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College Counselors Can Help — Legally!

By Terry Savage on November 14, 2019

The headlines about college admissions and the parents who cheated have caused concern among college admissions counselors — including those who work for high schools and those who work as private consultants.

Private college counseling a surprisingly large and diverse profession. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, has more than 15,000 members from around the world who advise students about postsecondary education choices. Their members include both school counselors and independent education counselors.

Some might assume the point of college counseling is getting students admitted to prestigious schools, but really it’s more about finding an appropriate school — both educationally and financially — that will admit the student and then provide a financial aid package that goes beyond federal student loans.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, elite private secondary schools are asking parents not to contact private counselors, suggesting that they create conflicts and distract families. That’s fine for the private schools that have numerous advisers on staff and a very small ratio of students to advisers. But what about public high schools that can’t afford or offer sophisticated counseling?

That’s the situation at many public high schools. A report by NACAC shows that Michigan has an average of 700 students per counselor, and some schools have no college guidance advisers. Less than a decade ago, California had more than 1,000 students per counselor! Now that ratio has come down to 760 per adviser.

And that’s the reasoning behind the Collegewise network (www.CollegeWise.com) of accredited college counselors across the country. It has helped more than 10,000 students over the past 20 years, and it boasts that 95 percent of those students have been accepted at one of their top three college choices. In 2018, their applicants received more than $54 million in merit aid — scholarship money that does not have to be repaid.

Collegewise founder Kevin McMullin has watched the business grow from his kitchen table to become the largest college counseling organization. Now, more than 60 counselors have passed stringent tests and agreed to follow a set of standards and ethics in counseling students. The counselors work with students, starting early in their high school careers, to set goals and take appropriate courses. They help with the application process and essays, and in choosing colleges that might be a good fit.
Potential clients fill out an online form or call 888-648-9473. They then receive a free 15-minute telephonic assessment before they are matched with a potential college adviser. The cost could range from as little as a $250 consultation to several thousand dollars for extensive guidance and process management.

McMullin says the first stop should always be a student’s high school counselor. He advises: “Don’t assume you need outside help to apply to college. Just like you don’t need a personal trainer to get in shape. But if you find that you need more guidance than your school can provide, then you might consider an outside consultant.”

Eva Dodds is affiliated with the Collegewise network. She started her career as a school college counselor and for the past 15 years has been advising families independently. Dodds explains the rationale for a private adviser: “School counselors have multiple responsibilities and can’t always give the degree of attention that some families want. We work evenings and weekends, when school counselors may not be available.”

Dodds notes that the application process has become more complex. “A student is typically filling out unique applications, on three or four different platforms, with seven to 15 essays, as well as sending test scores and transcripts, and requesting teacher letters of recommendation,” she says. “Private counselors manage the process, ensure that the student is considering all opportunities, and keep the family from being overwhelmed. Plus, we make it a point to know which schools are generous with merit aid and are searching for students who fill certain criteria.”

Given the costs of a college education — and the potential debt that comes along with it — it’s worth doing the search sensibly, even if you have to pay a small amount for help. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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