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  • Writer's pictureHollis Bischoff

Legal, ethical ways to help your children through the college admissions process

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the March 20, 2019 edition.


Every few years a scandal involving cheating around tests and privilege and college admissions comes to light. This time the scandal touches our local area and continues to underscore the insanity around the obsession our society has with name-brand universities.

Even the extraordinarily wealthy and famous believe they can’t legally influence the admissions office, and that’s actually a good thing. There are certain groups of people who receive a small advantage in the admissions process, including children of alumni (legacy admits), athletes and development admits (those who are donating large sums, usually more than $5 million, which go to helping all students). However, the advantage these students receive is smaller than one thinks – for example, even two-thirds of Stanford University legacy applicants are denied.

There are many ways in which you may be already helping your student become advantaged in the college admissions process, including if you have done one or more of the following.

  • Enrolled your student in any of the excellent public or private schools in this area.

  • Paid for one or more tutors in core subjects.

  • Had your student take the ACT/SAT more than once with any kind of test prep.

  • Hired a college admissions counselor.

  • Made sure your student has access to arts, sports and Advanced Placement classes.

  • Provided time and money for your student to participate in extracurricular activities.

Promoting well-being

In this age of students struggling with self-image and mental health issues, there is much you can do to encourage your student’s well-being and success.

  • Let them do their own work, allowing them the confidence of earned success.

  • Trust that you have done a great job raising them and they are ready for college, including being capable of gaining admission to college on their own.

  • Let them fail so that they know how to recover.

  • Make sure they have time and space to be creative rather than fitting into a standard that suppresses creativity.

  • Teach them to get enough sleep so that their judgment and views are not impaired.

  • Allow them to learn to make decisions, so they can learn to make good ones. Like anything, practice is what makes someone good at something.

Finding appropriate help

The college admissions process is complex and can be confusing to navigate, so hiring someone with expertise and experience can be another way to optimize their admissions process. Finding the right independent education consultant can help reduce stress, help students find their voice and present their true selves, and help identify the right colleges.

The recent scandal underscores how important it is to find a professional who has had appropriate training, adheres to industry standards and ethics, and provides the highest level of ethical advice and guidance. Look for someone who has completed specified training (like the UCLA or UC Irvine college counseling certificate) and who is a member of (and has agreed to adhere to the professional conduct of) organizations such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association, the Higher Education Consultants Association and the National Association for College Admission Counseling. To read the associations’ statements of ethics, visit their respective websites.

The highest designation is that of Certified Educational Planner, someone who must undergo ongoing educational development, visit college campuses and take competency tests. Think of this as using a CPA: Would you have your taxes done by someone who was not a certified professional?

Will any of this guarantee admission to a specific brand-name university? No, it will not, nor should it.

There are more than 3,400 undergraduate, degree-granting, four-year public and private universities in the United States, and the obsession with any one (or group of) universities is both unrealistic, unhealthy and unnecessary.

Hollis Bischoff is college admissions adviser for CollegeUnlocked. She earned a graduate certificate in college and career counseling from UCLA and is a Certified Educational Planner. She blogs about college admissions at and tweets at @collegeunlocked. For more information, email

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