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Alison Spencer listened as her twin sons, Landon and Austin Crispens, talked with college consultant Christel Milak-Parker about which schools would be the best fit for each.
Austin and Landon are finishing their junior year. Landon attends Chesterfield County's Midlothian High School. Austin attends the Math and Science Center at Clover Hill High School.
As they talked, Austin looked over the common application. Accepted at more than 200 colleges and universities nationwide, including many Virginia schools, such as the University of Richmond and the College of William and Mary, the common application can take the place of an institution's application.
The big draw: The common application has one optional essay, while some schools' applications require up to three. But there is no penalty for using the common application.
Milak-Parker instructed both brothers to have at least one essay completed by the end of the summer.
"The worst thing that can happen is you do it and don't have to use it in the fall," she said.
Milak-Parker owns College Connections. She helps students select the right college or university, write essays, and negotiate complicated financial aid forms. She strives to instill a sense of urgency in her teenage clients to start the college application process in the summer.
A report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported that in 2001, 74 percent of colleges and universities nationwide saw an increase in the number of applicants over the previous year. The average acceptance rate was 70 percent.
For many colleges, the acceptance rate is considerably lower. For example, the University of Richmond received 6,079 applications for this fall's freshman class, the second largest application pool ever, said Mindy Rose, assistant director of admissions.
It accepted 2,560 - 42 percent - and expects to have about 850 students accept the offer.
Of those accepted at UR, 20 percent to 25 percent were early- decision candidates, Rose said.
The College of William and Mary received 9,015 applications, and accepted 3,061 - 34 percent.
Karen Cottrell, associate provost for enrollment at William and Mary, has seen the number of applications increase 40 percent over the last five years. She said early decision applications don't give students an advantage over regular applicants.
"There is a sort of myth out there" that early decision helps students get in easier, Cottrell said. "It's not easier to get in. You can just get the process over earlier" if William and Mary is your first-choice school.
Virginia Commonwealth University received 12,249 applications for this fall, and accepted 8,606 - 70 percent.
Judy Hingle, former guidance counselor and director of professional development for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said private consultants can help some students who believe they're not getting what they need from school guidance counselors.
She said students should consult their school counselors first.
"The issue is that a lot of students apply to many more schools than they used to," she said, because they feel "you have to apply to more and more schools to get in anyplace."
Milak-Parker has been an unpaid volunteer at the college and career center at Midlothian High School since 1994.
She worked as the college and career center coordinator at Clover Hill High School for two years and served as a financial-aid adviser for the Greater Richmond Area Scholarship Program for four years.
Milak-Parker's consulting services are $100 for the first 90- minute consultation, and $40 for every hour after that. She said she averages about three hours per student.
Chesterfield resident Mary Farrell has had one child go to college and is planning for another who will go this fall. The difference, though, is that she sought Milak-Parker for help when her second child, Megan, began college planning.
With our son, "we felt we were always behind the eight ball," she said.
But having Milak-Parker as a resource for her daughter was a big help.
"She just kind of brought all of the factors together," Farrell said. "If [Megan] stumbled on something, she was there to answer those questions."
Milak-Parker helped Landon Crispens answer his questions, too.
After sitting at the kitchen table with the consultant, Landon felt less apprehensive about what he had to do this summer. Thanks to some prompting from Milak-Parker, he and his brother have already visited most of the campuses on their lists and have resumes ready.
"The essays sound a little bit easier than I anticipated," Landon said. "I already know what I'm going to say."
His mother was pleased with the advice for her sons.
"This is a win-win partnership here," she said. "It's a lot of money and we don't want to waste it. I want them to be able to choose the schools they want and not be at the mercy of the schools picking them."
Credit: Times-Dispatch Staff WriterCopyright Richmond Newspapers, Incorporated Jun 7, 2003 displayFooter(); ?>