College Coaches Help Perfect Students’ Apps

Some students at Phillips Academy and Andover High School employ college “coaches” to help out during the college admissions process, part of a nationwide trend. Several agencies in the town of Andover provide college coaching. A nearby company used by several students who spoke to The Phillipian is Kelleher Cohen Association. Mary Kelleher, a college coach at Kelleher Cohen Association, works with 20 students from the Andover region each year, she said. An Upper at Phillips Academy, granted anonymity because he worried his college applications might be jeopardized, said that he uses Kelleher as a local college coach. This Upper said that Kelleher has been most helpful in directing him toward his planned major of advertising. Kelleher encouraged him to start working on an art portfolio to submit to colleges. Kelleher Cohen Association has so many eager clients that she has to turn away business, Kelleher said. She said, “I bring a sophisticated knowledge about a process that is quite complex.” A Senior at Andover High School, who was granted anonymity because he wanted to keep his college application process confidential, said he began working with Kelleher during his sophomore year. Kelleher recommended potential schools for him, suggested which teachers should write him recommendations and helped him decide on his standardized test dates. Kelleher also helped with the application process by providing sample essays that were written in various styles for him to study. He has now completed his college applications. “Kelleher helped me through a tough process,” this Senior said. The Independent Educational Consultants recently reported that 22 percent of freshman at private colleges worked with some kind of college consultant. John Anderson, Director of College Counseling, said, “At a school that doesn’t provide the quality of college counseling that we do, then using college consultants can make sense.” However, he added, “I am always surprised when I hear a PA student is using [a college consultant] outside of PA because I think, who could provide better help than the counselors at PA?” Anderson mentioned two reasons for Phillips Academy students to use counselors outside of Andover. One was that students might want a second opinion. The other was that college coaches could provide more one-on-one time with students. At Phillips, each counselor is assigned to approximately 50 students at a time. Another local service that offers college coaches is Jefferson Prep. Founder and President of Jefferson Prep Richard Bahar said that their college advising package began just in the past year. He said that the goal of their college program is to “try to market students to try to make them shine in the eyes of college admissions workers.” Their college coaches have each had experience at top universities as either guidance counselors or in administrative positions. These coaches perform extensive research on each student’s favorite school to “maximize the chance of admission.” But college coaching programs are not cheap. At Jefferson Prep, the cost for weekly meetings is $1,000 a month. Businessweek recently reported about one college coach, Michele Hernandez, who selects students’ classes, monitors homework assignments, productively fills their vacations, plans their summers and monitors students’ grades. Hernandez’s services reportedly cost as much as $40,000 per student. Kelleher did not disclose how much she charges because, she said, the cost varies from person to person. College coaching is a rapidly growing business, but one concern is that some privately employed college coaches lack the proper qualifications. Anderson said, “There is a current movement [by the Independent Educational Consultants Association] to bring quality controls to independent college coaching.” In Businessweek’s article, several of those interviewed criticized the use of college coaches. These critics said that because coaches are expensive, they provide an unfair advantage to wealthy students applying to college. Kelleher said, “Most of the people that I work with are not what I would call rich.” She pointed to the pro bono work that she does, offering college coaching for youth at a local Boys and Girls Club. However, Anderson said, “In the college counseling community we talk a lot about level playing fields – college consultants can add to the inequity of the playing field.” Other critics maintain that college coaches take the responsibility of applying to college away from the students and do too much of the students’ work. Businessweek wrote, “If admissions officers find out a student was coached they will regard the application with suspicion.” Kelleher said, “I am ethical about how I approach this [process] – I see myself as a guide and a coach, I don’t write essays.” Still, Anderson said, “There are very serious problems with the way some counselors work – for a price, some counselors will do anything; write essays or fill out applications.”