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8 Questions to Ask when Hiring an Independent College Counselor

A skilled and experienced independent college counselor can provide the essential guidance that students and parents need as they navigate the changing landscape of college admissions. With so many different groups and individuals who work as independent educational consultants, selecting the right fit can be a daunting task.

Here are eight helpful questions to ask as you consider hiring a private counselor and what to look for if you do:

What is your experience and what do you look for when hiring new college counselors on your team?

When thinking about college counseling, you might assume that working in an admissions office reading applications would be the best experience. However, at Premium Prep, we focus on experience working in a high school setting. All of our counselors have worked in college counseling in rigorous high schools with 10 to 30 years of experience. Many also have college admissions experience, and there is certainly some benefit to having that firsthand experience of reading applications. However, because we’ve worked in elite high schools with all types of students on a personal level, we’ve learned the nuances of admissions at hundreds of colleges (rather than just one or two). We’re experts in the field: we do this all day, every day!

When hiring a college counselor, experience is paramount. How long have they been guiding students through the college application process? Where does their previous experience lie? All of these questions can help you understand if a particular counselor or firm is a good fit.

What are the advantages of working with a group vs. a solo practitioner?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both solo practitioners and larger counseling groups, and the answer to this question really depends on the type of experience you want.

When speaking with a counseling group, ask about collaboration among counselors. At Premium Prep, each student has one counselor but benefits from the support of our full team of 25 counselors. This depth and breadth of talent enables us to prioritize a best counselor fit for each student, and means all of our families benefit from our behind the scenes collaboration. This also means that if you have a question pertaining to a specific topic less familiar to your counselor (athletic recruitment, service academies, etc.), you benefit from having access to the other members of our team who have expertise in those areas. And let’s face it – everyone gets sick. A counseling team like ours means you always have a backup for those times when your counselor might be under the weather (or on vacation).

A solo practitioner means that you’ll work with one counselor for the entirety of your counseling experience, but this can also be true of larger counseling firms. If you plan to go with a group, be sure to ask if you’ll be assigned to one counselor or if counseling is done by multiple people. At Premium Prep, all of our students are paired with one counselor for the duration of their time with us.

You’ll also want to ask about counselor caseload. Each of our counselors works with an average of 10 students per graduating class. This small caseload allows us to get to know our students well and ensures you have our full support and attention at all times. A larger caseload might mean difficulty in scheduling meetings or a delay in response time during the busy season (August-November).

How do you match a student with a college counselor? What elements are considered in finding that fit?

Another advantage to a larger counseling group is that you may have your choice between multiple counselors. Premium Prep matches each student with the best fit counselor on our team, based on personality, style, interests, and areas of expertise. For example, a Jewish student looking to have a strong Jewish community on their college campus could be paired with a counselor who previously worked at a Jewish day school. Or, a student interested in playing baseball in college might work with a counselor with expertise in the athletic recruitment process.

If there are multiple counselors to choose from, you may want to ask how the team will help you determine the best counselor for your needs.

How do you keep up-to-date with the changes and new trends in college admissions?

College admissions is always changing! There are constantly new deadlines, policies, essays, and procedures. A good college counselor is going on frequent campus visits, attending professional conferences and admissions webinars, and maintaining regular conversations with their colleagues in admissions offices. Our counselors benefit from frequent professional development workshops, with recent topics including the new FAFSA, how to best serve homeschooled applicants, and creating a strong art school portfolio. Be sure to ask about any professional development your prospective counselor(s) might be doing to stay aware of news and information in the admissions world.

When is the best time to start working with a private college counselor?

The answer to this question is going to vary depending on your individual family’s needs and circumstances. A great independent counselor is going to be able to help you identify the best timing for your particular situation and your student’s ambitions. We typically start working with families sometime between 9th and 11th grade, although, when we have capacity, we do also accommodate last minute seniors who need some additional support!

Are you a member of any professional organizations? Do you have reviews or references available?

The National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) are the two foremost professional organizations for members of our field. There are many other organizations, like the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and regional “ACAC’s” (subsets of the larger NACAC organization) that counselors can also join. These organizations outline both ethical standards and best practices for independent counselors, and are a sign of a reputable, ethical counseling team. Be sure to seek out a counselor and/or company that is a member of at least one of these organizations.

Additionally, independent consultants should be able to provide you with professional references of families they’ve worked with in the past. If they’re a larger company, like Premium Prep, they may have Google Reviews as well. These can help you further understand the work of any independent counselor or company.

What are the benefits of comprehensive programs vs. a la carte offerings?

Every counselor or counseling team is going to structure their offerings differently. From an hourly, pay-as-you-go model, to a fully comprehensive “unlimited” package, the best option for your family is going to vary. For example, an hourly program with no structure may quickly turn into a more expensive venture than you anticipated. On the other hand, an unlimited package may not be ideal for a family only seeking support in specific areas. Be sure to fully understand the offerings of each counselor and what is included (or not).

How do you measure student success or outcomes?

At Premium Prep, our success is entirely focused on finding students the right fit. It’s our goal to match students with the best-fit counselor so that each family feels supported throughout the admissions process. We aim to match students with the best-fit colleges for them, so that no matter which college they attend, they’re set up for a successful college experience. Every student is different; we celebrate the achievements of ALL of our students, regardless of name brand recognition. We certainly are proud of our students’ outcomes, but understand that a successful process is not just about the specific college they attend. The happiness of our students and their families, as evidenced by our Google Reviews, references, and surveys, serves as our greatest indicator of success.

We understand that the decision to hire a college counselor is a big one. You’re entrusting someone with your child’s education, and it’s not an inexpensive endeavor. But by asking the right questions, you can be sure that you’ve done your due diligence and will ultimately find the best fit for your family. We’re here to help and answer any of your questions. For a free consultation, contact us today.