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Thoughts on Hiring a Professional College Planner/Advisor

LukesterLukester Registered User Posts: 491 Member
edited March 2005 in Parents Forum
We have an introductory appointment with a professional college guidance counselor this Friday. What does everyone out there in CC land think of these type services? What should we be wary of? Is hiring one of these necessary? What will they do that we can't do ourselves? Anyone have any thoughts or comments good or bad? Thanks!
Post edited by Lukester on

Replies to: Thoughts on Hiring a Professional College Planner/Advisor

  • zagatzagat - Posts: 2,360 Senior Member
    I think many will tell you that you can learn all you need to know here. You certainly will lern a great deal here. But if my kids' schools didn't have a great college counselor, I'd get help. My sister used a top notch consultant who was worth her weight in gold. She helped them focus on appropriate schools, helped fine tune the application and was a guide for merit money.
  • maritemarite Registered User Posts: 21,586 Senior Member
    It partly depends on how good and how busy your school's GC is. Ours was very good. In S1's sophomore year, she urged him to get involved in community service, she advised him to retake the SAT so he could break 700, etc... She suggested a list of reaches/matches/safeties that was spot on. She knew how successful our school's students had been when applying to certain schools.
    If your GC is overburdened or not up-to-date, it makes sense to hire a professional counselor. But make sure that the info s/he has is up-to-date; things have changed a lot recently.
  • calmomcalmom Registered User Posts: 18,614 Senior Member
    What will they do that we can't do ourselves?

    Why do you think that you need one? Are there special or unusual circumstances that you think require extra help or attention for your child?

    I ask this question because if your kid has a record that is fairly typical, then I doubt that they really can do much that you can't do yourself. By "typical" I mean that your child's test scores, grades, and high school courses taken fit a consistent pattern - that there are no significant discrepencies. That is, for purpose of college apps, a kid with a 4.4 weighted GPA, 6 AP courses, and 1500 (soon to be 2150) on SAT's would be typical, and so would a kid with a B+ average, honors classes but no APs, and a 1300 SAT -- because both fit patterns that can fairly easily be tracked and slotted. They are different, but you will easily be able to see where your kid stands and figure out appropriate colleges from using various books and online sources.

    The problem comes when your kid doesn't fit a standard pattern. The kid with the 800 SAT math score + 500 verbal; the A student, valedictorian who is test-phobic and can't do better than 1200 on the SAT; the kid with extremely unusual interests and goals; the kid who is a strong & smart student but has a serious disciplinary stain on his high school record; etc. Then, outside professional help really may be valuable..... but you do need to make sure that the person you are paying really is experienced and knowledgeable enough to give you real help.
  • epiphanyepiphany Registered User Posts: 8,263 Senior Member
    Lukester, I'll tell you what an outside college counselor is good for: exactly what a non-college counselor is good for -- neutrality, as well as perspective. We have a good friend who desperately needed one, but parents did not seek one, & it's now too late. I think she has 9 rejections & is awaiting word on 4. Parents & applicant "got into it" with each other -- on questions of geography, campus culture, & affordability. There was poor planning & a poor understanding of some basic terms like Safeties, recently discussed here. Things turned more desperate after the ED rejection. Even had the parents been in a position to get a speedy education about the process, the applicant's further decisions & choices were clouded by the ED rejection, by lack of previous research & little time in which to chart a coherent course, & by internal family conflicts, which hindered self-searching & communication, affecting admissions results. They now realize they should have hired an outside consultant from the beginning, even though the parents are otherwise quite educated, & even though the applicant is no rebel.

    In addition, this applicant is in a position like many others in that she does not have the record to compete at the very top, yet dreads a super-safety, & has been competing for 2nd tier colleges with those who have her stats & better. An outside counselor could have helped address this problem, researching special niches & (yes, as someone said above) merit money.

