Considering hiring independent college/admissions counselor...worth it?

<p>I'm a student and my mum has heard of a college counseling program that works with two objectives in mind: helping kids choose the right college and figuring out the finances of paying for it (I assume this means investigating merit aid, scholarships, et cetera).</p>

<p>We've decided to schedule a talk with one of the people there (free, no strings attached, an hour long) because my mum thinks it may be worth looking into. I don't think I need help with choosing the right college (I have been independently formulating a list of my own, and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for) or essays.</p>

<p>What I want to ask: is an independent college counselor worth it? Have any parents here had experience using one, or decided not to (and why?).</p>

<p>And if it is, how do we figure out if a person is competent enough in investigating financial options for me? I'm in the middle-class range where we won't get financial aid, but obviously college will be a huge expense, so I'd like to find merit aid wherever possible. What kinds of questions should I ask when we meet with them? How does one evaluate an independent counselor?</p>

<p>My mum doesn't use College Confidential, so I told her I'd check the firm out on the internet & the general concept of hiring someone outside. It's local, so there isn't much about them on Google.</p>

<p>It was definitely NOT worth the $3000. it cost!!! The mone would have been better spent going towards tuition ... I found that there was very little the consultant (who was highly regarded did that my son and I weren't already doing) talking with other parents was just as useful and in more helpful and much cheaper!!! It is definitely not worth the money.</p>

<p>If you are already doing your own research, then you really don't need a private counselor. There are some counselors, including College Karma (who formerly owned this site), who offer a "stats evaluation" for a reasonable fee. They will review your stats, interests, and possibly your essay, and make suggestions.</p>

<p>Depends on your situation. If money is not a big issue and you and mom aren't well versed in this journey, it could be worth it. </p>

<p>Take an example - we had never heard of something called an "ACT", but during one of the college sessions at HS for parents, one of the speakers brought it up and described the profile for students for whom this makes more sense. It ended up being dead right for D & S. I also had someone at work who had specific priorities - $s, major, etc. I believe she paid about a thousand and her D ended up at a college they would never have considered, but it met her needs better than the local colleges which would have been the main ones she would have focused on.</p>

<p>See if you can get some references for the counselor, hopefully previous students from your school who you know and will be candid. I would be cautious if he tries to pressure you to sign immediately after the session by offering a fat discount on an inflated list price. The session itself - you want to see if it's a combo of him trying to feel you out and make a sales pitch, or if he actually offers suggestions, unsolicited, with a plan to improve upon it with a contract. Check what all it covers, eg. does it include test taking prep etc.</p>

<p>Just to clarify: it's not necessarily the research & application part we're considering a professional for...more just scouting out for merit aid. I've been handling the test-prep and research stuff on my own, with periodical input from my parents. (College Confidential has been superhelpful in finding schools and figuring out which ones I have a chance of getting admitted to.)</p>

<p>What we are thinking is that if the counselor could find ways to finance my education (that we wouldn't have found ourselves) the fee would be worth it. I do have a younger sibling who will need to go to college too.</p>

<p>Thank you for the opinions, everyone! I'll ask around and see if anyone has heard of this particular program. Dad<em>of</em>3, thank you.</p>

<p>I think that the college admissions process, while time-consuming and daunting at times, is entirely manageable without an outside counselor. Where we live, in a less populated Midwestern plains state, very few families use them. On our college trips east we learned of the popularity of college admissions counselors, and perhaps that is a reflection of competitiveness in that part of the country. I believe with the wealth of information on CC, College Board, websites (i.e. *****) and books (i.e. Colleges that change lives) that you can gather more than enough info. We had limited help from the guidance counselor at S's large urban high school, yet still managed just fine. We simply made it a priority, carving out time like you would for any major project. Looking back I am so grateful to have been the person, with DH, helping DS through the college app process. Paying someone else to help with that would have denied me some very memorable times with DS. </p>

<p>That said, I know some families have no time, but do have money, and for them a counselor might be a necessity. But if you have the time and the determination, you will do just fine on your own. Good luck - and enjoy this time of possibility!</p>

<p>I have no personal experience with my kids, but have seen private counseling work very well for others.</p>

<p>You must focus on the costs & exactly what you need the counseling for -- I would be wary of a "counselor" who provides "financial advice" similar to unlicensed investment advice. </p>

<p>So before your consult, you & your Mom must make a specific list as to what you need help with. To determine this, consider:</p>

