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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

College Consultants & HS Counselors - Competitors or Collaborators?

Create a College Prep Power Team:
Use the services of both a College Consultant AND your HS counselor

How the work of a college consultant complements that of the high school counselor

Freshman Year

Some school counselors give a HS success 101 presentation to teach freshman  the basics about time management, good study skills, social interactions, and teacher expectations.  It’s given as a presentation to a group of students.  I provide the same information to each of my clients, then walk them step by step through implementation of the various strategies, helping each of them develop his or her skills, providing one on one coaching and personal encouragement along the way.

Most of the time, high school counselors explain how to create a 4-year high school course plan during their presentation to the freshman class.  The focus is on ensuring that the students are on track to complete all the high school's graduation requirements in four years. I create a course plan with each individual student. We review and adjust it regularly as the student progresses through HS to incorporate the requirements for the level (top tier, state school, etc.) and type of college (liberal arts, engineering, art, etc.) the student is likely to attend..

Sadly, it is not uncommon for HS counselors to have out of date and/or incomplete information.  They simply have too much to keep up with.  I have seen counseling department brochures from expensive private high schools stating that they administer the ACT’s PLAN & EXPLORE tests despite the fact that those tests were discontinued four years ago and have been replaced by the Pre-ACT[1][2][3]. I wonder, if the school counselors haven’t had time to update their brochure, what else are they not up to date on or able to keep up with?  I have also found high school counselors completely unfamiliar with the admissions requirements for schools many of their students apply to year after year.

While it is extremely helpful to students to start exploring their interests and correlate them to potential careers, high school counselors don't provide support for this process.  For my part, to help students explore possible careers that correlate to their interests and personalities , I use a prestigious online tool, which gives specific career options and provides links to majors that prepare students for those careers, and colleges that offer those majors.  Using the tool’s results and resources, I begin a series of conversations to facilitate the students' deeper exploration of potential career fields.  I guide each student, showing each one how to explore careers and, ultimately, job shadow and/or intern with professionals in the field(s) the student is seriously considering. We explore as many fields as the student would like.  We do this during freshman, sophomore, and, if needed, junior years.  As we progress, we use this information to determine and refine the student's college goals.

Depending on the student’s expressed interests, I guide my clients to prepare for and start to take AP and/or SAT subject tests as early as freshman year, if they are considering applying to selective colleges.  My clients are often accumulating robust credentials and building impressive resumes from the beginning of high school.  This, of course, depends on the skills, interests, and goals of each student.

I guide my clients as they select extracurricular activities from sports, to clubs, and from mere membership to leadership, from casually exploring their interests beyond the confines of the classroom to engaging in significant research, internships, and other possibilities.  These extra curricular activities form an important component of student development and the development of their academic and career interests.

Sophomore Year

At some point, many school counselors offer much needed depression and suicide prevention information in addition to assistance with staying on track to graduate.

High school counselors do not mentor students to become leaders, improve their social skills (like conflict resolution, agenda preparation, project planning, etc.)  I do those things, along with continuing the career exploration and college search.  My students will have a preliminary list of schools by the end of sophomore year.  Again, I guide students to appropriate testing and other activities that will both develop them and provide a robust list of achievements which will be appreciated by admissions at their target schools.  My primary focus is on the development of each student however, I keep the admissions requirements of the student’s target schools in mind.  The vast majority of high school counselors haven't brought up the subject of college preparations yet - and won't until the middle of the junior year.

Junior Year

A few schools offer a practice ACT  or SAT on campus, which is a boon to their students. Additionally, some of them will give classroom talks to introduce the college search and application process.  By this time, however, my clients have already created an initial college list of about 25 schools.  My students have been visiting campuses for a couple of years. By having the rough school list, we have already identified which tests and high school classes should be taken at what times.  Testing for college can begin as early as freshman year.  By junior year, my clients have a pretty solid idea of what they are looking for in a college and what it will take for them to get accepted into schools that provide the opportunities they are looking for.

Some schools or school districts host a career fair but typically only recommend that upperclassmen attend.  In fact, it would be better to attend during freshman and sophomore years. For my clients, attending this during the junior year will be an opportunity to secure internships, not to start exploring careers. 

