How to find an independent college counselor

Beware the snooty counselors

I first started to resent my college counselor in high school when he acted more interested in getting the local athletes scholarships than he did in helping me find a decent college.

My parents had never gone to college, so I slogged through alone. The idea of hiring an independent counselor was something I’d never heard of, and probably something we could never have afforded.

Nevertheless I was intrigued by college-finance author Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s article How to Select a College Counselor. It contains a link to a second, related article. Check them out for more details, but I’ve condensed both into a short roundup below:

1. Ask for a preliminary meeting. Many counselors will not charge you for a get-acquainted session.

2. Consult professional membership directories. The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) posts information about their members on their websites. Another excellent place to find consultants is the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners.

3. Match your needs with counselors. If your child has one or more learning disabilities, for example, or wants to pursue a particular major, find a consultant who understands those areas, what institutions serve them, and what types of options you’d have

4. Find a consultant who can also address the financial aid question. A counselor should know college finance strategies, explain how a family can obtain its Expected Family Contribution and then develop a list of schools that would realistically provide the child with either merit or need-based aid.

5. Look for counselors who work with all kinds of students. It’s typically the ultra expensive independent college counselors who brag about getting kids into the snootiest of schools.But they only accept the most promising students as clients, and such kids could get into selective schools without anybody’s help.

6. Look for counselors who want to know your child. You don’t want a counselor whose aim is to get a child into the most prestigious school possible without regard to whether it’s a real match.

7. Avoid any counselor who is interested in shaping your teenager into a Stepford applicant. Producing perfect teens all too often requires pressuring them to take classes or assume extracurricular activities that don’t interest them.