Are you looking for advice about curriculum choices and extracurricular activities? Do you need assistance with a college list? Are you hoping your child can complete as many of his application essays as possible before the end of summer? Do you need an independent college counselor but aren’t sure how best to evaluate your options?
As a former admissions officer for the University of Pennsylvania and current independent college counselor, here are some questions I would ask:
Have you done admissions before? Where did you work and did you participate in the decision making process?
There are a number of people offering their services as independent college counselors. Some have graduated from impressive institutions and may have put in time as alumni interviewers. Others have helped their own children through the process, done an online certificate program or even reviewed files as auxiliary reader — someone who reads applications but has no role in the rest of the process.
While there may be merit to all of these experiences, none offer the same insight as working in an actual admissions office. Whether I’m providing insight into how admissions works, offering advice or critiquing an essay, I draw on my Penn experience every day. My time spent reading applications and making admit and deny decisions has given me a unique perspective that informs everything I do. I can’t imagine being qualified to advise students without it.
How would you describe your work style?
Think about the way in which your child relates to other people and try to find a counselor with a similar style. A straightforward, businesslike mode may work with some teenagers, while others will prefer a more empathetic, personal approach. Look for some flexibility and let your counselor know how to best relate to your child.
What will you work on with my child and how will you work on it?
Understand what the service you are purchasing will and won’t cover. If your child needs help on the essay, make sure that’s included. If you need a college list, will the counselor provide that? Listen closely for important nuances. Will she help your child edit essays or write them for her? (Hopefully it goes without saying that the work should be your child’s own.) If the counselor offers to use his connections at different institutions to advocate for your child, steer clear. That kind of contact can actually hurt your child’s chances of admission. Similarly, proceed with caution if any counselor guarantees admission at a specific school, as it is virtually impossible to know what will happen behind closed doors at any institution.
Finally, remember that admissions officers respond to authenticity and genuineness. The best counselors work with a student to highlight her strongest qualities rather than try to change her into a completely different person. A student-driven and focused process will be about helping your child find the best fit college rather than simply the “best” school that will accept him.