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What is College Counseling? What Does a College Counselor Do?

a college counselor helps a student plan for college

Helping your student navigate the college admissions process can be overwhelming. With increased competition and evolving admission requirements, students and their families often seek expert support and guidance to make the right choices for their future. 

College counselors are crucial in providing the expertise needed to navigate this journey. To help explain the role of a college counselor or advisor, we talked with Karen Yeager Kimball from Collegewise. With her insight, we created this guide exploring how college admission counseling works, what it costs, and what you can expect from working with a college counselor. 

Understanding the Role of a College Admissions Counselor

The landscape of college admissions has significantly changed over the years. Colleges now evaluate students holistically, considering their academic achievements, extracurricular activities, personal essays, and letters of recommendation. 

Navigating this intricate process can be overwhelming, which is where a college advisor or counselor steps in. A college counselor is a dedicated professional who helps students understand the complexities of college admissions, creates a strategic plan tailored to their unique strengths and aspirations, and then supports them as they achieve their goals.

How College Counselors Support Students

Karen explained that skilled counselors put students at the center of the process, meeting them where they are to support them best. “At times, I am leading them - through reflection and research when they are starting the process,” she said. “Then, I switch to more of a side-by-side role, supporting them as they develop an understanding of their goals and refine the list of schools they will apply to.”

“I am also behind them - tapping them on the virtual shoulder to remind them of testing, deadlines, essay writing, and all the details we help them stay on top of. Finally, I am there to frame disappointments and celebrate their successes. At Collegewise, counselors meet their students where they are.” 

The Role of School Counselors vs. College Counselors

A common misconception among families is that school counselors can fulfill the role of a professional college counselor. While school counselors play a valuable role in guiding students through their academic journey, they often have many students to support and countless other responsibilities. Although they give their all, they usually have limited capacity to provide comprehensive college admissions support. 

On the other hand, college counselors specialize in the intricacies of the college application process, offering personalized guidance and insights that school counselors may not be able to provide. College counselors aren’t given a full caseload or a specific number of students they have to support. They accept clients based on their capacity to invent the time needed.

For these reasons, utilizing both school counselors and dedicated college counselors can maximize support for your student.

When Students & Counselors Work Together

Just as every student is unique, each timeline is different, too. Counselors often work with students as early as their 8th-grade year and as late as the summer before senior year. 

Karen said that when working with younger students, she guides them in selecting the best courses in high school to set them on the path they envision. “I help students get the most out of their high school experience in the classroom and through their activities and interests,” she shared.

“Then, as a student enters junior year, we have a generous on-ramp for researching schools and building a balanced college list. We also develop a solid testing plan the student can be confident about.” 

When it comes to writing admission essays, Collegewise usually starts its intensive support for students the summer before their senior year. But students who start later get the same support, just on a more compressed and accelerated schedule.

Are College Counselors Worth It? 

Working with a college counselor offers several advantages beyond traditional academic advising. Let's explore some of the key benefits:

You Get Expert Insight into College Admissions

College counselors are professionals who stay current with the latest changes in college admissions. They have in-depth knowledge of what specific colleges and universities are looking for in applicants and can provide insights and advice tailored to individual students. Their expertise helps students make well-informed decisions about testing plans and essay topics and effectively present their talents and interests.

Your Student Gets Personalized Attention & Support

Unlike school counselors, who often have large caseloads, college counselors provide one-on-one attention and support. They take the time to understand each student's unique strengths, goals, and aspirations and tailor their guidance accordingly. College counselors serve as mentors and sounding boards, helping students explore their interests, refine their college lists, and confidently navigate the application process.

Your Family Experiences Less Stress 

The college application process can be stressful and overwhelming, but a college counselor can help alleviate that burden. They do this by providing students with a structured timeline and ensuring that all application components are completed accurately and on time. College counselors also help students manage their stress by keeping them organized, providing guidance on prioritization, and offering support during challenging moments.

Your Student Gets Scholarship & Financial Aid Guidance

Paying for college is a significant concern for many families. College counselors have extensive knowledge of scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities. They can assist families in identifying relevant resources, guiding them through the application process, and maximizing their chances of receiving financial assistance. A college counselor's expertise can save families thousands of dollars in college expenses.

Your Student Gets Help Selecting a College Major

Choosing a major and aligning it with academic and long-term career goals can be daunting for students. College counselors provide insights into different majors, career paths, and courses that align with students' interests and aspirations. They help students explore various options, ensuring they make informed decisions that set them on the right path toward their desired careers.

What Does College Counseling Cost?

According to Karen from Collegewise, the cost of college counseling can depend upon the level of support you’re looking for and who you decide to work with. For instance, school counselors are free, and some college admission counselors charge over $100,000. 

“At Collegewise, we tailor programs to meet the unique needs of each family, so it's hard to say exactly what we cost upfront. To give you a range, programs usually vary between $8,000 and $30,000+ depending upon the level of support a student seeks,” Karen shared. 

“We also offer hourly options for students who don’t want or need full application support. You can also find various free resources on our website to help you navigate the process. If a family is interested in working with us, we recommend scheduling a free consultation. During the consultation, we take the time to get to know each family and then make a program recommendation based upon their goals and budget.” 

College counseling providers usually have payment options available to make the cost of their services more accessible for all families, so be sure to ask about these resources if needed. 

What to Look for When Hiring a College Counselor

When you hire a college counselor, you are looking for a blend of industry expertise, professionalism, and someone who works well with young people. They need to understand teenagers and this developmental time, but they must also be experienced in college admissions. 

One way to find such a person is to ask for recommendations from friends and family or to read online reviews, Karen said.

Investing in Your Student’s Future College Counseling

The college application process is a significant milestone in a student's life, and the proper guidance can make all the difference. College counselors provide the expertise, support, and resources needed to navigate the complexities of college admissions successfully. 

By investing in a college counselor, students can access personalized attention, reduce stress, and make informed decisions that will shape their future. Whether you are just starting the college application process or seeking additional support along the way, working with a college counselor can help you achieve higher education success. 

Calculate the Chances of Getting Into Any College

An important part of making smart college application decisions is building a balanced college list. You can do that more efficiently by using our chances calculator tool. With it, you can calculate the chances of admission into any college using academic information, like GPA and test scores. 

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