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 Whisperer™ responds:
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
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.
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?
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
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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