There are approximately 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Which one is the “right fit” for your student? An independent counselor – a counselor who works privately – can identify the best academic and social environment for your student, at an affordable price, and with a reasonable chance of admission.
Your student’s school counselor will not have time to give your student personal attention. The ratio of public high school counselors to students nationwide is well over 300:1. The numbers here in Arizona are much worse – just over 900:1, the worst ranking in the entire nation. (See “Hectic Schedules, No Help the Norm for Tucson Schools,” Arizona Daily Star, April 14, 2016; “U.S. Student-To-School Counselor Ratio Shows Slight Improvement,” Counseling Today, October 20, 2017). Although the situation is better in private schools, even those counselors are often responsible for dozens of students.
[Note: there may still be a few school counselors out there seeking families to counsel “after hours”. Do not be drawn in. The ethics of that arrangement are questionable – how much effort are they putting in counseling their non-paying students at school? And with so many clients, they, too, are unable to devote the time your student needs.]
Personal attention is key. College counseling is about much more than working on the mechanics of college selection and admission; it is also about working with people. An independent counselor has the time to get to know students, understand their needs, give advice, and help with applications and editing essays. We also explain the process to parents, understand their hopes and expectations, and give feedback about their student’s chances of admission. An independent counselor takes as much stress as possible out of the process by giving everyone a trusted resource to rely upon.
I provide one-on-one counseling in Tucson through all phases of the college selection and admissions process for high school sophomores, juniors, seniors, and their families. I assist with:
- Identifying and assessing student interests.
- Reviewing high school transcripts and standardized test scores.
- Selecting high school classes, enrichment opportunities for gifted students, and extracurricular activities with an eye toward improving chances for college admission, including summer programs and “gap years.”
- Choosing which, and how many, standardized tests (e.g., SAT, SAT II, ACT, AP, CLEP) to take — and when to take them; determining when to use a private test preparation provider.
- Selecting colleges which offer the best “fit” for your student.
- Providing advice on planning college visits.
- Calculating the actual costs of various colleges; considering strategies to reduce that cost.
- Filling out the FAFSA — the financial aid form which determines grants, scholarships, and loans available to your student.
- Assistance in the application process, including deciphering the Common Application, brainstorming and editing essays, and keeping the student informed (including, where necessary, nagging) about deadlines.
Most independent college counselors offer these services. College counseling is a long-term commitment, and my colleagues work tirelessly.
However, it still may not be enough. In an ideal world, a college admissions counselor should devote at least 100 hours to your student. The rest of this article explains why I make that commitment to my clients – and how I keep it.
Why so much time?
As mentioned above, counselors must devote many hours to delivering personal attention and completing the many tasks associated with helping a student apply to college. However, the tipping point has arrived only recently, with the explosion of information about colleges and admissions on the Internet.
For example, magazines devoted to specialty fields are now available online. Are you interested in which colleges nationwide have the best reputation for architecture? Design Intelligence magazine – written for architects and landscape architects – is for you. It will even sell you a very detailed report for about $30. You can find similar information on the Internet for many other fields.
I specialize in finding information about colleges that relates to your student’s needs, interests, and academic record. Guidebooks, college rating services, college web sites. college marketing brochures, and student review web sites provide a lot of general information – my goal is to separate the pertinent information from a sea of noise.
In addition, I use specialized Internet resources to unearth information about individual colleges which will help your family make an informed choice and increase your student’s odds of admission.
How much time does this take? Please read my very first article on this blog: The Data Is Out There — But You Need to Look for It. A deep “data dive” of the type described can take dozens of hours. But as that article demonstrates, it is essential.
How many college counselors will take the time to attempt to track down the information relevant to your student, read and analyze it, consider more than one such source (because sources sometime disagree), and use it to recommend “best fit” colleges to your student? Very few. Most counselors are unwilling or financially unable to devote the necessary time; many do not have the inclination or Internet savvy to do this in-depth research.
The pace of change means that knowledge more than a few years old loses currency. Colleges are in fierce competition with their peers; they are constantly changing their admission criteria to find their niche in the larger ecosystem of 2,000 colleges nationwide. Your counselor must excel at identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses and matching them up with what colleges are currently demanding. Internet research is the best way to determine what qualities colleges value most right now and gear an application accordingly.
When we spend more time on something, we generally get better results.
As an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), I travel the country visiting colleges and speaking with admissions staff (and disability services coordinators). I also have access to the collective wisdom and information of a nationwide network of colleagues. Information is the lifeblood of this business, and my colleagues are a vast resource.
See About Me for more information about my background.
How I work with families
I start by meeting with students and their parents to understand the family’s goals and needs.
After extensive research, I create a list of prospective colleges that are most likely to provide the best environment – academic and social – for the student.
I continue to meet with the student (and keep parents posted) throughout the selection and application process. I meet students where they feel most comfortable – at their homes or even at a Starbucks. In addition to meeting in person, I use Skype, e-mail, text, and that old-fashioned instrument, the telephone. College counseling is a long-term commitment on both sides, but it pays off in results.
Other important information about my services
I also offer specialized assistance for students pursuing careers in the arts (e.g., visual arts, dance, theater, music).
Finally, and very important, I have training and experience in counseling students who have “special needs,” such as students who struggle with ADD/ADHD, ASD, learning differences (LD), impaired processing speed, reduced working memory, language disorders, mood disorders, addiction, and/or trauma. Please see Students With Special Needs / Disabilities for more information.
How much do you charge?
I charge $50 per hour for specific services, such as essay review. However, I prefer to work with students through the entire application process.
The charge for all of my services, including essay review, is $3,500, payable in installments, with the following exceptions.
I offer discounts for members of the armed forces.
As noted above, I offer specialized assistance for students pursuing careers in the arts (e.g., visual arts, dance, theater, music). I charge $4,500 for those students because they typically must apply to many more colleges because acceptance rates for performing arts programs can be incredibly low.
Note: I do not charge extra for students with special needs / disabilities.
How can you afford to charge less than your competitors?
Like a few other retirees working in “encore careers,” I aim to make only a modest profit after absorbing expenses, including attending educational conferences and visiting colleges all over the country. I take on no more than five clients at a time to enjoy the luxury of providing each with an unusual amount of attention. This allows me to spend the extra time needed to do a superior job and still charge much less than other skilled counselors.
Why should I spend $3,500 when I am already looking at a huge tuition bill?
If you are planning to pay somewhere in the six-figure dollar range during the next four years in college tuition, you should invest a tiny fraction of that amount in my services. I may find a “best fit” college at a lower price point than you expect. In addition to documenting financial need for grants and loans, I often advise students to pursue “merit aid” scholarships (more like tuition discounts) which colleges award without regard to a family’s demonstrated financial need.
Even if your student does not secure an immediate financial benefit, students are more likely to thrive in – and graduate from – colleges that best suit their interests and needs. This is the ultimate goal, and I can help your family achieve it.
Do you expect me to spend $3,500 for my student to apply to the University of Arizona?
No. If your student plans to attend college in-state, then you do not need to hire any counselor. These are fine schools, but their applications take only about 30-60 minutes to complete.
Do you provide college counseling for students with disabilities?
Yes. I have training and experience in counseling students who have “special needs,” such as students who struggle with ADD/ADHD, ASD, learning differences (LD), impaired processing speed, reduced working memory, language disorders, mood disorders, addiction, and/or trauma. Please see Students With Special Needs / Disabilities for more information.
Note: I do not charge more for those students.
Considering hiring an out-of-town counselor?
Read The Tucson Advantage first — it’s an eye-opener.