Practice, not business...
What it means to be an independent college consultant in AmericaArchana Sudame
When I founded a college advising company in Fremont, CA, (USA) in 2011, cliched as it sounds, money was not the driving force.
Long before I was professionally trained and officially qualified to advise students on American college admissions, I had been helping them in two ways: 1. to write personal statements and essays for college admissions and 2. to build a strong science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) foundation in school. In short, for years, I was unofficially guiding students on how to get ready for higher education. Besides, I was a science lecturer at a well known private university in the Silicon Valley and later served as a reader for their undergraduate admissions.
Although a consummate educator at heart, I wanted to be an entrepreneur in a field that I was familiar with and passionate about: education and educational advising. I am grateful to all the wonderful teachers and mentors who groomed me from elementary school through the completion of my Ph.D. research in Berkeley.
It was time for me to step up and nurture the younger generation now. I understood my calling and was driven to do it the right way; I wanted to have my college advising practice instead of a business. Although I created a business plan, my goals for the first year didn’t include a rigid target revenue, instead, I had an elaborate plan for reaching out to as many immigrant families as I sensibly could, for their college-bound student. My business plan also factored in reaching out to a certain number of underprivileged students each year and helping them free of cost or on a pro-bono basis.
Perhaps, my family’s background helped me take the first step in founding my company, Admission Crew, LLC. My father’s been a business owner/partner ever since I remember. Once I understood the equation of risk Vs rewards, I was all set to run my practice. That’s all the business knowledge in the world one needs when getting into a consulting practice.
It’s 10% business and 90% human connection. Developing my ability to listen, and grasp my students’ problems was the key to proper advising. I take pride in finding the right fit program, college, and educational goal for my students; one student at a time. However, in the process, I also have to educate families who have never gone to school or college here in United States on how things work here when it comes to getting the best out of college education. It requires patience and firmness. An ability to convince them that not just am I knowledgeable but I have the best interest of their child at my heart. For this, I have to consciously treat every student the way I’d treat my own kid, that is with an open mind and with emphasis on his/her strengths.
Seven years since I opened my practice, I have served over 400 families, mostly immigrant families from India, China and other Asian countries. Besides this I have empowered another 200 self-motivated students through single session based appointments. When a family comes to me just once and takes all essential tips to continue their own research, I do not feel cheated.
Yes, I do have fees for such sessions but more than that, I am just as proud when self driven students come to me for basic tips and take-off on their own. Many will meet me years later and thank me for a crucial piece of advice that I may have offered. They remember me positively and that’s what gives me the most satisfaction. As for my comprehensive students, who meet me regularly for 2-4 years before they head off to college, even years later, I remember each and every detail of their profile’s strength (and also their resilience in overcoming their challenges).
It gives every college adviser a feeling of accomplishment when a high achieving student gets into a top college like Harvard or Stanford and I am not an exception to that. Many of my students have landed in the top colleges across United States but more than that, it gives me just as much joy when my struggling students also manage to get into and thrive in good colleges.
I constantly remind all my students the importance of good work ethics, being organized, being a good communicator, and being aware of one’s strengths and remaining humble at the same time. I am grateful for the trust that my students and their families place in me. Every student is special to me and ultimately their success (and the definition changes for each student) is my success. That’s the difference between a business and a practice.