Why Hire a College Counselor?

We tried for several months to do the whole college process thing by ourselves.  Even the discussion about which schools to apply to was fraught. My husband said, “State schools!  SUNY was good enough for me.”   My son was interested in playing sports at a small liberal arts college in the northeast.  The tension started to mount. Finally, our family friends who had gone through the process gave us a name:  Gabrielle Glancy.  We cannot thank her enough! It was smooth sailing after that.  Our son is now at Colgate!  He loves it.  It’s not that far from home, but far enough that he feels independent.  And he’s playing soccer!  Thanks, Gabby!

Recently, I saw a discussion on a popular parents network about whether it makes sense to hire a college counselor.

This is a good and fair question!

As a veteran college counselor and the parent of a high school freshman, I am asking myself the same question.  The irony is that my son’s high school has only 2 counselors for 750 students and I know my son’s going to need more help than his school will offer, but I also know he’ll probably need to work with someone else! 😉

I often find myself saying that if parents could do what I do for their own kids, I’d be out of a job!

So the quick answer to whether you need to hire a college counselor involves asking yourself the following questions:  1) How much help will you get from your son’s or daughter’s counselor at school?  2) How easy is it for you to discuss and come to agreement on important, life-affecting decisions with your teenager?

My own answers to these questions are: 1) Almost no help from school counselors and 2) Even though I am a leading expert in the field, my son won’t listen to me!

All (serious) joking aside, a few years ago, I was interviewed by Indian Currents magazine on the role of Independent College Counselors in today’s world of admissions.  I was delighted to answer Kamini’s questions. 

Her questions made me think about what it is I do every day, what makes me unique, and what makes what I do so important.

Every high school across America has at least one college counselor to help its students with all the essentials of the college admissions process.  These counselors are tasked with keeping students on top of deadlines, administering PSAT’s, and sending out official high school transcripts. In their spare time, they write college recommendations for each and every student in the school; they guide students towards the right schools for them; they counsel them on majors and career paths;  they help students with their FAFSA; and finally, they edit their students’ college application essays!  Not!

In fact, high school college counselors don’t have any spare time!  There is often a 400-600:1 ratio between students and college counselors, even in the best of circumstances.  

What this means is that students don’t get the help they need to navigate what has become a very complicated college process. 

Without that help, they often find it difficult to choose the right schools – and most importantly – to write an essay that will help them get into the school(s) of their dreams.

The world of college admissions has gotten much more complicated than when I applied to college many years ago.

High school college counselors are busy and overworked. Even though both my parents were teachers, and this was quite a few years ago, I did all that I describe above — for myself!  And I didn’t do it very well.  I ended up transferring after my freshman year of college.

The burden then falls on parents.  But we all know how easy it is for parents to help their teenage kids with their college essays?? 😉

So here’s what I said to answer Kamini’s questions.  These are questions I get asked, in one form another, all the time.

1.  What does private college counseling entail? 

When someone asks me what I do, I say that I help students realize their dreams.  What does this mean?  It means helping them succeed in school and get in to where they want to go.  It means helping them make choices about the courses they take, the extra-curricular activities in which they engage, the schools to which they apply, the topics on which they will write their college essays.  Private college counseling is no different than what a high school counselor does, except as a private counselor, you can have much, much more frequent and targeted one-on-one sessions with students, and tailor your approach accordingly.  High school college counselors are stretched very thin and also have to deal with red tape.  For this reason, it has become increasingly popular for people to use private college counselors.  If there weren’t such a dire need for my services, I would be out of a job!  But as it is, my phone is ringing off the hook!

2.  How has the application process changed? How do you and your business plan to address these changes? 

In the almost thirty years I’ve been working in college counseling, the application process has gotten more and more complicated.  Take the UC’s for example.  For the last eighteen years or so, there were two questions required to fulfill the UC Personal Statement. Now there are eight questions, of which students must choose four.  There used to be only the Common App.  Now there is the Coalition App and the Universal College Application.  When I was a student, you took the SAT’s once.  You didn’t prepare in advance.  You just took it.  Now you must choose between the SAT and the ACT.  And then there’s the SAT 2 Subject Tests!  It has become a great challenge to navigate the college application process.  Even experts like myself have to work hard to keep up with the changes so we can advise our students accordingly.

3. At what age or grade do you recommend students start to work towards their applications and college goals? 

Believe it or not, I sometimes see students in 8th grade.  Once I even saw a 5th grader!! (That’s a little too early 😉  But I would say it’s most beneficial to meet with a college counselor at least once in freshman year and once in sophomore year, early in each of those years.  And then it’s a good idea to make a concrete plan for SAT/ACT prep and begin that prep at the end of sophomore year or in the summer between 10th and 11th grades.  The earlier you start, the better chance you have of taking the right courses, signing up for the right extracurriculars, and finding out about summer programs and internships that might interest you.  When I meet a student in 11th grade, I often say, “I wish I met you a year ago!”  Start early!  It will make all the difference in the world.

4. What do students need from your services that they are unable to get from their counselors at school? 

I answered this in a general way in question 1.  But more specifically, I can’t imagine students could find someone better to work with on college essays 😉  I literally wrote the book on it –– The Art of the College Essay!   College essays are my area of absolute expertise.  I even train teachers in the methods I use to help students optimize their chances of getting into the schools of their dreams. So there’s that.  In addition, because I’m not wedded to any one institution, I have a lot more flexibility.  I’m not grooming higher achieving students to get into Princeton, Stanford, etc and discouraging the others.  I can help every student find the path that is right for them, and then pull out all stops to get them into the school(s) of their dreams.  I’m not overworked.  I love what I do.  And I have been extremely successful.  Almost everyone I work with gets into their top school — and takes a deep and beautiful journey to get there.  Does that answer your question? 😉

5. Have you noticed an increase in students using counseling services in recent years? How is the business of college counseling growing?

As I mentioned, I am incredibly busy.  There is a HUGE need for my services.  Students have no idea how to write their essays.  They are filled with anxiety and stress.  And they don’t know where to turn.  A big part of my job is helping them calm down, find their stories and write winning essays that will get them in.

6. What expectations do you want people to have when beginning to use consulting services?  

I always tell parents and students that though I cannot guarantee acceptance 100% of the time (only about 94%), I can guarantee that when they press send, students and parents alike will be super confident in their applications and essays, that in fact, they will know in their hearts they could not, under any circumstances, have done better if they tried. That’s a good feeling.  The rest we leave up to the gods! 

The only question Kamini didn’t ask me was what makes my services unique?

I’ll let parents and students speak for themselves.  You can also take a look at this video to get a feel for what I do and who I am.  If you think you’d like to find out more, please give me a jingle at 415-637-1955.  If you know you’d like to work with me, don’t hesitate to Book Now!