Ready to start building your best college app? 😇

College Consulting Frequently Asked Questions

Hiring a college consultant is about more than the money: it's about finding partners whose values align with your family's and who you can trust to guide you through the entire application process. We've compiled answers to every major question our families ask us. There are general FAQs and FAQs for each of our major service buckets. You can always shoot us an email if we missed anything!

General Sierra Admissions College Consulting FAQs

What kind of students do you primarily work with?

We are experienced working with every type of college applicant, but about 50% of our practice area focuses on students applying to STEM programs--with emphases on computer science, engineering, and life sciences. 

Otherwise, we work with students interested in business programs, the humanities, and social sciences in equal measure. 

We often work with students who are intellectually ambitious and interested in highly-selective universities. They just find us! However, we love working with students who have, perhaps, had a more challenging experience in high school and are looking for less selective schools and are focused on "fit." 

How many students do you take on every year?

We prefer working with a small cohort of students - no more than 15 for each full-time consultant we employ. This is a sharp contrast to most private college consulting firms, which pair consultants up with between 30-50 students each.

Keeping our class size limited allows us to ensure that every student we work with receives our full attention at every step throughout the admissions process. 

Our small annual cohorts is one of the features that separates us from larger admissions firms.

Will we be meeting in-person? How many hours of in-person time will we have?

Our packages are built around deliverables, so we'll meet as many times necessary until all of those deliverables are complete. 

At minimum, you will meet with a core consulting team member (Ben, Alex, or Irena) once every other week until we've completed every element of your package. During this one-on-one time, we'll work on drafting and refining essays, extracurricular sections, refining narrative strategies, doing school research, etc., etc. That is to say: If it needs to be done and is included in the package, we'll be working on it in the sessions.

Homework will be assigned in between sessions.

In addition to in-session time, you will also have access to on-demand editing in an asynchronous setting over Google Docs. At the end of each session, you and your consultant will work together to come up with a plan for submitting requests for edits to our editing team.

Are parents included in the application process?

Yes. Parents have known their child the longest and often provide invaluable insights into the needs for the student.

We create space for parents by offering bi-weekly office hours that families can sign up for. During these times, we are available to answer questions about a student's application strategy or anything else that may be on your mind. 

For first-years in particular, it is common for parents to be present in the meeting. However, we do not allow parents to "hover" in sessions with senior students -- beyond a quick five minute "hello" or question at the beginning of the meeting. 
What is your admissions experience?

Sierra Admissions has been operating since 2018. During that time we've helped over 200 students apply to college. 

However, our team's experience reaches deeper. We bring nearly 30 years of elite admissions office experience to the table. Our team comes from admissions offices and professional writing backgrounds. We are also moderators of the largest admissions community in the world, Reddit's r/ApplyingToCollege subreddit. 

What is your success record like?

Our success record is documented here, in numbers, and here and here, in words. 

We have a reputation for a high success rate at highly selective schools that has proven out year after year. 


Senior-Year Services FAQs

What is your essay development process like? How does that work?

We've perfected an essay development process that's hands-on while allowing students to find their voice. 

We work closely on essays in sessions, helping students articulate their best stories in whatever way suits them. That might mean talking through paragraphs as the student writes, alternating between writing and revising, or whatever strategy works to get the words onto the page.  We also emphasize the student's responsibility to complete work in between sessions and actively encourage them to submit requests for edits to our dedicated asynchronous editing team. 

We never write essays for students. In addition to being unethical, it would rob them of the opportunity to go through their own writing journey.

Our collaborative method focuses on providing deep essay support while maintaining the student's ownership of the writing process and product.

Why does it matter for team members to have been voting members of admissions offices?

Much of our work focuses on making key strategic decisions about how to help shape a student's narrative. At the end of the day, a student's application needs to work for an anonymous admissions officer at the other end of desk. 

Having former admissions officers from highly selective schools on the team allows us to give advice to students about how to effectively reach their target audience. 

For more of our writing about what actually happens in a selective admissions office, and why it's crucial to know how to effectively reach admissions officers, read our post here.  