    There are many admissions situations where fuller access to information should be sought from a professional, vs. what is available to parents -- & even more situations in which objectivity, or just the appearance of it, can make the critical difference in guiding an applicant toward a winning path.
  • jmmomjmmom Registered User Posts: 9,084 Senior Member
    Agree with all of the above. However, caveats based on 2nd and 3rd hand observation.

    I am aware of one private GC who seemed to have a particular "niche" of school types that she recommended. Parents were somewhat aware and concerned re this during the process, but figured what did they know? Now, kid is looking at rejections from all matches/reaches and acceptances to safety only (one reach still out). IE, GC may not have been open to really seeking the right mix of schools for application.

    I have heard (but no verification) that some of these privates receive compensation from colleges/univs they have relationships with (in addition to the $hundreds/$thousands that you pay) when they send a kid there. Check how they are compensated.
  • collegeparentcollegeparent Registered User Posts: 892 Member
    If the GC staff at the school is overworked and doesn't know the student, then absolutely. Also, most times, as epiphany said, when they become a family counselor and a much-needed advocate for the student within the family. They can be worth every dime. Also, interesting comment from jmmom about colleges compensating them to steer candidates to them. That's unethical, according to the industry trade associations, and if they're licensed or members, can be ostrasized if found out.

    As a point of reference, Georgetown will look very unkindly on any application in which they suspect that an outside advisor has been involved.
  • LukesterLukester Registered User Posts: 491 Member
    All great comments. I think of all the above words of wisdom, the one that hits home with us the most is the "neutrality" perspective that a counselor might bring. Our S doesn't have any different or special issues to work around, however, he has not taken on this college search prossess himself yet. It isn't that he isn't interested, but more we think that he just doesn't know what he wants out of a college. His choices seem to be more driven by what his friends are talking about at school than by what he wants himself. Maybe a neutral party might be better able to get him thinking more about his likes/dislikes, etc than his parents. We his parents are reading lots of books, this site, other sites, magazines, talking to other parents, etc., so we feel we are smart enough to navigate the process. I just don't know what to expect from this counselor on Friday. Wary of the hard sell, "you gotta pay me lots of $ or your kid won't get into the right school or you'll pay too much," etc.
  • walkinghomewalkinghome Registered User Posts: 7,701 Senior Member
    I think it's the rare student that does take on the college process himself. What I've done with my kids and a few of their friends is sit them down and go through some general interest questions and just start from there. It wasn't until after the first college visit that either of my kids actually had much of an interest at all. In fact, to hear them tell it, none of their friends were looking at colleges but when I talked to the parents I found out that they were - they just weren't talking about it to each other. Again, most kids do not know what they want out of a college but I don't know how you find that out except by doing research and actually visiting colleges. For us, it was just jumping in and seeing what was out there. For instance, my son has said that he didn't care where he went to college, he just wanted the major. That changed when he saw the different atmosphere at a city college and a rural college. He thought he wouldn't even like a state college but once he visited a couple of them he saw that they were pretty nice. Maybe not for him, but not at all what he had assumed. The great part about this site is that you can just ask for feedback on a college or a major and SOMEONE will know the answer. How could one college counselor equal the wisdom of all of us??

    I think a lot also depends on your relationship with your child and your interest in the college search process. I really, really like doing research on colleges and find it a fun challenge to discover schools that match different kids. If that is something that interests you and/or your wife, then I don't really see the need for a counselor, unless you don't WANT to take it on. this is, of course, jmho!
  • epiphanyepiphany Registered User Posts: 8,263 Senior Member
    Although I focused mostly on the neutrality feature of a counselor, the applicant I referred to was actually most compromised by the lack of self-evaluation of which you speak. This resulted in drifting, disorientation, & a list based on the kinds of externals & lack of conviction that you bring up. Hard to get motivated when you don't know where/how to begin the process.

