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The Sherpa's Guide To College Admissions

Don't Climb That Mountain Alone!
Don't Climb That Mountain Alone!
M.S. of East Williston, NY writes:

Do I really need a college planning counselor for my child? Aren't the resources available through her high school guidance counselor, the colleges, and the Internet, sufficient? It all seems so expensive.

The College Whispererresponds:

Back in the day, when the earth was young, and college applications were written by hand and mailed to one or two schools along with a check for $15, a visit to your guidance counselor, along with a thumb-through of the college Viewbook (assuming the school had one) or bulletin, was not only sufficient, that was all there was.

Today, with high school guidance counselors spread so thin, the Internet spewing forth information (much of it incorrect) faster than a BP well can spill oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the application process complex and confusing, and the competition for college admission, even at state schools, so very fierce, students (and parents) need all the help they can muster.

Consider, too (as if you haven't), that the cost of a college education -- approaching, and, in many instances, exceeding $100,000 for four years (and I'm being conservative here) -- requires more than an Internet search, or the gamble on a lottery ticket, to seek out and find the money to pay that tuition bill.

College is not only four very critical, as well as special years in a teenager's life, where deciding which colleges to apply to should entail more than "my friend goes there" or "everybody is applying to that school." It is also, as if I'm telling you something you don't already know, a major life investment. A private university, over the course of four years, can gobble up as much as $250,000 after tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and incidentals are accounted for. [If you don't believe me, feel free to do the math yourself.] Even a four year stint at a state school is likely to run in the neighborhood of $80,000 or more.

Surely, you want to invest wisely and prudently, in both the best interest of your child and her future, and in the best interest of your bank account. Financial planning, an integral part of the college planning process, is crucial.

Just what is it that a college planning counselor -- at least a good college planning counselor -- can and should do for you? Among other things (aside from the hand-holding and nerve-soothing), he will set an agenda, so critical to college admission success, giving you a clear and concise road map, showing you the where, the when and the how.

He will help your child decide, based upon a thorough assessment and evaluation of a multitude of factors (many beyond GPA and SAT/ACT scores), which colleges would be a perfect fit, and what strategies would likely provide that better shot at actually getting into the college of choice.

Is that "reach" school really within reach? Is there a way to manage my profile on that admission officer's matrix so as to improve my chances of admission? Does my personal essay help me stand out above the crowd? Am I doing everything I possibly can to enhance my application, or have I done too much? What kind of questions will I be asked during my admission interview? Will I even have an admission interview? Do I really want to spend sub-zero winters eating cheese on the barren plains of Wisconsin? [Please, no letters or e-mails from irate alumni of the University of Wisconsin...]

And, of course, there's the penultimate question on every parent's mind. How in blazes am I going to pay for all of this? [Cheese sold separately.]

High school guidance counselors, like travel agents helping you to prepare for a tour around the world, are an excellent resource. Use them (but please, don't abuse them). The Internet, too, is an invaluable tool and an essential source of information, provided that you know how to use it effectively, where to look (and where not to), and how not to fall prey to the wealth of misinformation that is only a mouse click away.

It is easy, as you navigate the road to college, to not only get lost, but to become overwhelmed by the voluminous amount of information -- much of it just plain awful -- that is out there. Once lost, good luck getting back on the right track.

With respect to the expense of retaining a college planning professional, do not think merely of cost alone, but rather, of the value of this now necessary service in an increasingly tedious, complex and stressful process. Think, too, of the peace of mind, knowing that you are being guided in the right direction to the right schools, and not being waylaid off the beaten path.

You seek the advice of a financial adviser when it comes to investing your money. You retain the services of a real estate pro before to buy a house (another major life investment). You spend countless thousands feeding and clothing your child, packing her off to summer camp or on teen tours, nurturing her through 18 years of life. Are you going to stop now, when the finish line (short of the wedding) is in sight?

Surely not. You are going to do everything within your power to help your child achieve her goals, gain acceptance to a college where she will thrive and be happy, and enable you to pay for it all, without jeopardizing your retirement or robbing the federal reserve. [The latter is not recommended, forbidden by law, and may subject you to fine, imprisonment, or both.]

Look. To answer your question simply and succinctly (which, in the perfect world, would have been 250-500 words ago), of course you could do the whole college application gig yourself, with a little help from your Uncle Phil, who once sat across from a college admission counselor at a diner in New Hampshire, and is a self-professed expert in finding online sweepstakes that could win him millions. Then again, do you really want to go that route?

Save yourself the ulcer, the agita, the sleepless nights and bleary-eyed days. A knowledgeable college planning counselor will empower your child, the soon-to-be college student (can you believe it?) and de-stress the parent (that would be you). Those benefits, in and of themselves, are, to quote the VISA commercials, priceless.

Applying to college in this day and age is the educational equivalent of setting out to climb Mount Everest. Could you go it alone? I'm not about to stop you. Ask my advice, however (and you did), and I will tell you: When preparing to climb Mount Everest, and on every treacherous step of your ascent, take along that trusted Sherpa guide!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer™.

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The College Whisperer™ February 11, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Ordinary, Gus? Most kids I have come to know as a college counselor are anything but ordinary. In fact, they are, in so many ways, extraordinary! I try not to argue with ignorance -- or those who would disparage their own kids -- but sometimes, just sometimes, one has to stand up for Generation Next. Every child is special, Gus, and worthy of our respect, at the very least. Average? Ordinary? I, for one, think not!
The College Whisperer™ February 12, 2013 at 08:15 AM
Average is as average does, Gus. Agree on one point: Mediocrity. We are surrounded by it, and too willingly condone and accept it. Rather than bow to mediocrity, or curse at the darkness, we must strive toward excellence, in education, in government, in business and in our personal lives. That said, I stand by my original premise. You can't argue with ignorance. Ignorance is best dispelled by exposing it to the bright light of day, where it will be cast aside by thinking, reasoning people. Lastly, perhaps you are correct, Gus, that some folks need to be told to "get out of the office." Don't let the door hit you, Gus, on your way out!
The College Whisperer™ February 12, 2013 at 10:43 AM
I rest my case!
Jack February 12, 2013 at 08:02 PM
College is the biggest scam going benefiting the professional academic crowd and their minions like "counselors" The only reason so many kids started going to college in mass was so the baby boomer cowards ("the worst generation") could get an educational deferrment and avoid the draft and Vietnam. Afterwards all the colleges opened up to women. The academic establishment realized they could make big money fleecing American parents with their baloney . Why does tuition rise faster than inflation?
The College Whisperer™ February 13, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Jack, have you met Gus? LOL This feels like Deja Vu, all over again. [Or the GOP response to the State of the Union followed by the Tea Party response, with a Saturday Night Live skit to be drummed up later. :-)] I do agree, though, with the comment about tuition rising faster than inflation. Seems its rising faster than sea level at the melting polar ice caps! But that's another argument for yet another day. And so, on behalf of "the worst generation," Vietnam draft dodgers, women who dared to go to college, the academic establishment, radical, feminist Marxists, the radical leftist clique, angry lesbians and emasculated males everywhere, I bid both Gus and Jack a fond adieu.