Do you only focus on essays, or do you help with other parts of the process as well?

We help with everything. In addition to our services directly focused on the essays, which constitute the majority of working time in senior year, we also help with: 

  • General narrative strategy advice.
  • Work on the extracurricular sections for the Common App and UC application (depending on the package)
  • Interview prep and advice. 
  • Help writing letters of continued interest when necessary. 
  • Advice about strategic major selection. 
  • School list research assistance. 
  • Early application plan strategy -- ED vs. EA vs. REA. 

If there's something you're curious about that wasn't listed, let us know!

Is there a dedicated space for parents to ask the team questions during the season?

Yes. We offer bi-weekly office hours to our students and their parents. These 15-minute meetings are perfect opportunities for parents to squeeze in and ask some questions of one of our consulting team members. 
Will I be working directly with Irena Smith?

Irena Smith is joining our practice this year in a strategic service partnership. That means that every one of our students who signs up for one of our senior packages will be able to meet with Irena up to four times throughout the admissions cycle. These meetings are included in the price of the package. 

The four meetings will be pre-scheduled at the beginning of the year. They typically occur during the most crucial times in the application cycle, for example, when a student is deciding on their ED plan, firming up their core personal statement narrative, or selecting a school. 

Irena is one of the most experienced and skilled admissions consultants in the world and we are beyond thrilled to be able to offer this resource to our clients. 


First-Year, Sophomore, and Junior-Year Consulting FAQs

When is the best time to start working on our college plan?

The sooner, the better. College admissions is a fairly unforgiving landscape. Starting as early as the first year of high school allows for ample time to ease into the practice of thinking about admissions. It also provides time to carefully plan extracurriculars, courses, and more in a way that sets the student up for success. 

However, if it is not possible to start the student in the first or second years of high school, a Junior year start is highly recommended to set plans for the final pre-application summer and make any course corrections before application season. 

Do you help with extracurricular projects, or "passion projects"?

Yes and no. We do offer advice and brainstorming about which directions to steer a student's extracurricular engagement. We also help make recommendations about which ECs to abandon over the course of high school. Our focus, here, is on helping students construct an extracurricular resume that has the most firepower when it comes time to craft an applicaiton. 

We do not directly place students in internships or research positions. We also do not provide direct mentorship for student "passion projects." However, we do partner with Polygence, a company focused on helping students gain mentored support in pursuit of independent, academically-inclined projects. 

Can parents be included in the meetings?

Yes. Parents have known their child the longest and often provide invaluable insights for personal statements. Incorporating the voices of the student as well as the parents is an essential part of locating the most compelling and genuine personal narratives a student has to offer.

We create space for parents by offering bi-weekly office hours that families can sign up for. During these times, we are available to answer questions about a student's application strategy or anything else that may be on your mind. 

How do you help balance rigor with mental health and well-being?

One of our big focuses in our work with first-year, sophomore, and junior students is maintaining a balance between rigor and mental health. 

Our goal is to help you design the most efficient pathway to a strong application. That means both jettisoning any unneeded obligations that might be causing undue stress and helping to craft a high school plan that avoids burnout. 

It's not just about getting accepted to college -- you have to have the energy and mental health to be able to go, and to enjoy it. We prioritize the mental health of our early-high school students above all else. 

Do you assign homework between sessions?

Yes! Our curriculum for our first-year, sophomore, and junior students revolves around periodic assignments and homework. 

These help clarify the direction of our students' extracurricular pathways, coursework plans, and school research. We believe in homework, but not busywork. Everything we hand you will be helpful and lead to greater clarity and confidence. 

What happens when we move between years? Do we start another package?

We structure our first-year, sophomore, and junior services as ongoing consulting with a pay-as-you-go structure. 

We bill in four-hour increments. So if you're a first-year and you only end up using three hours of consulting, we can roll over the fourth hour into your sophomore year. Then we can re-up your package as needed!


Ready to see if we're a fit?

Fill out our inquiry form (the button below) to take the next step. You'll get a detailed sense of our pricing options based on where you are in the application journey and a link to book an introductory call—right in your inbox.