November 27 - Allentown Morning Call: RPCV Robert Cohen operates College Admissions Services

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Read this story from the Allentown Morning call on Robert Cohen who operates the College Admissions Services at:

RRPCV Robert Cohen operates College Admissions Services

Counselor helps make college choice ** Robert Cohen aids families in wading through the materials an...

Nov 26, 2001 - Allentown Morning Call Author(s): Gregory Karp Of The Morning Call

When Nancy Dy's children started doing well in high school and were obviously college-bound, she knew she needed help to choose a university for them.

So Dy and her husband, Victor, of Palmer Township, called on Robert D. Cohen, who operates College Admissions Services in Bethlehem.

"When my kids were in high school and they were very bright, I had no idea how to direct them," Dy said.

Cohen, 63, of Bethlehem, specializes in helping parents and students choose the ideal college.

And Dy said Cohen worked wonders for her three children.

Cohen advised her daughter Ryen to go to Cornell University.

"We walked on campus, and we weren't halfway done with the tour when she said, "Mom, this is where I want to go,"' Dy said. "He nailed it."

Dy's daughter Jillian wanted an art degree, so Cohen advised her to test that desire by attending a six-week art program at Carnegie Mellon University during the summer between her junior and senior years in high school. She liked it, and he suggested she consider Boston University.

So they visited the school and attended an orientation program.

"We walked out, and she said, "Mom, this is exactly what I want,"' Dy said. "It was eerie.

"I think he sees the side of kids that we, as parents, don't see."

Cohen's own start in higher education came when he graduated from Cornell and then from the University of Pennsylvania with a master's degree. After a stint in the Peace Corps teaching literature in Nigeria, he came back and attended graduate school, earning a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College in New York.

He started his professional career at Hunter College in New York, where he worked in student affairs jobs.

Then in 1979, he came to Lehigh University as associate dean of students. In that job, he had direct contact with students and parents as he conducted exit interviews for students who were leaving the university before graduating. Some were leaving for financial reasons, but many were unhappy with the curriculum and other aspects of Lehigh.

"While I was there, I could see a lot of college choice decisions were not made very soundly," Cohen said.

That's when he got the idea to start his own college admissions consulting business, which he opened in 1985.

"I was ready to try to -- how should I say it -- sell what I knew," he said.

Today, he operates his one-man operation from an office building on E. Elizabeth Avenue in Bethlehem. He shares an office suite with his wife, Amy Miller Cohen, who has her psychology practice next door.

When he's not advising students on which colleges to attend, Cohen is host of a classical music program on public radio station WDIY, where he is on the board of directors. He also has a side career as a cabaret singer in a local act called Stardust Cabaret.

College consulting is not a common business locally. A couple of others in the Lehigh Valley have been doing it long term, Cohen said.

When Cohen first started the business, he did newspaper advertising and public speaking about his services. Today, his business is almost entirely word of mouth, he said.

About 75 percent of his clients are from the Lehigh Valley, but he has been flown to other states to counsel families, he said.

It's important that the consultants be independent, Cohen said.

"Our clients are kids and parents. Our clients are not colleges and universities," he said.

So, it would be unethical to take payments from colleges in return for steering students there, essentially acting as headhunters for the colleges, he said.

Cohen attends national educational conferences, and he tours schools all over the nation to stay current on their offerings and admission requirements, he said.

Cohen offers a range of advice including how to visit a college and what to look for, what to do on a college interview, and when and which college entrance exams to take. He'll edit students' admissions essays and help them figure out what course of study to pursue.

But isn't his job -- steering students to the right college -- a job for high school guidance counselors?

Yes, says Cohen. But guidance counselors have a wide range of responsibilities, not just college admissions.

"Generally speaking, they're terribly overworked, and they are dealing a lot with crisis situations," Cohen said.

"What I'm giving is really concentrated attention, just to the college admissions process, with the resources to go and visit colleges.

"I keep myself informed of not just the curricular offerings but what kind of environment it is. While some guidance counselors are provided the resources to do this, it is unusual.

"Overall, what I'm doing is helping students and their parents make good decisions throughout this process."

One of the most valuable things he does is narrow down the choices from the thousands of schools.

Making a good choice is more important nowadays when college is so expensive, probably the second-biggest family expense next to buying a house.

"If people are going to be spending $100,000 on a kid's education, making that investment decision a good one and making sure you've done the right shopping is worth paying a knowledgeable guide," Cohen said.

His business is also more important now because marketing from the colleges is so intense, he said.

"That means the consumer, the parents, have to really wade through a lot of material."

So, what's the biggest mistake students make in choosing a college? Cohen's answer might seem flippant, but he's serious.

"Basing their opinion of a school on the relative attractiveness of the tour guide," he said.

Cohen's services aren't cheap. A three-session package is about $700. A more comprehensive service with unlimited access to Cohen is about $2,000.

But Cohen suggests putting the cost in perspective with the huge money parents are paying for college.

"What they're buying is my experience and my expertise," he said. "This is what I do for a living."

The Dy family thought the cost was well worth it.

Nancy Dy also has a son Eric, who didn't take Cohen's advice to attend Johns Hopkins University for biomedical engineering. Instead, he went to Cornell.

Today, both concede that while Cornell has worked out all right, Eric would have been happier at Johns Hopkins, Dy said.

So in the end, Cohen probably recommended the right school for all three children, she said.

"It was worth it, because when you see your children leave for college, we knew in our hearts that if they weren't happy, they weren't going to succeed.

"I know it was well worth it, because when my kids call me, they're happy."

On the Web:

Reporter Gregory Karp


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