What to Look for in a Private School Consultant

Through my research and work running Manhattan Private School Advisors, I see that almost 90 percent of parents look for advisory assistance when seeking admission to a private/independent preschool or K–12 program for their child. Schools, even preschools, are increasingly difficult to get into. There are a few guidelines that parents should follow when trying to find the right private school consultant to help with this process. Some of these include:

1. An educational advisor or advisory firm should never be affiliated with any independent preschool or K–12 school.

That school may not be the right place for your child. All information about a given school should be unbiased and fact-based. It is essential that advisors be familiar with a wide variety of schools and programs, including the history of each, as well as ex-missions (preschool and K–8) and college placement (K–12), which are as important as admissions.

2. Parents should be careful about working with educational advisors who have worked at any school (particularly in admissions).

The vast majority of “former admissions” staff members now working in “educational consulting” are inexperienced. Often, many have left or been fired from school admissions department positions under acrimonious circumstances. We have learned this, sadly, from parent clients who come to our firm after the fact. The results (read: admissions) from working with former admissions staff members who have left or been fired from independent schools or preschools is often very unsuccessful.

3. Educational advisors should not work directly with children under high school age (and even then, never independently and without parents).

Children, especially younger kids, should not be coached in the admissions process. It almost never works out well, especially at interviews or “admissions playdates.” A coached or overly prepared child is not the “real” child, the one who will be spending up to 14 years at a single school. Advisors should never test children. School advisors are neither childhood development experts nor test prep/administrative experts. Advisors, such as myself, focus on schools and school admissions. Children younger than 15 do not understand, or have the ability to properly process, the seriousness of the independent school admissions process. Perhaps more saliently: they can’t comprehend how the outcome of this process may permanently affect an academic path.

4. Educational advisors should have a very solid background in communications, including but not limited to: writing, editing, marketing, public relations, and general communications, but may not necessarily have experience in education itself.

Just because you can teach does not mean you have the expertise to advise on school placement, and vice versa. All members of a school advisory firm should have attended, or have children who attend or graduated from, private or public schools for which there exists a standardized admissions process. Advisors should tour and visit all independent preschools and K–12s (including boarding schools) on a regular basis, but refrain from over communicating with admissions directors or staff.

5. Parents should avoid, at all costs, educational counselors who allege to have “connections” with schools.

This is not only inappropriate, but it is also, in many cases, a lie. We have yet to encounter a private school or preschool that has accepted a single applicant because an advisor instructed them to. The admissions process doesn’t work this way, and we are extremely lucky for it.

To all applicants: good luck in the 2015 or 2016 admissions process!