Dear Dr. LaScala,
I am frustrated by the lack of attention my junior in high school is getting (or rather not getting) about college and career advice. Should I be looking at hiring a private advisor and what are the benefits? Also, how do I select a reputable advisor?
Judging by complaints from both students and parents, it's no surprise that the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) finds that the average public school guidance counselor spends less than 25% of his or her time on college counseling. Based on surveys of college admissions offices and high school guidance counselors, the "wealth gap" is even more startling. Counselors in public high schools spend about 22% of their time on college advising, while private school counselors report more than half of their time on such activities.
Frustrated students and their parents more often are turning for help outside traditional school settings. According to a recent study conducted by the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA), 26% of "high achieving" seniors used educational or college consultants. This trend is not surprising, and there is reason to believe many other students are also turning to professional consultants to help them navigate the college admissions process. An Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) survey of 1,264 students achieving average level scores on the SAT and/or the ACT revealed that a similar proportion of students employed a college advisor. It seems that independent college advisors are helping fill an important counseling gap.
According to the US Department of Education, in 2009-10 public secondary school counselors had average caseloads of 434 students. The students to counselor ratios vary widely, with California having one of the least desirable ratios in the country (814:1). Minnesota (759:1), Arizona (743:1) and Utah (733:1) are also among the highest in the nation. These impossible caseloads result in little time for individualized support for students in the college admissions process. For example, in California the average counselor has about 3 minutes to spare for each student each week. Since much of counselors' time is dedicated to the important tasks of supporting children with significant health, family, and social problems, there is little time left for the average student. The desire for expert, personalized services is just one of many reasons families hire college advisors. Nancy Griesemer, an independent consultant in Virginia, notes six more reasons for the trend. I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing her important points below:
1. Availability. Professional consultants are not associated with a school, school district or school calendar. With Internet connectivity they can work with local students as well as student across the globe. They are available over school breaks and during the summer, and many work weekends and evenings to convenience busy families and students' homework and extracurricular demands.
2. Responsiveness. Professional consultants respond promptly to clients' questions and concerns. If they don't, they do not successfully grow their business. So it is part of the business model to be available and responsive.
3. Knowledge. Expert college consultants reinvest in their business by visiting college campuses, attending professional conferences, participating in webinars, and writing blogs and articles. They have a passion for their work and understand parents' and students' needs in their local communities.
4. Credibility. Reputable college consultants maintain active memberships in professional organizations such as Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) among others. These organizations have strict membership requirements, involving experience, education, training, and recommendations from other reputable consultants who already belong to the organization.
5. Ethics. Responsible consultants subscribe to specific principles of good practice set forth by their professional organizations. These principles are often in an appendix of a consultant's contract and explained to prospective clients before an agreement is reached and signed.
6. Reputation. Successful consultants will tell you that upwards of 80% of their business is based on reputation and referral. The best consultants are well-recognized in the community they serve and the professional community they belong to.
In my opinion, the best way to select a reputable advisor is to follow the recommendations of other parents in your community. Then talk to a couple of advisors to get a feel for how they work. There should be a good match between the family and the consultant's approach and personality, as well as the fees being charged for services. I also suggest you go to the websites of college consultants' professional organizations and be sure the consultant you select is an active member of one or more of his or her professional organizations. Three prominent organizations include Higher Education Consultants Association at www.hecaonline.org; National Association for College Admission Counselors at www.nacac.org; and Independent Educational Consultants Association at www.iecaonline.com. Each of these professional organizations has recommendations for parents about how to choose an expert consultant.
Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Visit www.doingcollege.com or call (925) 891-4491