Test-Prep Advice Post

Private Tutors / College Consultants Banned at Elite Private High Schools in San Diego: What’s the Deal?

July 2018

Today I’d like to address an issue that has troubled me for some time: the private tutor / college consultant bans I am hearing about at prominent local high schools such as Francis Parker, Bishop’s, and La Jolla Country Day.

Many of my students from these schools have mentioned to me that they have either been discouraged, or even outright banned, from using private tutors to help them with academic subjects or standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT.  These high schools have also warned their parents not to utilize private college consultants and admissions essay editors such as myself.

I would first like to say that I’m not surprised to hear about this.  For a long time, the powers that be at private schools have been conspiring against those who would dare encroach on their “territory” by offering outside help to students at their school, as if their school has cornered the market on professional educators—when the truth is that the average private school teacher or counselor is lacking in knowledge and experience when compared to many expert, veteran tutors (who, by the way, are able to work fewer hours and earn a better living than they would as classroom teachers, thus allowing the tutors to give their students more personal attention).  

Still, the hypocrisy is astounding.  How can an institution, one whose entire purpose is to educate you, expressly prevent you from expanding your education through outside instruction?   My profession is teaching standardized tests, and not to brag, but I’m darn good at it.  I’ve done so full-time for over 20 years now, and have accumulated over 20,000 hours of experience.  Do these schools really believe that a classroom teacher / in-school tutor is going to have the same level of specific expertise as a specialist like me—especially in such a narrow, complex field of study as SAT or ACT prep?  Of course not.  It’s just that the teachers and counselors at your school don’t like the idea of your spending money on anyone but them.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some great teachers out there.  But most of them are not experts in test preparation.  I don’t try to teach AP English, for example, but somehow we are trusting AP English teachers to teach the SAT?  Of course we must also acknowledge that there are plenty of bad teachers out there—yes, even at the private schools—which means that there will always be a need for private tutors who can help students make up for their teachers’ shortcomings.

Finally, there are some excellent guidance counselors in these high schools—although ironically, the worst ones often seem to hold the most important positions.  At the end of the day, however, it's important to remember who writes their payroll checks.  A private school guidance counselor's first obligation is to the school itself, not to your individual student.  In general, colleges will only accept a certain number of students from each high school per year.  If there are students at your school who are applying to the same colleges as your son or daughter, and those students have better academic/extracurricular qualifications (at least in the school's opinion), then more effort and resources will be allocated toward that student, and your student will be gently encouraged to try applying elsewhere.  Likewise, if the school offers an in-house tutoring option such as the one at Francis Parker, then the guidance department will be inclined to point you in that direction. 

In contrast, as a private college consultant, I work exclusively on behalf my clients—and most of them come from high schools far and wide, not just one high school—so there are far fewer in-school conflicts of interest.

In all areas of life, it is wise to seek outside opinions and help, and to supplement our education through the use of experts whenever possible.   Is your baseball coach going to ban you from working with a private hitting instructor?  Is your yoga teacher going to prevent you from working with a personal trainer?  Is your general-care physician going to prevent you from seeing a specialist?   In nearly all cases, these bans have the opposite effect from what is intended: they betray a deep-seated insecurity on the part of those instituting the ban.

My message to parents is this: don’t let your student's high school scare you into using an inferior, school-based tutoring option.  These schools have neither the means nor the right to control what you do within the privacy of your own home. 

Finally, rest assured that if you do choose to engage our services, then we will always make sure to keep it confidential on our end as well—it’s called private tutoring for a reason.


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