In a recent college admission industry journal a brave admissions Vice President commented that “Sadly, in the last 20 years we have lost our way in admissions. Colleges are no longer centered on counseling students; we are focused more on recruiting and competing for them. The students are just a way of keeping score. Furthermore, we charge different prices to students whom we value more or less because of our internal institutional priorities…Private counselors who strike a balance between helping students find the right match for their abilities, interests, and personality and assisting families in locating affordable choices are valuable.”
We couldn’t agree more. So who is looking out for your student in the admissions and financial aid process? Not the colleges anymore. Independent counselors, however, have no agenda other than what is best for their students. College is big business, first and foremost. You may not need a CPA to do your basic taxes and you may not need legal help for routine matters. But if you’re facing an IRS audit or having to go to court you want a professional in your corner. The same can be said of college admission and financial aid. The stakes are high, to say the least. Given that a bachelors degree from a public institution will cost $50,000 to $75,000 and a degree from a private institution can cost upwards of $175,000 or more the dollars alone beg for a professional’s expertise. Consider also that the difference in average lifetime earnings between a high school graduate and a college graduate is $1.2 million and climbing.
So where can you find help? And how do you know that you’ve found a professional?
In an ideal world, the first place to seek assistance would be from your high school counseling office. But in real ity, too many high school counselors are not ‘college’ counselors per se; only a small amount of their time and resources are dedicated to college admission and only very rarely do counselors understand the intricacies of the financial aid process. Too many counselors are simply overworked and lack the time and resources to offer meaningful personal attention and guidance.
There are also no widely-known and recognized certifications for independent counselors such as the CFP or CPA designations, although such certifications do exist. And it is all too easy to find ‘independent counselors’ with little or no experience other than their own children’s admissions and financial aid processes. A disgruntled parent can make a bad counselor.
However, armed with the right questions, you can find true experienced professionals. When interviewing an independent college counselor be sure to have these questions answered to your satisfaction:
1. Professional Credentials/Experience
Do not ask if they have college admission and college counseling experience – ask them to tell you specifically how many years in admissions, how many years in financial aid, how many years in college counseling, how many years in private practice, and which institutions they served. The ideal is to find someone – or a team – who has direct experience in all of these areas and knows the tips, tricks, ins, outs, politics, processes, calendars, expectations, and language of college admission and financial aid. 2. Professional Associations
Ask if your independent counselor is a current member of professional associations. Professional associations, such as regional chapters of the National Association of College Admission Counseling, keep counselors up to speed with developments, issues, ethics, and news within the college admission and financial aid i ndustries, not to mention that such associations foster collegial relationships between professionals. It would be nice to have your counselor personally know the deans and directors at the colleges your student will apply to.
3. Number of students
You want to know that your counselor is a full time professional and will work with your student appropriately. However, you also want your counselor to have a reasonable case load. You do not want your student to be that counselor’s fourth (why so few – does she know what she’s doing?) nor his 400th (will he be able to spend any time with my student?). 4. College & Campus Familiarity
You want to know that your counselor has personal experience with many different campuses and that they visit different colleges whenever possible. Matching the student to the right college is crucial. Colleges have personalities. Students have personalities. If your counsel or has not visited the campus they do not have a good understanding of the college, period. It would be like finding a mate through an old-fashioned classified ad (nice college with leafy trees and okay professors seeks student with 1200 SAT score…). The better the counselor knows the colleges and knows the students the more successful the matching. 45% of students who start college do not finish; often this is because the it’s just not the right place for them and, frustrated and demoralized, they drop out.
5. Money Matters
No, we’re not talking about counselor fees here (although these vary wildly – we’ve seen everything between $500 and $30,000). You need to know to what extent your counselor understands the financial aid process. Ask if they fill out or help you with the FAFSA and CSS Profile applications for need-based financial aid. Ask them if they think you need to fill out the forms even if you don’t think you will qualify for need-based aid (the answer is yes, of course, so you can be eligible for merit awards and loan packages). Ask if they will be able to provide you with a college funding plan with a breakdown of estimated family contribution numbers, line-by-line estimated financial aid packages, and if they work with a financial planner or college funding specialist to suggest ways to improve the family’s bottom line. Most independent college counselors do little to none of this, so you may want to cut them some slack; just know that such help is out there for those who want and need it.
The stakes are high, but there is excellent help available. Just be sure you find a pro, someone you trust, respect, and whom you know will work well with your student.
About the author:
Author: Bill McCumber
Bill McCumber is the founder of iCollegeCoach, a leading provider of college search, admission, financial aid, and college funding services. For more information please call 1-877-Coach-13 or visit icollegecoach/”>http://icollegecoach.com”>iCollegeCoach