Unless you have extensive experience with college admissions, your child needs external advice in finding the right school. The landscape is constantly shifting. Your kid's school should have a staff of trained individuals to help. But do they?
The American School Counselor Association suggests one college advisor for every two-hundred and fifty students. Unless you live in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont or Wyoming, the ratio is likely much worse. Only those four states, as of 2013, reached that 250:1 ratio. Arizona and California had three times as many students per counselor than the suggested number. One in five US schools has no counselors whatsoever.
How Do You Know?
There is a difference between getting some counseling and the right counseling. Access to a counselor does not ensure that your student's needs will be met. Proper education hinges on dedicated individuals who care. Regardless of the ratio, how do you know if your child is receiving the right advice?
School counselors are involved in much more than college admissions and should be part of the school culture. They handle the full range of family, emotional, career and personal well-being for each student. It's a big job that leads to many counselors being overworked.
Because school guidance counselors are generalists and not specialists, they likely aren't able to give your student a personalized plan for their college search. They likely recommend a similar list of schools and tactics for every student and use the same generic reference letter.
This is not necessarily the fault of the guidance counselor. Most are overworked and don't have the time to dig into each student case individually. It's also not really their job to master the college search area in the same way that a college counselor or coach would.
If this concerns you speak directly with your school's counseling department and expect service. Don't be demanding with an understaffed department, however. It's not their fault, but the schools owes your child the best assistance at this critical juncture.
What's At Stake?
Experienced advice is very important here and any student can benefit, no matter their grades. Uninformed families make the same mistakes every year.
Some only know of big-name and local schools. They apply to what is familiar and miss out on lower-profile schools that are a perfect fit. The right counselor will point you the correct way.
Others don't fully understand how much financial aid they can receive. They only apply to in-state schools, unaware that they could actually afford something better. Don't set your sights too low because you were not informed.
Some students are overly ambitious and end up applying to many schools that they simply won't get into or can't afford.
On the flip-side, high-performing students in a low-income neighborhood frequently overlook the top schools they may be eligible for because they assume they won’t be able to get in or they won’t be able to pay for it. They aren’t aware that most of the top private schools in the country essentially offer free tuition to highly qualified students who fall below a certain income range.
What Can You Do?
Work Within the System
Let your school and your government know about the lack of college counseling, but you won't change the issue overnight. Being aware of the problem, however, is the first step.
Schedule a meeting with the school counselor for both of you and your student to attend. Before attending the meeting do some research yourself and come with a list of specific questions to make the most of your time. Be courteous and open with your over-stretched counselor. Respect their limited time and be efficient.
You won't learn everything you need from your school counselor, but information is everywhere these days.
Sites like College Factual allow you to begin your college research and build a list of schools that match your student's needs academically, financially and otherwise. There are many similar sites that will help you begin to find colleges that meet your criteria. Choose a few of your favorites to do your own research and take advantage of the free educational material and data they provide.
The ASCA, American College Counseling Association and the National Association for College Admission Counseling each have resources for parents and students.
Hire a Professional College Counselor
You can always hire a professional. The right private educational consultant will craft a plan specifically for your student and coordinate the process. The wrong one sees you as a cash cow and will deliver the same approach to every client.
Fees can run from $1,000 per year up to tens of thousands. Choose wisely.
Your child deserves better than to be one in several hundred. Getting into the right college is your ultimate goal. Your school should not fail you now. But for today, the system is not going to change. Take an active role, know what you don't know and seek out advice from every source.
Begin your DIY approach using College Factual's free tools.