The college admission process can be overwhelming. Almost every parent needs some form of help. If you’re not a do-it-yourself type who can do the research, or you simply prefer to hire a professional for tasks that are beyond your grasp, you might consider hiring an independent college advisor.
Since this could be a substantial investment for your family, you should carefully evaluate these questions before hiring one:
1. Does your high school counselor have the time and the experience?
This can be a problem. Some large public schools have a ratio of 1 counselor for every 500 students. This doesn’t translate into much time for your student. Additionally, counselors have other responsibilities to attend to, leaving little time to help students navigate the ins and outs of college applications.
If your student attends a private high school, counselors may have fewer students and more time. College admission is usually a priority in these schools. Still, it’s good to ask about counselor-student ratios, counselor expertise and what kind of help students get.
2. Are you comfortable navigating this process on your own?
No one needs to tell you that there is an overwhelming amount of information to assimilate for college-bound students. Even with the time, research and patience, many parents and students choose to complete this process on their own. However, if the thought of wading through websites, emailing and communicating with experts, editing college essays and learning all the nuances of financial aid is frightening, you might want to ask for help.
For instance, many people choose to do their own income taxes and others choose to hire a professional. In comparison, paying someone to handle the intricacies of college prep might seem like a good investment.
3. Do you know what colleges are looking for in an applicant?
This is a tricky one. It’s possible to do your research on all the aspects of the college application and know what colleges are looking for in an applicant. The information is available to the savvy researcher. But, you might choose to hire someone to guide you through the process, from demonstrating interest to the college essay to the high school resume to financial aid and making the final college choice.
For many families, however, it’s simply a financial decision. A college counselor might be too costly and since the information online is free, they choose to do it on their own.
4. Can you help your student find the best fit and the college that offers the most aid?
Most students aren’t thinking about fit or cost. They look for their dream college – the college that has the reputation, the best football team, and, sometimes, their friends. Finding the best-fit college takes some work. It also requires that you guide your student toward a college that fits your family’s financial needs. There are a substantial number of criteria to consider, along with often widening the search to colleges you might not have heard about.
College counselors have researched colleges, visited them, and understand how to find that perfect fit.
5. How can a college counselor simplify the process?
Independent counselors can motivate your student in ways you cannot. They can help you find the best-fit college for your student, which translates into acceptance and a good financial aid package. And because conflict will inevitably arise between your goals and your student’s goals, the impartial voice will help you avoid that conflict, making the process easier and more bearable.