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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Your College Prep Team

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder of Celtic College Consultants

    In the “good old days,” we visited our high school guidance counselor to help us prepare for college.  Today, things are completely different.  While the guidance counselor continues to serve an important role in many high schools, the vast majority are overburdened by huge caseloads which prohibit them from offering college bound students the guidance they truly need.  Actually, the national average for the number of students per counselor is 464 to 1.  In California, the ratio is 708 to 1 and Michigan has a whopping 744 students per counselor; Arizona’s even worse with 903 students per counselor.  The American Student Counselor Association recommends having 250 students per counselor.  Only New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wyoming have ratios at that level.

What are parents doing to make sure their kids get the direction and support they need?

Many are assembling their own “college teams.”

As one parent put it, “College costs are absurd.  There is more pressure on kids these days.  More competition, more steps involved.  We don’t have the time or the ability or the experience to do this alone, so it only makes sense to get help.”

What expertise do you need on your team?

College Admissions & Applications Coach: This person should regularly interact with admissions officers, be an expert writing coach, and have helped students get admitted by all types of colleges, including state schools, elite colleges, and the Ivy League/top tier highly selective colleges.

College Funding Advisor: This is critical for any family.  Having an expert in your corner to help with Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and prepare financial aid forms including the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE is invaluable.  This member of your team should also be able to assess your retirement readiness, calculate your cash flow for college, ensure that you don’t burden yourself or your student with unreasonable loan debt.

Test Prep Planner: Experts advise college bound students to have a testing and test prep timeline in place by the start of the 10th grade.  This allows the student to determine which test is best for them, take it 2 or 3 times and complete all testing by the summer before their senior year, at the latest.  Increases in test scores often correlate into thousands of dollars in merit based scholarships so being prepared can warrant a lucrative return on your investment.

Test Prep & Academic Tutors: In order to score the highest possible scores, some families find utilizing tutors to be an effective strategy.  Test prep courses of some kind are imperative.  Additionally, in order to keep the student's grades as high as possible, many include academic tutors on their college prep team, as needed by their student.

Career Advisor & Major and College Selection Guide: There are over 4,000 colleges & universities in the US.  Picking the right major, the right career, and attending the right school for you is essential to ensuring a timely graduation and avoiding unnecessary expenses. With new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 60% of college students graduating in 8 years.  55% are finishing in 6 years, the longstanding national average.  For students who started at community colleges, 45% have their degree in 6 years.  Private colleges continue to be significantly more successful in producing 4-year graduates.

Specialty Guidance: For athletes, artists, performers, and musicians, special guidance is required.  Identifying and attracting the attention of college coaches is key for athletes.  Athletic recruiting has changed in recent years so an athlete marketer will be a key member of your college team.  For others who must participate in auditions or compile portfolios, particular guidance is also a necessity.

Personal Growth Mentor:  Soft skills are becoming increasingly important in college admissions.  College want to see that students can interact well with others, maintain their wellbeing, and manage the stress of campus life and collegiate level academic demands.  With the enormous increase in mental health needs on campus, admissions teams truly value students who have demonstrated strengths in these areas.  Students benefit from having a mentor’s guidance along the way.

How do Parents Put Together Their Team?

Fundamentally there are two options.  First, parents can determine which kinds of expertise they need then seek it out, effectively creating their own team.  This can be an effective way to approach the process but it also involves a great deal of effort and time to seek, find, interview, hire, and coordinate the various professionals on the team.  For that reason, most parents prefer to hire college planning specialist like myself then rely on our expertise to identify other professionals needed to address their particular needs in ways best for their student.  Being a holistic planner, I provide student development and guidance as well as the financial side of things.  Not being an investment advisor, I regularly collaborate with my clients' financial advisors, using our complementary expertise to propose the most effective strategies for the family to achieve its goals.

To explore partnering with me, kindly schedule an initial consultation appointment with me, Katherine O'Brien through my online scheduler, which I update weekly with my availability:  Once your meeting i scheduled, I will send you a survey for your student to complete as well as an agenda for our meeting.