained certification from the American Institute of Certified Education Planners. Buyer, parent, child, beware.


1 Comment »

  1. […] that “the right college” is the ONLY gateway to a decent life.  (Check out this post about $40,000 admissions advisors if you need further […]

    Pingback by Why great credentials won’t get you a good job (and what will) « Confessions of a Reluctant Teacher — July 23, 2009 @ 6:48 pm | Reply

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