Applying to College?: Independent College Counselors  Guide You Every Step of The Way

By: Susan Kehl | Last Updated: July 8, 2022

 “They grow so fast!”

It seems like yesterday that family, friends, and well-meaning strangers warned you that, in the blink of an eye, your baby would be “all grown up.” You must have blinked – your baby is getting ready to apply to college!  But, as the number of college applicants continues to skyrocket while acceptance rates dramatically decline…will your child get in? 

You mastered diapers, homework, and navigating your child through those turbulent adolescent years. Applying to college, however, is a whole new ballgame. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. You have resources like your teen’s teachers, guidance counselor, and the internet. For even more peace of mind, you can turn, as many families do, to independent college counselors, also known as independent educational consultants.  

Judi Robinovitz, a certified independent educational consultant and founding owner of JRA Educational Consulting and Score at the Top Learning Centers and Schools, says a professional college counselor helps set your teen apart from other qualified applicants in the highly competitive application process.

“We provide guidance far beyond what’s available in local schools,” she said. “We offer comprehensive support and work one-on-one with students and their families to help them plan for and apply to college – from start to finish. It’s a true partnership between our professional educational consultants, students, and parents.”

 What Does a College Counselor Do? 

When Pauline and Richard Giardino’s daughter, Lily, was ready to apply to college, they turned to an independent college counselor. Pauline, who grew up in Scotland, said it had been many years since she and Richard applied to college, and – because Pauline received her undergraduate degree in Glasgow – she wasn’t familiar with the American educational system. Pauline said personalized counseling services helped give Lily the upper hand and made the application process less stressful for their entire family. 

“Our counselor knew which schools best fit our daughter’s strengths, and she made sure Lily was taking the right courses and meeting all of the requirements to get into these competitive colleges,” she said. “She advised us throughout the process, and we had the comfort of knowing Lily was on the right track and that her counselor was looking out for her and making sure Lily put her best foot forward.”

And, best of all? Lily was accepted at several colleges – including her dream school – the University of Miami. In the end, that’s a primary goal of every college counselor. Consultants consider your child’s interests, abilities, and goals in order to custom-tailor a personalized action plan and guide him or her through every facet of the planning and application process. For example, independent college counselors help students:

 ✓ Create a balanced list of their best-fit colleges, taking into consideration each student’s academic, social, and financial needs as well as interests, goals, college location, and other important factors

✓ Develop college résumés featuring impactful extracurricular activities that make students stand out

✓ Brainstorm topics for personal statements and essays

✓ Write and edit compelling essays

✓ Review transcripts

✓ Optimize and review applications

✓ Prepare their Self-Reported Student Academic Record (SSAR)

✓ Locate potential scholarships/financial aid

✓ Show Demonstrated Interest 

✓ Prepare for college interviews and visits

✓ Refine college lists after college visits

✓ Stay focused and on schedule, and meet strict deadlines

Clearly, independent educational consultants do considerably more than just help with college applications. They ensure that students are prepared for anything – from taking the SAT/ACT, to hitting that college application ‘send’ button – and everything in between.

Is A College Counselor Right for My Teen?

You’re probably asking yourself, “Do I need a college counselor?” Years ago, most people considered independent educational consultants an expensive luxury. However, a study by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) showed that typical families using independent educational consultants attend public school and have annual family incomes of $75,000 - $100,000. In addition, a 2018 nationwide study by Lipman Hearne indicated that 26% of high-achieving high school seniors used an independent educational consultant to help with their college searches.

Robinovitz says many parents and educators now realize that educational consultants can actually save families time and money.

“In addition to helping students identify scholarship opportunities and money-saving financial aid possibilities, educational consultants stay informed,” she said. “We keep current on colleges and the ever-changing admission process by visiting campuses every year, attending professional workshops and college fairs, and developing relationships with college officials. We do the research for you, which saves you time, effort, and considerable expense.”

Students with special talents or unique needs also benefit from working with independent educational consultants. For example, some consultants excel at effectively placing student-athletes, students with musical and artistic talents, international students, transfer students, students with learning disabilities and other special needs, as well as students applying to law school, grad school, medical school, or other specialized colleges.

Some families consult with a college advisor to address specific tasks like résumé and essay review, while others prefer guidance before, during, and after the application process. Think about which services could benefit your teen, knowing that independent educational consultants work with all levels of students to help them select and apply to schools that best fit their needs, desires, and goals.

How to Choose a Great College Counselor?

Considering an independent college counselor? Word of mouth is a great place to start. Speak with other parents about their experiences, and bring your teen to meet with prospective consultants to ensure a good fit. Some educational consultants work on their own, while others work for consulting firms or learning centers. The latter gives your family access to additional resources like essay specialists, test prep tutors, workshops, and college admissions boot camps.

Also, consider each counselor’s credentials and experience. Counselors or consulting firms belonging to professional organizations like the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), and the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) adhere to strict educational and ethical standards. In addition, top educational consulting firms and learning centers are often accredited by prestigious outside professional organizations. For example, JRA Educational Consulting/Score at the Top Learning Centers and Schools is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement and Cognia.  Accreditation demonstrates that educational consulting firms meet rigorous performance standards and are dedicated to continual improvement.

Be sure to ask prospective college counselors lots of questions. For inspiration, review the IECA’s list of questions to ask before hiring an independent educational consultant and other pertinent resources to find an educational consultant that’s right for you and your teen.

The Sooner, The Better

Your teen doesn’t have to wait until his or her junior or senior year to start preparing for college. Many students meet with guidance counselors and independent educational consultants as early as their freshman year in high school. Educational consultants strategically help students choose classes, extracurricular activities, and volunteer opportunities that will make them stand out and keep them focused and on track.

Robinovitz agrees that timing is everything.  Not only does waiting until the last minute creates anxiety, but your teen might also miss the opportunity to properly position herself to apply to her top-choice colleges.

 “We advise students on how to make the most of their high school years to ensure their greatest chances for success,” she said. “We take the stress out of college planning, give our students a competitive edge, and support them every step of the way to help them fulfill their college dreams.”

It Takes a Village

What’s next? Take comfort in knowing that help is there if you need it, and enjoy this exciting next chapter in your parenting journey. You’ve come full circle – now it’s your turn to tell new parents not to blink. They really do grow so fast!

For more information, contact JRA Educational Consulting/Score at the Top Learning Centers and Schools. We’ve successfully guided thousands of students through the college application process – we have a 95% acceptance rate of admission to students’ top schools – and we’d love to help you!

Topics: College Counseling


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