    And as to a "hard sell" or a hypothetical counselor's reference to the "right" college, those would certainly be red flags, because both are counterproductive to the search process, even should you be multimillionaires. Short of very high-celebrity people, not many families are paying for college acceptances these days, so any such promise or guarantee by a professional would be a hollow one.

    As has been said often on CC, the "right" college is only right for a particular applicant -- a 2-way fit being the concept that should be driving the creation of a realistic, desired list. That list is the result of internal & external conversation for the applicant. If your professional does not offer a description of how he/she initiates & guides this process, I would not be satisfied. Think about it: all other "project" professionals a person hires, offer in the first meeting a brief description of How They Work. (This is one thing that defines a true professional.)

    And as to money, the services are often available in graduated packages. I personally would not sign on unless there were some flexibility there. Sometimes these are available in increments -- 5/10/20 -hour packages, etc.

    Not only is it generally unethical for a private GC to trade money with a college on behalf of an applicant, it is forbidden by certain professional organizations which many counselors belong to (IECA, NACAC, etc.)
  • LukesterLukester Registered User Posts: 491 Member
    Wow! You guys are great. Lots of good info. I have found this entire college search process VERY interesting. I have jumped headfirst reading lots of books, spending way too much time on the internet, talking to lots of people, etc because I like it. I heard this counselor speak at a meeting through our church and liked all that he had to say which is why we set up the next informal one on one meeting for Friday. I am just not sure that we really need to pay someone to do something that we can do on our own.
  • maritemarite Registered User Posts: 21,586 Senior Member

    You don't say what grade your son is in. As good as a counselor or school GC would be, the student needs to visit some colleges in order to come up with some criteria for selection: rural/urban; LAC/midsize research university/state university; geography and climate; greek life; sports, etc...

    I would suggest you and your son sit down and draw a list of desiderata, a cv listing your son's extra curricular activities and interests, his academic record and interests, and so forth. In the end, the student has to own the process.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member

    Out of deference to being a "good guest" of the people who run this site, I would acknowledge situations where a paid counselor could be beneficial.

    However, I don't think it is the solution to the "problem" you perceive with your son. Actually, it's not a "problem" at all; it's typical for kids to not want to engage the college selection process.

    Keep in mind that "college" carries a lot of pscyhological baggage. In the subconscious mind's eye, it symbolizes the end of life as he knows it. In addition, an expression of "not knowing what I want" can be as simple as being clueless about how to even start.

    The goal is to not apply more and more parental pressure (and hiring some stranger could certainly be viewed that way). Instead, the goal is to try to make the whole process more fun. More of an open-ended exploration with no bad solutions in sight. I think the best way to start is by visiting the major categories of schools: large/medium/small and urban/suburban/rural. Doesn't matter which ones. The initial visits are about selecting a specific school, but about giving the kid a concrete image of the various types of schools so that he can start formulating some preferences.

    It seems to me that the absolute biggest mistage parents can make is communicating a goal of getting into the "best" college. That sets up the process as a win/lose proposition instead of a process where all of the outcomes are favorable.
  • TheDadTheDad Registered User, ! Posts: 10,224 Senior Member
    What will they don that we can't do ourselves?

    It depends. How much work are you willing to put in? I've been working at it for four years and am still learning. And then there are still situations where I don't trust my judgment and that's where people like the folks who run this site come in: they have the judgment and experience.

