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On the Job

Why paying $6,000 for a college adviser is a bargain

Sharon Olofsson of <a href="" shape="rect">Gateway Educational Consulting</a> assists clients on everything from course selection to essay topics.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

College in Canada? For disgruntled liberals, nervous minorities, and international students, the impending Trump presidency is adjusting college aspirations.

“I never would have guessed that students would want to leave the US due to a new presidency,” said college counselor Sharon Olofsson of Gateway Educational Consulting LLC in Lexington. But the Trump effect is reverberating throughout the college admissions process, Olofsson said. She’s found that some students are now ruling out schools in red states, there’s a surge of interest in foreign universities, and international students are reconsidering plans to study abroad. Like other college counselors, Olofsson is closely monitoring the situation so she can better advise parents and students. She’s part of the new breed of independent education counselors who offer must-have services for go-getter college applicants, advising them on everything from course selection to essay topics. Olofsson, a former investment adviser, doesn’t guarantee an acceptance letter from an Ivy but says her services often defuse tension between anxious parents and wary students. She spoke with the Globe about the world of “Hunger Games”-style college admissions.


“I am a member of a Facebook page that has almost 12,000 college admissions counselors worldwide. After the election, many commented that their students were now contemplating schools in Canada and Europe since they were afraid of Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiment. What surprised me even more, though, was the sudden surge in American students now considering foreign universities. It’s too early to know if this is a trend or just a knee-jerk reaction, [or] how many might change their minds before applications are due in early January.

“There’s been other changes in college admissions this year. The Coalition Application came along to challenge the Common App, Harvard came out with its Turning the Tide report to reshape the admissions process, the SAT was totally revamped, and the financial aid process just underwent a major change. With things changing quickly, college counselors are more important since we have our finger on the pulse.


“I happen to be a general college consultant, but there are others with specialized niches, even as narrow as for rowers or dancers; those for learning disabilities or therapeutic needs — kids with issues such as depression, alcoholism, and more. Helicopter parents have definitely become the norm, which is why I think the educational consultant business has grown so much. College acceptance rates have plummeted, so parents are willing to pay consultants’ fees, which in the Boston area is about $6,000 from the initial consult in the junior year to submitting the application in senior year. This is chump change compared to the cost of college nowadays. And no question is too trivial, like this one I recently received: ‘Does American Sign Language meet the scholastic requirements for a foreign language?’ Answer: For some graduation requirements, it does, and some colleges will accept it, while others require a spoken language.

“As part of my role, I visited over 40 schools this year, with the most unusual being Uppsala University’s Gotland campus in Sweden. The campus is tiny, with three buildings, only about a block long, with the Baltic Sea close by. My husband’s family has a summer home there, and I was like, ‘Hey, I want to see this campus.’ ”

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at