As with so many things in life, when it comes to applying to college, knowledge is power.
The more you know—about colleges, the application process, financial aid, etc.—the better off you’ll be in terms of finding schools that are a good fit, gaining admission, and making a well-informed decision about where to go.
While some students choose to navigate the college search and admissions process alone, others turn to their school counselors for assistance.
But the reality is that most high school students don’t get adequate help or support from their school counselors.
Consider the following statistics:
- The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that “schools maintain a ratio of 250 students per school counselor, and that school counselors spend at least 80% of their time working directly with or indirectly for students.
- However, “across American high schools, the average student-to-school-counselor ratio is 311 students to 1,” according to the ASCA.
- According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), public high school counselors spend only 21% of their time on postsecondary planning/college counseling.
- What’s more, public high school students in the U.S. receive an average of just 38 minutes of college counseling per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Sometimes, parents step in and become students’ college counselors.
These parents feel they can educate themselves on the admissions process and various college options and then use this knowledge to help their kids. And with all of the information that’s out there, especially on the internet, that very well may be possible.
What Questions Should You Ask a College Consultant
Not every parent is able or willing to play the role of college consultant.
Unlike high school counselors, independent college consultants have very small caseloads; many don’t work with more than 20 to 25 students at any given time.
And while most school counselors’ time is split between college counseling and many other duties, consultants only do college counseling.
If you’re considering hiring a college consultant, there are some important questions that you should ask yourself.
First, what do you hope to gain from working with a consultant?
If you want someone with knowledge and experience to guide your student through what can be a stressful and overwhelming process, consultants can do that.
If you feel your teenager will respond better to someone who isn’t a parent, and you want to avoid arguments with your child, a consultant might be the way to go.
But if you expect a consultant to get your kid into college, that’s not only unrealistic but also unethical on the part of the consultant.
Consultants help students understand their chances of admission at different colleges and assist students in completing applications in a way that makes them stand out.
However, consultants cannot—and should not—guarantee admission to particular colleges.
Ethics is a large part of the relationship between consultant and parent. If you come across a consultant who makes such promises that seem unethical, look elsewhere.
What to Look for When Choosing a College Consultant
Be sure to inquire about their educational and professional backgrounds as you’re evaluating potential consultants. This includes:
- Do they hold a relevant degree or a certificate in college counseling?
- Do they have experience in college admissions and/or high school counseling?
- Do they belong to any professional organizations?
If a consultant can’t answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should think twice about hiring them.
There are consultants whose only experience is helping their own kids with the college search and admissions process, which does not necessarily make them qualified to help others.
Are There Professional Associations for College Consultants?
There are several professional organizations to which consultants might belong, including the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), NACAC, and state and regional affiliates of NACAC.
Each organizations’ requirements for joining and maintaining membership vary somewhat and may include a minimum number of years of experience, a recommendation from a current member, a certain number of college visits per year, and/or a minimum amount of professional development per year.
All of these organizations require members to abide by ethical standards.
It’s a good sign when consultants are members of these organizations because they’re part of the professional community of college consultants and abide by ethical standards of these organizations.
You should also ask consultants about their expertise and services in regard to financial aid.
Most college consultants don’t have a background in financial planning and therefore aren’t qualified to help individuals evaluate their financial situation or figure out how to redistribute their assets so they’ll qualify for more financial aid.
On the flip side, there are financial planners who specialize in college financing, but they generally don’t have the expertise about schools, programs, and the application process that college consultants do.
Some consultants will advise clients on completing financial aid applications, while others may only help students find and apply for merit-based scholarships.
All consultants, however, should be able to recommend colleges that are within clients’ budgets, whether the clients are able to pay full price or will need to receive need- and/or merit-based aid.
Is an Independent College Consultant Worth the Money?
Some people are hesitant to hire a consultant because of the cost. Yet, consider the potential costs you and your child will incur if they make the wrong college choice.
More than one-third of all college students transfer to a different college, often losing credits, time, and money.
Nationally, “49.8% of all college graduates earn bachelor’s degrees” and “23.5% of bachelor’s degree-earners take more than four (4) years to complete their program,” according to Education Data Initiative.
College is very expensive and even one extra semester can cost thousands of dollars. Therefore, the importance of choosing the right college, the first time, cannot be overstated.
A consultant will take the time to get to know your child and recommend colleges that are a good fit—places where they will be successful, happy, and more likely to graduate on time.
Furthermore, if a consultant helps students with financial aid and scholarships, the awards students receive often more than make up for the consultant’s fee.
If you decide to hire a consultant, be sure to involve your child in selecting one. After all, it’s your kid, not you, who will primarily be working with a consultant. And just as it’s important to find a college that’s a good fit, it’s equally important to find a consultant with whom your child is comfortable.
If your student doesn’t connect with or trust the consultant you hire, the consultant will have a very difficult time helping them through the process.
Sometimes, people attempt to do things on their own, only to realize that a seemingly simple task is much more difficult than they anticipated and that they would have been better off hiring a professional.
When it comes to college admissions, “going it alone” may work for some. But for others, seeking outside help may be money well spent.
College Counseling Everyone Can Afford
For families looking for support and guidance on their admissions and paying for college journey, we created Road2College’s College Insights Academy (CIA).
We believe it’s just as important to give expert guidance as it is to provide services at a price everyone can afford. So CIA offers three membership levels—Essential, Plus, and Live.
Depending on which option you choose, you’ll have access to a combination of group coaching sessions combined with personalized advice, including our community, tools, and resources you won’t find on your own. Working together, you’ll be able to make smarter college decisions.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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