When our son Mark was in high school, we hired a college consultant — someone to help us navigate the complicated path to the right school. It worked. Mark just finished his third year at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he’s thriving. Now, we’re using the same counselor to help our high-school-junior daughter, Kelly, find the school that’s right for her.
College counselors aren’t just for the wealthy anymore. “More and more average families are using counselors. There’s a wide range of services, and prices can be affordable. If the goal is to have your child attend college and be happy and successful, a counselor is able to identify the best-fit colleges for your child and to do a lot of research you can’t possibly do,” says Ann Laurion of The College Navigator, the counselor who has been working with my family.
Not every student needs a college counselor. I have a nephew who had his heart set on Penn State early on, and had the grades to get accepted. He had visited the school many times and was sure it would be a good fit for him. His family agreed.
But Mark was considering schools throughout the Northeast. And Kelly is open to going almost anywhere in the U.S. With more than 3,000 colleges in the country, it would be nearly impossible to figure out which ones might be best academically, socially and financially.
“Everybody knows the name brand schools, but they are incredibly tough to get into,” Laurion says. “And just because a school is famous or expensive or you’ve heard of it doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your child.”
What do college counselors do?
Counselors help students present their best selves, says Brooke Daly, president of the Higher Education Consultants Organization. “What have they accomplished and how can they present that in a compelling way?”
Finding a college takes a lot of energy, time and bandwidth. “If you feel overwhelmed and can’t handle another parenting duty, an independent educational consultant might be a good solution,” says Maruta Vitols, an independent college consultant with A+ College Consulting in Newton, Mass.
I think the most valuable service for my family is the list of reach, midrange and safety schools that Laurion thinks are a good fit academically, socially and financially.
“College counselors can help students discover opportunities they didn’t know existed,” Daly says. “They often do aptitude and personality assessments so kids can better understand what majors and careers might be good fits.”
Counselors create college lists after getting to know the student well. “Anyone can stick information into a computer program and get a list of colleges. That doesn’t mean they are a good fit for your child,” Laurion says. Counselors can blend their knowledge of schools with what they learn about your student to develop a personalized list.
For example, Laurion added some southern schools to Kelly’s list even though Kelly didn’t think she wanted to go south. With another winter behind her, though, the idea of college in a warmer climate is sounding appealing. On the other hand, Laurion understands that Kelly strongly prefers urban and suburban settings, so there aren’t any rural schools on her list.
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Academics, social life and finances are all part of the mix
Academically, counselors will look at grades and test scores. They will also consider learning styles, and whether a student might do better in a smaller, more personalized college or a larger university.
Socially, counselors might ask your child where they stand politically, what kinds of friends they want, and how often they want to come home. The answers help find the places your child is most likely to thrive.