Over 25 Years of Experience Has Helped Define the Field of College Planning
That Was Then
In the late 1970s to the early 1980s, there were rumblings in offices of admissions at colleges and universities across the country. Studies of the day correctly predicted that a major trough in the number of potential college students was coming. It was the boom and bust of the baby boomers and their children. Admissions offices began to quietly contract with marketing firms to attract the same number if not more students from which to pick each entering class. Nationwide, the fear among small, liberal arts colleges was potential door closings. The goal, therefore, was not only to stay solvent and/or increase their applicant pools but to also raise if not just maintain their prestige factors.
The goals of the colleges’ marketing efforts made their application numbers and then some. Each year the applicant pools at top colleges grew larger and larger, making admissions more complex and less predictable. The formula used to build the number of applicants while at the same time build the quality of the incoming freshmen was successful. The fear of dwindling applicant pools dissipated as marketing strategies worked.
The process matured. The phenomenon of higher levels of competition played out. Professors like to teach motivated students. As the quality of the students grew the colleges were more attractive to the best faculty in their respective fields. This, in turn, helped to increase the number of students applying in the first place.
Human nature is often to want what others can obtain or attain. As the number of applications rose over the years, the acceptance rates fell dramatically. Competition to be accepted to schools grew, more applications were sent and the prize was to get the nod from the dean of admission whose office could only admit a comparably few number of students – some with rates which now hover around 5% and 6%.
What Happened Then
Stanley Kaplan, the Godfather of Test Prep, was the pioneer in the field of helping students increase their chances of admission at selective colleges. Princeton Review opened a number of years later. Their mission was to make the SAT obsolete. The field of College Counseling actually began before the trough of the 1980s in academic advising centers at colleges and in high school career centers around the country. The increased use of test prep organizations sought by families easily translated to what was to become a profession of its own and not affiliated with any one college, university or high school. If a student could raise test scores with a class or tutor to raise their admission predictably, a private college counselor could contribute to a family in a similar way.
The head of College Advance was one of the first in this new field of private college counseling. In the late 1980s, he was the only College Counselor in Orange County, California that had any actual college admissions experience. He built connections with school-based counselors, psychologists and test prep companies to provide a comprehensive approach to undergraduate college admission planning.
What’s Happening Now
The college counseling field grew as students were more predictably getting into highly competitive colleges. Families began to see how College Counselors could assist them to be competitive with these targeted, competitive colleges. With that tremendous growth, however, more and more counselors with varied backgrounds hung shingles to provide these services. Because the industry was still in its infancy, parents scrambled as there were very few guidelines – if any – to aid them in selecting the best one.
Mark Corkery, along with his colleagues in test prep, financial aid planning and college counseling, founded an organization to help new and old counselors gain knowledge, share resources and build the reputation of those in the field. Higher Education Consultants of America (HECA) has grown into a national organization recognized by colleges and universities nationwide.
Given the continued if not heightening hysteria about the “getting in” process, there will be a need for quality college counseling. Choosing colleges for the quality and type of the education – in addition to the reputation and affordability – is the key factor to making good school choices. As the field matures, College Counselors’ efforts will be much more about the “match” of the student to the appropriate colleges. The real goal is not just to get into a top college, it’s to get out! To graduate.