Is a College Coach Worth the Investment?

Before hiring a college coach, weigh the pros and cons.

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Getting into college can be a competitive business, especially if your student is aiming for a top tier school. Bringing a college coach on board to help them navigate the admissions process could increase their odds of gaining entry into their dream university.

However, hiring a college coach can come with a hefty price tag. Before you commit to paying for the services, it's important to calculate your potential return on investment.

What Is a College Coach and What Do They Do?

A college coach––also called a college admissions consultant––specializes in helping students achieve success in the college admissions process. These individuals are often former college admissions officers who have firsthand knowledge and expertise to share with prospective students.

Generally, the college coach's number one job is helping a student to achieve their end goal of getting into school. They do that by offering personalized advice to help students in selecting and applying for colleges. They can also help guide students' decision-making when it comes to things like extracurricular activities, curriculum choices, and college essay topics.

College coaches can help with the undergraduate and graduate school admissions process. Depending on which college or university your child wants to attend, the coaching process can begin as early as middle school. In addition to covering academics and extracurricular activities, a college coach can also discuss the financial aspects of choosing a college and applying for financial aid, including scholarships and grants.

All of these services can be offered through one-on-one coaching sessions, which can be conducted in person or online. Coaches can also provide additional support via email or phone, so you're not limited to only working with admissions consultants in your local area.

College Coach Fees: What's the Cost?

One of the most important aspects of college planning is considering the cost. Hiring a professional college coach can add on to the total of what you spend to help your child get an education.

The fees can vary widely, based on the coaching or consulting firm you choose and the suite of services your student needs. Some coaches charge hourly, others charge a flat fee when you purchase a coaching package. Hourly charges can easily run $200 or more, while packages can range from $1,000 for basic coaching services, up to $10,000 for more comprehensive services. In one extreme case, a family was charged $1.5 million by a coaching firm to help their student gain admission to an Ivy League school.

Paying an additional $10,000 for coaching services may strain your budget if you're already planning to spend thousands of dollars to cover tuition, fees and other costs of attendance. On the other hand, spending $1,000 for college coaching may be within your budget.

Is Hiring a College Coach Worth It?

This is really the biggest question to ask and the answer depends largely on your student's goals and what you expect the end result of coaching to be.

College coaches don't guarantee that your student will be admitted to their dream school, so you're taking a gamble in paying for their services. There are many factors that can influence whether a student is admitted to a prestigious or highly competitive school, including:

  • Academic record
  • Overall strength of their curriculum
  • GPA
  • Class ranking
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Personal statement or admissions essay
  • Admissions interview
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • Level of interest in a particular school

A college coach can help students determine which areas they need to focus on to make themselves attractive candidates for admissions, but ultimately, it's up to your student to do the work. Their coach may advise them to join a student club or improve their GPA, for example, but unless they make an effort to follow their advice, they may not see the results they want when it's time to begin applying to schools.

Your student's willingness to handle the necessary legwork and follow the coach's plan, however, could influence whether they're able to get into the schools they prefer. And a coach can also be useful in developing strategies that you and your student might overlook.

For instance, a student who's part of a racial, ethnic or religious minority may want to attend a school that has a very diverse population. But, because there are already so many students like them, their application gets lost in a sea of others. In that situation, a college coach may steer them instead towards a school that has a smaller representation of students from their background. Being able to add diversity to the school could make them more likely to be accepted.

Weighing the investment against the quality and cost of a degree at your student's top school matters. Earning a degree from Harvard, for instance, could help your student enter the workforce at an average starting salary of $150,000. That's a payoff that may be well worth a $10,000 fee for a college coach. On the other hand, if they're interested in a school whose grads earn a $50,000 starting salary on average, your ROI shrinks significantly.

If you're considering hiring a college coach, do your homework first. Check out the range of services offered and the pricing for those services. Ask how often a coach will be available and what their track record is for helping students get admitted. Steer clear of any service that asks for a large deposit upfront before offering any services or guarantees results that seem unrealistic. As with anything else, if a coach seems too good to be true, they most likely are.