Starting an Admissions Consulting Business
Interview with Amy Sack, Founder of Admissions Accomplished, LLC
Amy Sack uses her Ph.D. in clinical psychology and MBA to help students apply to colleges and graduate schools.
Amy Sack founded Admissions Accomplished in 2000 in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
At Admissions Accomplished, we provide college and graduate admissions consulting. Specifically, we help students and their parents navigate the often confusing college admissions process by tapping into our over 50 years of combined experience in the education field.
Prior to student's senior year, we offer an initial consultation and assist students with choosing appropriate high school courses, creating a timeline for standardized testing and choosing the appropriate exams, and choosing a list of colleges (targets, safeties, reaches). Once junior year concludes, we help students with applications and essays- topic generation and editing (note: we never write essays for students), interview and resume preparation and provide a timeline so all applications are completed ahead of schedule. We 'meet' with students on a weekly basis, which occurs mostly by phone as our students are located across the country and even abroad. We work with a broad range of students -- those applying to Ivy League Universities and those who are just happy to be accepted at a four year college.
As a psychologist, I also provide support for students and parents as there is much anxiety during this time.
Our services do not vary too much for graduate students, although parents are generally not involved and the people who contact us are generally in their 20s and thus no longer in college. Most graduate candidates (especially MBA candidates) are also aiming for top-20 programs.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I had always had a fascination with college admissions, perhaps because it was a stressful process for me. In fact, one of the first jobs I had applied for right out of college was a position in admissions. I did not get the position (it came down to me or an alum), but they hired me for another position within the college.
I ended up going another route with my career, but that interest in admissions did not wane. Once I had a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and an MBA, I realized that college consulting was the perfect blend of the two degrees. In addition, I had worked in various capacities in several colleges and universities, so all the pieces seemed to fit together.
I could run a business, I knew a good deal about colleges and I could allay people's anxieties.
Did you write a business plan?
Because I have an MBA, I had written a number of business plans; thus, I never formally sat down to write a business plan, but I had one loosely outlined in my head (without the financials).
Who did you hire to help you?
I have two colleagues (though they are technically independent contractors, I consider them colleagues as they are beyond my equals).
One is a former English teacher (my former high school English teacher, actually), who when I was senior in high school jokingly told me I had to go "make something of myself so [I] could hire [her] someday." So, I plucked her out of retirement to review and edit essays. She is a Stanford graduate with a Masters in English and an additional Masters in poetry writing.
My second colleague is someone I met during graduate school. She was a former Deputy Director of Admissions at a top-ranked university. She also has a Masters degree. They both offered skills sets that I did not have at the time I started my business, so I would certainly suggest others hire people like them. Though I am a published author, I am not a grammatical whiz like my colleague the English teacher and at the time I began my business I did not have all the inside information that my colleague the admissions director had. In addition, I always recommend hiring people who are smarter than you in some way.
Shortly after I started my business, I used the services of a friend of a friend (so I got a great rate), who was a marketing consultant to review the competitive landscape and make some marketing suggestions.
Finally, I utilized the services of a lawyer to become an LLC and also protect my company name (services were free because the lawyer was a friend).
Do you operate your business from your home? What are the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
I do operate my business from my home because I work with most of my clients from a distance and because it's most efficient (the students and I can be in front of our computers simultaneously). Also, students prefer it given their busy schedules and it enables me to work with people around the globe. I have a home office where families can come to meet me in person for consultations and I consider working from home a huge benefit. I have a three and a half year old son now. I can see him between students and schedule students around his daily schedule. Even when he is with a babysitter, he knows I'm in the house and it makes him feel better. It also makes me feel better leaving him knowing I'm a room away. It works well for our family. On the downside, occasionally a parent hears him screaming or crying, but because of the nature of the business, these are people who have all had small children not too long ago and thus tend to be very understanding.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Google Ads have had the single biggest impact on the growth of my business especially when I first started my business. The business also received some unexpected PR from Newsweek College Edition and the Wall Street Journal in the mid- 2000s, which brought in some unexpected business. Referrals also generated some growth.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
People frequently call and ask for advice about starting this type of business. It is currently a crowded field because gaining admission to the "top ranked" colleges has become increasingly competitive and, unfortunately, some people want to take advantage of parents' escalating anxiety. It is easy to enter this business because it is unregulated and has low start-up costs. However, if you want to do it well, I would suggest becoming educated. UCLA offers a series of courses. The Independent Educational Consulting Association (IECA) also offers some training during the summer. You should talk to others in the field and attend conferences if possible. Otherwise, you could actually end up costing a student admission to a college.
Thanks, Amy! I'm sure many entrepreneurs will find your advice and story very helpful.
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