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In the modern academic environment, the college application process has become lengthy and competitive. Waiting until senior year to prepare for college is no longer a realistic option as schools that were once accessible to the average student have become selective; having a perfect report card is no longer enough to guarantee admittance to the best colleges. Navigating admissions forms, entrance exams and personal essays can be overwhelming, especially for a high school junior who’s tackling a full raft of classes, extracurricular activities and volunteer obligations. Students facing the daunting battle of college admissions don’t have to face this challenge alone; college admissions counselors can help guide students through the process, simplifying and streamlining the intimidating college application.

How Can a College Counselor Help Me?

College counselors offer a wide range of services to families of students seeking to enroll in college. These services vary depending on when the counselor is hired. For middle school students, college admissions counselors can help shape the early academic path for these young scholars. After learning about the interests, academic goals and career goals of the student, the college admission counselor can begin making suggestions, beginning with class choices. The counselor may also make recommendations on extracurricular activities, school clubs and volunteer opportunities to pursue.

For students in high school, college counseling is even more important. Freshmen and sophomores can still make use of a counselor’s advice to select the best classes to help them get into their preferred schools. However, as the junior year of high school draws closer, counselors must work hard with their clients to begin the college application process. This starts with the student selecting the colleges that she would like to apply to and the counselor giving honest feedback on those choices, giving the student an idea of which colleges she can likely get into. The private college counselor can then draw up a plan for fulfilling the application requirements for each college on a timely schedule.

Together, the counselor and the student can work on each application. Some college counselors help students prepare for the SAT or the ACT test directly through tutoring; even if your counselor doesn’t offer that service, they can probably recommend a reputable tutor for you. Counselors can also offer advice on all stages of your admissions essays. They can help you select a compelling topic, point out weaknesses in your essays, proofread for any spelling or grammar errors, and provide general editorial support for each of your essays.

College counselors also perform some other critical roles, including helping families find financial aid options for college. The sheer number of aid options and the applications required to secure them can be daunting, and college admissions counselors can help families to narrow the field and concentrate on the scholarships and other financial aid packages that are most likely to bear fruit. Some colleges require in-person interviews in order to be accepted, and counselors can help students prepare for this event through both general advice and conducting mock interviews. Finally, with their in-depth knowledge of universities, counselors can help the student make the final choice of which school to attend.

Do I Need a College Counselor?

Before seeking out college admissions counseling, you need to carefully think about your own situation and your needs. Start by considering your academic goals and dreams. If you want to attend an Ivy League school, a college counselor can help improve your chances of acceptance. Most college counselors have experience working with the major universities and have likely helped several students gain entrance into these prestigious schools. Counselors can help mold you into the type of student that most Ivy League schools desire. A college counselor cannot promise that you will make it into a top-tier school, but he can make sure your application is in top condition.

You may also want to consider hiring a college counselor if you want to get into a specialized school, such as an art or music school. These universities require extra work for their applicants, including portfolios and auditions. By walking you through the application process, counselors make sure that you’re prepared for all of these special requirements and aren’t left scrambling because you didn’t realize that you were missing a key component of the application.

College counselors are also good choices for students with uncommon educational backgrounds whose transcripts and records don’t conform to the typical format. For example, a homeschooled student will have records that are different from students at the local high school, making it a challenge for colleges to evaluate his academic record fairly. Transfer students, international students and students who have missed significant numbers of school days due to chronic conditions may also need extra help when applying for college. College counselors can help these students work directly with the school to ensure they get a chance to attend the school of their dreams. For students with special needs, hiring a counselor is often a good idea; counselors can help point these students towards the schools that can best accommodate their needs.

If you and your family are feeling anxious about any aspect of the college application process, hiring a college counselor may alleviate some of the stress. While many colleges now have simpler admissions thanks to online submission forms, the entire process is still time-consuming and challenging. Counselors can help everyone stay focused and keep track of essential deadlines. You should also consider hiring a counselor if you need help working through the financial aid options available to you.

If your high school’s regular guidance counselors are stretched to their limits, you may want to hire a college counselor. High school guidance counselors are often responsible for helping high school students make the jump to college, but many of them are overworked and simply have to focus on too many students to give each individual student the attention he or she needs. If your high school is not providing as much assistance as you feel you need, a college counselor may fill the gaps.

Finding a College Counselor to Fit Your Needs

You can begin your search for the ideal college counselor for your family’s situation by asking for recommendations from family and friends. Students who successfully got into their desired college with the help of a counselor can tell you more about their own experience in the process. Your local high school may have a list of trusted college admissions counselors that you can consult. You can also use the Internet to find local counselors.

Carefully researching potential college counselors can ensure that you get your money’s worth and improve your child’s chances of getting into their desired school. There are several characteristics that you can look for in your search, including previous employment and educational certificates.
Begin your search by looking for counselors with solid experience in the field. Often, counselors have spent time as a college admissions officer before deciding to become an admissions counselor. This type of experience gives counselors firsthand knowledge of what colleges are seeking in prospective students and can give you quality pointers on your application.

The educational achievements and certifications that a counselor holds are also important. Some college counselors become certified by the  American Institute of Certified Educational Planners . This college counseling certificate requires a number of accomplishments, including earning a master’s degree, passing a test and fulfilling visiting requirements at universities and colleges. College counselors can also earn advanced certificates from universities that offer their own classes in college counseling. You may also want to consider looking for a counselor that belongs to reputable organizations, such as the  National Association for College Admission Counseling .

After you’ve made a list of potential candidates to hire, it’s time to chat one-on-one with each choice. Asking the right questions can help you make a good decision. You can start by asking for the success rate of each counselor to get a feel for their expertise. If you already have a list of colleges that you plan to apply to, ask each counselor if they have had success helping students enroll in those same schools. It’s also a good idea to ask about the specific process each counselor uses for their clients and if they are willing to meet and work with you regularly. Find out what each prospective counselor’s current commitments are; if a counselor is already overbooked, they may not be able to give you as much time as you would like, defeating the point of hiring a consultant to begin with. Try to get a feel for your counselor’s personality to make sure that it will work for you or your child. Finally, ask about the services that each individual counselor offers. If you need someone who offers SAT tutoring services, for example, you may want to pass on a counselor who doesn’t offer those services.

Getting into a good college can be hard, but it’s possible to get into the school of your dreams with proper preparation and good advice. Consulting an independent college counselor can help with all aspects of the college application process, from test preparation to school selection. By starting early and listening to your college counselor, you can maximize your chances of attending a good college.

Additional Resources:

College Admissions Library
Do I Need College Consulting?
How To Apply for College
How To Write the Perfect College Admissions Essay

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