FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: What is an independent college access counselor?
A: Independent college access counselors do not work for a high school or college, but rather work individually with students to provide one-on-one guidance as a student navigates the process of deciding where to apply, how to create a strong application package, and ultimately how to choose among admissions offers.
Q: Why should we consider hiring an independent college counselor?
A: With each passing year, the college admission process becomes more complex. It also requires strategic planning and adherence to layers of time-sensitive deadlines. Yet, high school counselors are faced with mounting caseloads and responsibilities for more than coaching students through the college admission process, leaving them with far less time to work with individual students. The average high school student will receive less than one hour of individual time with his or her counselor. Even students at private high schools are not likely to get the same targeted advice and guidance from their school counselor as they will with an independent counselor. College preparation advice, whether in public or private schools, may increasingly take the form of large group presentations, rather than individual meetings. Independent counselors also have scheduling flexibility, thus allowing working parents to take part in client sessions as desired.
Q: Won't hiring a counselor make the process more impersonal? I want to take college road trips with my child, bonding and creating lasting memories. If we turn it over to a professional, where's the fun?
A: Keep in mind that admissions jargon may be unfamiliar to many parents, and the college admissions process is driven by progressive and unforgiving deadlines that require organization and strategic planning. Turning it over to a professional can eliminate or at least significantly reduce the mundane aspects of the process, leaving parents and teens less likely to be at odds and freeing up more time for everyone to indulge in the fun part. You'll still be able to take those trips with your teen, but you'll do it armed with a roadmap and a solid plan.
I want parents to have time to enjoy their child's high school years without the power struggles that can ensue from the overwhelming and draining college process. By the same token, students are torn in a number of directions, all of which are important to their development into independent young adults who have a stable academic and social foundation from which to enter college. Time is a valuable commodity, both for parents who realize the precious childhood years are dwindling and for students who need space to grow, focus, and thrive.
Q: Is college access counseling worth the price?
A: Paying for the services of an independent college counselor is an investment similar to the music lessons, sports programs and private lessons, and academic tutoring services that many parents undertake to help their child succeed in various academic and extracurricular pursuits throughout their childhood. The "sticker price" for a bachelor's degree typically ranges $60,000 - $300,000. This significant financial investment deserves the customized attention and navigation you can receive from an independent college counselor.
I believe hiring an independent counselor is a solid investment. A counselor may bring to your attention colleges that have a strong track record of awarding merit aid. Those schools might not otherwise have been considered by a student and/or his family, and yet, if the student receives such an award, the aggregate savings can range from $20,000 - $200,000 or more.
Independent counselors have the time, resources, and training to suggest targeted outside scholarships that will be a good fit for each student. A good counselor can help all families navigate the staggering maze of forms and deadlines associated with being certain your student is considered for all eligible financial aid.
Independent counselors also add value by helping the student target his or her best-fit schools, reducing the likelihood of a student transferring from a poor choice school and losing credit hours or dropping out altogether. Statistics show that 1 out of 3 college students will transfer at least once and that 5 out of 10 students will require 5-6 years to complete an undergraduate degree. Independent counselors can help students avoid or reduce these costly outcomes.
Q: But, we know we make too much money for our child to qualify for needs-based financial aid, and our child does not have a perfect GPA and SAT score so she won't qualify for any merit aid, will she?
A: Even without a perfect academic record, your child may qualify for a merit aid award that can reduce your bottom-line cost by significant amounts. While the Ivy League schools and some of the other top-flight national schools don't award merit aid (or are stingy with it), many thousands of schools, both public and private, do award merit-aid packages worth thousands of dollars. Even some large state public universities give merit-aid awards to entice out-of-state students to attend.
Q: We can't afford private colleges, so why would we hire an independent college counselor to help our student apply to public state schools?
A common myth in the college admissions process is that private schools are more expensive than public state schools. In terms of "sticker price," this is true. However, in many cases, private schools have greater resources to offer more merit aid (which can often reduce the annual cost of attendance to equal or less than the cost of a state university). It is also worth considering that the large state public schools may have lower four-year graduation rates than many private schools (thus, 4 years at private college may be overall less expensive than 5-6 years at a public university). Many public state universities also offer merit aid packages to out-of-state students in an effort to diversify their student body. I will help you identify those opportunities as part of my focus on affordability.
