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Navigating University Admissions: Do You Need an Admissions Coach?

Is an admissions coach worth it? Aren’t there tons of resources online? Don’t I just need to get good grades?


Jan 31, 2024


Do you need an admissions coach to navigate the university admissions process?

The admissions journey has evolved into an intensely competitive space. Is an admissions coach worth it? Aren’t there tons of resources online? Don’t I just need to get good grades? 

In this blog post, we delve into the complexities of the college admissions process, examining whether the assistance of an admissions coach is necessary in this journey. As we explore the numbers, challenges, and ethical considerations surrounding admissions coaching, we aim to provide a nuanced perspective on its impact and the choices students face.

The Rise in Demand for College Admissions Counselors

By the numbers 

Increased competition for limited spots in top universities is contributing to the growth of the tutorial market globally. The U.S. tutoring market is projected to reach $8.37 billion by 2025, with global numbers expected to reach $201.8 billion by 2026. These figures suggest a rising trend among students and professionals seeking services to enhance their college placement and career prospects. In Singapore, the sector was valued at S$1.4 billion, as reported in the Household Expenditure Survey of 2017 and 2018.

Online Resources vs. Personalised Coaching:

Despite the prevalence of online resources—video courses, free webinars on YouTube, offered by test prep and admissions organisations, and downloadable content online, there is still clearly the significant value of personalised coaching as parents and students continue to seek it, and as the market continues to grow. 

Challenges in Access to Coaching:

For those with the financial ability, seeking for additional, private help often involves paying substantial fees, fees can range from $15,000 to $20,000 or more for admissions consultants

However, even for those who do have the ability to afford such services, finding the right coach can be challenging due to the lack of a centralised platform for comparing options, reading authentic reviews, or ensuring the coach’s credibility. Still, being able to rely on a third party to organise and assist in managing the process takes a huge mental load of families and prospective applicants. 

Questions to Ask Yourself If You Are Considering Coaching

  • Do you know how to differentiate yourself effectively from thousands of other applicants?
  • Tell your story authentically in essays?
  • Do you feel comfortable writing about yourself confidently?
  • Do you need guidance to reduce stress and get realistic evaluations of your chances?
  • Do you know how to maximise merit-based aid and/or apply for scholarships effectively?
  • Do you know the best ways to prepare for various admissions interviews and additional essay questions?

Barriers for Students Without Financial Means:

Conversely, students who cannot afford these options may navigate the school and job application processes alone or rely on limited (and sometimes inaccurate) advice from seniors and family. ECG offices also face limitations, especially with high student-to-counselor ratios. Each junior college is assigned an ECG counselor, while every two secondary schools are supported by one.

Global Admissions Coaching Market

According to Forbes, the global market for admissions coaching is estimated to be valued at a minimum of $10 billion. he challenges in gauging its actual size arise from the lack of transparency and people's hesitance to reveal their spending on admissions help; though it is estimated that approximately 50% to 70% of students in highly competitive top universities have sought assistance from professional services during the application process.

How did we get here? 

Operation Varsity Blues 

In 2019, Felicity Huffman received a 14-day federal prison sentence for her role in the college admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues. Over 50 individuals faced charges, accused of using their wealth, deception, and bribes to secure coveted spots for their children in prestigious institutions.

Huffman personally paid $15,000 to inflate her daughter's SAT test score, collaborating with an SAT test proctor who corrected answers after the exam. Huffman's case serves as an extreme illustration of the lack of oversight and regulation in the college admissions industry, highlighting the lengths to which parents may go to ensure certainty and guarantees in the admissions process.

The admissions process should be a crucial step in a young person’s transition from adolescence to young adulthood. Unfortunately, many fail to recognise its developmental importance.

The prevailing model, which merely encourages students to check off boxes and go through the motions of writing personal statements and preparing for interviews in a prescriptive manner, is not conducive to meaningful development. The admissions coaching process has become increasingly transactional rather than relational, becoming a means to an end and solely emphasising results over the process. 

