Private Counselors Who Won't Double Dip

Should a private admissions counselor also be able to work for a school or college?

March 14, 2008

Should a private admissions counselor also be able to work for a school or college?

To many who work in college admissions, the obvious answer is No, while others say that the practice is more commonplace and less (or more) dangerous than others assume. The practice came to light because of a controversy over a University of Pennsylvania admissions officer's various private counseling roles -- and the realization that the main organizations of college admissions officers and private counselors didn't have a specific ban on the practice. Partly as a result, the National Association for College Admission Counseling now has a special working group considering whether tougher standards on conflicts of interest are needed for the field.

It turns out, however, that there is one, relatively new association of private counselors -- focused on professional school admissions -- that does ban double dipping.

The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants started accepting members only last year and has about 40 of them. But the association, whose members are private counselors, many of them focused on business school admissions, specifically bans them from simultaneously working for an institution of higher education. In doing so, the association differs from the Independent Educational Counselors Association, the primary association of private counselors, which requires that "multiple relationships" be public to all parties, but doesn't ban them.

In contrast, the new association's code of conduct includes a line that says: "Maintain independence of thought and action." And that line is read by organization leaders to mean that if you work as a private counselor, you may not work for a school or college.

Linda Abraham, president of the association and also of a private counseling business called, said that the group wants to be very clear about the philosophy behind its ban. "You can't have two masters when their interests may be in conflict," she said. "As an adviser to applicants, we have to try to have one employer, the applicant."

Abraham said that her group formed in part because of growing interest in private counseling for business school or other professional school admissions, and a sense that the other organization was focused on undergraduate admissions. But she said that members also wanted to have a very clear ethical code.

Mark Sklarow, executive director of the Independent Educational Counselors Association, said that his group is also considering changes in its ethics policy, prompted in part by the recent scandal involving the Penn official (who works for the Wharton School) and also a relatively recent trend of having more members who focus on M.B.A. admissions. Sklarow said his group may decide that tighter ethics rules are needed in graduate and professional admissions. At the undergraduate level, with thousands of possible colleges, conflict issues may be more diluted, he said, while at the professional level, offerings are fewer so any tie may be more significant.

Sklarow stressed that his members -- even with a considerably looser ethics code on dual employment -- take ethics issues seriously. He noted that Judith S. Hodara, the Penn official whose ties led to interest in this issue, was a member of his group when the scandal broke and that she is no longer a member now.


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