Can't Afford a Private College Counselor —10 Tips to Get Your Kid to College

You might think I’ve been so focused on my online dating social experiment that I have forgotten about getting my daughter into college. Not so, grasshopper. In fact, just the opposite. You see, my girl has been so busy doing research and taking the tests and getting tutored that there hasn’t really been anything to report.That changed recently, thanks to the class PTO, who invited a private college counselor to speak to the parents. For parents who can’t afford a college counselor, that was a huge treat. So if, like me, you can’t afford a private college counselor, here are 10 tips for getting your kid into college without going crazy—or bankrupt.

Who Can’t Afford a Private College Counselor

For those of you who haven’t yet reached this parenting milestone, there are a lot of nuances involved—and things are very different from back in the day when I went to college. These days, the business of getting a kid into college is a cottage business in and of itself.Don’t worry if you can’t afford a private college counselor, you are definitely not alone. But first, a reality check. Today’s high school counselors have their hands full. The national average of students to college school counselors is 491 to 1, and of course that varies by location. In California, the ratio is 822 to 1, and in New York the ratio is 624 to 1. So while there may be some amazing college counselors out there, the reality is that the time they have to spend with individual students is, well, limited to say the least. So that leads us to this private college counselor option.

So, what the heck is a private college counselor and when did this become a thing? In the U.S. alone, the tutoring, counseling, and test prep market is a $12 billion dollar industry. Private college counselors are especially in demand for families who want to get their kids into private colleges, and if there’s a desire to get into the Ivy League colleges, even more so. Private college counselors help with everything from prescribing the amount of SAT tutoring needed, counseling on interests and exploring potential career paths, helping what can often be a class of elite students who all look and act the same differentiate themselves from the pack. This also might include arranging internships, helping prepare a list of potential colleges, and setting up and arrange college visits. Hourly rates for this service range wildly between $300 per hour and $3,000 per hour, depending on city, services desired, and level of expertise of the college counselor. So, back to my original question: “Who can’t afford a private college counselor?” — the answer is “A lot of us!”

Why the Private College Counselor was a Treat

Why was this private college counselor such a treat? As you can see from what I’ve explained here, private college counselors are not in any way inexpensive and yet the services they offer can be incredibly valuable. With roughly 900 kids in her graduating class at a very well regarded public high school in Houston, the College Corner and the services the counselors provide is limited due to incredible demand. I’ll also admit that based on my experience with our school’s counselor, personality plays a big role in your student’s success in working with a counselor. If they don’t have an interesting, engaging demeanor, chances are good that your kid will do what mine did, and Snapchat her way through school-hosted counseling sessions.

You can imagine my excitement when I found out that for a paltry $20 I could hear a private college counselor tell me all the tips and tricks for getting my kid into college—I was all in.

Let me preface this with a simple truth:  I am not a joiner. Not one bit. I loathe nothing more than having to walk into any room filled with people where I know no one and have to sit at a table with a name tag stuck to my chest. But, and this is a big but, to get my daughter into college, I would stand on my head and sing a Rhianna song (to which I barely know the lyrics), wearing a thong bikini. And, did I mention there was lunch involved? Lunch changes everything. So, I was committed—and in it to win it.

Preparations for and Impressions of the Private College Counselor Meeting

The day of the private college counselor meeting, it was pouring down rain. Not just a little drizzle, but raining sheets and sheets of rain. I braved the winds and rain and made my way to where the event was being held, slapped on that name tag, grabbed my box lunch, and sat down at an empty table in the back. As I got situated, I sized up the room. There were groups of mothers talking. Some fathers. Potential dates? Maybe. Should I have worn makeup and cuter clothes? Crap. I always forget something. Remember, it was monsooning outside, I’m lucky I didn’t have to swim over. “Lee, get your head in the game,” I tell myself. “You aren’t here to date, you are here for college. This is for your kid. Let’s go to college!”

My table started to fill, and I politely nodded to my new neighbors, speaking to them briefly and then we collectively waited for the speaker to begin. As he began to talk, I thought about all the people I had talked to in the past about colleges. I couldn’t afford them, and I didn’t think I could afford this guy either, but I was going to listen and learn and take it back to my daughter and apply it.

What I Learned From the Private College Counselor About How to Get my Kid into College

Here’s the thing. This private college counselor was awesome—and so worth the investment of my $20 (yes, I ‘m laughing at that one). Most importantly, I learned a ton from this private college counselor about how to get my kid into college. Even better, I’m here sharing that gold with you. So, here goes:

  1. Kids need to start as early as possible with the college recipe, which is the application, the resume, the essay, and the letter of recommendation, and that with all of these there is a way to present it all so your student can avoid being generic and stand out a bit from the crowd.
  2. Your teen should start with a resume and prioritize the information on there for what’s most relevant to what he or she wants to study in school.
  3. When they’re working on short answers on the application, they should do their homework. That means making time to go look at the school’s mission statement create answers designed to resonate around the school’s beliefs.
  4. Each school has an admissions representative in your state and/or city. Your student should find them on the schools website, reach out, and connect to see when they will be in your city and what they can do to meet with them. They should also inquire whether there is anything specific they need to know for applications.
  5. Tell you student to spend at least an hour a day thinking of college and what they want to do or where they want to go. I know, I laughed, too.
  6. As a parent, the counselor advised that our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to keep our children motivated and on track, and to try and make sure they visit college campuses.
  7. Apply early action to every school but don’t apply early decision to any schools.
  8. Give the teachers who write you recommendations cover letters to write from and be sure to give them tokens of appreciation, as it’s important to respect the fact that they are writing these on their own time.
  9. When your student applies to various colleges, make sure they declare majors in two different colleges within the university. This way, if they are rejected at one, their application is sent to the next college as opposed to being rejected altogether. Smart, no?
  10. A well-rounded student is more likely to get into a top tier college than a student who is in the top 10% with top test scores. Colleges are looking for diversity in their students and this is something your kids can use to their advantage.

The Next Steps

After thinking about the information shared by the private college counselor, and realizing that my bank account doesn’t have $8,000 to burn, I now realize that although I expect my daughter to and would so love for her to row her own boat, that fervent desire is not going to be enough. It is obvious that I’m going to have to play some sort of a supporting role and help steer some throughout this process. I am going to keep her motivated, organized, and on track. Maybe I’ll resort to bribery, like I did when she was three. It can’t hurt, right?

I will say that my girl isn’t a total slacker. She’s already started her common app entirely on her own. I’m very proud of the test scores she’s managed so far, and I think her class standing will be great. She’s narrowing down her list of potential colleges and is starting to be realistic in her expectations. I am truly proud of the way she is now looking at this and approaching it.

We’ve agreed that we will ask her tutor whether he’s available to help with essays and applications, and explore what services he offers beyond test prep. I have already found her the counselors for our state for the schools she is interested in. All told, I. think today we’re headed in the right direction. What will happen tomorrow—only time will tell. Next up on our list will be some college visits, so that should be interesting!

Other resources on this topic:

Real Talk About College: Affording the Dream School  (and you definitely need to be connecting with and paying attention to Kim Moldofsky on this topic, her advice is fantastic)

Frank Bruni’s book: Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania

How to Get Your Kid Into College Without Really Trying