    I suppose I could learn to do my own plumbing and wiring, too. So far, it's been better to pay a professional who knows what they're doing it. And I would even consider do-it-yourself surgery.
  • LukesterLukester Registered User Posts: 491 Member
    Our S is a junior at a public magnet H.S. He is doing very well: 4.0 GPA 4.7 weighted. 4APs so far and more next year, lots of ECs, soccer team, student govt, old SAT 1430 (780M, 650V) waiting on the results of the new SAT. To date, we have looked at Davidson College and Clemson University. This week we are visiting Wake Forest and Duke and maybe the windshield drive-by of UNC. Furman University in a couple of weeks. He is somewhat engaged in the search process, but seems to come home with a new favorite school each week usually based on what a school friend has said. His career aspirations/major have gone from engineering to pre-med to the latest--business. He has said he doesn't want an extremely large school and does want a school with a real college (big sports) environment. He is not crazy about the party schools or the wildly liberal birchenstock wearing schools. So I guess he is thinking about it some and not as bad as I may have originally posted. My original post about paying a professional counselor goes beyond just helping him decide which schools to list as safeties, matches and reaches. We are concerned about paying for it as well. We have a pre-paid state tuition contract and can probably add some to it should he go private. Of course, we are hoping he can pull down some merit aid to help out. Sometimes I think the paid consultant might be more for us parents than our son. :)
  • helicoptermomhelicoptermom Registered User Posts: 70 Junior Member
    When our daughter’s GC wasn’t smart or helpful, we took a middle ground on getting some outside guidance. I had already read a lot of books and lurked for a long time on CC, but when I had a specific question that seemed to have different answers everywhere I looked, I ended up talking to a very well-known (and expensive) college consultant. The initial phone consultation was free, and I received some helpful information, including a referral to a superb SAT tutor in our area. While my jaw dropped when I learned the many thousands of dollars that ongoing counseling would cost, the consultant was totally gracious when I said that was out of our league.

    We later paid for two consultations with a more local, but also well-known, consultant—again to address specific questions. In the first session, which lasted about an hour and a half, we wanted some advice about safety schools, and got some excellent suggestions that would not have occurred to us. The consultant had a good rapport with our daughter, and seemed to “get” what kinds of schools would or would not suit her. Based on the later results for our daughter and others we knew, he also seemed to have a terrific grasp on what various colleges were looking for—way beyond the general impressions that we could get from stats or guide books or anecdotes from friends. Finally, the consultant also took a quick look at our daughter’s essay and suggested that she focus more intensely on one aspect of it; she liked that advice and improved the essay tremendously when she later reworked it on her own.

    We went to see him a second time after our daughter received an EA deferral from her first-choice school—mostly because she was so upset. He was somewhat helpful in deflecting her “What if I don’t get in anywhere?” panic--though he was too honest to give her the guarantee of success that she wanted--and also suggested a few additional safety schools, one of which ultimately offered her a substantial merit scholarship. Since she was still dying to go to her EA school, he persuaded her that it was important to ask her GC to call them and to follow up with a letter of her own. That’s standard advice on CC, of course, but I suspect that my daughter would not have followed through--she didn’t like or trust her GC, and thought the letter idea sounded kind of cheesy--without the personal nudge from someone she respected. She was ultimately admitted RD to that first-choice school, where she is now a freshman.

    While I seem to be talking only about admissions strategies here, that’s because my daughter had already visited a lot of schools and had made up her mind about where she wanted to go. I had the impression, however, that many of the parents and kids who see the consultant do so when they’re just starting to draw up lists of possible schools. I absolutely agree with the advice to visit as many different kinds of schools with your kid as you can; it’s interesting and enlightening, and in our case, at least, it provided some of the best parent-child moments of my daughter’s high school career. But since there are more schools out there than most of us can possibly know or visit, an outside consultant can sometimes suggest some good possibilities for our children that might not have occurred to us.

    Could a savvy, motivated high-school GC have done exactly what the outside consultants did? Probably. Could I have done it on my own? Probably not. Even after some pretty massive research, I found that an awful lot of the information seemed either too general (e.g., 75% of the students have stats in the following range) or too specific (e.g., my neighbor’s kid, who plays the glockenspiel, applied there with lower stats and got a full scholarship). Moreover, my daughter was more interested in what this obvious expert had to say than in the received wisdom passed along by her mother. In our case, while there are financial and other reasons that I still wouldn’t want to hire one of these consultants to take over the entire application process, the three specific sessions we had were a definite help.
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