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Getting Your Child Into the Right School: Should You Hire a College Admissions Counselor?

Joel S. Greenwald, MD

Disclosures

September 01, 2021

It's time to think about where to send your high schooler to college...and how to get there. But like many parents, you may feel some dread. Are you comfortable identifying the right school? Concerned about battling with your teen about studying for standardized tests? Worried about application deadlines and essays? 

There's a simple solution: Outsource this process to an expert who can relieve you of stress and probably achieve better results for your child — a college admissions counselor.

Why Hire a College Admissions Counselor?

If you think about it, college admissions counselors are a lot like wedding planners. Getting married is a monumental decision. A wedding takes meticulous planning and follow-through, and the list of details can be overwhelming: the venue, caterer, invitations, and so much more. It's expensive, too, so you want to spend your money wisely. Most of all, you want to make sure your special day is, well, special. 

Sticking with this analogy, many couples hire a professional wedding planner to lighten the load and achieve the best possible outcome — an expert who has successfully turned dreams into reality for dozens and dozens of families. Someone who knows which vendors are reliable, how to get the biggest bang for the buck, and how all the moving parts work.

You can see where I'm going with this. College is a critical part of your child's growth that will lead to future opportunities for years to come. You want to be smart, especially considering the price tag. But how do you know the right college to apply to, no less manage the process without tearing your hair out? You don't! That's the point.

Much like a wedding planner, a college admissions counselor (also called a college counselor) shows you options, helps with decision-making, and eases you through the process. I'm sure you'll agree that, like a wedding, choosing your child's college deserves the level of care and attention that an experienced professional can provide.

College Counselors Help Identify Your Preferences and Options

Each child is different. One might be most comfortable at a smaller school in a remote location. Another at a big city school. A third at a school with prominent athletic programs. Add to the decision-making process the parents' perspectives and budget.

So, what's my point? Finding the right school can make you feel lost, but a college counselor can help you see the forest for the trees. How? A good counselor takes the time to understand what you and your child want, presents a range of options, and then helps narrow it down to a manageable number of realistic choices. Most important, they'll help your child present the best version of themselves. 

And there's more. Using a college counselor can decrease household stress because they become the child's "accountability partner." You'll still be involved, but you'll certainly shoulder less of the burden (and have fewer blowouts with your teen). Consider the beauty of someone else tracking the process, preparing your child for standardized tests, and ensuring that essays are well written. The counselor's value continues as they help your child decide which acceptance offer is best for them. 

Beware -- Make Sure You Work With a Pro

Not every counselor has what it takes. Anyone can hang out their shingle as a college consultant, which can lead to some unfortunate situations.

For example, you don't want to hire a parent who helped their child apply to college, thought it wasn't too difficult, and hoped to make some extra money. Poof! They say they're a counselor! You also don't want a bait-and-switch. Recently, I heard of one student in the process of deciding between acceptances who was handed off to a junior staff person who had little experience — not what the parents bargained for.

That's why identifying a reputable counselor or team is important.

When Interviewing Consultants, Ask These Questions

What are their qualifications?

How current is their knowledge?

  • How do you keep up with current trends and academic changes?

  • How many college campuses do you visit each year? (A good standard is at least 20 visits.)

  • Do you attend professional conferences or training workshops?

Do they have specialty areas?

  • Are you knowledgeable about schools that will meet my child's interests and abilities?

  • Do you have specialized training to work with my child (if your child has, for example, a learning disability or visual impairment)?

Watch Out for Red Flags

Don't get caught up in something illegal or suspicious. Run in the other direction if the counselor does any of these things: 

  • Guarantees admission to a particular school or one of your top choices

  • Provides assurances that they can obtain a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships

  • Accepts compensation from schools in exchange for placements or referrals

  • Completes applications, writes essays, or fills out financial aid forms on your or your child's behalf

Nail Down the Agreement

Before you shake hands, know what you're getting. Your agreement should state, upfront and in writing, the exact fee structure and the services you will receive for those fees. In general, $5000-$7000 is a reasonable estimate, although prices can be higher for high-profile counselors in metropolitan areas.

Concluding Thoughts

Where to attend college is a once-in-a-lifetime decision that has lasting ramifications. Hiring a reputable, experienced college counselor can make the process less stressful for your entire family. Most important is making the right decision about which school will most likely lead to your child's success and fulfillment. And that's a good investment.

The above article is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a legal or tax professional regarding your situation.

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About Dr Joel Greenwald
Joel S. Greenwald, MD, is a graduate of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, Joel completed his internal medicine residency at the University of Minnesota.

He practiced internal medicine in the Twin Cities for 11 years before making the transition to financial planning for physicians, beginning in 1998.

Joel's wife is a radiation oncologist, so medicine remains a frequent topic of dinner table conversation.

Knowing firsthand the challenges of practicing medicine, Joel's passion is making the lives of physicians easier by helping relieve them of financial worries.

Connect with him on LinkedIn or on his website.

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