What Does a Private College Counselor Do: College Admissions 101

"Applying for college is not what it used to be. It is insanely more competitive these days and if you can afford the help of a professional, get it" according to parent quoted in an Atlantic article. College admissions has become a hyper-competitive and important part of a student's educational journey. As colleges routinely receive thousands of applications and students are applying to more and more colleges each year, admissions has become a sophisticated and confusing process, especially for parents who are unfamiliar with the US educational system and just want the best for their children.

At Synocate, we have helped hundreds of students apply to college and have consulted with thousands of parents. Time and time again, we see parents confused by the process and looking for help. We wanted to outline how the industry has evolved, what some firms offer and the differences between firms, and our opinion on when a private college counselor can be helpful or not.

Industry Overview

In response to these industry dynamics, college counseling has spawned as an industry to help students and parents through the process of selecting classes, finding an interest, and eventually applying to college. The number of independent college counselors has grown from 2,000 to ~5,000 according to the IECA in their last survey, and another site states that it has grown 300% in the past 3 years. Many of these are one-person firms with a parent or educator who has had previous experience helping students. Some are larger institutions, and some are tutoring companies also offering college counseling.

Many college counselors focus on the 11th and 12th grade students as the majority of the work is done then - creating a college list, applying to colleges, and choosing a college that matches the student. Some, like us, have the philosophy of helping younger students find their interest and articulating that story over time and work with younger students.

Most college counseling is hyper-local and in-person, sometimes even at the home of the student/parent. Many college counselors use pen and paper to help students and usually have 10-15 students per application cycle. Some interview students before accepting them to make sure they are a fit with their program. Many tailor their programs specifically to student needs.

What Do College Counselors Offer?

Most private college counselors focus on college applications and essay writing. They help brainstorm essays, outlines, and a school list. Some only do a cursory glance of the essays whereas others will edit until completion or until the time bought expires.

At Synocate, we also believe a letter of recommendation strategy, early action/early decision strategy, and a 5-step list of colleges is important for seniors to work on. These should be in addition to work on the college essays and the initial formation of the college list.

Some college counselors also offer support for younger grades. For these students, college counselors help apply for summer programs, find local activities to discover an interest, and prepare school lists of classes. We believe this is very important not for admissions but because students can actually build an awareness and a tool set to find their interest. Because students change their major so often in college, most go through the same learning process they went through in high school. Helping children become familiar with the strength-finding process at a young age can pay dividends later in life, not only in college, but in a fast-paced, changing world as well.

Some college counselors offer immersive tours of colleges or summer programs, others focus on a specific vertical like Ivy League or special needs, and still others intake a set number of students per year with certain backgrounds. Navigating which college counselor to choose can be challenging, as well as verifying that they are the right fit for your child and actually can help.

Choosing a college counselor

A private college counselor can be very helpful to students and parents, and in other cases, can be less helpful. For most students we have seen, giving them an outside expert opinion throughout high school is very valuable.

Admissions counselors are helpful when parents are unfamiliar with the application system or want an expert guiding their child through the admissions process. Many high schools have school counselors that are often overwhelmed with students. Students should first try to use these counselors as a resource and connection to many universities. School college counselors serve as a gateway between universities and high schools very often.

Counselors can also be helpful when students need an extra push. The college admissions process requires a lot of organization and self-discipline, especially if students are applying to Top 50 schools that require many essays. Following all of the deadlines, drafting the essays, preparing for interviews, and choosing a college is a lot like taking another AP or IB class.

College counselors might not be very helpful if they do not have a good culture fit with your student or do not share the values you have as a parent. If they do not have the experience or expertise with your particular student they may also be less helpful. Finally, most college counselors do not actually write essays for students and sometimes parents and students expect that.

College admissions has become a crazy process of writing essays, keeping track of deadlines, and maximizing admissions chances. The college counseling profession has grown exponentially due to this dizzying but important process of finding an intellectual home. There are many types of college counselors and choosing the right one involves finding someone with the right expertise, values, and background.

Finally, from our experience meeting thousands of students, we see that most students can benefit from some form of help - whether that is online forums like College Confidential, friends, or family - and a professional college counselor can be a source of singular, expert advice.

If you have any questions about college admissions please reach out to us at admin@synocate.com.