Today’s USA Today had a story in the Money section about AdmitSee, a Web site where college-bound high school students could read successful admissions applications materials from current college students–for a fee between $20 and $150 a month. The high school students can also mentor the college students on how to write their college admissions essays–also for a fee.

AdmitSee’s operators incentivize the college students to provide their information by giving them a portion of the fee that a high schools students paid to read their profiles. They don’t promise the college students too much–the site states an average of $200 a semester–but the concept of AdmitSee as it applies to the college admissions process bothers me.

The idea behind AdmitSee is to offer a LinkedIn-type network for college-bound students. Students seeking schools contact students who got into them. This makes some sense when a student is interested in a college that has exceptionally-selective admissions practices. The high school students who are interested in those schools have attained a high degree of academic excellence, at least within their school, while the college students had excelled at a very similar level.

Why not pay a small fee to talk to those who made it through the same college admissions process? If your family is willing to be a full-pay at that school the cost is not much, especially if you get to read a lot of profiles.

Here’s why: the students who posted their information on AdmitSee are not the ones who are applying to their school now. Nor are they admissions officers who will be making the decisions on who gets into their school.

College admissions offices practice peer-to-peer marketing. In fact, they take it quite seriously. They hire Student Ambassadors; some pay them, others seek volunteers, to answer questions from prospective students and their parents. Want to meet someone who is in your major? The admissions office will try to make a match, if you give them enough time to do it. Hit it off with an Ambassador and s/he will give you a business card, and possibly introduce you to classmates. College admissions offices also have student bloggers. Then there are sites like Unigo and College Confidential where current students share information for free. That’s more similar to the basic version of LinkedIn than AdmitSee might be. AdmitSee is more like the LinkedIn Premium, which most LinkedIn¬†users probably take a pass.

But can these mentors on AdmitSee explain why they were admitted to their school?

They can at some places where admissions requirements and scholarship standards are straightforward. They cannot at the more selective colleges–because they truly don’t know.

I have never heard of a college admissions officer calling an accepted student to tell them why they got in, unless it in an obvious way, such as being a recruited student athlete. Maybe, if that accepted student becomes an Ambassador, the admissions office will tell them why, if it makes for an amusing story for the information session.

But a problem that I see with a site such as AdmitSee is: suppose that the college student mentor does not believe that the high school student who has asked for mentoring could get into their school? Is s/he supposed to discourage that person? Could s/he help that person find other schools that might be a better fit?

And, what if that mentor was honest and gave a high school student the bad news? Who is more upset? The students and their parents who have paid to use AdmitSee? The college admissions office that never got the high school student’s application because of comments relayed through AdmitSee? The folks at AdmitSee who are likely to deal with that angry student and their parents times many more, all demanding their money back?

Can peer-to-peer marketing help a college-bound student?

Yes, if the college student is open and honest about their experiences with their school, good and bad. I’ve found that many students will tell you the truth if you ask them privately. The vast majority of Student Ambassadors that I have met are not rah-rah phonies. At one school, as an example, the University of Cincinnati, the admissions office lets the Ambassador develop their own script.

Yes, if the college student is far enough along in their education to be of enough help to explain the academic challenges the school has presented to them. I do not like the idea of a college admissions office using college freshmen as Ambassadors, especially if they are in their first semester.

Yes, if the college student is far enough along in their education to have found their own friends. This is especially important at a mid-sized or large school where choosing clubs and managing time can be more overwhelming.

But no college-bound student needs to pay for this information. The college admissions offices make it available free for the asking.

The difference between the information that you receive from a Student Ambassador or random students you meet versus the advise that you might receive on AdmitSee is the price that you pay. In one case, you pay for the costs of visiting the school. In the other case you put money in a student’s pocket.Given the choice you should visit the school and talk to as many students as you can before you put your heart, time and money into the application.

If you need help with the college admissions essay with an eye towards getting into a school you would be better off talking to a school counselor, an independent advisor or a good writing teacher who has several years experience helping students who have written successful essays as opposed to paying a college student who had to write them only once.







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