Q: How can I evaluate among several choices for independent college access counselors?
Independent college counselors sometimes work alone or with a small practice of 2-3 principals. Other college counselors may join national organizations that employ a large staff.
If you are considering engaging one of these national companies, you may want to confirm whether the designated staff counselor conducting sessions with your student will remain constant, whether that counselor or other staff who will work with your student has certification and/or other relevant experience, how much of the package plan consists of "boot camps" (group sessions), and whether the organization's focus is college access counseling (some large companies are more focused on their test prep services and/or tutoring, with college access counseling being a smaller segment of the business). At College Dreams Consulting, your student will work directly with me, and I will give him/her very personalized guidance. While most college counselors utilize software to create each student's college list and manage application-related tasks and deadlines, my commitment to my clients is that any software-generated list will be reviewed and adjusted by me to reflect the inputs from my ongoing conversations with the student.
Another factor to consider is expense (and the correlating services delivered for the expense). I have included more information and details under the Services page, but I offer families the means to customize a package that best suits their needs. As I emphasize college affordability in my client sessions, I also want my own services to be a sound and reasonably-priced investment.
Financial aid guidance also can be an "add-on" for some college counselors (increasing costs by $800 - $2000). Some counselors don't provide any advice on this topic until the student's senior year, which is a missed opportunity in my judgment. Identifying relevant financial aid opportunities and evaluating affordability in the context of the larger plan is a core component of my services (and will feature to some extent in all client sessions).
Finally, of course, you want to always evaluate whether a counselor adheres to the highest ethical standards for the profession. Most independent college access counselors are certified professionals and belong to national and regional professional associations. But given recent events, it never hurts to confirm that a counselor you are considering hiring to work with your child is principled, transparent, and communicative with all parties. Ethical counselors will never guarantee admission to any particular institution or write a student's essays or complete their applications for them.
Q: When should my student begin working with a college counselor?
An earlier start reduces stress for everyone and maximizes a student's options. Early discussion of college costs and potentially available resources will aid immeasurably in finding affordable options for a student's family. I recommend no more than 1-2 meetings in each of freshman and sophomore years, with junior year being the most important. Ideally, a student will enter the summer between junior and senior year with a college list, a plan to tour a few schools not already visited, and motivation to begin writing and editing the essays for the applications.
Q: My child just completed junior year. We thought we could handle it on our own, but are now overwhelmed. Can you still help?
I will be happy to help any student and family, no matter where they are in the process. Our work will necessarily need to be streamlined and faster-paced than I might normally recommend, but yes, I can help you navigate the months remaining before the application deadlines.
Q: My student has no idea what he wants to study in college. How can he create a college list?
That's normal and completely okay! That said, I have several career-interest and personality typing tests that may give him some options to consider. In some cases, a university may require applicants to apply for admission into a particular college or school within the university (very typical of business and engineering programs for example). It can be important to avoid the costs of lost credits or opportunities by either committing to or eliminating those paths by fall of senior year. Many universities have flexibility for students to explore a number of interests in the first two years of college, and in fact 6 out of 10 students will change majors at least once. However, the requirements surrounding application to and credits within some specific programs (business and engineering particularly) should be carefully weighed to avoid unnecessary costs and lost credits and opportunities.
Q: My child is an average student. Never mind merit aid, will he even have choices for admission?
Of course! My goal is to help students create a college list that will result in them having good options and choices to make in April of senior year. Each college list should include 3-6 "match" schools (schools where the student's odds of admission are high and hopefully where his/her chances of being granted some merit aid are also strong). These match schools should be colleges where the student can easily picture himself happy and thriving.
Q: My child has faced some academic and/or social challenges. Can you help us position him for a successful college admissions outcome?
Yes. I am happy to work with students who have struggled with anxiety/depression or learning differences or those who are simply late bloomers. While I cannot guarantee admission to any particular school, I believe all students can find several solid choices that will meet their goals and needs. I will also, as needed, identify universities that offer relevant disability support services that may help your child in the transition to college.
Q: Do you provide services for out-of-state or international students?
Yes, I am absolutely happy to work with families outside the Houston area. We can use Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or other methods of video-conferencing for client sessions. Clients (both in and out of Houston) will have interface with me and with all our work-in-progress through my college planning software. Google docs and email will permit me to exchange ideas and feedback regarding essays and other written documents with all my clients.