If you live in a highly competitive preschool or kindergarten admissions market like New York City, L.A., San Francisco or Washington, D.C., you may be thinking of hiring a consultant to help you through the process. Admissions consultants offer an insider perspective, are loyal only to you, know what schools are looking for, can help you judge fit and serve as a knowledgeable sounding board. As you evaluate educational advisors, here are some things to ask:
* Do you share the same beliefs? Talk to the consultant on the phone and see if you share the same philosophy and approach to education. Does she make you feel comfortable? Is she someone you can easily communicate with and trust? Shop around a bit. You are likely to “click” with one advisor over the others you meet. Trust your instinct on this.
* Does she have experience relevant to the needs of your child? Does she normally work with kindergarten or nursery school admissions or is most of her clientele aiming for higher grades. If you are interested in exploring public gifted programs and private schools, does she have experience placing kids in both types of schools?
* How well does she know the schools? How often does she visit the schools in the community? Does she know the directors of admission personally? What can she tell you about the schools you are most interested in that you don’t already know?
* Does she want to meet your child? For nursery school admissions, it may not be necessary that she meet your child. At that level, what you want is most important. At the kindergarten level, she must spend time with you and your child to determine fit. Find out how much time she plans to spend with you both and how she will assess your child to make appropriate recommendations.
* What do you get for what you pay? Before you decide on an advisor, talk to a few. What is the going rate in your community? If the advisor offers packages, what services do you receive with each package? Are you able to call the consultant as often as you wish or or calls and e-mails limited? Do they help you through every step of the process or just some. Do they offer hourly rate options where you can access their expertise on an as-needed basis? Make sure you are comfortable with the services you receive for the money you pay.
* Is she accredited? Admissions consultants do not necessarily need to be accredited. Often, a former admissions director will become a consultant and you can trust that she knows what she is doing. On the other hand, there are professional associations that give accreditation to advisors who have met their criteria. To be designated a CEP (Certified Educational Planner), the consultant must pass an exam, have a master’s degree or an equivalent, have practiced for a certain number of years, visit a certain number of schools, and take continuing education classes.
* What do other mothers say? Check the advisor’s web site. Does it include comments from satisfied customers? Will the advisor give you the name and number of past customers to call for a recommendation? Even though this is a private matter, most consultants will have arranged for references. If she hasn’t, I’d probably steer clear. You can visit parenting websites such as http://www.Urbanbaby.com/ and ask other mothers and fathers if they have had experience with this advisor and if so, what they thought.
* Does she talk about “fit” versus getting into A-List Schools? There are consultants out there who prey on the fears and insecurities of parents, pointing out how impossible the odds are and how unlikely it is that you could get a good result without help. If you get this vibe from a consultant, run the other way. If an advisor makes guarantees that she will get your child into a particular school or says she always gets families their first choice, be very suspicious. If she talks about finding the right “fit” for you and your child versus getting her into an A-list school, you are probably in good hands.