Monday, June 15, 2009

Our College Consulting Competitors

Collegiate Compass is a College Consulting firm based in Greenwich, CT. The New York Times College Admissions blog "The Choice" relayed Collegiate Compass's advice on what to wear to an admissions interview. The results are not pretty, especially considering Collegiate Compass charges $15,000 for college admissions advice.

June 12, 2009, 12:53 pm

Free Fashion Advice for College Interviews, From a $15,000 Consultant

INSERT DESCRIPTIONJennifer Ackerman/THE NEW YORK TIMES Three employees of the Rugby by Ralph Lauren shop in Greenwich, Conn., model outfits Wednesday night at a mini-fashion show of potential “looks” for college admissions interviews.

Shannon Duff is an independent college admissions consultant in Greenwich, Conn., who charges families “in the range of ” $15,000 for the full breadth of her advice about the application process.

But on Wednesday night at the Rugby by Ralph Lauren store on Greenwich Avenue, Ms. Duff staged a mini-fashion show, free of charge, showcasing “looks” that she and the store manager were recommending for on-campus interviews.

One of the models, James Sawabini (a 21-year-old sophomore at Duke University), looked like he was on his way to meet the commodore of the Greenwich Yacht Club, as opposed to, say, the dean of admissions at nearby Fairfield University. He was dressed in navy-and-white seersucker shorts, a yellow polo shirt with a “royal mending accent on the collar,” a cream-colored, zip-up cardigan sweater and moccasins with no socks. (The price tag at Rugby: over $250.)

Christie Devine, 18, a senior at Fairfield Ludlow High School who is bound for Southern Methodist University, modeled a short, tight madras skirt, complemented by a ruffle blouse and blue, “school-boy blazer.” (over $450.)

As each model walked the store’s makeshift catwalk, the manager, Whitney Bragg, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, provided the narration, as in, “Katie is also ready for any college interview with this fabulous nautical chambrary maribel dress with off-white tipping.”

I’d like to be able to tell readers of The Choice that this presentation was done with tongue somewhat in cheek, but that was not the case. Before the show, I’d asked Ms. Duff, 31, who has both a bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. from Yale, for any “do’s and don’t’s” regarding dressing for an interview. She was emphatic, for example, that jeans were “a no-no,” and that appearing “neat” and “not sloppy,” while still showing a flash of “your own style,” was key.

She also advised against “exposing too much,” whether of one’s ankles, toes or cleavage.

After the show, I suggested to Ms. Duff that nearly every outfit — not least Mr. Sawabini’s shorts — had seemed in violation of at least one of her guidelines, the one about the skin. No, Ms. Duff insisted, many of these outfits were appropriate for summer on-campus interviews — whether with an admissions officer, or, as is often the case, a student working in the admissions office.

To road-test some of Ms. Duff’s ideas, I shared photos of her event with two deans of admission — Jennifer Delahunty of Kenyon College in Ohio, and Eric J. Furda of the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Delahunty’s review was emphatic and succinct: “I looked at the photos and burst out laughing,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “This whole concept is insanity! The ultimate in ‘packaging’ a student.”

“What does this say to the student that is educationally pertinent — that how you look is as important as your transcript?” Ms. Delahunty added. “I no more pay attention to what a student is wearing at an interview than I check out the car they arrived in.”

“Be yourself,” she added. “Dress like yourself. If that’s a tie–great. If not, don’t wear one to an interview.” There were, she emphasized, no points taken off for jeans.

Over a previously scheduled lunch on Thursday, Mr. Furda’s reaction was similar, and he gave similar guidance. He told a story, from his years as an admissions official Columbia University, about his interview with a student from Delaware whose look was unmistakably “goth” — black pants, multiple earrings, “clunky boots.”

“She told me after the interview that she’d dressed in a way that her parents said she shouldn’t,” Mr. Furda recalled.

“I said, ‘What’s most important is that you’re yourself,’ ” he said.

“She said, ‘I figured if you don’t like me the way I am, maybe this isn’t the place for me,’ ” he added.

At this point, it is probably worth pausing and inviting those of you who’ve been through this process — either as parents or applicants — to use the comment box below to pass on any anecdotes or advice from your experiences. Feel free, also, to to give your impressions of our photos of those outfits.

Ms. Duff, who calls her business Collegiate Compass, says in her promotional materials that one of her main credentials for doing such work was a job as a reader of applications in the Yale undergraduate admissions office, while she was on campus studying for her masters in 2003 and 2004.

She said that she might devote upwards of 60 hours to an applicant who spends as much as $15,000 to be guided through the application process. For $7,000 or so, an applicant would get a limited amount of face time with her supplemented by instruction she had recorded on video.

One purpose of the fashion show was for Ms. Duff to publicize two new DVD’s she is making available to the public — one for $45, the pair for $80 — in which she talks not only about the interview process, but also about college visits. (One tip for sophomores: “Start early.”)

In both videos, Ms. Duff is asked questions on camera by a young woman presented as a high school student.

Her name is Margot Neuburger, and after the presentation I noticed her mingling among the crowd of two dozen or so parents, students and friends of Ms. Duff’s.

Where, I asked, would she be attending college as a freshman next fall?

In fact, Ms. Neuburger said, she would be a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.

Surely, then, she had been a client of Ms. Duff’s, I asked.

No, Ms. Neuburger, 19, explained, she had been merely playing the role of a high school student being counseled by Ms. Duff.

“We met on the train from Greenwich to New York,” Ms. Neuburger said. “We just started talking about sunglasses and then became friends.”

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