Some counselors and schools (or school districts) also host a college fair.  For students not working with me or one of my colleagues, this will be the first exposure for their students to the various college options which exist.  My clients, on the other hand, are already focused on schools that meet their requirements.  They will be asking refined questions if they even take the time to attend it.  College fairs are not opportunities to meet with professors and students, but opportunities to gather marketing materials and speak to the various schools’ alumni representatives or admissions reps(salesmen), which is valuable at the outset of the college search, but not adequate later on.

By the end of the junior year, my clients will have their school list finalized and will be pre-writing their application essays.  Over the summer, the bulk of the application preparation tasks will be completed.

Senior Year

Most schools hold a college planning night and encourage their seniors to attend.  Occasionally, they will offer these in the Spring and invite the juniors to attend.  Nonetheless, late junior year or the fall of senior year is quite late in the process; applications open July 1 and August 1 and financial aid applications open October 1.  Again, it is not at all uncommon for the presentations to include outdated or inaccurate information.  School counselors mention almost about financial aid or college funding and, if they do, it will be very basic information.  It will include no strategies, even general ones, beyond the counsel to be sure to file the forms.  As a college consultant, I integrate each client’s financial considerations and funding strategies into my work from freshman year on, and complete and file the financial aid application forms on behalf of my client families during the senior year.

Some high school counselors have 1:1 meetings with each senior to explore and explain the application process.  For many, this will be the first one on one meeting with their counselor that is not about class selection and graduation requirements.  Having this meeting is good, but again comes too late in the process.  Early application deadlines are October 15 or November 1 for most schools and December 1 for a few.  Therefore, having an introduction to the application meeting in September is really late in the cycle.  Early in the summer, I sit with each client and prepare and application strategy and determine which application(s) to use in order to best showcase their accomplishments.  My clients have their essays and resumes finished in the summer and start the application completion process as soon as the applications open.  They will have already taken care of getting teacher counselor recommendations and transcripts.  I give them guidelines to share with their teachers so excellent recommendations are written, particularly for students targeting highly selective colleges.

High School counselors don’t guide students step by step through the application process, determining which applications to use when there are options, staying on top of the various deadlines, which application strategy to use at each school, and they don’t work with each student over several months to craft application essays.  In contrast, I do these things one on one with each of my clients.

Another way which I supplement the work of the high school counselor is my perspective.  Every high school offers some sort of advanced courses.  For many, that includes Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Depending on what is available, students targeting more selective schools may need to augment those offerings.  High school counselors usually think only in terms of what their high school offers.  A few will incorporate commonly used supplemental course offering.  In comparison,  I have at least three approaches to this situation for an academically gifted student.

I always try to work collaboratively with each student’s high school counselor(s).  I urge my clients to meet with their school counselors often throughout their high school years.  This enables their high school counselors will be able to write meaningful recommendations for them.

When should we start with a college consultant?

Most people wait until junior year to start.  As you can see from the description above, students will benefit in proportion to the length of time we work together.  Waiting until junior year to start significantly limits what I or any college consultant can do because the student’s courses have been selected, there are limited opportunities for testing left, the time for the college evaluation process is very truncated, and the college list determines the testing, courses, and extracurricular achievements required to be a successful applicant.  The student’s results are negatively impacted. Additionally the personal encouragement and mentoring given as the student develops is also limited.

The difference in the process can be succinctly stated: the later you start, the fewer options you have and the poorer your results will be.  Students who are even considering applying to highly selective or selective schools need the time and guidance to develop themselves and accumulate the accomplishments, etc. needed to have a reasonable chance of acceptance.  If there are financial considerations, starting early will also afford the opportunity to address them as well, utilizing several strategies that can significantly lower the net cost of college.

Students who need more time to ponder their options will also need more time working one on one will a college consultant.

I meet with parents separately to evaluate the financial side of things.  I provide guidance on both the need based and merit based aid sides, as well as private scholarships, if desired.

I provide my clients with a number of proprietary materials including an achievements resume guide, a campus visit guide, a financial aid primer, sample admissions interview questions, and other resources.  I make them available to students as they are needed.  I also have resources such as the 100 Most Generous American Colleges & Universities, which I utilize and provide to clients.