<ol>
<li><p>The strength of your high school and where graduates are normally attend. If you are from a little known high school a counselor can help; conversely, if you want to attend a college where many from your high school apply a counselor may be able to indivualize you from the pack.</p></li>
<li><p>Your financial position -- check out the calculators and do an estimate. From what I've seen, which is VERY limited, the folks who fall into middle-high middle class benefit from counselors. IMPO this is because they do not have the savings to pay for college without loans and they also make too much for aid. The counselor's help in identifying schools not simple who have generous merit (which as a CC user you may are probably already doing) but in matching you with a school in which you fit a niche.</p></li>
<li><p>Do you want a large university? If so counselor's seem to be of little use. The counselor's expertise is to put small unknown schools on your radar.</p></li>
<li><p>What are your geographic preference? If you are limited to a certain area then specifically ask at the consult how this effects what they can do for you.</p></li>
<li><p>Do you have a fair number of ECs which you are dedicated and good at but not "Nationally Outstanding"? I have seen a counselor be able to showcase students who thought their ECs were "average" in a way that made schools take interest.</p></li>
</ol>

<p>Some question to ask is "How many colleges do you have relationships with?" "How many colleges have you personally visited in the last 2 years?" "How have you cultivated the relationships with admissions?" "Do you have any connections with financial aid administrators?" "What support do you provide in gathering/completing required financial aid forms?" and the all important -- "Can you provide a list of references?" -- </p>

<p>Personally - I prefer the reference list to be a mix of consumer families and at least a professional or two (guidance counselor, former admin. counselor, etc)</p>

<p>
[quote]
3 ... The counselor's expertise is to put small unknown schools on your radar.

[/quote]

Interesting you would say this - my coworker (and everyone else at work) had never heard of this SC university her counselor came up with. She and D visited, liked it, and the money, and D's been there for a year and, from everything I hear there were no surprises, so mom left us and moved to SC too..
Overall, great points, LH</p>

<p>"more just scouting out for merit aid."</p>

<p>Have your mom pop on over to the Financial Aid Forum and read through some of the threads there. She should start with:
<a href="http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/848226-important-links-automatic-guaranteed-merit-scholarships.html%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/848226-important-links-automatic-guaranteed-merit-scholarships.html&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>Two older threads worth study for techniques on locating merit aid are:
<a href="http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/148852-what-ive-learned-about-full-ride-scholarships.html%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/148852-what-ive-learned-about-full-ride-scholarships.html&lt;/a>
<a href="http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/291483-update-what-i-learned-about-free-ride-scholarships.html%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/291483-update-what-i-learned-about-free-ride-scholarships.html&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>There are families who have been helped by college services... finding colleges and scholarships that would have been otherwise undiscovered. And I'll admit that there are times I wished we had gone that route. But we had done an info session with my son, and it seemed he wouldn't take advantage enought to justify the large flat fee (which would just get "milked"). </p>

<p>Make sure you talk to other families who have used the same services before signing up.</p>

<p>Thank you, everyone. It's nice to have several opinions on this...meeting has been scheduled. We'll see how that goes.</p>

<p>I'm planning on inquiring around and seeing if anyone has experience with this group of people. @Longhaul, thanks, especially for the list of questions to ask. @happymomof1, I'll show that to my own mum. My parents generally have narrow views about what constitutes a 'good' college, but we'll see.</p>

<p>The independent counselors did a presentation at my school, I believe, which is how my mum heard of them...so perhaps someone has used them and can give us some feedback. I wish I had been there so I could've figured out how much of it was marketing and how much of it was substance.</p>

<p>You are about to embark on a great journey -- and your mom is wanting to arm you with information. The question is, how much of that information is available for free if you just do some scouting on your own?</p>

<p>I think I would ask the prospective employee (which is what this counselor is) some of this stuff:
1) My family's Adjusted Gross Income on our most recent tax form was $XXXXX. Who did you help last year in that tax bracket? May I have a contact with them?
2) How many clients did you have last year? How many this year?
3) What do you provide that I can't get at the HS guidance office or the library?</p>

<p>Truthfully, I suspect you may be better off putting some money into a (probably brutal) SAT prep course. If you can get some big scores on the PSAT (junior year, early fall) or big scores on the SAT, then you will be having some colleges knocking on your door with literature (bubble in the bubble that says it is ok for colleges to contact you.). </p>

<p>Here's a big red flag: A counselor who promises a scholarship OR promises to find a scholarship that "fits" you. You can and should do that research on your own. Try Fastweb. Many, many scholarships are available, but most of them are for small amounts ($500 to 3,000 is about 85-90% of them!). So it is dumb to pay a counselor $3K to help you land a $500 scholarship. </p>

<p>MOST of the big money comes directly from the colleges. So, you won't know that you are even considered for the Happy College Betsy Best Scholarship for Oboe players until
1) you apply to Happy College and 2) you fill out the FAFSA (early!) and 3) you are admitted and 4) the Happy College staff looks for oboe players and sees that you are one. . . </p>

