To Hire or Not to Hire: The Independent Counselor

I was reading through an interesting article last week:

and thought to add some of my own thoughts to this relevant question.

Typically in India you have excellent sources for help with parents, friends and college ranking magazines as you make your way through the college admissions process. But chances are Mom and Dad can offer little more than moral and financial support, friends may be misleading and rankings are not based on where you will fit in best. On average, the ratio of students to college counselors in schools is 150 to 1. In some cases, a single counselor manages the college planning activities of the entire school! That doesn’t leave a lot of one-on-one time for you.  In all but a few cases, these counselors do not have in depth knowledge of the over 3500 universities in the US. 

 A personal college consultant can provide the individualized attention your family needs to properly understand how the college admissions process works. Whether you’re the first person in your family to go abroad to college or your parents are old hands at college admissions, a consultant gives you the edge to find—and get in to—your perfect college fit.


What can an Independent Counselor offer that no one else can?

    •         Personalized, one-on-one consulting time: Make sure that your the counselor does not have so many students that s/he won't be able to focus on you. It is hard to know how many students s/he works with, so speaking to past clients may be best way to find out about personalized attention.

    •         Expertise that only a full-time professional can provide: Does the counselor have another job? Does s/he spend 100% of their time in working on strategies to improve a students knowledge of and chances at getting into the best school for their own goals and objectives?

    •         There are no “Tricks of the trade”! If the counselor uses phrases like "I have contacts in Ivy Universities", or "I Placed students", they are probably not right for you. Navigating the process of admissions is challenging, but there is no special magic involved.

    •         Unbiased, inside knowledge of a wide range of colleges—you may be surprised to learn where you’re best suited to attend!  Personalized plan for finding the “right fit” school for each unique student ~ no cookie cutter type college choice questionnaires. While I do not believe that it is necessary for someone to have studied abroad to be a good independent counselor, I would test their knowledge of universities abroad. Questions to ask the potential counselors to judge this: "How often do you tour colleges abroad, can I read about your recent trips somewhere?" "Are you a member of any counseling associations?" (They should be member of either IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) or OACAC (Overseas Association for College Admissions Counseling).

    •         Complete understanding of how the admissions process works in various locations—from test preparation and college search to financial aid, applications and transition. This should not be presented as "Hand Holding", but instead the goal should be to empower the student to succeed in this process using the counselor as a resource.

    •         Personal insight into your individual goals, which can shape where you want to go and what you want to study: The 10 Year “forwards to backward technique”.  Career exploration, choosing majors, understanding the living-learning environment. Find out how s/he keeps in touch with students once they leave. Again, if a counselor works with too many students, this is not possible.

    •         Understanding of what it takes for admission into the nation’s most competitive schools: Indian families very often have aspirations for the most selective colleges in the US and UK. You are not looking for the independent counselor to be your Cheerleader, but to give you Frank and Honest advice.

 Many private counselors will have specific questionnaires or feedback databases to help you find the right fit, these are general searches that typically asks you important questions about your academic history, personal background, future career and college goals, and what types of things you would like to discuss with your consultant. What extra-curricular activities do you participate in? How many? Do you have a part-time job? What grades did you receive in which classes?  While all of these questions are very important, sometimes students have not really defined these yet.  This is one of the most important areas to define prior to targeting schools.  This is time consuming and requires input from the entire family, how does this potential counselor incorporate the family into the decision?

Competition for acceptance in colleges and universities is at an all-time high. But more importantly, this is a huge investment and you want to be sure that you are choosing the right fit for you. In this kind of environment, it pays to have someone with the time, expertise, and commitment to ensure you get in where you want to go.  I always look at it this way, if you are making a $200,000 + investment, wouldn't you want to have a professional help with the due diligence first? But, you need to do your own due diligence to make sure that the "professional" is actually a Professional!