A Word about High School Counselors

Most high schools in the US, whether public or private, have 1 counselor for every 400-900 students. These hard working school counselors handle class schedules, behavioral issues, transfers, testing (AP, PSAT, etc.), emotional issues, administrative issues, college visits, parent questions, IEPs, 504s, etc. While the American School Counselor Association recommends 250 students per counselor, their online records from 2013/2014 reveal that only three states have a student/counselor ratio less than that; the other 47 all have significantly higher ratios.  Nine states have average ratios of over 600 students/counselor!  Even at the ideal 250 students/counselor, if the counselor has students from all four grades, s/he will have 63 seniors, which is still FAR too many to thoroughly prepare for college and other post high school situations, even if that was the only task those counselors had to accomplish.

High school counselors usually also offer college prep resources to their students but have only a very limited amount of time to give individual guidance. While it is wonderful that they do provide some tools and resources to the students, we all know that tools in the hands of the ignorant are rarely used very effectively.  Tools in the hands of seasoned experts, however, typically yield significantly better results. I am a trained expert and I have been guiding students through the entire college preparation, selection, and application processes since 2004.  

HS counselors provide most of their college prep guidance via small group counseling and classroom guidance lessons.  Individual counseling is available as needed, of course, for the distressed, those needing to change their schedules, etc.  Periodic check ins vary from school to school but tend to be short meetings that happen very infrequently and are primarily focused on ensuring that the student will meet all of the graduation requirements or on gathering information about where students will be going to college so the high school can keep records.  Sadly, it often not until senior year that counselors meet with students one on one to discuss their post high school plans.  This limits the scope of these meetings; it is simply too late for a number of options - if the student hasn't already begun on his or her own, it's too late to start and be successful.

For more information:

Katherine O'Brien is the Founder of Celtic College Consultants.  Information regarding their college consulting services, as well as an option to request a meeting to discuss your family's situation, are on her website:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The average length of time to earn a bachelors degree is SIX years!!

Working during HS to set a goal is KEY to graduating in FOUR years

I was recently asked by a very experienced, elite tutor if making a goal really makes a difference. Here's what I told him - and his colleagues...
Over the years, I have found it essential for students to have a goal, even if it’s a bit “fuzzy.” Having a goal in mind motivates students to improve their scores, more deeply explore a field (which also demonstrates that they are working beyond their regular schoolwork. Also, they look at colleges differently when they visit because they are much more engaged in the process and are better able to differentiate the type of learning environment they prefer.
The student's desire to go to x,y, z schools because they have great programs in his or her field(s) of interest is a concrete motivator to keep grades up, take demanding classes, and to be well prepared for the various tests. If they have any tier one colleges/universities on their list, students will have a focus and a drive to go above and beyond the offerings of their high school, which is something the top schools expect. Sometimes the students learn that they don’t like whatever the field was as much as they thought they did. Sometimes they shift to an adjacent field, while other times they make a significant change. It costs you nothing to change your major while you are in high schools whereas it can significantly increase your costs to do so while you are in college (about $50,000 for one additional year of college and $100,000 for two).
In all cases, students come to better know, and be more comfortable with, themselves. Their confidence is boosted. Even learning what you don’t like and where you don’t thrive is beneficial self knowledge. I turn the college selection bit on its head, to some extent. Rather than thinking that the name brand schools (top tier or most highly ranked, or best reputation in their geographic area…) are the ONLY options, they more critically evaluate possible schools and the departments within them and only allow the schools best suited to their needs to be included on their list.
With a goal, the student's confidence increases, their self-knowledge grows, their voice becomes more articulate, and all of these contribute to better applications and essays, as well as a better college experience since they are eager to utilize the various opportunities offered on campus, rather than miss them because they are still sorting themselves out. This work during the high school years also helps students not transfer during college, which can easily require extra time to finish their degree, which increases their cost plus deprives them of income.
The high degree of focus has helped many of my clients get accepted at honors colleges, tier one, and other excellent, but not top tier schools. Given how competitive admissions is at the tier one schools, having high quality schools on their list that aren’t such an unpredictable (almost random chance for the academically qualified) shot of acceptance is imperative. The competitiveness at the top tier has been steadily increasing. Some of my colleagues have recently shared that they have "superstar" clients who were not accepted anywhere but their safety schools this year. 
 Schedule your consultation TODAY to get expert feedback on your college preparations so far.