Privileged American Families and Independent Academic Consultants They Employ

Jill M. Smith, Chih-Yan SUN

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This article focuses on how economically advantaged families hire independent educational consultants (IECs) to help them navigate the college application process. We argue that the help provided by IECs embodies the marketization of emotional and relational mediation that many privileged families pursue during times of great anxiety. We offer the concept of "family mediator" to illustrate the relationship between parents, children, and the IECs whom these families employ. First, this article will chronicle why many advantaged parents feel apprehensive about their children's application to college and how they decide to turn to IECs for help. Furthermore, we will demonstrate how privileged parents, especially mothers, rely on IECs to assuage their feelings and emotions. Finally, we will examine how IECs enable parents and children to avoid conflicts and sustain connections to each other. Nevertheless, we find that resorting to IECs as emotional and intergenerational mediators may not always work. Some parents and children occasionally resist the mediation provided by these IECs, just as a few IECs are unwilling to work as the bridge persons in these privileged families in order to protect their professional reputation and boundaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-180
Number of pages22
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Education
  • Emotion
  • Family
  • Generation
  • Market


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