Irena Smith, Ph.D.

College Admissions Consulting

Irena is based in Palo Alto, CA and provides private college admissions consulting to students throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, across the United States, and around the world.


Why do I need an expert admissions consultant?

Most students and their families, no matter how well-intentioned, are too close to the process of applying to college to see clearly and objectively. Working with a professional consultant who does not have a personal stake in the process yet still bears your best interests in mind will help you put your strengths as well as weaknesses in perspective, take some of the pressure off you and your family, and give you the reassurance of knowing that an experienced consultant with college admissions experience will be with you every step of the way as you craft your best possible application.

Wouldn't I receive the same help from my high school guidance counselor? 

Not necessarily. Although guidance counselors play a valuable role in helping students determine where they fit in the ecology of their particular school and in representing a student via letters of recommendation, even at elite college preparatory schools guidance counselors have a demanding case load and may not have the time to focus on the minute details of your application or do line-by-line essay editing.  My "behind the scenes" experience as an admissions officer provides insight, highly individualized advice, and assistance that may not available at your school.

I don't want my essay to look like it was professionally edited. Will it still look like my own work?

Yes. As an experienced composition instructor and editor, I specialize in guiding students through multiple drafts and revisions until, in responding to and addressing my comments, they craft an essay that is uniquely theirs, written in their own distinctive voice.

Will I work with you or with someone else?

I work directly, one-on-one, with students and, where appropriate, with their families. In the event that my practice is full for seniors during the fall application season, I also work in close collaboration with a small group of experienced editors.

What if I don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area? Can I still work with you? 

Sure. We can conduct our first meeting by conference call or Skype and then continue our correspondence by email, Skype, and telephone as appropriate. Many families also choose to combine a trip to the Bay Area to visit local colleges and universities with an initial consultation. I have worked long distance with students as far away as Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Illinois as well as England, France, Shanghai, and Dubai with excellent results.

When should I start?

Depending on your motivation and level of interest in a particular college, as early as ninth grade. At that point, we can schedule an initial consultation and I can make specific follow-up recommendations for course selection, extracurricular activities, and ways of optimizing a student's interests and talents. We will then hold 2-3 follow-up meetings every year to monitor a student's progress. Of course my degree of involvement varies widely from student to student -- some students prefer more long-term, intensive involvement, while for others, essay polishing and editing in November of their senior year is sufficient.

When is it too late to work with an admissions consultant? 

Probably when you're being fitted for a cap and gown for your college graduation! In all seriousness, I work with students who have been deferred from the Early Action applicant pool as well with students who have been wait-listed. I also work with currently enrolled college students who are considering transferring to another college or university and applicants to graduate programs in medicine, law, business, or the humanities. Because I work with a limited number of students in each grade level, I often fill my available slots for juniors and seniors far in advance of the application season.

Are parents included?

Absolutely! Parents have known their child the longest and often provide invaluable insights and jumping-off points for a personal essay. I find that the most successful applications result from a team effort, one that incorporates the voices and ideas of the student as well as the parents.

Do you help students with selecting colleges to apply to?

Selecting a college is a deeply personal decision. I encourage all applicants to become as informed as possible about schools that interest them. The more active you are in the search process -- thorough reading, visiting, and conversations with students and faculty at your prospective college or university -- the better your sense of whether that particular school is a good "fit" for you. I can offer assistance with the college search process, setting realistic goals, and helping you determine your chances of being admitted, but finalizing the college list is up to you. 

Can you help if I have had unusual circumstances (an illness that affected grades, a learning or other disability, or a suspension)?

Colleges do take special circumstances into consideration. Regardless of the severity of your circumstances, you have a story to tell, and I can help you put together a thoughtful, detailed, and carefully crafted application that allows you to put your best foot forward and gives college admissions officers the opportunity to have as complete a picture of you as possible.