College counseling done the wrong way

One of our Collegewise families got a letter in the mail this week that started:

You and your student, Kevin, are scheduled to participate in an educational group presentation followed by a personal interview to help determine college admission and financial aid eligibility. 

Colleges are now identifying prospective students as early as the 9th grade for admissions and financial aid assistance.  Therefore you need to attend in order to receive assistance in making critical decisions that will arise in the next few months.  Kevin's future is too important not to attend. 

Kevin's interview will take place either Saturday, February 5 or Sunday, February 6, 2011.  These may be the only dates we have available for Kevin this school year, so call or log on to make your appointment today. 

We told them to toss it.  

I have no issue with a company doing a free workshop at the end of which they tell the audience more about their services.  We've done that, and there's nothing wrong with it. 

But you still have to be honest about who you are and what you're doing.  When you're not, you leave it open to interpretation.  If you try to interpret this letter, at worst, this is a huge scam and really no different than the "Help me move my fortune from Nigeria" email.  At best, it's a company that preys on fear ("…you need to attend in order to receive assistance in making critical decisions…"  "Kevin's future is too important not to attend") and is passing themselves off as something other than a for-profit business.

I'm sure the woman who signed her name to the letter would take issue what that.  But–no surprise–there is no email address or other contact information for her.  If you go to the company's website, you can't find any information about who's running the place.  You can't get a straight answer about what they do, who you work with if you hire them, or what the real agenda of this free workshop is.

Correction 1/27/11:  The website included in the letter was not the same as the their corporate site, which did include the information mentioned above.  But I had to find it by Googling the company's name.  If your marketing makes you feel the need to make it hard for people to figure out who you are, you need different marketing (or a different company).   

Parents and students, don't trust a private counselor, tutor or test prep company whose pitch makes you feel scared, guilty or inadequate.  There are plenty of those emotions going around already in college admissions, and the harder a company works to exacerbate them, the less likely they'll work hard enough to make you feel better when you hire them.

And to the private counselors out there, we have to be better than this.  We're in an unregulated industry with absolutely no barrier to entry.  There are plenty of good people doing what we do who want to help kids and do a good job.  The best thing we could do for families and for our industry is to be so undeniably good, so unquestionably committed to running fair and honest businesses that the differences between us and the people who send these letters will be obvious.