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Can A Private Counselor Refuse to Help With A "Dream School" Application?

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Question: My son is a strong, motivated student who wants to apply Early Action to Yale. I hired a private college counselor to guide him, and she sent my son a questionnaire. When he returned it, she wrote back to say that she feels he has no chance whatsoever at Yale due to his grades (he has mostly B's and B+'s but in the top classes), his test scores (very high in math and science but mid 600s in other areas), the lack of “Wow Factor" in extracurriculars (even though he is president of three school clubs and has 400 hospital volunteer hours) and a couple other reasons. I told her that Yale is his dream and we want her to do whatever she can to help him present the strongest possible application, regardless of her reservations. However, she told us that she must refund our payment since she feels she cannot help my son to reach his goal. But she also said that she would be happy to work with him if he wanted to apply to some of the other universities she recommends. She said it would be unethical for her to take a fee to assist with his Yale application, but I think it is unethical for her to refuse to work with him on the choice that he has made. What does “The Dean" think?

This “Dean" has never actually been a dean of anything, but I have been an independent college counselor and was in similar situations myself many times. Although I would never insist that an advisee NOT apply to a “dream college," I often told students (or their parents) that I viewed a number-one choice as not just a “Reach" but an “Out-of-Reach."

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