<p>So, your big challenge, right now, is to 1) get the best Grades, SAT scores that you can. and 2) work hard in class and in the community (this is where those letters of recommendation are being spawned) and 3) do your OWN thinking about where you want to go and what you want to be and then 4) start looking in your state and at the big college books to see what colleges are out there that sound great for a kid like you. </p>

<p>I'd be wary of hiring a counselor --- ask lots of questions. Your mom loves you and wants the best for you. There are a LOT of expenses coming, so make sure this one is worth it.</p>

<p>a great summary olymom!</p>

<p>To me it is a matter of trust. I do not trust anybody to make life changing decisions for me and my family. So, it is very individual, need to ask yourself.</p>

<p>I would say no. My husband and I met with an independent college counselor for an introductory session, because our daughter is homeschooled and we wanted to satisfy ourselves that we could manage the process on our own. We were also concerned because our daughter is an internationally competitive athlete as well as an accomplished student, and we wanted to know if there were any top colleges that would allow her to study part-time or to defer for more than one year.</p>

<p>Long story short--the counselor was clearly not going to be able to tell us anything we did not already know or could not find out for ourselves. Nor was she able to suggest possible fits for our daughter that we had not already identified. We ended up proceeding on our own with very good results.</p>

<p>In our case, there was a fee for the introductory session which was probably a waste of money, but it may have been worth it for our peace of mind.</p>

<p>Personally, I do NOT believe most independent college counselors can get you more than you could get yourself with considerable legwork & hussling. Much of the merit and need-based aid will come from whatever U you end up attending. There really isn't a whole lot of magic they can offer that you can't find by digging thru CC & other useful sites.</p>

<p>OP, it sounds to me like you are doing an excellent job of researching and organizing the college search process. The financial aid search is really no different.</p>

<p>I'm doing it for my daughter because I happen to be a research-freak by nature. You can do this yourself and save a lot of money.</p>

<p>Start with the websites of the schools on your interest-list. Through the Admissions page, you'll navigate to their Scholarships/Grants info, and you can see the requirements and exactly what they offer, as an institution.</p>

<p>Then hit the library. Peterson's and others publish big, fat books, updated yearly, that show all kinds of "specialty" merit aid for which you may qualify.</p>

<p>We have good friends who are paying mega-bucks for this kind of counseling. The mom calls me at least once a week to ask, "Did you know...?" And its always something she got from their consultant that is way more general or basic than the info I am putting together.</p>

<p>I encourage you to do this on your own, or at least give it a try and see if you feel you really need help before paying someone. There is no magic secret info these consultants possess...all it really takes is time and good sleuthing skills!</p>

<p>Best of luck to you!</p>

<p>You have gotten good advice from all sides. If you are looking to expand the pool of choices, particularly looking at colleges outside of your community, or to look at smaller, less well known schools, an independent educational consultant can be a great service. So too, if you are exploring career possibilities or have something unique to explore in the application process (learning issues, special skills and talents, etc). I agree with the advice to avoid any educational consultant who makes outlandish promises: either guarantees to secure funding or scholarships or guarantees to 'get you in' to your college choice. If deciding to hire an educational consultant you should look for those who have been fully vetted. The Independent Educational Consultants Association requires 3 years of experience, reference checks, visits to at least 50 campuses, reviews of marketing materials and agreement to ethical standards. Only about 800 consultants of some 5,000 working nationally have met those standards. Their web site is IECAonline.com.</p>

<p>My son attended a high school with over four thousand students. The handful of counselors were overwhelmed by the numbers. Most kids didn't even know who they're school counselor was.</p>

<p>So, in his freshman year, we began seeing an independent counselor. She helped him tailor his high school curriculum to his planned college major. We met with her a couple of times a year so that she could make sure that he was on track with his goals, and that his goals had not changed. They made adjustments to his plan as time went on.</p>

<p>In his junior and senior years, they began to plan in earnest. She gave him "assignments" to help prepare him for SATs and the application process. She coached him to write his best possible application essays. She read them and offered critiques and suggestions.</p>

<p>She helped him narrow his potential list of colleges, based on his needs and desires, and gave him specific things to look for when he paid visits to the campuses. She held our collective hand for three and a half years, and helped him get into one of his short list schools. The few hundred dollars we paid her for this was small indeed for the confidence she gave my son, and our family.</p>

<p>Could he have done all this by himself for free? Of course. But the peace and calm that she brought to the process was worth far more than we paid for it.</p>

<p>Just my personal experience. Obviously doesn't apply to all.</p>