Which came first the chicken or the egg? Is world peace possible? What is the meaning of life? While the question about hiring a college counselor is not nearly this philosophical, it can often garner just as much heated debate, and like the philosophical questions listed above, there really is not a right or wrong answer. In fact, this is a very individual question that no one else can really answer for you.
There are, however, several factors that you may want to consider before you decide to hire an independent college counselor:
Can I get what I need without independent college counselors?
No one holds the magic secret that will allow you to gain admission to the college of your choice. There is no wizard sitting on a regal, elaborate throne, wand in hand, who holds all of the “right” answers. But, independent counselors generally know their stuff–they have gone through the process with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of students.
That being said, they aren’t necessary for everyone. First, consider what other options you have and if you actually need to hire a consultant.
Am I getting the time I need with my school counselor?
Large public high schools often have a ratio of 1 counselor for approximately 500 students, so some students feel they cannot get the time they need with their counselor. If this is the case for you, then it may be time to look for some additional help.
Does my school counselor have the appropriate experience?
Counselors are responsible for a lot of things beyond just navigating the college process. From bullying and attendance issues to drug and alcohol education, they often have a lot on their plate, and it’s nearly impossible for them to be experts in all of these subjects.
So, if your school counselor doesn’t specialize in college planning, or doesn’t have a lot of experience helping students like you find the right college, you may want to consider other options.
What is my comfort level navigating this process independently?
There is a tremendous amount of information available, especially via the internet, for college-bound students. With some time and patience, you could do this yourself, but should you? If you’re pressed for time, have some special or unique circumstances, or just don’t feel comfortable that you can discover all of the salient information between you, your guidance counselor, and your parents, you might think about hiring someone
Do you understand what admissions officers are really looking for?
There are many nuances involved in the college admissions process. From understanding the basics like “demonstrated interest” to understanding how to write a strong essay or what kind of activities to include in your application, you might choose to have a guide to help you through this process.
Do you feel completely overwhelmed by the process?
The college admission and financial aid processes are much different than they were when your parents applied. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is so much more information available to you now if you have the time and inclination to sift through it all. Think about your comfort zone and what you are confident you can undertake on your own.
I have never attempted to prepare my own tax return. While I might be able to do it if I put aside enough time to do the gobs of research necessary to learn all of the rules and regulations, I’m not very confident and the time necessary would be considerable. Paying someone to help prepare my taxes seems like a good tradeoff. Other people feel differently.
Finding independent college counselors
If you choose to hire an independent college counselor, do your homework. Ask for recommendations, and consider this person’s level of experience, knowledge, and professional affiliations.
Most reputable independent college counselors will belong to the professional organizations that allow them to stay up to date on changes in the field and commit to adhering to a code of ethics. These organizations might include The Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), or a NACAC regional affiliate.
Look for one of these memberships, and a clear track record of success with past students (and students like you!)