A Mentorship Mindset

Or, Reflections on Choosing a College Consultant

“Which schools have you gotten your students into?”

It’s a question that we’re frequently asked. Yet the question is misleading and belies what a college consultant actually does. We work hard—and often late at night, thanks to time differences—to help our students highlight to universities just how exceptional they are so that they receive offers of admission at universities where they will thrive.

But the fact is, we don’t get them in. We help them get themselves in. (And yes, we know you want to know where they got themselves in. We get it—here’s a list!)

Perhaps my misgivings about this phrase are nothing more than a bit of semantic nitpicking. Even if so, one of the first things a prospective client should understand about us is that our job is to mentor students.

Incidentally, this is perhaps one of the biggest differences between an IEC (independent educational consultant) and a recruiting agency. Agencies are compensated by universities for placements, and while (like IECs) agencies often assist students in the application process, their business model essentially requires them to prioritize profit over student growth. IECs like us, however, don’t just work with students and families: we work for them.

Yet there’s far more to it than that: we are educators. Hyll consultants boast many years working in mentorship roles at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard chief among them. And we bring all that professional experience to bear in working with students, because one of our principal concerns is fostering the growth of our students and helping them come into their own. And by doing so, not only is the process rewarding in its own right, students’ growth also makes them far more competitive in the application process.

Stated another way, we help students find themselves, to strive for excellence both within the classroom and elsewhere, and to demonstrate it to colleges and universities in the most compelling ways possible. We also help match them to the universities best suited to their unique strengths and talents—which are different for everyone. And this last point deserves further exploration.

Not all teenagers thrive in high school, and no one should be judged on the merits—or lack thereof—of their most fraught moments or their weakest subjects. We thus accept clients without regard for superficial measures—like grades and test scores—of their admissions potential. Indeed, if anything matters in this process, it is motivation.

We take great pride in recognizing all students’ potential to be extraordinary and helping them develop it in ways that are both personally enriching and increase their probability of being admitted to great schools. This leads me to another important point: there really are no great schools, only great schools for you. At Hyll, we recognize the potential in all our students to do great things but also work hard to meet students where they are and match them with universities that are a great fit for them. That means building a well-balanced college list—that is, one with a healthy balance of realism and aspiration—based on students’ unique profiles (including their goals, their talents, their geographical preferences, and dozens of other criteria) and historical admissions data. 

Of all the qualities that most matter in a consultant, however, nothing could be more important than their mentoring experience. Any consultant should have substantial experience working with, understanding, and developing a rapport with students. Indeed, the success of the consulting relationship demands it. Like Virgil guiding Dante through the Inferno, our job as consultants is to chaperone students through one of the most arduous moments of their lives thus far. I’m not saying that the college application process is like a treacherous descent through the subterranean landscapes of Hell, but, well, let’s just say it has its moments!

The soul searching involved in preparing for college, making weighty decisions about the future, and writing application essays peppered with reflections of an intimately personal nature involves traversing unexplored, emotionally fraught territory. This can only occur when the relationship between student and consultant is properly nurtured—through empathy, compassion, and (let’s face it) plenty of friendly nudging—by a professional with experience understanding and supporting students’ lived experience.