Many families are using independent college consultants to help with college planning. What do they offer?
College admissions are more competitive than ever before because a record number of students are applying to a greater number of schools. Many parents are looking for guidance as they navigate the college process, as the application process is considerably different from the days when they went to school and applied to one or two schools. Here on Mercer Island, many of the parents are not originally from this region and may be unfamiliar with some of the local colleges and universities even though they have lived here for years. Students themselves are feeling overwhelmed and pressured to excel not only academically but also on the sports field, in the arts, and in the myriad of volunteer or travel experiences they pile on to curry favor with admission officers.
A well thought-out strategy can take much of the stress and frenzy out of this process for both students and parents alike. Many families have shared that using a counselor allowed them to relax and enjoy the last few years of having their son or daughter home with them without having to nag them 24/7 to keep them in line with application deadlines and essay completion.
Ideally, college planning is a process that begins as early as freshman year or sophomore year to discuss course selection, internship or job opportunities and volunteer or summer programs that draw on a student’s interests, strengths or future aspirations. A good college consultant will take the time to get to know the student and their families early on in order to suggest opportunities in line with the students’ interests and strengths. The most important job of a consultant is to help a student develop an appropriate list of schools that will allow them to be happy and successful both academically and socially and that is also within the realm of what each family can afford. Once a student has narrowed down the college list, an advisor can also help families and students understand everything from the financial side of paying for college to assistance with essays, resumes, interviews, college visits and letters of recommendation.
Unfortunately, there is no regulation that dictates what skills and background a college counselor should possess to work in this field. Many counselors believe that they can do this work once they have navigated the college process with their own son or daughter. Others have completed an online course but do not have the educational or counseling background that is so often required. You would want to inquire not only about a counselor’s expertise and training, but also how long a counselor has been working with students and how many colleges and universities they have visited. It is not enough for a consultant to have only seen colleges on the West Coast, as it is important that a college counselor advise you about colleges throughout the country where your student might have some geographic edge and interest. Prices for college counseling can vary considerably, depending on whether or not the counselor offers only package rates or works by the hour. Should you decide to work with a college counselor, know that there are many great college counselors in this region who do excellent work with students.
Joan Franklin is the owner of MI College Support, an independent college counseling practice (www.micollegesupport.org). She can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.