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The Dark Side of Admissions

Picture of Joel Ontiveros
By Joel Ontiveros on January, 11 2023 | 7 minute read

I’m an independent education consultant. An IEC. There I said it, and it still doesn’t seem quite real. Technically my official title is College Counselor, but I work for a private company who supports and guides high school students on the college application process. Our industry says that admission officers and school counselors “sit on two different sides of the desk,” and I always felt like IECs were sneaking a peek through the window of that office trying to listen in on the conversation. However, now that I’m here, I envision myself around a circular table with admission officers, school counselors, parents, and their students.

You’re reading this because you know about Collegewise, and you probably want to learn more about the company along with its philosophy and values. There’s a lot of resources about our philosophy and best practices on our website, so I’m hoping to shed light on my experience here as a college counselor. I’ll share my experience as well as my ongoing internal dilemma of how I ended up working for a private company focused on helping students.

I worked in public higher education for seven years. I was an admission officer for four years at UCLA and then an additional year at UC Santa Cruz. Then I went to grad school at the University of Vermont and was employed by the Department of Residential Life. Essentially, I was a dorm dad, supervising RAs, documenting students violating housing policies, and doing my best to navigate the pandemic as a graduate student. I graduated, took six months off to decompress and rethink my priorities, and came back ready to face capitalism with a new agenda.

I wanted a fully remote job, something that paid well enough considering I went back to school to get my Master’s, and I missed the conversations I had with students about getting them excited for college.

I looked at regional admission counselor roles, and I looked at counseling jobs at independent schools (most public schools require additional schooling and credentials depending on the state). Most positions I found had a similar salary to what I made prior to grad school, and nearly all had some requirement to be physically on a school campus.

Then one day I went to the WACAC job board, and I saw a posting for Collegewise. “Fully remote? Encouraging and helping students in their higher education goals? Pay commensurate with experience and education? Okay, I’ll throw in an app.”

Long story short, I interviewed, was hired, and now have a caseload of students. Holy crap, I’m a college counselor at a job that meets all my needs. But, I’m still technically an IEC.

I think I’m still battling with myself over jumping to the private side, but I still feel like I’m around that table also. Collegewise has shown me how the private side and IECs can still be a part of the college admissions process and contribute in meaningful ways. Not just for their clients, but for all those seeking guidance around navigating higher education. Here are some of my rambling thoughts and internal conflicts that I think about daily.

If they don’t hire us, they’re going to go somewhere else.

This one is basic but very applicable. The families we work with typically have enough resources that they will invest in a private counselor to help project manage their student’s college application process somewhere. There’s a lot of companies out there, and we all fall somewhere along the spectrum of how much we feed into the paranoia around the college admissions process. I’m happy to report that at Collegewise, I feel like we do a great job of acknowledging right off the bat that we don’t believe in college rankings or prestige (even if families sometimes do). We believe in building a balanced college list for high school seniors, so that no matter what school that student attends, they will be happy by the time they enroll and eventually graduate. Most importantly, I think most families hire us because we believe in making the process more energizing than depleting for students.

The sharing of knowledge and resources is encouraged.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how much Collegewise offers for those who can’t or don’t pay us to work with them. The number of blog posts, podcasts, free webinars, and other resources that we share demonstrates how Collegewise believes more in debunking myths around college admissions than we do gatekeeping information. Not only do we make content readily available for anyone willing to consume it (whether a student, family, school counselor, etc.), but we are also encouraged to get out there and present within our communities. Collegewise values getting the word out to all who want to learn more. And if there is a student who wants more personalized support, then we offer that too.

I’m supporting students who already have resources.

There’s no way to get around this one. Most of the students I am helping attend high schools with more opportunities than students at most other schools, and they typically have access to information that others don’t have, whether that be through their parents, older siblings, or personal networks. However, this idea came up a lot while in grad school, and I can still have a positive impact on students before they head off to college. I might not play a large role in shaping who they are, but I can do my best to challenge and encourage them to become better stewards of their community and eventually attend a campus where they will continue to have a positive impact on those around them. Alternatively, I have been pleasantly surprised to see students in my caseload who don’t have existing support. Whether they are from a single-parent household or they are navigating a gap-year after a crummy high school experience, some students just need a helping hand to navigate their own unique situation and set of circumstances.

The people are awesome.

I don’t know how else to explain this one. Throughout the interview, hiring, and training process, I was sure there was going to be some catch. Everything Collegewise stood for and valued certainly couldn’t be the case, and I thought that I would see the faults in the people working at the company. Well, joke is on me I guess because everyone I’ve connected with so far loves the company and believes in how we support students and their families. Whether it is someone who has been with the company for 15 years or 15 weeks, each counselor, program advisor, marketing guru, manager, or member of leadership has talked the talk and walked the walk of Collegewise’s philosophy. It constantly feels like it’s too good to be true, and yet I consistently see the collaboration, willingness to help, and camaraderie daily – even in a fully remote and virtual role. It doesn’t matter if someone was an admission officer, school counselor, IEC at another company, or all three – each Wiser clearly hopes to make an impact not only on their students, but on the community in and outside of the company as well.


So there you have it. I’m employed by the dark side of college admissions, and surprisingly enjoying every bit of it. If you are still unsure or hesitant about a potential future at Collegewise, just know that I totally get it. Feel free to reach out or explore our resources because the people and what we offer students do all the talking.



About Collegewise: 

With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, lead to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 


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