By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling
Applying for college can be an extremely stressful process. Selecting the right mix of schools, writing quality essays, visiting campuses, “demonstrating interest,” nailing an interview, exploring scholarships and financial aid: there are so many questions students and parents have regarding the process, what colleges are seeking, and how to stand out in a sea of applicants. This is a momentous life decision with enormous short- and long-term implications. A truly skilled private college counselor can provide the essential help students and parents need, often in more ways than most people realize. Here are seven reasons it’s a great idea to hire a private counselor and what to look for if you do:
1. Getting into your dream school is tough!
The admissions process has changed dramatically in the past twenty years. Colleges receive more and more applications each year, leading to many more rejections. Schools once considered “safeties” by certain types of students are now hard to get into for those same students. Additionally, college admissions offices are capturing and analyzing data to target students who have “demonstrated interest,” helping to ensure that the students they accept are most likely to attend their school. Parents are often struck by how much the process has changed from the time they applied to college, and how much more complicated things are today. Good private college counselors are experts in this new process, both in a global sense and with regards to how specific changes (e.g., new programs or departments being developed, gender discrepancies or geographic targets) reflect shifting priorities at a particular school. The right counselor can expertly guide students and families through this new terrain.
2. Private college counselors get to know each student personally
Each student is unique, with her own goals and her own understanding of what she wants out of college. Working one-on-one, a quality private counselor will focus on each individual student and family, providing the direction, assistance, and focus necessary to navigate an increasingly complex process. They should have experience with a wide variety of students and families, and be both methodical and flexible. Whether talking with students about what they want to do in their future, advising on curricular or extracurricular decisions, or helping brainstorm essay topics, private counselors come to understand students and families on a deep level. A private counselor gains a personal knowledge of the priorities of each student and family, and they ground their assistance on those priorities. They should be able to provide guidance that is at once highly customized and based on extensive experience.
3. Private college counselors are specialists in determining the school that is the best fit for each student
Skilled private college counselors not only want their students to gain acceptance into college; they are determined to match students with schools that will maximize their potentials to flourish. This is not about rankings; it’s about fit. Some students may wish to go to a small liberal arts college, others a medium-sized research university. Some may want rural, others urban. Some may want to double-major in biomedical engineering and art history. Others many want to play in the marching band. If your student has a distinct interest or talent, or if he or she needs special academic or emotional support, your counselor will know the colleges and programs that are best suited for them. A quality private counselor takes into account how each college will align with each child’s needs, goals, and interests before recommending particular schools. Private college counselors are able to pinpoint the schools where your student can most thrive. That is their primary job.
4. Private college counselors help families minimize stress
Being a high school student is stressful enough! Between clubs, athletics, extracurriculars and nightly homework, high school students are busier than ever. Parents feel this pressure just as much, and the stress only grows as families start to face the college application process. A good private college counselor alleviates that stress by empowering families with information and data and by serving as the expert point-person to whom you can turn with any questions and issues. They help students achieve success by setting manageable goals to reach along the way so they can stay on track. Note to parents: your private college counselor can be the guide, the nag, the boss, the scheduler, the organizer…so that you don’t have to be! For many families, this alone is worth the cost.
5. Private college counselors have key insights into what college admissions offices are seeking
Private college counselors know the college process. They understand what college admissions offices will be seeking. Colleges consider many factors when reviewing applications, and most people are unaware of what is or is not particularly important to a college admissions committee. As experts, private college counselors can help students in numerous ways, starting early in their high school careers. They can help with decisions about curriculum, extracurriculars, and ways to show initiative and leadership in areas in which students are genuinely interested. When it comes time to apply to schools, they know precisely how to help students highlight their unique strengths and abilities in ways that will best resonate with college admissions officers.
6. Private college counselors are experts in navigating the complicated and tricky terrain before, during, and after the college application process. And they have the time and skills it takes to do it right.
Both public and private high schools have in-house guidance counselors who help with college and career advising, general counseling and academic advising. However, the national student-to-counselor ratio is 482:1, and school counselors are increasingly asked to take on many other responsibilities, including discipline, course scheduling, test proctoring, and managing accommodations and services for students with learning differences. As a recent NBC News report noted, “With school counselors spending an average of 42 minutes per student on college planning, parents are turning to professionals who help with college strategy and essay prep.” And private counselling is not just for those students pursuing the most selective schools. The right private counselor can supplement the important work that school counselors do by focusing exclusively on each student’s individual needs and goals. They can offer highly personalized attention and unparalleled guidance through all aspects of the college application process.
A good private college counselor comes with years of experience and a highly specialized expertise. Many have worked in college admissions offices, so they understand the process from the inside. Others have spent years working as college counselors at top-tier high schools across the country. Some even have experience working on both “sides”–admissions and high schools.
High-quality private counselors stay up-to-date on the latest trends and policies by, amongst other things, making regular visits to colleges across the country and attend annual professional conferences. They should have proven systems in place for helping students and families organize the process, make sound decisions, and set themselves up for success.
7. The benefits can far outweigh the costs
Private college counseling can be costly. However, the right counselor can provide tremendous value, especially considering the high cost of a college education. A top-notch college counselor should be seen as a crucial investment in a student’s future, one which can wind up paying enormous dividends–educational, emotional, professional. According to multiple studies, one in three college students will transfer schools over a four-year education. Whether a student is early in their high school career or ready to create a short-list of schools they would like to attend, the right private college counselor can prove tremendously beneficial. They can be the key to your child successfully identifying and gaining acceptance to a school where they can truly thrive.