There are some logical reasons for this:
First, part of the reason admissions consulting is treated more negatively is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Namely, the stigma associated with it forces it to become an almost unspoken concierge service to the super wealthy, only further contributing to the stigma that these services perpetuate socioeconomic discrepancies.
Second, part of the reason lies in its lack of objectivity. Admissions counseling is non-falsifiable. If I work with student A, that student gets into Harvard, am I responsible? You can’t know. The student may have been just as likely to get accepted without my help (assuming this isn’t a very special case)
Third, some people are just unethical and imprudent, e.g.: Couple sues college admissions consultant for failing to get sons into Harvard
But on the other hand, there are some very good things about admissions counseling that test prep does not provide:
First, it gives students a greater opportunity to develop their individual persona, and identify with the particularities which make them a qualified candidate/applicant.
Second, the skills used and taught by admissions counselors are invaluable skills in life – something that SAT and ACT prep can hardly claim. Specifically, knowing how to market yourself effectively is a skill which is probably as predictive of lifelong professional success as underlying merit and talent. Seriously, when has anyone ever taken a ”learn how to market and present yourself” class? This is an incredibly valuable skill, not just for applications to schools, but for jobs and any other litany of opportunities. Compare that to the number of times in your life that you’ll need to spot the ”dangling modifier” in a sentence…
Third, it helps students develop oral and written communication skills, distilling a complex and nuanced set of facts/experiences/skills into a coherent, cogent final product.
Fourth, it is probably the first time when high school students are forced to seriously introspect, something which is certainly useful to many students I’ve met, who are woefully un-self-aware (not sure if that’s a word).
Fifth, if done correctly and ethically, admissions counseling is supposed to help highlight a student’s true potential and qualifications. Arguably, our admissions system would be more ”meritocratic” if no one splurged on test prep and everyone had help with their application.
Finally, almost every negative sentiment regarding admissions counseling could be applied to test prep (or subject tutoring for that matter):
First, test prep (or subject tutoring) is prohibitively expensive for plenty of students. Plenty of test prep agencies charge rates well into the several thousands for anything approaching a ”comprehensive” test prep package.
Second, there are numerous studies which demonstrate that the SAT (and ACT) is not predictive of success in year one of college (see Do SAT Scores Really Predict Success?). That is true of many standardized tests (perhaps with the exception of the LSAT, based on my most recent exposure to studies of that test.
So, what are the SAT or other, similar tests, actually measuring? They are not an IQ test, not a solid predictor of success post-matriculation, certainly not a good gauge of writing ability (who the hell needs to know the word grandiloquent?)….In short, these test seem to be a test of how well you can take the test.
For people with $10-$15,000 to spend on very pricey tutoring services, could there be anything more advantageous? At least with admissions counseling, the effect is to polish underlying achievements and skills. Here, students can manufacture merit simply by hiring the best tutors.
Third, while many complain that handfuls of individuals claiming to be admissions experts are totally unqualified (no disagreement here, quality and qualified counselors are hard to come by), have you ever looked through the list of tutors on places like Tutorspree, Wyzant, Craigslist, etc.?
When I was using a major test prep service for LSAT studying, I tried working with a private tutor. At the beginning of my first meeting (for which they intended to charge me $175/hr), I asked each tutor a single question from my practice tests (a very difficult, albeit textbook example of an LSAT question). Of the four tutors I met with, not a single one could find the right answer in two hours time (seriously).
Bottom line: it seems clear to me that this uneven bias is terribly illogical. In fact, if people were willing to embrace admissions counseling services the same way they embrace test prep, it would be more likely that more companies would try to find low-cost options to make these services more accessible.
Ok. Have at me.