Educational consultants discuss college admissions process
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — The walls of Gisela Terner’s office are covered in banners from colleges she’s visited.
”It’s really important for me to go and step my foot on a campus,” she said
Terner has worked as an educational consultant for twenty years.
”I help students, high school students and their families navigate the college search and application process. There’s 3,000 colleges in the country and it seems a bit overwhelming to, how do you narrow that list, to make it a manageable number,” she said
She said she focuses on each student as an individual, working with each student to find the right fit for them
“Just because you know, it’s Harvard, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your kid and often with girls, I use the analogy, like ‘Are Gucci shoes the most comfortable? No, they’re the most expensive, but not necessarily the best fit’ and I think that’s how you have to approach this, like where is your child going to thrive? What school is that child going to be able to figure out what they want to be when they grow up? Where will they grow as a person?”
Terner says there's more to the college experience, then just the name of the school.
"People think that's the end all, be all, and if you don't get into one of those schools then your life is ruined, and that's not the case."
Terner describes recent cheating scandals, like the one in which actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to Monday, as "despicable," and says she's never seen anything at that level.
"Never. Probably because I'm incredibly ethical and If I ever had a sense of that I would no longer see that family," she said, "I knew it existed, I did not know to that extent, you know, I'd always heard about people making large donations to a university, I've never experienced that, he part of the cheating scandal in terms of cheating on the ACT, you know doctoring resumes, I'd never heard of that."
Terner says part of the college admissions process has become a numbers game.
"So, for example, when a school gets 50,000 applicants, but the freshman class is 2,000, you know, do the numbers, that's what's made it so difficult."
"Their wins are my wins and their failures are my failures," said Dr. Laura Villamil, who also works as an educational consultant.
"They hope their student is going to be able to find a group of colleges they can apply to that when they get in, they’ll be happy with, colleges where they’re going to thrive, and that all of things that need to be done, get done on time," she said about the families who come to her.
She said she takes on eight to ten high school students in each grade, some starting as early as Freshman year. Her rates range from hundreds of dollars to $4,000, depending on what services a student needs.
"That's four years of work and that's very intensive," she said, "People become very overwhelmed by the amount of information so they want to have an expert they can count on and to walk with them, walk the path with them."
She said many students already have certain schools on their minds when they come to her.
"Especially with the really, really good students, they already have kind of a list in mind and the fortunate thing is a lot of people rely on rankings and rankings are very misleading and because they see the top ten, they want their kid to be in the top ten, so part of a consultant's job is to educate them and be realistic about what's really possible."
Villamil says every college is looking for something different.
"There's one thing that's changed in the past decade or so, they have very specific wants. Things like geographical, they want more people who can represent rural areas or different states. They want students that have certain backgrounds, there's so many things that they're looking for that it's kind of almost impossible to know what it's going to be that particular year. The thing they do look for every time, is if the student is academically prepared for that college," she said.
At non-profit College Possible, work is being done to help students from low-income backgrounds in Milwaukee get into college and then get all the way through college and get a degree.
"The fact of the matter is students from upper-income families graduate from college at ten times the rate of students of low-income families, and so our goal is to work through that degree divide, that's what we call it, the degree divide, the difference between students who are from low-income backgrounds and students who are from upper-income backgrounds," said Edie Turnbull, Executive Director for College Possible.
Turnbull says College Possible is in 15 different high schools, helping just under 800 students in high school and around 1,400 students who are currently in college. Recent graduates, through AmeriCorps, are embedded in schools they serve and run sessions on college prep and ACT prep.
"Our students are often the first ones in their families to go to college and we then can be that support structure to answer the questions and to help them navigate both the admissions process and then the process of persisting through college and earning their degree," Turnbull said.
She said the biggest change she's seen since she started at College Possible seven years ago is that there are fewer financial resources available to students who come from low income families.
"When I started here, we were relatively certain that almost any student in our program, we could help them find a school where the difference between the price of going to college and their financial aid package was around $500. Now, it's more than $2,500, that gap for students, but family incomes have not gone up, so it's not that families are in any better situation to contribute, so it means our students have fewer and fewer choices."
Back in Gisela Terner's office, there's a sign that reads 'Comparison is the Thief of Joy.'
"I always say to kids, it’s not the college you go to, it’s what you do when you get there," she said.
A message she also has for parents navigating the college admissions process.
"The process doesn’t have to be that stressful if you do your homework and if you look at your child as more than just where they go to school."