True, you can navigate the college application process without a certified college counselor, but it is also true that a qualified counselor can make a huge difference for your child – and you—when the time comes to select schools, meet deadlines, and put the best foot forward.

By Wendi Ostroff

According to the US Department of Education, US public high school students receive an average of 38 minutes of personal attention related to college admissions from their high school counselors – and these are the students who seek it out. The Independent Education Consultants Association (IECA) reports certified college counselors typically spend twelve or more hours with students. There is quite a discrepancy between 38 minutes and 12 hours.

Parents can make up the difference and assist their child with the college process, however, most parents dread nagging their teenager – especially in his/her last year at home. And parents tell us they don’t have the time to research multiple colleges, majors, scholarships, etc., especially when the stakes are so high and the process so daunting.

If you are in a position to hire an outside college counselor, even for a few hours, it will benefit your student and clarify the process. If cost is an obstacle, ask about payment plans, many counselors are willing to make arrangements.

Here are a few suggestions for what to look for in a college counselor:

  1. Certification is important for a variety of reasons – to become a certified college counselor and educational consultant, one must complete a course of study and meet certain criteria that demonstrate commitment and competency in the field. Membership organizations such as IECA, require members to have exemplary educational training and to participate in ongoing learning opportunities. For example, members must visit a minimum of 15 college campuses per year and attend seminars on college admissions, learning theory, and adolescent behavior.
  2. Experience working with young people – Ask about the counselor’s history. Have they successfully mentored several students? Do they have other experiences related to kids and education?  Applying to college can be a tense time for students and families.  Choose a counselor who relates well to teenagers and sees every individual as unique and special.
  3. Current knowledge of the process – Does the counselor visit colleges regularly? Are they aware of the latest changes in the application process? Do they know about financial aid and scholarship opportunities?  New SAT vs. ACT? Find a counselor who stays current and is willing to do research on your behalf.
  4. Connection between counselor and student – this is the intangible part of the process. Be sure the counselor is eager to connect and mentor your student.  It is equally important for the student to be receptive and to participate wholeheartedly in the process.  Since the student and counselor will need to work together over the period of several months, a cordial relationship is key.