How a student approaches the application process serves as a telling indicator of their future success and preparedness for the university experience.

Are you defaulting and over-relying on services like ChatGPT to think for you? Are you honest to yourself about what you want and what you will enjoy studying? Are you purely interested in checking off the box of going to university simply because that is the choice everyone else around you is making?

The qualities essential for success in university and beyond—such as maturity, critical thinking, independence, organisation, persistence, and self-awareness—are not just prerequisites during the application phase; they are indispensable for thriving in both the university environment and beyond.

The romantic notion that acceptance into a prestigious institution, course, or program guarantees lifelong success has led to an overvalued and excessively rigid judgment. The fixation on specific colleges as the ultimate benchmark disregards fundamental skills crucial for long-term well-being in favour of immediate, short-term outcomes. By focusing on developing skills like critical thinking, reflection and organisation—all skills critical to succeeding in university, we provide a solid foundation to approach your future.

What does an admissions coach at Icon actually do? 

Setting Up A System:

Admissions coaches play a crucial role in simplifying the overwhelming admissions process for both students and their families. The key lies in establishing a systematic approach to planning, tracking, and completing the necessary tasks—of which there are plenty in the application process, all on top of your regular commitments. 

Planning and Organising - The Importance of Structure:

Effective planning and organising are skills that go beyond the visually appealing spreadsheets and beautiful spreads on bullet journals covered with stickers and beautiful handwriting. True organisation entails having a structured workflow or system in place for managing the various aspects of the application journey—and we can help with that. 

Lack of structure creates feelings of stress and overwhelm. We see it all the time in students. Students typically come in at the last minute, stressed and very often resistant to our focus on planning and developing a roadmap. Their primary concern revolves around understanding how to excel in specific elements of the application process, such as acing interviews or crafting the most compelling personal statement.

Parents, too, may be initially resistant to our coaching process, especially when confronted with the intangible aspects of planning, organising, and reflective thinking. This frustration often stems from the difficulty in quantifying critical thinking or measuring improvement in reflective abilities—particularly challenging when the fixation has traditionally been on short-term, quantifiable measures such as grades. 

We get it. It can be frustrating to slow down and be reflective during the break-neck pace of education, especially in Singapore and the seemingly increasingly competitive high school education landscape. But we believe in guiding students and parents towards a comprehensive understanding of the application journey, ensuring that planning, organising, and reflective thinking are recognised not as time-consuming hurdles but as invaluable investments in long-term success.

Better Focus, Plan, and Prioritise:

A fundamental aspect of the coaching process is to enable individuals to gain better clarity on their priorities

From holiday plans to class selection, extracurricular activities, and test prep, the intricate details can impact an application negatively. A coach navigates these complexities, ensuring crucial details are not overlooked. With various responsibilities and deadlines, managing tasks like creating a university list, drafting essays, planning visits, and sending test scores can be challenging. Seeking specialised help from a professional streamlines the process, particularly when juggling multiple commitments.

The Role of a Good Coach:

A trustworthy coach can serve as a mentor, coach, and expert but cannot guarantee admissions through unethical means.

Families seeking external support should engage with qualified, professionally affiliated coaches to ensure high standards and the best-fit options for their child. 

Icon is Singapore's only institution offering a complete suite of Education & Career Guidance services aligned with MOE's framework. As the pioneer in test preparation and admissions coaching since 1999, we have over two decades of proven success in guiding students to top universities and scholarships. Our approach is also free from third-party affiliations, ensuring recommendations solely prioritise our clients' best interests.


Here at Icon, we have always believed that the real value of the admission journey is not purely about the destination, getting into that dream school—but how you get there matters too. It is ultimately about decision making and discernment, about learning who you are and what you care about. If you’re interested in finding out more about process, you can drop us a message and schedule a no-obligation, free 30-minute consultation to find out more about how we can support you.


Founded in 1999 to provide comprehensive standardised test preparation and admissions coaching for students embarking on their university education.


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