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Trying to not catch the “Varsity Blues”

Now that Netflix just dropped the trailer for its new docudrama, “Operation: Varsity Blues,” many of us in the independent education community are worried.

Never mind that Rick Singer was a scam artist. The media refers to him as a “college counselor,” and I’m betting the film will too.

What’s troubling is that the unpredictability of college admissions evokes the “smoke and mirrors” theories that I wrote about in my article “Amateurs vs. Professionals” in 2019. The baked-in uncertainty of the process drives some parents to look for a backdoor guarantee.

I don’t deny that some professional consultants fuel this by promising to “get students into” the most selective colleges. Yes, we consultants have the ear of colleges more than some. While I’m glad to make a call to an admissions officer and advocate for a student whom I believe would be a good fit for a college, the belief that we use these relationships to cajole them into accepting our students is simply untrue. Mostly, I see advertisements offering miracles like this from counselors and “coaches” who may work privately, but are not professionals.

Many amateurs--those who have no degree or certification in counseling--have been doing this work for years, but they are less likely to visit colleges, build professional relationships with admissions officers and deans, learn what’s happening at institutions (new programs and buildings, financial status, campus culture, etc.). Most important, they do not have access to the data we do, much of it that we compile ourselves and share among colleagues. I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn together between May and August 2021 after this unusual admissions cycle.

That’s why watching Operation: Varsity Blues will be both a guilty pleasure and a nail-biter for me.

I want families to know that my network of thousands of consultants is actually a fellowship. Together, our volunteers create the college tours, organize the continuing education conferences and college fairs, and meet virtually with colleges all through the pandemic. Our ranks include LD, graduate and therapeutic counselors. We can answer just about any college-related question and provide any resource a family needs. Most of all, each professional organization’s membership requires that we subscribe to a code of ethics. IECA’s ethics code reflects the sentiments of the codes of my other three organizations:

1) We believe all students should have access to individualized educational guidance that will help them achieve their goals.

2) We believe independent educational consultants should act respectfully, honestly, compassionately, ethically, and professionally with every student.

3) We believe in the potential of all students regardless of cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, sexual orientation, unique needs, or learning differences.

4) We believe that education should be available and affordable to all families.

5) We believe independent educational consultants are uniquely equipped to guide and support students toward their personal, academic, social, and professional goals.

6) We believe in the power of education to widen opportunities for everyone which will ultimately improve society for all.

Rick Singer and his ilk skipped this part when they pretended to be “college counselors.”


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